Today is Blog Action Day. All around the world, 15,861 bloggers are writing posts about environmental issues today. Since I live in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I will comment briefly on bike commuting, a topic to which I’ve given much thought in the past few years.
I would love to ride my bike to work, instead of driving my car, at least two or three times per week. Even though I live ten miles from my workplace, I would be willing to invest the extra time required to cycle rather than drive. First of all, I find cycling more enjoyable than driving. I like the feel of the breeze blowing against my face as I ride and I enjoy the exertion of the exercise. Second, cycling is a far healthier activity than driving, as it yields measurable fitness and cardiovascular benefits. Third, it would be efficient for me to cycle as a means of making a trip I already must make rather than having to carve out additional simply to cycle for its own sake. After all, I only have so much time each day to dedicate to commuting, exercise and all other obligations. Fourth, if I could cycle to work, then my contribution to air pollution via my car would be reduced. This would benefit my family and neighbors.
So – why don’t I cycle to work? You can probably guess. I live in a highly developed area in which traffic congestion and air quality are ongoing issues of concern. Every morning, the Weather Channel posts a local air quality index on TV. This assists people with respiratory problems as they figure out how much time they can afford to spend outdoors without aggravating their conditions. Unfortunately, even if a biker wants to ride to work, there are days on which the air is too unhealthy for biking if one has a respiratory condition. Additionally, almost every road that I take to work is a 4-6-lane thoroughfare. The one road that is only 2 lanes has no shoulders and ridiculously heavy traffic. Quite simply, cycling to work on these roads would be unsafe. About 1.5 years ago, as I was driving along one of these roads during rush hour, I heard the grinding sound of metal behind me. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a human figure – sans helmet – flying through the air: a cyclist had been hit by a truck. ‘Nuff said about that. If more people could cycle to work safely, then, over time, the air quality should improve so that people with respiratory problems can opt to bike more frequently.
If the local government wants to get serious about decreasing air pollution in the area, then it should work actively to make the roads safer for cycling. All newly constructed roads should have designated bike lanes. All existing roads should have bike lanes added to them when they are resurfaced and repainted. Car owners who commute to work at least 50% of the time should get reductions on their property taxes (which include taxes on our cars) and should be eligible for reduced car insurance costs. Enhanced safety features and financial incentives such as these are just two areas in which changes could be made to get more people out of their cars and onto their bikes. Local citizens, including me, need to encourage local leaders to pick up ideas like these and make them reality. Active support of bike commuting by local governments would be a win-win situation for communities and cyclists.