It’s Always Earth Day for Bicyclists, but We Need More Butts on Bikes

Official Earth Day is later this month, but in Austin, Texas the 2019 edition is celebrated April 13. The promotional materials encourage people to not drive (even a Prius?), but rather to, scoot, walk, take public transit, carpool if they must take a car, and of course, bike. They even have a bike valet area. A Dude went last year and enjoyed hanging with other ecologically-minded folks. Because whether you bike 10 miles a week or 100, you’re doing something to save the planet. Every bicyclist is an environmentalist. You know what they say, Love Your Mother (Earth)! (Or else!)


Biking Definitely Reduces Your Carbon Footprint

This footprint stinks! One of the sponsors, Applied Materials, is a computer company, and they sure waste a lot of water.

I definitely identify as a tree-hugging, air-breathing, water- drinking, carbon-based life form. But after 14 Years Not a Slave to Cars, I don’t think about it much. So I got to wondering, how much have I reduced my carbon footprint? Probably quite a bit.

One general calculation comes from the European Cyclist Federation in Brussels, Belgium. They claim that for each passenger who travels a kilometer in a car, they are producing 271 grams of CO2. A cyclist uses 21 grams. Add that up, and especially given that cars go alot faster and farther than bikes, it is substantial. That’s significant, but only one measurement.

But is that all there is to the story? No, but in a short blog I can’t delve into all the science. Here’s a great link from People for Bikes, citing numerous statistics on the subject, if you want to geek out on more studies. A number of the stats imagine what would happen if commuters increased their trips by bike and the savings that would accrue, assuming the commuter was previously driving their car. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. Biking is better for the planet. But so what? There’s a lot more to getting people’s butts out of their cars and onto bikes than telling people it’s good for the environment, or even healthy them.

Bike Infrastructure Has to Be Safe and Convenient

Today I met a bus driver who commutes to work by bicycle. He’s doing his part personally and professionally to reduce pollution. For him and others to do that on a regular basis, there have to be safe routes to get there, and those pathways need to be convenient. Even in Austin, as in many less fortunate cities, bike lanes are insufficient, unprotected, not connected, or just non-existent. And of course, two stripes of paint on the road won’t protect you from a shitty driver who’s distracted and runs into you. Some sort of barrier like plastic bollards, street turtles (aka city titties) or even curbs provide more safety.

Notice the bike lane ending, but the cyclists continuing to exist? THIS MAKES ME VERY ANGRY! CONNECT THE LANES ALREADY, DAMMIT! Source: Timelynx on Pixabay

That’s a larger, complicated, costly policy issue. Fortunately, we are starting to see the benefits of two bond elections that added millions of dollars to the coffers for bike lanes, sidewalks, and other traffic improvements. But once that money is all spent, there will still be vast room for improvement to finish the job. It will never be 100% safe to drive a car, ride a bike, or use a sidewalk in Austin. But one can work toward this by advocating individually and collectively.

But back to Earth Day being every day for bicyclists. Right now, the population of US workers who commutes is small. The more people who bike, the more other people will see it as a “normal” activity. A large part of getting bikes on butts is education. Currently, there is a huge gap between those who need that education — both new bike riders, especially kids, and car drivers and the reality, that it’s hard to connect educators with students. Especially given the question of funding and finding available insturctors.

More Butts on Bikes: How?

Bike commuting is in trouble. According to a January 2, 2019 article in USA Today, “Fewer in USA bike to work despite new trails, lanes and bicycle share programs,” from 2016 to 2017, 3.2% less people biked to their jobs. That number comes from the US Census Bureau which does an ongoing American Community Survey. That’s from a high of
904,463 in 2014 to 836,569.

However, according to the League of American Cyclists, which grants the
League Cycling Instructor (LCI) designation, there may be more to those numbers. While big cities like the Bay Area and Seattle lost some riders, other cities like Philly and DC gained them. Explanations could include the rise of ride-sharing, weather, increased car traffic, the low cost of gas, and the lack of significant infrastructure improvements.

“It shows that while we have made investments over the last 20 years” in bicycle infrastructure, “we are still far from having safe and connected networks that make people feel safe biking to work,” said Ken McLeod, the League’s policy director.

Source: USA Today, Ibid.

Let’s Get to Educating and Agitating

Master LCI Instructor Preston Tyree demonstrating a drill.

When I became an LCI last year, I had hoped to find older students who wanted to get on their bikes but were afraid. So far, I have not pursued that as a side business. Nor have I been invited to help teach any classes. Part of that is on me for not marketing myself, but some of it is having the right connections to the institutions and funders that can provide grants and students. It’s my hope that this is something to which I can contribute. Because an educated cyclist is a confident, smart and safe cyclist who is going to be a model for others. And the more cyclists, the better. There is safety in numbers.

Aside from education, the other ingredient is agitation. I’ve done a good bit of that, being awarded Bike Austin‘s Advocacy Ambassador of the year in 2017. As that group rebuilds as an all-volunteer organization, events like Bike to Work Day (May 17, 2019), can help. But there are far more cyclists than members. Everyone who bikes needs to speak truth to power to get more protections for cyclists. Bike Texas is doing that at the state level; I was fortunate to attend their Cyclists in Suits Lobby Day.

But until a massive amount of bike riders learn the rules of the road — and follow them — and band together to be a political force for good, we are likely to remain targets, in the shadows, and an afterthought on the roads. So if you’re reading this here are some questions to mull over:

  • If you cycle, do you belong to your local bike group?
  • If not, why not?
  • If there isn’t one, can you start one?
  • And if you are not a cyclist, or don’t commute because you don’t feel confident or safe doing so, what would it take for you to be comfortable?

If you’re in Austin and want to learn more about getting educated and active, my email is on the About page.

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Ride of Silence to Ghost Bike for Jessica Rae Saathoff: ¡Presente!

I’ve titled this sad post the same as the ride for Anthony John Diaz, because it was very similar. A bunch of people show up at a pre-arranged place, they chat, there are some announcements, and the ride begins without people speaking unless needed for safety. The group rides around East Austin with leaders stopping car traffic or the riders as needed, and eventually it arrives at the scene of the victim’s death. There is a bike painted all white: a ghost bike. Somber words are spoken, people reflect, and the ride continues. It then ends at a park after about 10 miles, where people are thanked and more words are spoken. It’s sad, and it’s supposed to be, like a funeral procession. But now what?

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How My Blog Did in the First Quarter of 2019

Every few months I like to look at my biking and walking statistics, but also my blog. I know its not the sexiest of topics, but some folks find it interesting. Of course, I do. Blogs exist for people to express themselves, but the other side of that equation is people reading those thoughts. As always, I’m very grateful to you if this is your first, 50th, or 250th post that you’ve read here at A Dude Abikes. Now for the numbers. Admit it, you enjoy feeling out over your own stats as much as I do, ya big nerd!

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Give Yourself Permission to Just Do Nothing!

Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk born in France who moved to Kentucky. He wrote over 60 books, encouraged inter-religious dialog with the likes of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and others and advocated for pacifism and social justice. He died in 1968 in his early 50’s when he accidentally was electrocuted stepping out of his shower where a running fan had fallen over. (Some say he was assassinated by the CIA.) While I’ve not read his work, I’ve seen this quote below before. And it seems more relevant than ever in 2019.

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Austin Bicyclist 2019 Death #2: Jessica Saathoff, 28, Hit by a Car

This sad news came across my screen, and I just sat and stared at it. She was 28 years old, hit by a car Thursday night. Now, gone. The details are scant and will trickle in. Here’s an updated story from the NBC affiliate, KXAN: “Cyclists push for change after fatal MLK Blvd crash.” The story says she wasn’t wearing a helmet and the car driver stayed on the scene. Despite this tragedy, riding a bike in Austin is still very safe compared to driving and walking. That won’t help Jessica, but maybe it will help others of us who do still bike.

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The Science of Exercise: Sugar, H.I.T.T. & Stuff

This is not a scientific post. I’m not dropping any science on you. It’s a topic of interest to A Dude and probably to many. Tonight on the way home from an errand, I ran into another bicyclist (he’s OK). Turns out he’s a student at the University of Texas. He was a super nice guy who had just come from a soccer game and wasn’t wearing a bike helmet. He was stopped at the sign near where Anthony Diaz was killed by a bus driver, and I asked him what happened to the ghost bike. He didn’t know, but guessed it was an upcoming marathon.

That mystery unsolved, the conversation shifted to him talking about his work in kinesiology. Which if you don’t know is the study of kinesi (whatever the heck that is). But seriously, he works on measuring oxygen in the blood, studies how horrible sitting is for your metabolism, what is more efficient for muscle-building, and so on. I learned some stuff in layperson’s terms since I frequently am fighting gravity and aging and other sciencey things. I figured I’d share with all 12 of you who might actually read this. Because he’s getting a master’s Degree… in SCIENCE, he actually blinded me with …. SCIENCE! Or maybe that was his bike light, I’m not sure.

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Austin Bicycle News Roundup for March 23, 2019

Update: The bus driver who apparently murdered Anthony John Diaz was arrested for manslaughter. The woman was fired from Capital Metro and will have to answer for taking four prescription drugs that had side effects of drowsiness. Let’s hope there is some justice. For more about this developing story, see this Austin American-Statesman article. You can read my two posts about him here: First Austin Bicyclist Death of 2019 – Anthony John Diaz and also here: Ride of Silence to Ghost Bike for Anthony John Diaz – Presente!. For more, and cheerier, Austin cycling news, keep on reading!

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