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
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.
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
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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