When was the last time you rode your bike across town? Do you cruise through your college town to get to class? Do you ever cycle through the neighborhood with your children? Are you part of the local bicycle coalition? Maybe you have never experienced what it is like to share the streets with drivers while on a bike, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
A nationwide cycling movement is on the rise and for good reason. Cycling is affordable, good for your body, and a gateway to building more sustainable communities. Cities have recognized this, and are writing policies to develop urban infrastructure that makes biking more viable and safe for all. I recently interviewed Eve Sanford, who runs the advocacy program for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition, to find out how communities can catalyze bike infrastructure. Sanford shared that local citizens have the power to offer input about the future of transportation in their city, it is important to let their representatives know if they do not feel that biking infrastructure is satisfactory. Sanford also shared that in order to increase the amount of utilitarian riders in a city, instead of those who bike solely for pleasure or sport, the most effective change cities can make is to improve cycling infrastructure. Here are three simple reasons we should all spend more time on a bike, as well as advocate for improved bike infrastructure such as bike lanes, bike paths, and increase bike parking in our cities.
1. Maximize How You Spend Your Time & Money
You know that feeling of satisfaction when you wake up with your first alarm, have time to cook a warm breakfast, sip your coffee from a mug, and pull up to work a few minutes early? We all love those mornings. Unfortunately, some days it does not matter whether your morning was slow or a scramble, because you are stopped in traffic on the freeway. Californians struggle with unparalleled traffic congestion. Fortunately, there is an alternative: cycling. An MIT study found biking in congested cities can be 50% faster than cars in rush hour traffic.
By biking to work, you do not have to stress about wasting your time in traffic or finding a parking spot. Are there any coworkers you would like to get to know outside of the office? Invite them to go for a bike ride this weekend to learn the route to work. Get comfortable cycling so you can cruise past traffic jams and engage in a green lifestyle. Are you a student? Avoid fender benders while backing out of your school’s crowded lot and save money on gas.
Many companies incentivize active commuting such as Jamba Juice, Clif Bar and Amgen because they recognize that employees that bike to work tend to be healthier, 15% more productive, and it reduces the need for on-site parking. The Sonos home sound system company in Santa Barbara offers cash incentives to employees who commute by bicycle. Do companies in your city offer incentives like this? You can find out how bike friendly your city is compared to other cities by checking out your bike score here.
2. Improve Your Health
If cycling to work is not viable for you, utilize it for fitness instead. Cycling is an aerobic activity, which naturally improves the efficiency of your body’s system to absorb and transport oxygen. Cycling strengthens the heart, raises metabolic rates, reduces the risk of cancer and can build muscles over time. The average person will lose 13 lbs their first year of riding to work.
Fill your hydroflask with ice water and put on comfortable exercise clothes. Use this time to explore your hometown from a new medium. Notice something new about a landmark you have passed by countless times. Stop to hydrate and take pictures of the trees changing colors. You can exercise your mind and body simultaneously.
3. Contribute to a Better World
By biking instead of driving, you can help mitigate some of the biggest issues our nation is facing. While a certain level of atmospheric warming is natural, human activities have produced more emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane, which cause changes in global climate.
Earth’s natural process of warming is called the greenhouse effect. The sun emits solar energy, which enters our atmosphere and is either reflected by clouds and the earth’s surface, or emitted from the atmosphere as thermal energy. Greenhouse gases absorb a portion of the radiation before it can escape outside our atmosphere. Thus, this natural energy balance creates a net warming of the earth because a small percentage of thermal energy remains.
However, when more greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, build in the atmosphere, the already slow process of emitting thermal energy becomes harder, and our earth balances the extra energy with global warming. The source of this extra carbon dioxide comes from fossil fuel burning and deforestation, which are anthropocentric, or human-caused emissions. There has been a 30% anthropocentric increase in carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. Imagine what would happen if a greenhouse’s glass thickened; even though it absorbs the same amount of solar energy, more heat is trapped inside. Those who understand the science have a moral obligation to take the threat of climate change seriously. Carbon emissions can be challenging to put into perspective, so use this calculator to figure the carbon footprint of your car. Biking is a simple way you can make a personal commitment to decrease the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
Reducing Emissions Via Infrastructure Change
The positive benefits of creating cycling communities, combined with its potential to reduce a city’s carbon footprint, make a strong argument for building cycling infrastructure. When lanes are clearly marked and buffered, urban cycling feels safer and is more appealing. The reasons why more people should spend time on their bikes are relatively straightforward, but the benefits range from the health of individuals to the health of our environment.
When I asked Sanford about how cities can get more people on bikes, she shared that funding for infrastructure such as bike lanes, bike parking, and bike paths are essential because this is where you see real benefits in communities. When cycling becomes mainstream, one long-term benefit is making society healthier if people are riding their bikes and being more physically active.
Sanford is one of the masterminds behind the efforts of Santa Barbara’s recently passed Bicycle Master Plan. She shares that the goals of the Santa Barbara Bike Master Plan are to close gaps in the existing bicycle network, improve safety for riders and drivers, and to develop multi-modal access points which are consistent with Santa Barbara’s style of infrastructure. Cities across America have growing support for cycling infrastructure. For example, after bicycle lanes were installed post-Katrina on a New Orleans, Louisiana street, there was a 57% increase in the number of cyclists.
Gas prices may fluctuate, but the cost of reconstructing infrastructure in cities is always increasing. The overall economic impact is greatest in the U.S. where the estimated cumulative cost of traffic congestion by 2030 is $2.8 trillion. Adding more lanes to cope with traffic jams is a reactive response rather than a proactive prevention. Creating cycling infrastructure is a viable way to reduce vehicle congestion, will contribute to making American cities more sustainable and transform communities into a more eco-conscious and physically active societies.
Here’s me when I stopped to take pictures at the Lakes of Copenhagen, Denmark!