Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why not bike?

Why not bike?

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The weather couldn’t be better. Gas prices are sky high. Do you need any more inducement to save a trip or two in the car by getting out your bicycle? Here’s why I think you should.

Bicycling is good for the planet. It requires no fossil fuel, and so alleviates all of the environmental damage caused by drilling for, transporting, and processing oil. It uses no biofuel, and so exists outside the complicated push and pull over using crops for energy. It emits no greenhouse gasses to degrade the planet over the long term, or other pollutants to degrade human health in the short term. It creates no noise pollution. It decreases traffic congestion. It decreases wear and tear on roads (which cost more and more to fix as the price of oil rises.) It decreases the need for parking, which frees up space for higher purposes, and provides the host of other benefits that come from having less pavement.

Bicycling is also good for people. It gets you out of the artificial environment of your car and puts you in touch with the natural world—the real world—even when you’re riding in the city. It allows you to see and also smell the gorgeous magnolias as you ride by. It allows you to hear the songs and calls of birds. (And if you’re attuned to birds, to be reminded of how life in the Midwest is connected to life elsewhere as spring migration progresses.) It allows you to connect with other people who are walking or cycling, even if it’s just to say hello. Think of how different it is to pull up next to neighbor or coworker on a bike than to pull up next to them in a car.

Bicycling allows you to reconnect with yourself through contemplation, away from the pull of a car radio or CD player. Bicycling gives you the satisfaction of getting from one place to another by the power of your own body, a deep satisfaction, but one that can be forgotten when it’s experienced too infrequently. Like any other form of physical activity, bicycling regularly is energizing, not draining, an antidote to the sluggishness that can come from working in a store or office.

If you are hesitant about biking because of how drivers of cars behave or how poorly the traffic patterns on some streets accommodate it, take heart. The cities of Champaign and Urbana have both recently approved well thought out plans to facilitate cycling in the years to come. [Links to plans for Champaign and Urbana.] These plans include a mix of re-marking streets where cars and bikes can operate together well, along with creating side paths for cycling next to roads with high speed limits and few crossings. Of course Illinois law already treats bicycles as vehicles, and it is perfectly reasonable and legal for cyclists to use the streets as vehicles already. The point of marking routes for cycling is to help clarify for drivers and cyclists alike how they should behave on the road.

If you want further encouragement still, know that May is National Bike Month, which will be marked by a slew of activities in Champaign-Urbana. You can kick off Bike Month with the second annual Bicycle Festival set to take place Sunday May 4th at Hessel Park in Champaign and hosted by the group Champaign County Bikes. From there, you may just want to see where your wheels take you.