Of course bicycling is a great way to get around town, a method that’s fun and healthy. Think of bicycling as a way of curbing our national obesity crisis, or releasing those endorphins (that natural feel-good sensation after you’ve worked out). Not to mention (but which I will) all the benefits of not buying, financing, maintaining, insuring, fueling, and parking that gas-guzzling goliath that consumes a big part of your paycheck.
But that’s not all. There’s a loftier way of looking at active transportation (walking and bicycling), a way that makes an existential statement about our present collective consciousness. Ok, that’s a little too lofty. Let me ratchet that down a bit. Let me see… How about I use an anecdote? You’re at a large wedding party having a wonderful time. Meanwhile someone has broken into your car and stolen your purse with all your credit cards, family photos, keys, and money. I see the break-in, but fearing that I will upset your day, I wait until the entire wedding is over, including the clinking of glasses, and those maudlin melodies about love and being married that every wedding band marches out. People weep with joy.
You’re not happy with me right? Sure, you had an uninterrupted good time, but the thieves have run your credit cards through the roof and broken into your house and taken all your stuff. I’m sure you rather I had chased you down, told you about the break-in, and handed you my phone to call the police.
This little story is my way of saying this: We are at a point in our history where our actions are warming the planet. What we buy, what we eat, how we heat our homes, and how we travel about have an enormous effect on warming our planet. All these major activities consume energy, and most of our present energy burns fossil fuels and warms the planet, making Climate Change worse. In case you missed the heatwaves, drought, and wildfires this summer, read this short study Ruined Summer: How Climate Change Scorched the Nation in 2012, by the National Wildlife Federation.
I know, I haven’t completely connected the dots from my little story to the point I’m making, but I will soon.
In order to address something as profoundly complex as the heating of our planet, we need solutions that will work on a large scale and affect change quickly. One of those ways is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation segment of our lives, which according to the Environmental Protection Agency, constitutes 27% of those emissions. So, if you bike or walk those short distances (less than six miles) you along with everyone else can significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Hold on just a little more, I’m almost to the reason for my little wedding story…
There’s a big bike ride coming up in Rochester where you can help demonstrate to the rest of our community and our government that active transportation should be a major component of our region’s transportation network. This event is part of this year’s Greentopia Festival:
Greentopia Bike the Bridges: Rochester Cycling Alliance’s Bike the Bridges: This event is inspired by the original Bike the Bridges ride in Portland Oregon. It’s a self-guided bike ride, starting at 9am-10:30am, September 15th. The ride will start at Genesee Valley Sports Complex, cross the Genesee River, and end up at High Falls via the Pont de Rennes Bridge. Encouraging alternative transportation to and from the festival is our way of supporting healthy living activities such as walking, running, and biking. Click here to view brochure
I’m almost there, let me squeeze in this little bit…
Rochester, NY—a medium-sized city in the temperate zone (think snow, though not as much as there used to be)—has been slowly increasing bicycling as transportation, with the help of the Rochester Cycling Alliance. Over the years, our little city, challenged by the weather and a stubborn belief by some that our streets are only for their cars, has seen many advances in active transportation:
- An important update to the Genesee Transportation Council’s bicycling Map is available online, in all Monroe County Bicycle Shops, and almost any bicycling event occurring in our area. Find the best bicycle routes to your destination, including work, with this great map.
- In 2008 Rochester won “Honorable Mention” for the Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), a national bicycle advocacy organization that manages the Bicycle Friendly America program.
- Back in April of 2011, many local leaders worked on active transportation issues which produced Walk, Bike, Smile, Thrive: a report on the first Greater Rochester Active Transportation Symposium, by Jon Schull, Ph.D. Interim Director, RIT Center for Student Innovation, and Scott MacRae, M.D. Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Flaum Eye Institute, University of Rochester. “Walking and biking is good for your health, good for your state of mind, and good for Rochester. And it’s about to get better. “
- Quietly, without much fanfare, some improvements for our area’s bicycling commuters have been happening: City of Rochester has portable Event Racks for loan; Shared Lane Pavement Markings – now appearing in Rochester; and City of Rochester’s first installed Bicycle Shelter . (from Rochester Cycling Alliance)
- The bicycle boulevards concept, which provides safe accommodation for cycling and encourages its residents to bike for transportation and recreation, is now in the City of Rochester’s Bicycle Master Plan. Also, on Sunday, May 23, 2010 in Cobbs Hill Park, over forty bicyclists began a bicycle boulevard demonstration ride through the Upper Monroe, Swillburg, and South Wedge neighborhoods in Rochester, New York and demonstrated what this concept feels like.
- The long-awaited Complete Streets bill has just been passed by the governor. This has the potential to vastly increase the safety of bicycling in our streets. “NY Enacts Law to Protect All Who Use Local Streets … that should eventually make it safer for pedestrians, bikers and parents with strollers to navigate New York streets. Locals say the new law is especially important on Long Island, where multi-lane highways were built with little thought to pedestrians. Linda Lisi Juergens, executive director of the National Association of Mothers' Centers, says it's a sign of relief for children who walk or bike to school, and moms and dads who like to walk to do their shopping.” (August 17, 2011) Public News Service
Ok, I inserted more than just a little bit. My bad. But, I promise, here comes my point of the stolen purse story…
There are some who’ll say that I shouldn’t try and promote this event by bringing up the specter of Climate Change—even after this crazy-weather summer that is probably the new normal. They say I should just say how healthy biking can be, how much fun you’re going to have bicycling at this demonstration ride, and hope (given the quirky autumn weather) that it’s a nice day.
But I say, all of us need to take responsibility for Climate Change and change how we use energy, change who we vote for, and look for events that will stovepipe our efforts for more clout on addressing the most critical issue of our time. This ride can be part of that effort. Rather than allow us the delusion that everything is fine (the wedding), we should recognize that our planet and our future is in trouble (the stolen purse) and that it’s better to stop the party and deal with this real situation (calling the police), rather than have to explain to our kids why we didn’t do anything.
See, I told you I’d connect the dots. Just one more little story…
FDR knew that the US would eventually have to enter the Second World War, despite a very isolationist American public. World War I wasn’t a picnic and the American public didn’t want anything to do with the conflagration overseas that ignited in 1939. So, FDR quietly ramped up US efforts with the Lend-Lease program to supply our allies with materiel for war. This in turn ramped up our economy for the struggles ahead. While FDR could not know precisely where and when we would be attacked, he knew that change was ahead and that we needed to prepare as best we could.
Today, we know Climate Change is happening and happening more quickly than we could have ever imagined. Let’s use every opportunity, like this demonstration bike ride to the Greentopia Festival, to move out of our comfort zone and into the zone of responsible inhabitants of this planet. Climate Change won’t be a wedding cake, but if we act together it doesn’t have to be a stolen purse.
Ok, that was a little forced. But you get the idea. Come on a bike ride with us and have some fun and help save the planet.