Celebrating Bike Week and Climate Savvy Work

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It is Bay State Bike Week around here. And freshly back from participating in a bike ride from western Massachusetts to DC, discussing bike riding and climate savvy seems well-timed!

Perhaps it is obvious, but riding a bicycle to DC from western Massachusetts isn’t the norm. When told about it, people said: “It is too far.” “It takes too long.” “And how do you get there anyway in this day and age of superhighways?” A group of 11 cyclists of all abilities and ranging in age from 21-75 just made the trip, as witness to the need for climate activism, and arriving in time for the big People’s Climate March.

And it turns out there is a route: the East Coast Greenway . “The East Coast Greenway… is the nation’s most ambitious long-distance urban bicycle and walking route… the Greenway links Calais, Maine, at the Canadian border with Key West, Florida.” You can see it as a route stitching together bike paths with secondary roads so that bicycle travel is safe and enjoyable. The ECG vision is a long-distance, shared use route for non-motorized travel of all kinds. While not yet complete, it was a joy to ride segments of the MA to DC route on miles of bike paths.

As we move toward the day when all occupations will require climate savvy, we can, in honor of bike week, consider the ways the work of bicycling advocates contributes to climate adaptation. Biking for transportation, rather than just recreation, contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in a 2015 study, framed a scenario where 14% of travel in the world’s cities is by bike or e-bike in 2050. This would result in an 11% reduction in carbon emissions from urban transportation scenarios that don’t include bicycling.

And, in the present, we can thank the European Cyclist’s Federation which has done the math. Quoting at length from their question and answer page in response to the question “how much CO2 does cycling really save?”
“Some might think bicycles are not producing emissions at all. No fuel, no tank, and no exhaust, so where would the carbon dioxide come from? Yet bicycles need to be produced as well, and while they are not fuel-powered, they’re food-powered – and producing food unfortunately creates a certain amount of CO2 emissions.
The question is, just how much exactly? And how much is it compared to cars and buses?
And here comes the good news. The production of a bicycle sets you back only 5 g per kilometer driven. That’s about one tenth compared to the production of a car. Add to that the CO2 emissions from the average European diet, which is another 16 g per kilometer cycled. In total, riding your bike accounts for about 21 g of CO2 emissions per kilometer – again, more than ten times less than a car!
And there is room for improvement as well. Europeans still eat quite a lot of meat, which needs up to 1500 g of CO2 emissions per 100 calories produced. Climate-friendly, vegetarian and local food produces MUCH [emphasis added] less CO2 (11 g for corn, 23 g for potatoes, for example). If more people changed their eating habits, the bicycles’ carbon record could be even better – not to mention the health benefits of both cycling and a healthy diet.”

Biking reduces carbon emissions as compared to cars and buses, even when we eat meat! Work that builds bicycling infrastructure, including dedicated bike paths and dedicated lanes on well-traveled routes, directly contributes to an increase in biking, and therefore increased reductions in carbon emissions. Infrastructure alone isn’t enough, though essential. Education about the advantages of riding your bike, including the personal economic and health benefits, as well as the environmental and community advantages, can and does spur increased riding. That education isn’t enough though. The how of bike transportation needs to be made apparent to folks who are inclined to do so, but cautious about risk, practical implications – things like routing, and bike parking are key to know in order to be able to successfully commute on your bike, for example.

The work of advocates focused specifically on bicycle transportation is complemented by work done by other occupations. Real estate developers and builders can foster increased bike riding by building spurs that lead from the building or development to the nearest bike path. Builders can also design buildings to include safe bike storage, and showers for bike commuters. Town and city officials can prioritize bike riding in street redesign efforts, increasing safety for all. Tourism professionals can highlight the ‘view from a bike’ of the town, and support retailers to welcome bikers, both those on holiday, and those for whom it is their preferred form of transportation. River Valley Co-op, near me, participates in the national Bicycling Benefits program , which offers incentives and rewards for biking.

Bicycling can help to grow other sectors of a local economy. Portland, OR, often cited as having a vibrant biking culture with a strong retail bike presence, has also been able to attract bike manufacturers as well as manufacturers of bike-related gear and clothing. This has boosted the local economy, and the work of City economic development officials in any community can support alternative transportation, including biking and the related industry sectors that can align with increased biking.

Ride your bike to work this week, and eat vegetables – you’ll be doing yourself and the environment a good turn. Tell us about it too!

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