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Biking - Green and Safe?

Green and Safe

It's a no-brainer that riding a bike to work instead of driving a car is highly environmentally friendly – and good for the heart, too.

So why don't more people do it? In many cases, the reasoning goes like this:

  • I'm all dressed up and don't want to get sweaty and rumpled or wind-blown
  • It takes longer than the car, and I miss that extra cup of coffee at home
  • It's too far
  • It's too dangerous and I could get hit by a car (in my state/city/municipality we don't have dedicated bike lanes)
  • I don't have a bike, and the kind I need to get to work costs too much
  • I have enough bad-hair days without wearing a bike helmet
  • I don't want to get rained on
  • For half the year where I live, there is too much snow and ice to ride safely

These are all legitimate excuses – well, except for the bad-hair day. And a majority are the kind that have a work-around. You could, for example, put more linen in your wardrobe, because it's already wrinkled and chic as a result. Alternatively, if you have a full-sized locker at work, you could drive to work one day of the week transporting a full four days of wardrobe (and, silly as it sounds, make sure you include fresh underwear).

For the money you save on gasoline, you can actually afford that Starbucks tall sugar-free vanilla latte with soy milk and no foam. Because biking helps lose weight and keep it off, you can also enjoy one of their superb breakfast muffins!

The Trek

How far is too far? For some people, it's one mile: for others, it's a marathon 10 miles. If you are getting older, or have some health concerns, you might want to consult your doctor. Biking to work with asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) might not be such a hot idea, especially during very cold or very warm, damp weather.

Some cities still don't have bike lanes! You'd think we were living in the 1800s. Well, actually living in the 1800s would have made biking easier; who worries about getting hit with a horse and wagon? In any case, if your commute would be made on a freeway alongside all the other going-to-work individuals who hate their jobs and tend to go postal when traffic is stalled, you'd be marginally safer inside your own car, and much more than marginally safe if you took a bus or a commuter train.

Helping the World… One Peddle at a Time

Specially designed commuter bikes can cost upward of $1,000. That's a lot of gasoline. But keep in mind that bike commuting isn't designed to save you money as the first objective. It helps reduce air pollution and particulates which cause respiratory and cardiac difficulties. It also reduces the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions implicated in global warming.

Weather concerns are also a good excuse, where weather is seasonally extreme. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example, living in the 'burbs and biking to work in the city on a February morning promises all kinds of hazards, from slippery, sneaky black ice to temperatures that will freeze mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and throat virtually instantly.

But if you live in one of the states where weather isn't designed to try your patience and temper – and there are quite a few – give yourself a pat on the back, because you are helping yourself and others breathe better and live longer.

For example, did you know that

  •  In order to accommodate all the cars in the United States, there are 800 million car   parking spaces comprised of 160 billion square feet of concrete and asphalt, whose manufacture and installation add 10 percent to the carbon dioxide (CO2) burden.
  • Seventy percent of all the petroleum refined and used in the U.S. goes into the transportation sector, which includes privately owned vehicles. 
  • During the 1996 Olympics, U.S. host city Atlanta – which reduced morning traffic by almost one quarter – saw ozone concentrations dropped by 23 percent, while emergency rooms visits by asthmatics fell 41 percent.
  • When NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) analyzed some emissions recently, they concluded that motor vehicles are the greatest single-source contributor to atmospheric GHGs.
  • Finally, when evaluating four of the most common modes of transport on a carbon-lifecycle basis, bikes come off the clear winner at .75 ounces (one-quarter pound) of CO2 per mile traveled. Passenger cars, in contrast, delivered more than 9.5 ounces of CO2 plus GHGs like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulates in the micrometer size (the size at which soot particles are easily inhaled).
  • Buses, on the other hand delivered five times as many ounces per mile traveled as did bicycles. Hybrid pedal power/electric bikes were only slightly more polluting than self-powered bikes.

Finally, in a statistical review of cycling versus driving a car or truck, researchers found that, in 2010 (the last year for which statistics are available), bike riders accounted for a mere one percent of reported accidents, and less than one percent of all traffic deaths. This was actually an improvement over 2009.

Interestingly, even though cyclists breathed more polluted air and particulates than drivers, the cardiac health benefits of cycling outweighed these disadvantages. This does, however, make a point for redesigning bike helmets to filter the air.

Do you bike to work? What tips would you give other bike commuters?


Andrew Miller is an avid green business and legal blogger. He manages over 20 attorney blogs. This article was written on behalf of Millar & Mixon : A personal injury attorney located in Atlanta, Georgia.

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