Saturday, May 09, 2009

Biking's Many Benefits

For the Week of May 10, 2009; posted May 9, 2009, 5:30 p.m.; May 11, 2009, 6:45 a.m.; May 13, 2009, 7:30 a.m.; May 14, 2009, 5:00 p.m.

Bike for Life
Bike to Work Week

(brought to you by*)

It's "Bike to Work Week," Rob Daniel, "Organizers Push Bike to Work Week," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 9, 2009, p. 3, and time for me to pedal my annual spiel for the wheel.

[And see also, Rachel Gallegos, "Bicyclists Take It to the Streets," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 11, 2009, p. 3A; Mike Kilen, "7 tips for enjoyable biking to work," Des Moines Register, May 11, 2009; and "Why I Ride My Bicycle," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 11, 2009, p. 7A ("Seven Iowa City area women write about why they ride their bikes to work and their riding experiences as we kick off Bike to Work Week." Those seven biking authors are: Susan Beckett, Wendy Brown, Erin Fleck, Diana Harris, Karen Kubby, Feather Lacy and Mary Lohse Shepherd); Rob Daniel, "Biker Beats Car, Bus in Annual Bike to Work Race," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 12, 2009; Editorial, "Working Toward a Bike-Friendly Community," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 13, 2009, p. A13 ("One step in the right direction is the Metro Bicycle Master Plan recently produced by the JCCOG Regional Trails and Bicycling Committee"); ; Brian Loring, "The Advantages of Biking," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 13, 2009, p. A18 ("With so many bicycle owners but so little bike riding in the United States, there is great potential to increase the role that bicycles play in daily commutes and other frequent trips"); Editorial, "Public Bike System Would Unclutter Downtown and be Eco-Friendly," The Daily Iowan, May 14, 2009, p. A6; Rob Daniel, "Biking, Walking to School Nets Rewards," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 14, 2009, p. A3.]

[And here are a couple additional links (among potentially hundreds) to biking resources: Bike Iowa (with links to many resources, including 68 Iowa bike clubs); Bike Cult; and for a couple places to get started in Iowa City, the 30th Century Bicycle; the Iowa City Bike Library; and World of Bikes.]

Think you can't do it? Click here to see why I answer your concerns with "Oh yes you can!"

Thirty-seven years ago I published a book titled, Test Pattern for Living. (Although long since out of print, it is still available for free downloading, and has maintained its own devoted cult following over the years.) The benefits of biking received an entire chapter in that book, and I have been extolling them ever since.

You see, the point is not that there is a single benefit from biking, but a lot of that benefit. The point is that there are so many multiple benefits from biking, each of which provides a lot of that benefit. They are spelled out in this blog entry, so I won't repeat them all here. But examples would include the sheer joy that comes from more oxygen in the brain, the beneficial reduction of obesity and heart attack risks, the greater speed of commuting and ease of parking, and the virtual elimination of expense (compared to operating a car) -- a not insignificant benefit at any time but especially during the current global economic collapse.

As a young boy, I started using a bike to deliver the Des Moines Register to my neighbors (a bike the Register enabled me to buy at a discount with my paper route money). Later, in the 1970s, I rode across the state in the RAGBRAI event with Donald Kaul for a number of years, reporting on it for National Public Radio. That three-speed RAGBRAI bike, with its rod brakes, still hangs in the garage these days. (I was told this museum piece was of a design originally created for the bicycles of postal delivery persons in India, and later for the bicycles that became the backbone of the Viet Cong's very effective transportation system during the war. "U.S. Army Transportation Museum," Wikipedia ("The museum has an extensive Vietnam War exhibit, including . . . bicycles used by the Viet Cong").)

Today my somewhat more modern (but still inexpensive) bicycle is mostly used for daily commuting, as well as exercise and recreation along some local trails. (For years I jogged almost every day as well -- in Washington, through the woods of Glover Park, just outside my door. The toll it took on my knees has eliminated that exercise option in recent years, but for some reason my knees seem to still like biking.)

As life has a way of coming full circle, this past year marked the publication of my son Gregory Johnson's book, Put Your Life on a Diet -- already in its second printing. Although it is compatible in theme with Test Pattern for Living, and also has a chapter on transportation advocating bicycles, it is otherwise unique, very much up-to-date, and grows out of his leadership with the "small house" movement -- as suggested by the book's sub-title: "Lessons Learned Living in 140 Square Feet." And see "Life Mobility Transportation Group - Bicycles, Electric Cars, and Greener Alternative Fuel Modes of Travel," on his Web site.

I've made no effort to update the bicycling chapter from my book, reproduced below.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a different time from today. So you'll need to update the statistics if you want to use them. And the sentiments are very much 1970s' -- though the conclusions, social and ecological conditions haven't changed all that much.

It was a time of political and economic change, and one of my goals was to see if I could help contribute to a year in America in which there would be more bicycles sold than automobiles. (That goal was accomplished, as you'll see from a quote in what follows.)

In the 1970s there was also a good deal of artistic as well as other creative experimentation. It was represented in this book with the fact that the Foreword was sheet music (written by Mason Williams) and the chapters consisted of quotes on the even numbered (left hand) pages, and my text on the odd numbered (right hand) pages. As I described that feature in the Introduction,
[A]ny honest author will admit he has drawn heavily from the writings of others. I have emphasized this fact by the use of quotations from diverse sources . . . [One] reason I have emphasized the quotes is that my search involves the discovery of common themes . . .. When different people start saying the same thing -- when a blue-collar worker expresses frustrations similar to those of college students, when the teachings of Buddha are consistent with the insights of psychiatrists, or when ecologists echo the sentiments of poets -- I feel excitement. If you want, you can just read the quotes, and skip my text entirely -- or read it later.
In today's reproduction of the chapter the quotes are indented and blocked and my text goes to the margin. Page numbers are indicated as, e.g., # p. 110 #.

Antidote to Automobiles
[Test Pattern for Living, Chapter 7]

# p. 110 #

We might have to slow down a little or perhaps even sit quiet occasionally to develop better taste. One can't think very deeply at 70 miles an hour.
-C. E. Warne

My new pattern requires renting new cars at the airports as needed. I am progressively ceasing to own things, not on a political-schism basis, as for instance Henry George's ideology, but simply on a practical basis. Possession is becoming progressively burdensome and wasteful and therefore obsolete.
-R. Buckminster Fuller

When you drive a car, you drive a reflection of your self. And, in the case of the 1971 MGB, it's a reflection of someone very special.
-MG advertisement in Time

# p. 111 #

So far, we have approached alternate life styles almost in terms of hedonism: What feels best for you? What will remove the pain of living in a corporate state -- other than the drug life (whether alcohol, tranquilizers, or others) that only brings more ultimate pain? But what we so often discover is that the very products, activities, and attitudes that make you feel better also have significant social advantages: They use less of our nation's precious natural resources, they pollute less, they make less noise, they add to the pleasure of others, they enable each of us to live in a society in which we can grow in individual worth and fulfillment, they are more aesthetically pleasing, they make for better citizenship, and they are even more economical. Take bicycles, for example.

I ride a bicycle -- not because I hate General Motors but haven't the courage to bomb an auto plant. I don't do it as a gesture of great stoicism and personal sacrifice. I am not even engaged, necessarily, in an act of political protest over that company's responsibility for most of the air pollution by tonnage in the United States. It's like finally giving up cigarettes. You just wake up one morning and realize you don't want to start the day with another automobile. Cigarette smoking is not a pleasure, it's a business. In the same way, you finally come to realize that you don't need General Motors, they need you. They need you to drive their cars for them. You are driving for Detroit and paying them to do it. Automobiles are just a part of your life that's over, that's all. No hard feelings. You've just moved on to something else. From now on you just use their buses, taxis, and rental cars when they suit your

# p. 112 #

The most natural form of locomotion, walking has been In use since before the Invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire. Reliable and totally non-polluting, it offers convenience -- no parking, no cost. Invigorating, it promotes health and gives you the chance to think.
-Paul Swatek

Automobiles insulate man not only from the environment but from human contact as well. They permit only most limited types of interaction, usually competitive, aggressive, and destructive. If people are to be brought together again, given a chance to get acquainted with each other and involved in nature, some fundamental solutions must be found to the problems posed by the automobile.
-Edward T. Hall

ANNOUNCER: Sidney spent Sundays shelling at the seashore. Then Sidney started digging the Mustang -- the great original . . .. Now Sidney's making waves all over. Last week he saved three bathing beauties. (And they all could swim better than Sidney!) Only Mustang makes it happen!
-a television commercial

# p. 113 #

convenience. You don't keep one for them that you have to house, feed and water, insure, and care for.

You ride a bicycle because it feels good. The air feels good on your body; even the rain feels good. The blood starts moving around your body, and pretty soon it gets to your head, and, glory be, your head feels good. You start noticing things. You look until you really see. You hear things, and smell smells, you never knew were there. You start whistling nice little original tunes to suit the moment. Words start getting caught in the web of poetry in your mind. And there's a nice feeling, too, in knowing you're doing a fundamental life thing for yourself: transportation. You got a little bit of your life back! And the thing you use is simple, functional, and relatively cheap. You want one that fits you and rides smoothly, but with proper care and a few parts it should last almost forever. Your satisfaction comes from within you, not from the envy or jealousy of others. (Although you are entitled to feel a little smug during rush hours, knowing you are also making better time than most of the people in cars.)

On those occasions when I am not able to cycle through the parks or along the canal -- because the paths are rough with ice or muddy from rain or melting snow -- bicycling enables me to keep closer to the street people: folks waiting for buses or to cross streets, street sweepers, policemen, school "patrols," men unloading trucks. Needless to say, you cannot claim any depth of understanding as a result of such momentary and chance encounters, but by the time I get to the office I do somehow have the sense that I have a much better feeling for the mood of the city that day than if I had come to my office in a chauffeur-driven government limou-

# p. 114 #

On a different speed scale, bicycles could move 2.8 times as many people per amount of space. If a bicycler can make 10 miles an hour, the car would have to exceed 28 mph to rack up more passenger miles on the same system of streets. But the New York City average speed for cars during rush hour is only 8.5 mph, 13 mph on the feeder roads. It's a fact that today in many cities you can make better time aboard a bicycle than in a car.
-Paul Swatek

Make your second car a bicycle.

Consider the advantages that the bicycle has to offer -- low cost, no pollution, and convenient to park.

For under $50 you can get a bicycle fitted with enough trimmings to make it practical for going shopping and carrying a small child. The cheapest car costs about thirty times that.

A bicycle is also inexpensive to operate, maintain, and insure.

Bicycles are quieter than any form of motorized transportation, produce no pollution, and use up no fuel.

A bicycle takes up about 1/30th the parking space of a car.

In city traffic today, the bicycle is often faster than the car or bus.

Bicycles give the rider the sort of healthy exercise that many Americans usually do not get.

Riding a bicycle makes it possible to get a better appreciation of a beautiful day, or a pleasant ride through the park.

. . . The New York Times quoted a 32-year-old millionaire who pedals up Fifth Avenue to social engagements in a dinner jacket as explaining, "It's much easier than fussing with a chauffeur."
-Paul Swatek

# p. 115 #

sine. Although I am willing to brave the traffic and exhaust, I am aware it is dangerous. I think bicycles ought to be accorded a preferred position in the city's transportation system. At the very least, they deserve an even break.

Notice that bicycle riding also has some significant social advantages over the automobile. Cars unnecessarily kill sixty thousand people every year, permanently maim another one hundred and seventy thousand, and injure three and a half million more. The automobile accounts for at least 60 percent of the total air pollution in the United States by tonnage -- as high as 85 percent in some urban areas -- and 91 percent of all carbon-monoxide pollution; it creates about nine hundred pounds of pollution for every person every year. One million acres of land are paved each year; there is now a mile of road for each square mile of land. The concrete used in our Interstate Highway System would build six sidewalks to the moon. Even so, everyone is familiar with the clogged streets and parking problems -- not to mention the unconscionable rates charged by the parking garages. Automobile transportation is the largest single consumer of the resources used in our nation's total annual output of energy. It is an economic drain on consumers -- in no way aided by auto companies that deliberately build bumpers weaker than they were fifty years ago in order to contribute to an unnecessary bumper-repair bill in excess of one billion dollars annually.

The bicycle is a model citizen, by comparison.

The bicycle does not kill or maim; it does not pollute; it does not deplete natural resources; it makes no noise; it takes a great deal less space; and it is very much cheaper. (You can buy a brand new bicycle for

# p. 116 #

Commuting by bicycle? Is this some kind of put-on? It may sound like a joke to motor-minded America, but in the rest of the world nobody is laughing. In countries that are willing to take it seriously, the bicycle [is] transportation. Switzerland, for example, which traditionally places a high value on peace of mind and purity of air, has more bicycles than automobiles. In Amsterdam -- a national capital with roughly the same population and climatic conditions as Washington, D.C. -- 150,000 people ride bikes to work every day. Hundreds of thousands more commute by bicycle in other European cities. The same is true in much of Africa and Asia.
-Thomas R. Reid, III

This year an estimated 10 million bicycles will be sold, compared to a projected 8.6 million new cars.
-Friends of the Earth

# p. 117 #

little more than what it costs to operate an automobile for two weeks.) Although the bicycle makes a direct assault on four great problems that plague the modern city -- traffic, noise, parking, and pollution -- urban planners have overlooked it in their search for solutions to the urban transportation crisis.

It is more than ironic that America can invest so much stock faith and rhetoric in the competitive marketplace of commerce and yet ignore the "marketplace of ideas" (to use a phrase by Mr. Justice Holmes) by tolerating the television monopoly that is used to merchandise Detroit's peculiar dreams of the appropriate automotive life style -- with all that life style's attendant social ills. My own commission, the Federal Communications Commission, has been instrumental in encouraging broadcasters' censoring off the airwaves the messages from ecology groups (like Friends of the Earth) that would cry out against the urban devastation being wrought by Detroit's automobiles. (The FCC decision, fortunately, has been substantially reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals.) In perhaps one of the greatest advertising overkills of all time, we Americans are being grossly oversold an automotive product and life style (bigger, faster, sexier cars) that we neither need nor may really want, and that will surely eventually kill us with its exhaust by-products and lethargy-induced heart attacks, if it does not get us first in a crash. This may serve the corporate profits of the automotive, oil, steel, cement, and road-building industries, but it is shortchanging the American people.

There are other ways to get around.

# # #

You, too, can have a happy Bike to Work Week -- 52 weeks every year! Try it.

Think you can't do it? Here are some suggestions/answers/arguments that say, "Yes You Can!"

1. I'm just not in shape. Bikers come in all shapes and sizes -- physically and in terms of fitness. You can join them. Haven't biked during the last 20 years -- or ever? Start slowly. Don't go out and buy the most expensive one in the shop (even though a perfectly good new bike will only cost you roughly 1% of what a new car would cost). Rent, or borrow, a bike and take a ride around one city block in your neighborhood. Gradually extend your distance -- a half-mile, a mile (10 to 12 blocks), five miles -- over the course of a month. Doesn't it make you feel better? Isn't it kind of fun? Buy a used bike. Make sure it's properly adjusted to your size, and the tires are kept properly inflated -- and that you wear a helmet and follow some simple safety rules (see 6, below). Don't worry about the hills; they will seem to be much less steep with time. Until those leg muscles develop just get off the bike and walk it up the hills that are a little too difficult, even when you've geared down. And remember, there's no shame in walking; every biker has done it on some occasion; and besides they'll just think you had to get off because you have a flat tire.

2. It's too far to my job. What do you mean by "too far"? That it will take longer than you'd like? (It may actually save you time; see 4, below.) That you have to dress up for work and might dirty your clothes? (There are answers for that, too, in 5, below.) That you'd have to bike on unsafe streets? Yup, once again, see 6, below. Bear in mind, I'm talking about biking to work in Iowa-sized towns (up to and including Des Moines); I'm not advocating biking along Los Angeles' freeways from Pasadena to Santa Monica every morning.

3. There are a lot of things for which I need a car. (a) I'm not suggesting you not have access to a car when you truly need one, only that you probably truly need one less often than you think. (b) If you and your partner have more than one car you might be able to share one, and cut your costs in half. Or maybe rent one over occasional weekends for heavy shopping, or trips out of town. (c) The average person expends 1500 hours a year for their car: [1] the hours you must work to earn the money for car payments, repairs, insurance, licensing and fees, gas and oil, [2] driving to, waiting for, going back to pick up your car, and other time consuming efforts associated with those tasks, and [3] the hours you spend actually driving the car for your own purposes. The average distance driven is 7500 miles per year. At 1500 hundred hours, and 7500 miles, that's an average of 5 miles per hour -- a good brisk walking speed, and much, much slower than what you can do on a bike. (d) Many of those "needs" you fulfill with your car may not really be "needs." (e) You'd be amazed how much you can carry with a bike. [1] Small and medium-size objects can be put in a jacket pocket; or, if they won't fit there, in one of the various-sized baskets available for bicycles. [2] Regularly have larger loads? Groceries? Laundry to the laundromat? There are reasonably priced bicycle trailers that are lightweight and easy to pull that quickly snap into and out of their connectors.

4. I don't have the time. Put aside the fact that you're only getting 5 mph out of your car (see 3(c), above). Assume that wasn't true and that the only time required by your car was the time spent getting from one place to another. Traveling by bike is, worst case, not significantly slower than a car, and often actually faster. [See, Rob Daniel, "Biker Beats Car, Bus in Annual Bike to Work Race," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 12, 2009.] Why is that? Bikes' advantages, among others, include the combination of (a) being able jump on your bike and go (without opening the garage, warming up the car, backing out of the drive, getting into traffic), (b) bike trails (with no stop lights), sidewalks and bike lanes (faster than sitting in rush hour traffic), and (c) being able to pull up and park right outside the door of your destination (rather than having to look for a parking place or drive round and round in a parking garage).

5. I need to dress for work. (a) Do you really? Midwestern workplaces are much more casual than those on the East or West Coast -- and more casual than any were in the 1950s. (b) I knew a multi-millionaire in Manhattan who used to bike, in black tie, to formal events. I see men in suits biking in Iowa City. Clearly it is possible to do. (c) There are alternatives. Combine your biking with a stop off at a gym; shower, and keep your good clothes, there. I've often found myself working in buildings that have showers in the restrooms. Many people who walk to work wear one pair of walking shoes while walking and carry (or keep at the office) another pair they wear at work; you might be able to carry, or keep at the office, the clothes you need there.

6. I just wouldn't feel safe. You're less likely to be seriously hurt moving around town on a bike than in a car. OK, I know the data can be debated for hours without reaching agreement. The point is that, with some minimal precautions -- just as with driving, walking, boating, or any other activity -- you're safe on a bike. "Car emissions kill 30,000 people and car collisions kill 46,000 each year in the U.S. . . . 725, 629, 665, 732, and 693 cyclists died per year in 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000 respectively." Bicycle Almanac. Those are pretty good comparative odds. Actually, most bike accidents are the result of ignoring some of those simple safety practices: biking against, instead of with, traffic; running red lights; biking without a helmet; riding too fast, or going in and out of traffic; biking at night without a headlight and flashing rear red light -- and, of course, OWI. If you're going to ride on sidewalks a bell is a courtesy as much as a safety device.

7. What would I do on days that aren't perfect biking weather? What if it's a bitter cold winter day? Or a real summer scorcher? Or it's raining? Hey, nobody's taking attendance; you want to skip a day, skip a day. But once it becomes a habit you may end up doing what a lot of bikers do: ride your bike every day -- unless it's a safety issue. I never bike in tornadoes; if you wouldn't be safe in a car you probably aren't safe on a bike. It's conceivable fog or rain would be so thick as to impair vision. And when roads are so icy that cars can't stay on them bikes probably can't either. As for cold, the folks who are really cold in winter are the ones standing and shivering at a bus stop, or scraping the ice off their windshield. Biking helps keep you warm. Besides, cold weather is easy to deal with; we midwesterners call it "layering" -- the colder it gets the more layers of clothing you put on (paying special attention to feet, hands, head and face). I once walked across Iowa City in 100 below wind chill weather just to see what it would feel like; it was as comfortable as any other temperature for which I've been adequately dressed. Heat's another matter. There's no limit to how much additional clothes you can put on in the winter, but there are limits to how much you can take off in the summer (though you wouldn't know it to see some summertime bikers). So why do 7000-10,000 bicyclists from Iowa and around the world take a week out of their lives, and pay the costs, to ride across the entire state of Iowa during the peak of summer heat in July? Because it's just that much fun to do. And the heat? If you're moving along at 15 mph or so, and sweating, you have the equivalent of the comfort of a fan blowing on you and evaporating that moisture. You'll be a lot more comfortable that the folks sitting in their lawn chairs along the route. (But you do have to remember to keep taking liquids and electrolites.) Rain? You're not going to carry an umbrella while biking, but there are lots of rain gear outfits to choose from that will keep you warm and dry. (Just remember to keep your bike chain oiled to avoid rust.)

Any other reasons why you say "I can't" to which I can respond, "Oh, yes you can"? Just put a comment on this blog entry and I'll try to give you an answer.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great, great post here. This should be read by everyone.