I keep seeing anti-bike memes on the internet – is it my algorithms? Is there a vast conspiracy at place to convince people that vehicles vs. bikes is the newest dividing point in our society? Or, perhaps, are people too afraid of the change required in our transport systems in order to have some hope of mitigating climate change?
The thing is, I don’t really want to debate the above memes. I don’t even know who created them. Plus, I’m obviously a bit biased – I bike pretty much everywhere I can. But, that’s not going to stop me from writing this post, and trying to take a more systems-approach to the issue that is transportation (in North America), and the crisis that is sedentary lifestyles.
- Bike commuting is associated with increased physical health, better mental health outcomes (really, better mental health outcomes), lower chances of cancer, and like… just a happier life.
- Bike commuting can (and likely does) save individuals plenty of money a year, whether it be on fuel, insurance, or simply the costs of vehicle ownership.
- The average price of a new car is over $40,000 in Canada. A new bike will cost anywhere from $500 to $10,000, depending on functionality, whether or not it’s electric, and any accessories added. My current ride was about $1,000, and that’s suited me well for 3 years (year-round).
- All-ages-and-abilities (AAA) cycling (bike commuting) infrastructure) mean a reduction in fatalities for all users (including drivers!) of the road, and a rise or a non-significant impact on retail sales near bike infrastructure.
Not only is commuting by bike healthier and (very likely) better for your pocketbook but it’s a good way of increasing opportunities for physical activity.
In his new book, The Miracle Pill: Why a sedentary world is getting it all wrong, Peter Walker dives into the health impacts of our car-dependent societies. I really want everyone to go read his book, because honestly, it’s fantastic. I’d consider myself (and my family) extremely active people, but even I was realizing that we often sit too much, and how the design of our cities has played into our sedentary lifestyles. Seriously, it’s worth a read. It’s not focused entirely on car-dependent living, but based around the idea that literally any amount of physical activity can be helpful for leading a better life – but it’s that same physical activity or movement that we’ve tried to remove from modern life. We park as close as we can. We get food delivered. We have robotic vacuums. We stream all our entertainment from the couch. So on, and so forth – in other words, modern life is killing us (literally – hundreds of thousands of deaths per year associated with inactivity, something that could be drastically reduced simply by adding 30-60 minutes worth of walking or cycling into your daily life).
Now, as I said at the beginning, I want to take a more systems-level approach to this problem of inactivity. For one, while some may truly believe inactivity to be an individual problem, it really… isn’t. Our cities, and our lives in general, have been designed as to limit the physical exertion any one individual needs to make. Seriously though: I could, hypothetically, stay within the same 20 feet at all times, and have everything delivered to me, while I work or do whatever I need to do virtually (I would probably become mentally ill after a while, but it’s certainly possible). To that end, we must change the design of cities to encourage active lifestyles.
So what you’re saying then, Trey, is that you want bike lanes? But no one will use them! How will we pay for them?
First off, yes, I’d love to see more bike lanes. But not just that: streets need to be re-prioritized to be pedestrian first, cyclist second, and motor vehicles third. This means not only bike lanes, but protected bike lanes, intersections that prioritize cyclists, secure parking, and much more. The best thing about bike infrastructure? It’s just like roads: the more you build, the more people use it!
Second… we’ll pay for them by reducing our reliance on vehicle traffic, which costs untold millions of dollars (not to mention thousands of lives) each year in Canada to construct and maintain, as well as the health benefits as more people switch over to active transportation. I don’t want to sounds like a broken record, but please go read The Miracle Pill. Essentially, sedentary lifestyles cost society so much that the NHS in the UK (government healthcare system, just like we have in Canada) likely will not be able to sustain itself financially because of the number of people living sedentary lives. That alone should scare all Canadians. Subsidized, social healthcare will likely fail if we do not start being more proactive on sedentary lifestyles.
But the weather!
First off, again, let me reiterate my bias: I’m a year-round cyclist in Saskatoon. So are many other people! It’s more than possible. In fact, it would be even more possible if we had better bicycle infrastructure and de-prioritized individual motor vehicle usage. Thousands of people in Calgary, which has many days of similar weather to us in Saskatoon, cycle year-round (trust me, I saw the counters while I lived there). Thousands of school-aged children in countries around the world commute to school by bicycle. It’s possible. It’s not an issue. In fact, it’s my favourite time to cycle.
Okay, but driving a car is quicker!
Did you know that upwards of 35% of trips made are 2 miles (3.2 km) or less? If that distance sounds easily bikeable, that’s because it is. Sure, many people have commutes upwards of 20km – but then, ask yourself why? Why do we have long commutes? Could it be that decades of zoning laws and legislation made to benefit developers and car companies has led to cities being purposely designed to only work if you have a vehicle?
Look, here’s the thing – for many trips, a bicycle works better, is better for your health, and is really all you need. For some trips, you might need to hop on the bus or the metro.
But the best thing about bike commuting is: rides are predictable. I get to my common destinations, almost without fail, within 5% of my average time (I’ve done the math). Can one say the same for cars? Between gridlock (that’s caused by too many vehicles on the roads) and car crashes (because it’s a great idea to be distracted while operating a two tonne weapon), there’s many situations where drivers might be stuck and can’t move ahead. Me? I can fit through any 2-3ft gap and continue on my way, plus, I’m not at the whim of any modern technology – a chain, a few gears, and two wheels is all I need.
Plus like, have you ever thought about how much time you spend looking for parking? I waste almost zero minutes of my life trying to find parking. Sure, I have to take a minute to lock up my bike – but I’ve been in vehicles with people who will be looking for a car parking spot for upwards of 10 minutes.
Related to parking, I love to think about car parking as a form of survivorship bias; people who drive will complain about parking but those that don’t drive, don’t see a need to complain, so they will be happier. Business owners and concerned parties quick to feign outrage over the loss of parking due to complaints from patrons, without realizing that it’s a vocal minority. This tweet that I saw months ago sums it up succinctly:
I don’t know if I’ll truly get through to anyone with this post. It’s tough to be someone who wants to care for the environment by reducing emissions from my own personal transportation, only to feel like I’m betraying some sacred way of being in society. Bike commuters (or cyclists) are people too – and we’re often happier. I’ve been yelled at, had things thrown at me, and been threatened for… riding my bike on the road (which is perfectly legal). Things need to change. We need to be encouraging people – with proper infrastructure – to get out and utilize active transportation methods. If we don’t, we’re all screwed.
As a side note, if I die, or am injured while cycling and for any reason can longer communicate, here’s my message to policymakers and politicians: my injury (or my death) is your fault. We should be aiming for Vision Zero, not Vision: Not My Problem Another Cyclist Died.