Yesterday on a train, I was asked to take yet another survey on transportation and transit. I take every survey that comes my way because I have strong opinions on the subject, but for the last year and a half or so, I have been embarrassed about my answer to one of the questions: how many cars do you have?
I hate admitting we have two cars and two licensed drivers because it implies that everyone in our household who can drive has a car. The truth is that one of the cars gets driven about once a month—primarily to keep the oil circulating and the wheels rotated. (The reason for this “spare” car is a future post.)
While cars have a reasonable (and important) place in the lives of most of us, I firmly believe that not only should a bicycle be in every person’s transportation mix, it should be the go-to vehicle. Why?
Because so many trips are cycleable
Data from the 2009 National Household Transportation survey shows that the average length of trips taken in the U.S. was 9.7 miles and that 40% of all trips taken by Americans are less than two miles. Two miles is so easy to ride, and anyone from two to 70 years old or even weighing 570 pounds can do it.
You can probably go two miles faster on a bike than in a car. Yesterday I went to the bank during lunch…a trip of 2.12 miles. Round trip riding time: 16 minutes. Between getting out of my building’s parking lot, navigating the downtown streets, and finding (and paying for) parking at the bank, driving would have taken MUCH longer. Two miles is also about the amount of time it takes a car motor to warm up—and remember that cars are at their most polluting before they warm up.
Because it improves your quality of life
It almost goes without saying that riding a bike is fun…wind in your hair and all that…but cycling has tangible benefits as well. You can power and even repair a bike yourself—saving money on gas and car repairs that you can spend on movie tickets, dinners, or anything else you enjoy. Riding regularly will keep you thinner and more healthy so that you can enjoy all the other activities in your life. Riding a bike puts you in contact with your neighborhood and neighbors, contributing to a sense of place and belonging that studies have shown to contribute to our security and well-being.
Because it improves everyone else’s quality of life
Bicycles produce no asthma-inducing air pollution, no ear-wearying noise pollution, and take much (very much) less space to drive and park, making for more walkable communities. They also reduce urban sprawl, preserving valuable farmland and contributing to urban renewal efforts in our cities.
Putting your car where it belongs
Several years ago, I implemented a rule that keeps my car last on the list of transportation options: I never drive anywhere I can reasonably get to some other way. Unlike dozens of other rules I have implemented over the years, this one has stuck around because it works. “Never” is strong enough to keep me out of the car generally, while “reasonably” gives me the flexibility to not be ridiculous by trying to put a propane cylinder on my bike when I need a refill.
Here’s a question for you: What trips could you take by bike that you are now taking by car? Share your answer in the comments below.