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Walk or ride your bike

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Walking or riding not only has big payoffs for the environment but also for your waistline.

Plan your route

Get prepped for your route planning by finding out how walkable or ridable your community is with these bicycling and walkability checklists.

  • Walkers should look for a route that's well-lit, preferably with a sidewalk or road with a wide shoulder and minimal traffic.
  • Bikers and bladers should take a look at the terrain in terms of road smoothness, number of hills, obstructions (sewer grates, railroad tracks, potholes), amount of traffic, number of intersections to cross as well as width of roads, and whether they have wide paved shoulders or bike lanes.

Know the rules

Here's a great resource for re-familiarizing yourself with the road rules: play by the road rules

Parking like a pro

Unfortunately, parking a bike can be the most risky part of the journey. Inside a building is clearly safest but if not an option, lock the frame and both wheels to something stationary that can't be cut, unbolted, or removed.

Gear up for safety and comfort

A few "accessories" to consider:

  • A helmet
  • Padded bike gloves to help absorb shock
  • Sunglasses or biking glasses
  • A rearview mirror on your bike or helmet
  • Padded bike shorts
  • Cycling shoes
  • Reflective arm/leg band
  • An ergonomic backpack
  • A bike rack

If you're in the market for a new bike and are serious about cycling to work you might want to look at the emerging category of commuter bikes. With these, the rider sits in an upright position and the bikes have chain guards, fenders, rear luggage racks and lights for the evening commute.

Concerning maintenance, check your bike often, especially brakes and tires. Consider wiping it down after you ride to keep it clean, particularly if you've been out in wet weather. Ensure you won't get caught on the road with a flat tire or broken bike by carrying a small tool kit with a set of Allen wrenches, a tire patch kit, new inner tube, and tire levers. Learn how to change a flat tire if you're a little rusty in this area. Also carry a tire pump that can be attached to your bike frame.

Find it! Backpacks and bike lights

Whether you walk or ride a bike, you'll need something to tote your stuff in. A bike rack with panniers can fit a lot but if you need extra carrying capacity there are a variety of green backpacks to choose from. For walkers and roller bladers, a backpack might distribute weight more ergonomically and fit more than a purse or briefcase. Also, front lights and rear reflectors are a must (and often the law) when riding a bike at dusk, night, or in wet weather. Here are some bike lights that use long lasting, ultra energy-efficient LED lights.

Walking or riding your bike helps you go green because...

  • You'll help curb global emissions caused by people driving cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Walking and riding bicycles is pollution free.

Americans haven't always had such a passion for and dependence on their cars. As the 20th century began, getting to work or running errands via bicycling alone or in tandem with walking and mass transit was commonplace. The development of the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s and 60s brought automobiles to the forefront, pedal power lost favor and the environmental costs have been high.[1]

Now the average US household has two mid-sized vehicles, which emit upwards of 20,000 pounds of CO2 every year.[2] This costs the average house approximately 18 percent of its income, which is more than the amount spent on food.[3] Twenty-seven percent of total vehicle miles traveled by Americans are to and from work, which amounts to 734 billion miles each year.[3] Seventy-eight percent of those who commute to work do so solo.[3] Twenty percent of US greenhouse gas emissions comes from vehicle gasoline consumption.[3]

Commute to work

In 1990 the US Census Journey to Work survey showed that 4.3 percent of workers, or 4.9 million people, walked or rode bicycles to work. In 2000, that number dropped to 4.25 million people or 3.3 percent.[4] But as gridlock increases and each rush-hour commuter is stuck in traffic approximately 50 hours a year, adding up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas consumed, the many benefits of commuting under one's own power is creating changes in federal policies.[5] The US Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted a new transportation policy in 1990 designed to make it easier for people to bike and walk on roads and backed it up with increased federal funding for bicycling and walking projects of $422 million in 2003 compared to $6 million in 1990.[1]

In Los Angeles, a city infamous for its traffic jams, 60 percent of the commutes are less than five miles, which could be turned into bike trips and in fact, more than half of the people in the US live within five miles of where they work.[6][7] If everyone who lived in this five-mile range left their car at home just one day a week and cycled or walked to work, close to 5 million tons of global warming emissions would be averted every year with the effect of taking a million cars off the road.[1] Every mile walked instead of driven saves a pound of carbon monoxide from being produced,[8] and riding a bike to work eliminates 3.6 pounds of car pollutants each mile with a typical four-mile round-trip bike commute preventing the formation of nearly 15 pounds of auto pollutants that include carbon monoxide, benzene, lead, sulfates, ozone, and cyanide.[9]

The positive effect is already in evidence in California where bicycling keeps about 7 tons of smog-forming gases and close to a ton of inhalable particles out of the air. The city of Davis, California, has the highest rate of bicycling in the country with 17 percent of its 64,000 residents biking to work and 41 percent using bicycles as their main form of transportation. Davis also has safe places for cyclists to ride with more than 100 miles of on-street bicycle lanes.[10] Concern over personal safety keeps some off bikes and a recent national survey shows that 55 percent of Americans want better facilities for bicycling.[7]

Seattle has come up with a Bicycle Master Plan, which envisions a 450-mile network of bike routes and greenways. San Franciscan leaders are working toward making bicycling account for 10 percent of all trips by 2010 and Chicago's Bike2015 Plan would make it a world-class biking city. New York City has plans to install 200 new miles of bike lanes by 2009 and 40 new miles of car-free greenways by 2010.[11] Begun in 2004 and endorsed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Walk to Work Day is held the first Friday of April followed up by Bike/Walk to Work Day held in mid-May sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists.

Related health issues

Half of American adults don't get the recommended amount of physical activity. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that 200,000 deaths per year can be linked to physical inactivity.[7] Biking and walking can reduce the risk of heart disease, improve cardiovascular fitness, tone muscles, and help with weight loss or maintenance.[12] On a 10-mile bike commute you'll spare the air a half pound of carbon monoxide emissions while you burn 350 calories.[13]

There may be a few days, however, when summer is at its haziest and hottest and ground-level ozone levels are high that it may not be a healthy choice. Ground-level ozone, or smog, forms when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react with nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases in the presence of sunlight and hot weather. Breathing ozone can cause chest pain, throat irritation, coughing and congestion, as well as worsen asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.[14] Studies have also shown damage to lung tissue from ozone that may take several days after exposure for total recovery.[15] Additionally, lung tissue may be permanently scarred from repeated exposure.[14] Children and adults who are active outside, people with unusual susceptibility to ozone, as well as those with asthma or other respiratory diseases are at risk from ground-level ozone.[15] Check the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) AIRNow air quality index and if it tops 151, especially if you have a respiratory condition, it might be a day to drive or take mass transit.[16]

Glossary

  • ground-level ozone: The main component of smog, ground-level ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react chemically with nitrogen oxides (NOx) when it is sunny and hot outside. Many urban areas have high levels of this summertime pollutant, but rural areas can have increased ozone levels too as wind can carry ground-level ozone hundreds of miles from where it originates. Breathing ozone can cause a number of respiratory health problems, plus it damages ecosystems and vegetation, including crops.
  • nitrogen oxide (NOx): A group of highly reactive colorless, odorless gases that form when fuel is burned at high temperatures. The most common man-made sources of NOx are motor vehicles, electric utilities, and other industrial, commercial and residential sources that burn fuels.

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