Why Use Bicycles for Transportation?

You may ask, “Why use bicycles for transportation?” But, as you'll discover as you read this section, the better question is, “Why not use bicycles for transportation?”

Environmental Benefits

In recent decades concern for the environment has grown tremendously. As natural resources dwindle, the ozone layer depletes, and pollution becomes a health threat, more and more attention has been given to promoting practices that will help preserve the earth and keep it a safe place to live. The energy crisis of the 1970s is in large part responsible for the bike boom of that decade. Besides walking, no other form of transportation is as environmentally sound as cycling. And no other means of transportation—including walking—is as healthy practical, and energy efficient.

Bikes create little or no pollution.

Motor vehicles burn fuel in a process that releases harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide into the air. These pollutants adversely affect the air we breathe, the rain that falls, and the ozone layer that protects us from the sun's damaging rays. Pollution from motor vehicles is at least partly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year. And ironically, short car trips (trips that could be made by bikes instead) cause the most pollution per mile. Riding a bicycle releases no pollutants into the air. The amount of oil that enters the environment via a bike chain is negligible compared to that used by motor vehicles. Even the process of making a bicycle, which is an industrial process that involves a good deal of hazardous waste and pollution, creates nowhere near the environmental assault that car manufacturing does.

Another environmental concern is noise pollution. Again, bicycles beat every other form of transportation. The majority of the world's noise pollution can be attributed to motor vehicles—roaring engines, screeching tires, blaring horns, whining security alarms, screaming sirens. The effect of noise pollution is difficult to quantify, though it clearly increases stress levels and causes sleep loss. Everyone at some point—some of us daily—has been disturbed by the harsh noise of a vehicle. But when was the last time you were severely shaken by the sound of a bicycle? Bikes have no engine noise, no loud horns, and no alarm systems. Unlike motorists in their sound-proof cars, though, cyclists, who are least responsible for noise pollution, are unfortunately the people who suffer most from it.

Bikes use up fewer natural resources.

Much of the same raw materials go into making cars and bikes: metal, rubber, some plastic, perhaps a little leather. And there's even some similarity in the methods of production; most bikes, like cars, are made in factories that use the latest industrial processes. Bikes are smaller, though, and have many fewer parts than cars. Therefore, dozens of bikes can be made using the resources and energy needed to construct one car.

Bikes make better use of land.

Typically, about half the land in a large American city is taken up by roads. And judging by the constant traffic jams, there still doesn't seem to be enough room for all the cars and trucks. We're constantly building newer, wider roads to ease congestion, yet we haven't even begun to solve the traffic problems in our cities. The solution? Bicycles, of course.

Bikes take up only a fraction of the road room that cars require. While one car can carry more people than one bike, over the same period of time a road full of bikes could transport a lot more people than a road full of cars. If more people used bikes—even just for short rides—there would be no traffic jams and no need to use up more precious space on expanding roads. We probably would even be able to make roads thinner!

Economic Benefits

You do the math. A new car can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, or more. As we learned in Chapter 4, a respectable new bicycle will run from around $300 to $600. Where a car could easily cost a buyer half a year's salary, a bike may not even add up to a week's pay.

Then there's the cost of maintaining a vehicle. Gas alone costs five to ten cents per mile, which adds up quickly when you're driving 10,000 miles a year. And don't forget about the price of oil changes, tune-ups, parts replacement, repairs, and of course, insurance. Bikes, on the other hand, have absolutely no fuel costs, very low maintenance costs, and no special insurance charges.

Of course, you don't need to do away with your car completely. When it comes to long-distance traveling and load-carrying, bikes simply cannot compete with a car or truck. But if everyone who traveled alone in a car on a trip of less than four miles took a bicycle instead, even that would save society billions of dollars a year in gasoline and other expenses.

People who use public transportation could save money as well. The cost of taking buses, trains, and cabs every day adds up, while using a bike on a daily basis is virtually free. And by biking, it's not only you that saves money, but potentially the whole country. More cyclists on the road means less money paid in taxes for road maintenance and construction, pollution control, parking facilities, and auto industry and gasoline subsidies.

Efficiency

Most people assume cars will get them to their destination a lot faster than bikes. It's an understandable conclusion—after all, a speeding car can move four or five times faster than a speeding bike. For city riding, though, speed limits, traffic, stop lights, and a lack of parking slow motorists down considerably. In fact, bicycles typically outrun cars on a trip through town. Most of the time, cyclists even beat buses and subway trains, which usually can't take you exactly where you want to go anyway.

Health Benefits

For people with hectic schedules, there's no better way to fit in a workout than by using your bike as transportation. Almost everyone needs to spend some part of the day traveling—whether to work, to the store, or to school. Instead of sitting passively in a car for that period of time, why not use your travel time to increase your fitness and decrease your stress? You'll feel a lot better when you get wherever you're going.

For a more detailed discussion of the many important exercise and health benefits (and health concerns) of cycling, refer back to Chapter 9.

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