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Ride Your Bicycle Instead

by Katherine Noyes
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When you ride your bike and leave the car at home, you help the planet and every living thing on it. Riding a bicycle uses absolutely no nonrenewable energy (just your own!) and emits no pollution, making it one of the best ways to get around without contributing to global warming. Riding a bike also means there’s one less car on the road to be involved in traffic jams, accidents and road-related injuries to wildlife. Then, of course, there's the fact that it's good for you — and just plain fun!

In the United States alone, there are more than 230 million cars, vans, SUVs, and pickups on the roads today. Many of these are driven by a single individual for personal transportation, which is an extremely inefficient and expensive way to travel that uses up an inordinate amount of the world's oil supplies. Meanwhile, a four-mile trip by car adds 15 pounds of pollutants to the air we all breathe; by making that a bike ride instead, you help keep the air clean.

With so many cars and people on the road, many cities of all sizes are also suffering from worsening traffic congestion, which can cost communities billions of dollars per year. Not only that, but in many areas, traffic and parking problems mean that bicyclists often arrive at their destinations sooner than those in cars!

Cars are more dangerous than bikes, especially when you take wildlife into account. People in cars account for more than one-third of all transportation fatalities, compared with people on bicycles, who represent less than 2 percent. (There are, of course, fewer bicyclists to begin with, but then again, the small number of bike-related fatalities is positively tiny compared with the hundreds of thousands of people killed each year by heart attacks and strokes, which can often be attributed at least in part to a lack of exercise.) Meanwhile, it's been estimated that one million animals are killed by cars every day in the United States. Others are harmed indirectly by cars' pollution of toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Bicycles are responsible for none of that.

There are efforts springing up to protect wildlife, such as the Federal Highway Administration's "Critter Crossings" program. And many communities are beginning to implement measures designed to encourage people to leave their cars at home, such as offering incentives for using carpooling and public transportation, building urban bike lanes and bike paths, and participating in events such as National Bike Month

But the bottom line is that we simply drive our cars too much, and we really don't need to. Don't drive to the gym to get your exercise – do the world a favor, burn 500 calories an hour, save those membership fees, and go for a bike ride instead!

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  • Instead of driving your car, ride your bike as much as you can for errands, visiting friends, bringing your kids to school (they'll love the excuse to be on their bikes too) and even getting to work. Plan your route in advance, and make sure you wear a helmet and know the bicycle rules of the road. If the distance is prohibitive, many public transportation systems now offer ways for bicyclists to travel with their bikes and then start cycling when they're closer to their destination. Consider joining a bicyclist organization for connections, equipment advice and more information.
  • If your community doesn't yet have a good network of bike paths, ask town planners to consider building them. Many bicycle organizations and communities with bike paths in place have bike path guidelines that can be useful for planning new ones.
  • When you must drive a car, stay as close as you can to the speed limit, especially as it begins to get dark. Your trip may take a few minutes longer, but the payoff can be as much as 20 percent less gas used and a reduced chance of accidents with other cars and wildlife. The Humane Society of the United States celebrates "Give Wildlife a Brake" week in late October, and provides tips on how to reduce your risk of hitting wildlife. 

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