We talk about healthcare reform. We talk of an obesity epidemic. We talk of just a few, often preventable, chronic diseases that consume some 70%+ of healthcare expenditures. We talk of global warming and potential impact of warmer temperatures on infectous diseases. We talk of runaway increases in healthcare costs but token measures to reduce them.
How about we talk about getting people out of cars, off of sofas and just start riding a bike?
You may or may not be aware of this, but this week is Bike to Work Week, an annual event that has been slowly but surely gaining steam, even in a city such as Boston which is notorious for its lack of bike friendly features (narrow roads, surly drivers, poor bicycle storage facilities, etc.). Despite these challenges for the Boston bike commuter, this morning roughly 300-400 people rode in this morning and gathered at City Hall Plaza for breakfast, and the weather wasn’t all that great. Really quite heartening to see and experience.
I’ve been commuting by bike for many years now and the more cyclists/commuters I see on the road, the bigger smile I get on my face and honestly, the safer I feel.
As I rode in this morning with a contingent from my Boston neighborhood, under police escort (very cool) I spoke to many of my fellow riders, virtually all of them relatively new to bike commuting (within last 5 years). The reasons for riding/commuting were about as varied as their bikes but universally, all of them simply love to ride their bikes and all expressed the same sympathy, I wish I would have started sooner.
While it is indeed great to see all these new cyclists/commuters, here in the US it is estimated that a paltry 0.4% commute to work by bike. What would happening if we could make that 4%, 8% or even 10%? How might that affect our nation’s health and wellness? How might it help address preventable illnesses (did you know that a bike commuter, on average loses 13lbs in the first year of commuting)? How much money might we saved if we invested here instead of other areas (Hmm, how far might $19B go if it was dedicated to bike commuting programs?).
Which got me to thinking…
What would it take to actually build a culture similar to what one might find in the Netherlands, or Denmark where commuting by bike has become part of the cultural fabric of society?
At the Bike to Work Day meet-up this morning the Swiss Consulate had a display set-up to promote tourism, of course, and the bike friendly culture that they have created there. Spoke with one of the representatives who told me that they believe in a bottom-up strategy to support cycling and have developed a multi-prong approach that includes:
Teaching children how to ride bikes on the streets safely. Children actually have bike riding classes as part of curriculum.
Insuring all trains and all buses in the country have racks to accomodate bicycles.
Providing public, secure bike storage facilities that are ubiquitous. She showed me a picture of one such facility in Basel that was huge and filled with bicycles. Oh, to have something like that in downtown Boston would be fabulous!
Investing in creating and promoting a nationwide network of bike trials and routes throughout the country.
I walked away very impressed and ready to pack my bags and bike for a trip to Switzerland to spend the summer.
Within the US there are some communities where great thing are being done. Davis, California has always been held up as one community with an extremely friendly bike culture, Portland, Oregon is another and Minneapolis has quite a growing cycling community. Might we not take these examples, learn from them, and distributed their “best practices” to other cities, other towns, other states?
We, as a country looking for new solutions to our healthcare crisis, need to refrain from over-thinking this and look for simple, proven solutions. Why not start with promoting citizens to ride their bikes and go beyond simple and cheap public service announcements to putting some real effort into policy development and real $$$ to support cycling as a viable and critical form of transportation. The bike may just be the prescription this country needs most to improve our health, lower spiraling healthcare costs and while we are at it, lower our carbon footprint.
Some helpful sites for those wanting to bike commute: