We all know the obvious reasons why cycling has less of an impact on our environment than driving does. According to the U.S. Census, about 50 percent of Americans live within five miles of their workplace, so why aren’t more people riding bicycles to work or when running local errands? For every mile pedaled, compared to driven, almost one pound of carbon dioxide is saved! So park that car and get on those two wheels. Next step: save the world.
Photo by shutterstock.
All manufactured goods, including a bicycle, have an environmental impact. A whopping 1.2 billion cubic yards of air pollution is generated each year thanks to the car manufacturers. Don’t forget the painting and coating which adds another 40 million pounds of air pollution and 24 million pounds of toxic waste. Yes, manufacturing bicycles isn’t a zero-waste or pollution-free industry, but bikes use significantly less rubber and fuel to make than motor vehicles, conserving thousands of acres of forests that would normally be cleared for rubber plantations. The consumer winds up being the one who pays for the larger manufacturing footprint of motor vehicles.
We know the negative impact of air pollution on our natural environment, but consider the impact of the oil, fuel and hydraulic fluids that drip out of cars. When it rains it doesn’t stay on paved roadways, it becomes toxic runoff that enters our oceans and local waterways. For every parking space one car takes up, 20 bikes can easily fit in its place.
Reduce the amount of land that’s cleared for parking lots and the expansion of roads by riding your bicycle more often. Not only will this protect the home of local plants and animals, it will protect trees that are vital to carbon sequestration, or the filtering and reduction of carbon dioxide in the air. Less commonly considered, air pollution from motor vehicles is an urban animals’ worst enemy. Natural areas are becoming fewer and farther between. Bicycles are quiet, they don't pollute and are less likely to turn urban animals into roadkill victims.
The U.S. bicycle industry boosts the nation’s economy through the 1.1 million jobs and nearly 1.8 billion dollars in federal, state and local taxes it generates. By riding your bike instead of taking your car, you’re more likely to support local grocery stores, drugstores and other local businesses. These nearby businesses will foster a vibrant and walkable community which reduces further habitat loss and air pollution. And you get to live, bike and thrive in your clean, green town!
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that nearly 33,000 people in the U.S. died in motor vehicle accidents in 2014. Although bicycle accidents still occur, fatalities are few (only about 700 people a year). Accidents aside, you’re saving your own life in other ways. Biking will leave you in good shape, good health and good spirits, not to mention less prone to obesity and depression. Biking for 30 minutes a day—to the bank and back —could save on health care expenses every year.
The perspective from behind your wheel while you’re stuck in rush hour traffic isn’t the most beautiful. Actually, it’s usually full of road rage, frustration and the back of someone else’s car. Imagine zooming past these cars in traffic on your bike, taking in the fresh air, getting a close look at the beautiful rose bushes on the side of the road or the blue jay flying past you. You get a much more colorful perspective, your mind is clear and you have more time to think.
Perhaps you’ll consider a bike tour for your next vacation, cycling the lush streets of Boulder, Colorado, or over the endless bridges of Portland, Oregon. It's among many ideas for keeping travel cheap and enjoyable. It’s a never-ending wheel of possibilities when you choose to cycle!
Natalie Posdaljian has a degree in Environmental Systems: Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. She works in the fisheries in Alaska.
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