Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pedaling Revolution

The disastrous state of the TTC, the new purchase of a second bicycle, and my strong attachment to biking as a means of efficient commuting and pure leisurely pleasure have got me thinking a lot about the topic of transportation. Jeff Mapes makes a convincing argument in regards to the power of the bicycle in his book Pedaling Revolution:

"The bike offers a non-polluting, non-congesting, physically active form of transportation in a country, and in a world, that increasingly seems to need such options. The heightened global competition for the world's oil supplies has ended the era of cheap fuel that made our automobile dependency possible. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle raises the specter of an obesity epidemic that could shorten the life span of the next generation. And we're outstripping our ability to maintain and expand our network of roads and bridges.

At first blush, it may seem odd to talk about the humble bicycle in the same breath as electric cars or biofuels or hydrogen-powered fuel cells that are presented as the ultimate solution to our energy and environmental woes. In fact, though, bicycling can accomplish more than most people think.

Paul Higgins was a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California at Berkeley when he dined at a restaurant one night with his parents, both of whom are physicians. His mother sighed when the waiter brought huge platters of food. "Think of all the resources that are wasted in this food on this plate," he remembered her saying, "and it's just going to make us fat." Higgins, who was studying climate change at the time, turned it around in his mind. He asked himself, What if we saw that food as the original biofuel? How far could we go on it? Higgins calculated the energy savings if every adult walked or cycled for a half hour or an hour a day and then reduced their driving by the distance they covered walking or biking. The savings were the most dramatic for cyclists, of course, because they can easily travel about three times as fast as a walker. if everyone cycled for an hour and reduced their driving by an equivalent distance, the U.S. would cut its gasoline consumption by 38 percent, Higgins found. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by about 12 percent, which is greater than the reductions called for in the Kyoto treaty (which the U.S. saw as too onerous and never signed). To add to the bargain, the average person would lose about thirteen pounds a year."

The simplistic joy and countless positive solutions biking provides seems to follow Occam's razor precisely, but reaching the point of a true "pedaling revolution" may not be so easy in terms of urban planning and infrastructure, especially in Toronto. Nonetheless, these guys have it figured out.

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