Environmental Almanac | Sharing the benefits of biking

Environmental Almanac | Sharing the benefits of biking

Does the warm spring weather prompt you to wonder about getting out on a bicycle? If so, let me offer some words of encouragement.

Bicycling is good for the planet. It requires no fossil fuel and so alleviates all of the environmental damage caused by drilling for, transporting and processing oil.

It uses no biofuel and so exists outside the complicated push and pull over using crops for energy. It emits no greenhouse gasses to degrade the planet over the long term or other pollutants to degrade human health in the short term.

It creates no noise pollution. It decreases traffic congestion. It decreases wear and tear on roads, and decreases the need for parking, which frees up space for higher purposes, and provides the host of other benefits that come from having less pavement.

Bicycling is also good for people. It gets you out of the artificial environment of your car and puts you in touch with the natural world — the real world — even when you're riding in the city.

It allows you to see and smell the gorgeous spring flowers as you ride by. It allows you to hear the songs and calls of birds. (And if you're attuned to birds, to be reminded of how life in the Midwest is connected to life elsewhere as spring migration progresses.)

It allows you to connect with other people who are walking or cycling, even if it's just to say hello. Think of how different it is to pull up next to neighbor or co-worker on a bike than to pull up next to them in a car.

Bicycling allows you to reconnect with yourself through contemplation, away from the pull of a car radio or music player.

Bicycling gives you the satisfaction of getting from one place to another by the power of your own body, a deep satisfaction, but one that can be forgotten when it's experienced too infrequently.

Like any other form of physical activity, bicycling regularly is energizing, not draining, an antidote to the sluggishness that can come from working in a store or office.

If you are hesitant about biking because of how drivers of cars behave or how poorly the traffic patterns on some streets accommodate it, take heart. In recent years, the cities of Champaign and Urbana and the UI campus have all taken steps to encourage cycling, including dedicated bike lanes on some streets and signage to promote cooperation between cars and bikes on others.

Of course, Illinois law already treats bicycles as vehicles, and it is perfectly reasonable and legal for cyclists to use the streets as vehicles already. The point of marking routes for cycling is to help clarify for drivers and cyclists alike how they should behave on the road.

If you want further encouragement still, know that May is National Bike Month. Although we're already past the official "Bike to Work" and "Bike to School" days, there's no reason not continue with those activities. And for details about further organized events, just head on over to the website of our local bike advocacy group, champaigncountybikes.org.

Rob Kanter is a clinical associate professor with the University of Illinois School of Earth, Society and Environment. You can reach him via email at rkanter@illinois.edu.