Environmental Almanac: Ditch the vehicle and start pedaling

Does the warming weather awaken in you the desire to ride a bike — maybe even use one to get to work someday? Then why not do it?

Bicycling can help you feel whole and connected. If you use a bike to get around, you may be able to stop worrying about how to fit exercise into your routine, since exercise becomes part of your routine. The same goes for spending a reasonable amount of time outdoors.

When you're bicycling and you cross paths with a friend or neighbor, you can take a moment to catch up, rather than waving at each other through the windshield of a car.

Nor do you have car windows or engine sounds or the noise of the radio to interfere with what really matters to your ears — the calls and songs of birds, of course!

What better way to track spring migration than by making mental notes about what you hear as you ride?

And if your route takes you by a natural area, even in an urban setting, such as the Second Street Basin in Champaign, you can easily slow down for a look around. (Already a great blue heron and the belted kingfisher are hanging around there, and the biggest of the resident turtles, a red-eared slider, can be seen basking on its favorite rock.)

For some people, the economic benefits of cycling can be significant, too. What better way to pass a station offering $3.70-a-gallon gas than on a vehicle that uses none? And hang tags? We don't need no stinkin' hang tags. Parking meters, either.

In the past, I've mentioned efforts under way at the University of Illinois and in Champaign and Urbana to facilitate bicycling through changes to infrastructure, including bike lanes and other pavement marking.

But I would also encourage you to explore a more liberated approach to cycling, one that enables you to travel where you want to go safely and easily using existing roadways.

A friend of mine, Gary Cziko, offers a free, one-evening introduction to this approach called Cycling Savvy, which he will next teach on the UI campus on Thursday, April 25.

Who might benefit from the course? According to Cziko, any adult interested in cycling on public roads — especially people who see cycling in traffic as intimidating — and even high-schoolers as young as 15.

Cycling Savvy also provides a useful perspective for law enforcement personnel, traffic planners and even motorists, since roadways work best for everyone when engineering, enforcement and the education all align.

There are three main components of Cycling Savvy. The first is devoted to changing some of the pervasive, mistaken beliefs people hold about how they should behave on a bicycle.

Chief among these is the notion that roads are for motorists and bicyclists are safest when they stay out of the way. (They're definitely not.)

The second component of the course educates participants about the causes of crashes. Some types of crashes, which participants learn to prevent, are so predictable they even have colorful names, including "right hook," "left cross" and "dooring."

The third part of the course is devoted to problem solving, helping participants work through how to anticipate and avoid awkward situations, such as getting stuck in a turn lane as they approach an intersection.

According to Cziko, and as I've found in my own experience, the keys to happy cycling are being visible and predictable. Add to those clear communication of your intentions and you've got a recipe for harmony among all roadway users.

More information

Course: Cycling Savvy: Truth and Techniques of Traffic Cycling

Where: University of Illinois, Natural Resources Building, Room 101, 615 E. Peabody Drive, C

When: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. April 25

More information can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CyclingSavvyIllinois.

Environmental Almanac is a service of the University of Illinois School of Earth, Society and Environment, where Rob Kanter is communications coordinator. Environmental Almanac can be heard on WILL-AM 580 at 4:45 and 6:45 p.m. on Thursdays.

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