Thursday, May 6, 2010
And here is our latest installment from our correspondent Jane Shey who lives in Annapolis part of the year and in Belgium for part of the year.:
In the US, May is biking month and May 21 is Bike to Work Day. Since I moved to Europe to attend school, everyday is biking day for me. This seemingly small change to my life has been life transforming. Six months after I started school, I sold my car and now when I am back in Annapolis, I get around by bike.
Biking has brought me so many benefits. First, the average yearly cost of a car in the US is between $7000 - $8500 which is an expense I eliminated. In my three years as a bike commuter, I have probably spent $100 for bike repairs. There are also the health benefits. The first 6 months I was in school, I lost 15 pounds and lowered my cholesterol to acceptable levels. But for me, the greatest benefit is the connection I feel to the city and surrounding environment. On my bike, I notice the weather, the flowers, the people and the stores. Here most people are on bikes or walking, so even if I ride home at midnight or 100am, there are people out going places or coming home. During rush hour, there are far more bikes on the road than cars. Some parents will have two kids on their bike as they pedal to school, one behind the parent and one on a trailing bike attached to the bike. Children here either walk, ride their bike or take public transport to schools.
Leuven is an 1100 year old town with narrow streets and almost no parking in the city center due to pedestrian streets and narrow roads. The city provides parking areas on the perimeter so the vast majority come into the city by bike, a 10 minute walk from a parking lot or by public transit. Apparently, it costs around $2000 to get a driver’s license in Belgium and with gas three times the cost of the US, no high school student would own a car and very few university students do as well. I attend a large University and staff are provided bikes with the University logo if they agree not to drive a car to work.
Of course, the bike infrastructure in Belgium is extensive. In a country the size of Maryland with 11.5 million people, I can literally go anywhere by bike. If a road is built, automatically it is flanked by a red, 6 foot-wide bike lane and probably a 4 foot-wide pedestrian sidewalk. People here feel so safe riding their bikes that no one wears helmets.
Beyond the cost of fuel for automobile, the infrastructure in Europe provides a tremendous incentive for people to bike. For example, in Copenhagen 32 percent of workers bicycle to work and 50 percent say they do so because it is fast and easy. Amsterdam and Copenhagen spend $40 and $25 per person annually on bike projects and in comparison, Portland, OR a major US biking city spends $3. Maryland ranks #45 in the US on per capita funding for bike/pedestrians projects. (MD contributes 0.7% of its transportation dollars to bike activities.)
Biking is one option for the US to deal with traffic congestion, lack of parking, cost-effective transport and our health problems. But it takes vision and commitment from elected officials and a willingness from all of us to consider other ways of living.
...and to that I add that Frederick Is Doing it, Baltimore Is Doing it....and we are slowly getting there....check out this story about biking in nearby Frederick:
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Posted by Paul Foer at 1:19 PM