The So-What? Factor
As we have seen previously, utility cycling is quite diverse as there are many categories and subcategories to the practice. So it should come as no surprise that there are many aspects of life which could be improved by utility cycling. To that end, it would be prudent to talk about the so-what? factor. Why does utility cycling matter? What makes this site unique? Why should you, the reader, spend your valuable time reading this blog?
Let me begin by expounding a bit on the obvious, preaching to the choir, what-have-you. Utility cycling has a lot of potential to improve our lives. Now I’m not just talking about how much happier one might feel commuting home from a long workday on a bicycle, rather than in a car, stuck in traffic, I’m talking about some of the big E’s. You know, the big, broad, amorphous, ambiguous, all-consuming E’s.
Yep, you guessed it, I’m going to talk about climate change. But why shouldn’t I? It’s not going to get any better if some of these numbers don’t start to change.
- The United States is the largest emitter of CO2 (ie. carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas) per capita of any nation in the world, and transportation accounts for nearly 1/3 of these emissions, according to the EIA.
- Anthropogenic (or human produced) sources of CO2 are contributing significantly to the alarming rate of global climate change that has occurred over the last century (ie. global warming). Of course, we are all contributing to the problem, though clearly some are more at fault than others.
- According to the 2000 Census of the United States, 0.4% of the population of the United States rides a bicycle to work. 76% of the population of the United States drove to work alone, while only 12% carpooled. 4.7% used public transportation. The stats aren’t much better in other developed countries, except perhaps in The Netherlands.
- The 2001 National Household Survey found that the average individual in the United States travels more than 40 miles, makes more than 4 trips, and spends approximately 1 hour in the car each day!
- The landscape of the United States is heavily dependent on, and historically built around, the automobile. Urban sprawl is rampant throughout this country and many others as well.
This one is hard to ignore. We need energy to grow our food, transport our water, transport our waste, power our computers so we can read fabulous blogs, make just about everything we use, wear, sell, consume, etc, and of course, power our motorized vehicles. But don’t forget, most of our energy sources are not actually renewable.
- The world is running out of cheap, accessible oil, and we are fighting deadly wars over the sticky stuff (at least that has something to do with the wars, anyhow). Though war may be one of many problems caused by peak oil, if you agree with some of the naysayers.
- Though gaining popularity as of late, fuel efficient vehicles have not been commonplace throughout much of the US, which increases gas consumption and contributes to climate change.
This has been on everyone’s mind lately, what with the global recession chit-chat going around and whatnot.
- Although low compared to many other countries, gas prices have recently averaged around $3/ gallon in most US states (although we did see very low prices this spring).
- We spend a significant amount of our income each year to purchase, maintain, and use motor vehicles.
Yes, I noticed, this one doesn’t start with E, but exercise does, and most people don’t get enough of it!
- Americans are getting fatter and unhealthier each year, especially children and adolescents.
- Mental health is also an issue, since the amount of time we spend in our cars reduces the time we could spend with our families and friends, and we are therefore, often less involved in our communities.
- Air pollution (which comes from many sources, one of which is the combustion of fossil fuels for motor vehicles) also has significant and far-reaching negative health effects.
So what do all these dreary statistics have to do with utility cycling? Well, for one, they mean that utility cycling has a lot to offer: freedom from the shackles of automobile-dependence; health benefits for people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds; contribution to the global cooling effort; reduced dependence on non-renewable resources such as petroleum; financial savings; loads of fun; and the permission to revel in complete and utter bike-dorkishness at all times.
The reason for using the United States in many of the examples above is three-fold. First, people in the United States are very attached to their high degree of mobility (via the personal automobile), and most are not willing to part with their vehicles even for a day. Indeed, the urban design of basically every city, suburb, town, and place in the United States caters to the automobile, making the prospect of cycling unappealing to some and downright terrifying to others. Second, the United States has contributed significantly to many of the problems listed above and should feel a great deal of responsibility in finding solutions to said problems (ie. by encouraging bicycle use). Third, it is my own personal opinion and bias that the United States has more to overcome that most other countries in order to truly accept the utility of the bicycle and begin to use it on a daily basis for any number of functions.
So why – despite the recent discourse over climate change, fossil fuels, health, recessions/ depressions, and so-on – hasn’t the bicycle taken the stage as a two-wheeled superhero to save the day? In some small but significant ways, it has, but for the most part, there is a social bias against cycling that runs thick and deep throughout the history of the bicycle, the automobile, and the roadways which they share. There is a notable fear of cycling in many developed countries, much of which is socially constructed in a multitude of ways, but which certainly limits the amount of utility cycling.
However, if the doomsday scenarios of global warming and peak oil come even a little bit close to what some think they will, then the structure and function of most activities throughout the world will be changed dramatically. But the solution to slowing or even preventing the arrival of a potential doomsday seems so simple, so obvious: RIDE A BIKE! And ride it with a purpose.
So here at Utility Cycling.org, we are going to try to make the prospect of cycling for utility more appealing, more manageable, and more fun. Enough of the long-winded talk about why we need utility cycling, let’s get on with it! From here on out, we will be delving into the nitty-gritty details of utility cycling. In the process, our definition of and justification for utility cycling will continue to evolve, but for the most part, we just want you to get out there and do it. And we are here to help.
Next time, join us for a conversation on bicycle commuting!