May is National Bike Month -- the perfect time to celebrate bicycling's many benefits for individuals, communities, our nation and our world. More hours of daylight, warmer temperatures and the approach of summer will inspire at least 11 million Americans to pedal each day.
Some will ride on pavement, others on dirt. A few will pedal 100 miles, while others will roll maybe three blocks. Some rides will be unforgettable: particularly children's wonderful first adventures in the park when a parent lets go and they enjoy a first taste of two-wheel freedom.
I work for a national non-profit bike organization whose mission is to get more people riding bikes more often. We like to say, "When people ride bikes, great things happen." Bike riding not only cuts obesity, but also road congestion and air pollution. In this era of high gasoline prices, bicycling can ease the burden on families' budgets. Economic pain at the pump, which so many people are feeling now, may be the factor that pushes bicycling to a new level of popularity.
We're thinking (quite unofficially) that 2011 could become The Year of the Bike.
So many factors are aligned to make it so:
High Gas Prices -- The rising price of gas is a painful development for the millions of American who have little choice but to drive to work every day. The average U.S. work commute is a lengthy 14 miles, and doesn't yet offer a parallel bike route of any kind. But most Americans do have the option of riding, at least some of the time, for other short trips, and high gas costs may inspire them to do it more often. The good news: 50 percent of all trips Americans make are less than three miles. And every two miles you pedal instead of drive will save you at least a buck.
Safer Places to Ride -- Federal, state and local governments have been investing in new bike paths, lanes and trails. Last year, federal funding for bicycling and walking topped $1 billion -- just 1.5 percent of transportation spending -- and supported more than 3,000 bike projects in all 50 states. If all this money were allocated to new roads, it would pay for roughly eight miles of multi-lane highway in a single city. What this investment means is that you and your family are more likely to find safe and appealing places to ride close to where you live and work.
Popular Support -- Mayors of cities, big and small, are fully committed to bicycling. They appreciate how bike riding helps save governments money on road repairs and parking construction costs, and they now realize that making a city bike-friendly doesn't cost much. They've made the infrastructure improvements. The result? In many large U.S. cities, bike riding has nearly doubled in the last decade.
One of the best things about bicycling is it's something you can do today that will make a difference. Bicycling to work or the store means not only taking responsibility for improving your health and saving money, but also helping your community and your nation. Americans will continue to debate how we pay for health care, but if more of us ride bicycles, we'll need less of it. The same is true for imported petroleum.
We know that more Americans will bike if seamless, safe bikeway networks become widely available. We are determined to help make this happen. That's why we created a new national campaign called Peopleforbikes.org