John and I gave up our cars when we moved to New York, but until recently, I’ve been pretty dependent on public transportation.
Our stint in New Orleans this spring turned me on to urban biking.
I’d previously been too intimidated by traffic, but I’ve had good experiences with drivers, slightly less so with pedestrians, and have found that if I pay attention, it’s a great way to get around.
And a new study from University of Wisconsin gives me even more reason to bike.
Researchers looked at the 11 largest metropolitan areas in the upper Midwest to figure out what could happen if drivers ditched their cars for short errands and biked instead. Showing Midwestern practicality, they did the math based only on the portion of the year that’s reasonable for biking in northern climates.
RESULTS: Overall, the authors projected that encouraging the use of bikes in the Midwest for short-distance trips could save an estimated $7 billion, including 1,100 lives each year from improved air quality and increased physical fitness. The biggest savings of about $3.8 billion per year was due to prevented complications with conditions like obesity and heart disease.
SOURCE: The full study, “Air Quality and Exercise-Related Health Benefits From Reduced Car Travel in the Midwestern United States,” is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
If you’re inspired to give it a try, here are my suggestions as a newbie:
- Have the right equipment — bright lights on the front and back of my bike and a loud bell help me feel more confident in traffic
- Assume you’re invisible — maybe this is just me, but I always assume it’s my job to yield, to anticipate someone’s turn at an intersection, to look out for doors flying open, so I’d rather be pleasantly surprised when someone accommodates me instead of the other way around.
- Watch for cues — when I see brake lights on a parked car, I watch for the driver to pull into traffic or throw the door open, for example. I do this behind the wheel, too, but when I’m operating without a layer of steel protecting me, it’s an even better idea.
Pointers from people who know more about urban biking than me: