Super Storm Sandy may very well have been the perfect storm – for the advancement of bicycling advocacy efforts.
For years, advocates have made incremental progress in securing funding for infrastructure improvements to make bicycling safer and more appealing for those interested in two-wheeled transportation. We have experienced ups and downs as we’ve witnessed federal funds materialize and disappear with changing elected officials. Through it all, we’ve kept our heads down and pedaled through whatever hill or headwind we’ve encountered. We are learning to play the game.
What we really need is a game changer.
Encouraging more citizens to take up bicycling for shorter trips has traditionally centered around three talking points; physical fitness, traffic management, and environmental stewardship. We can readily recite the benefits to our hypothetical solution. “If” more bicycles were on the road, then… Air quality would likely improve. The obesity epidemic could slow. Traffic congestion should lessen. Would. Could. Should.
We can cite examples of increased participation in US cities where infrastructure was improved. We can share statistics about congestion reduction and air quality improvement in European cities where bicycling infrastructure has been prioritized. We can correlate decreased rates of metabolic syndrome and other preventable diseases in progressive, pro-cycling regions. Was. Has. Did.
Our argument is strong. Our solutions have merit. The only thing left is convincing Americans that we need this.
Super Storm Sandy may have finally opened America’s eyes…
We watched on live TV as our country’s largest city was paralyzed by the storm. We witnessed the devastation wrought. We saw the aftermath. Extended power outages. Disabled public transportation. Gasoline shortages. People trapped in neighborhoods without food, water, or the means to travel a few miles to obtain necessities.
Then we glimpsed people moving throughout the city by bike.
Do we really need any stronger image than that to showcase the benefits of bicycling?
While Americans love their independence and the bicycle represents a fine example of a personal transportation option that functions independently of gasoline or electricity, a 100-year storm may not be the most convincing motivator to take up bicycling. 100-year storms can’t even motivate people that live near bodies of water to buy flood insurance…
Our game change requires one more link to convert our “what if” into a “must have”.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivered our must-have to every American’s living room when he endorsed President Obama for reelection. New York Governor Cuomo made no bones about the exacerbating circumstances that caused Sandy to be five times larger than a typical Hurricane. Meteorologists easily connected the dots between rising sea levels, higher water temperatures, cold air “blocking” and melting polar ice.
Climate change is real. We can no longer deny its effects. Stronger and more frequent storms. Drought. Fires. Flooding.
A recent poll showed that 68% of Americans now believe that climate change is a “serious problem”. That number is up from 48% in 2010 and 46% in 2009. While a separate poll showed that Americans support higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and tougher regulations on coal-burning power plants, yet another poll shows citizens unwilling to pay more for gasoline or electricity to counter the problem. After we factor in the “let’s first prove this is man-made” political proposition, it is clear that a pragmatic solution is a long way from coming to fruition.
Meanwhile, the effects of climate change keep setting America back…
Bicycling can be America’s guinea pig for pragmatic climate change remediation.
We’re not asking the government to construct billion-dollar sea walls to protect New York City. We are asking for funds to retrofit existing streets.
We’re not asking Americans to pay more for energy usage. We are offering an alternative to energy consumption.
We are not asking for an elaborate tax policy or cap and trade exchange to regulate large carbon emitters. We’re offering a solution for managing an individual’s carbon footprint.
Our solution is inexpensive by comparison. It is shovel-ready. It empowers individuals to take personal responsibility. It is a pragmatic, practical, patriotic solution.
This is cycling’s perfect storm.
The tactics that necessitated fighting for our right to share the road, scrapping for a seat at the adults' table, and sparring with one another about the ideal, Euro-based solutions need to change. Certainly, we should and must continue to play the game we're in. But we also need to start a new game - a game where we can sprint out ahead rather than hang on to the back of the pack.
This can be our race. Let's win it!
Thoughts and prayers to Sandy's victims and survivors and thanks to the first responders, aid workers, volunteers, utilities personnel, government employees, and elected officials who are helping return this area to normality...
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Keep riding and be safe.