Bicycling Berkeley

Grass Roots

bikes
Carli Baker/Staff

Does riding a bike contribute to greenhouse gas emissions? Ed Orcutt, a representative in the Washington state Legislature who is on its House Transportation Committee, seems to think so. In an email response to a cyclist angry about a proposed bicycle tax in Washington, Orcutt wrote:

“You claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclists has an increased heart rate and respiration. That … results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.”

The increased carbon dioxide emissions from exhaling a lot are negligible. Even Orcutt admits that his wording wasn’t ideal, although he sticks by his intended sentiment, which is that bicyclists aren’t carbon neutral. This comment however, is part of a larger discussion, most recently in Oregon and Washington, about potential bicycle taxes that would go toward supporting infrastructure.

Many cities around the country have begun to recognize a growing segment of adults who depend on bicycles as their primary means of transportation, especially in large urban areas like San Francisco and Chicago. But as these cities try to adapt their transportation budgets to address this growing niche of consumers, many governments are trying to push that burden onto bicyclists unfairly. Riding one’s bike not only helps the environment by reducing carbon emissions from short car trips, but it also improves one’s health and facilitates a stronger bond between ourselves and the places we inhabit. It’s hard to truly experience a place when you’re driving past it at 50 mph.

So how is Berkeley fit into this? The city of Berkeley has the fourth-highest percentage of bicycling commuters for a city of more than 65,000 people, according to the 2010 census. However, according to the League of American Bicyclists, Berkeley doesn’t hold up against our NorCal neighbors such as Davis and Santa Cruz, which both received an award for bike-friendly practices.

Its not hard to see why. I can’t count how many times drivers have ignored my hand signalling for turning, cut me off or just hadn’t realized I was there. I’m constantly on the lookout for car doors suddenly opening, random pedestrians dashing across the street, and even the squirrels have proven to be a challenge at some point or another. And I’m  not the only one. Between 2000 and 2003, there were more than 500 accidents involving a cyclist and a vehicle, not including accidents that don’t get the police involved.

But Berkeley is trying to change, and the city and the campus have come up with a few really exciting proposals that should help bicyclists feel safer in the city. Like on Hearst, from Shattuck to Galey, the city is workiing to cut down the traffic lanes from four to two, installing bicycle lanes and a center medians. Berkeley has quite a few Bicycle Boulevards throughout the city, and the bicycle bridge to the Marina is one of my favorite spots in Berkeley to ride. Hopefully they will continue to support their cycling community in Berkeley, without attempting to move the burden onto bicyclists and other folks who utilize alternative transportation. The city seems to understand the environmental impacts of making Berkeley more bike-friendly, and they’ll soon see that supporting alternatives to vehicles can also have many long-term economic and public health benefits as well.

Contact Carli Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @carliannebaker.