We give the Mountain pulpit to Tim Blumenthal of PeopleForBikes:
As I pedaled my red Schwinn cruiser to elementary school back in the 1960s, I wasn’t thinking about bicycling’s benefits. But, in retrospect, I relished the freedom and the adventure of a finding a new path, and the thrill of riding fast, braking hard, and jumping curbs. This is what kids on bikes everywhere did for a century.
For the last 12 years, I’ve served as president of PeopleForBikes, the largest U.S. bicycling nonprofit organization. We work to make bike riding safe, appealing, and convenient for everyone. We’re supported by the bike industry and by 1.2 million individuals. The work is a privilege—and it’s almost always challenging.
One of the biggest challenges we’re dealing with now? Fewer American kids are riding bikes around their neighborhoods, free and unsupervised, as I did. Many children never experience the joys of riding a bike at all. This is a multifaceted national crisis in the making. As a nation, we drive more than ever—car and truck sales hit an all-time high in 2015—and the result is more congestion, tension, pollution, CO2, and a lost national treasure. And then there are the children: More than 35 percent are overweight or clinically obese. Many lack the basic physical stamina and self-confidence to ride a bike. Oftentimes, their parents don’t think it’s safe to let their kids ride in busy neighborhoods.
We know that children who ride are nearly three times more likely to bike as adults than kids who don’t. We also know that half the trips that Americans make are four miles or less. If more of these trips can be taken by bike, we’ll reduce gridlock, improve air quality, and contribute to healthy, active lifestyles. But we can’t succeed if we lose a generation of kids to the couch.
One of the reasons PeopleForBikes exists is to fight to create and maintain seamless, interconnected networks that are safe for everyone, young and old, on foot or bike. But because our roads have grown so overcrowded since the 1960s, most of these places need to be separated from car and truck traffic—at least until (or if) we collectively decide to drive a lot slower in our neighborhoods.
In our society, we tend to look first to technical or industrial solutions to our problems—let’s add two lanes to the highway, or run the buses on hydrogen. Bicycling, meanwhile, is so simple, so universal, and yes, so old school that many people underestimate its potential. I didn’t ponder any of this when I was a kid, but it’s something all of us could think about now.
To learn more visit: peopleforbikes.org | photograph Jeff Kripke
From our Early Summer 2016 issue.