Monday, July 27, 2009

904 Bike Miles For the Year

UPDATE: Ended the bike-year (on the solstice) having driven 904 bike miles that I didn't ride in the car. See the prior post for the details on how you can become less of a car-rider . . . and for links to the Red Tag Your Car series.

So far this summer I am at about 150 miles, and will probably get to to 300 before Labor Day. Will this save the planet? No. Does it help? Yes. Could you help. You betcha!

Something holding you back? Maybe you have a "Would-But!" Check here and see.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

800 Miles & Counting: Creeping Green(er) Every Day, One Errand at a Time

It is interesting that last week, on Bike to Work Day, May 14, I logged an even 800 miles on my bike over the preceding 11 months. (I will probably hit 900 by the end of the school year, and may make an effort to hit the symbolic 1000 mile point.)

As miles go, that's not a lot: Its not a lot of car riding saved, and from a hardcore cyclist's perspective its not much when such a person will do a 100 mile "Century" recreational ride in a day.

But I suggest that it is an important milestone for three reasons: (1) it is a lot more mileage than I have put on in the last two years or so; (2) it represents a sea change to my own mindset regarding car riding and (3) it is an example of what can be accomplished if you start simple and slow.

Last year, I did about 500 miles on the year. The year before only about 300 -- a mere six or seven miles, average, of a weekend running errands.

And that is the point of my third point: Having mentally red tagged the car years ago, I started slow. Driving a bike for local weekend errands, quick mid-week runs to the store, or to breakfast out or to the to park with the kids on weekends. ( See Red Tag Your Car, Part I, Part II and Part III)
As the weekend trips improved my skills, comfort level and physical stamina, I began to ride more to work during the week. Now, I ride most every day that I do not have to deliver my son to school near his mother's house 25 miles away. And in the summer the car I use for those errands is parked so much we sometimes start it to keep the battery up.

At this time (see item #2) I tend to view the need to ride in a car as a failure; of errand route planning, of ability to find a truly local option, of trying to squeeze too much to fast into a life on the road.

As for the mileage, if you don't bike much now it seems like a lot. I promise that the longest stretch I ever rode to get that mileage was across town in Pasadena, California -- five miles at best. I work 1.80 miles from where I live; my daughter's preschool is 1 mile away; we shop 1.98 miles in the other direction, next to my other daughter's school and my employer's main office. One reason I am able to accumulate these miles two and three miles at a time is we have largely resolved one of the major "would-buts" of non-automobility: Live where you want to work and play.

You can do this too. It's easy. It's green. It's even healthy for you!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Watch Your Language! How We Refer To Things Can Affect How We -- and Others Understand Them

It's a fairly ancient and standard joke that in the world of Politically Correct Terminology a trash hauler is a "sanitary engineer." Despite that, it is actually true that how we name things does affect how we perceive them. Here are a few suggested alternative terms for things that just might help folks understand why the green version is important:

  • "Conventionally Grown Food" is, really, something of a misnomer. Using heavy doses of petrochemical neurotoxins and artificial growth stimulants to grow our food has only been "conventional" (i.e., the usual manner) for the last 50 years or so. Before that, much more organic and near-organic food reached our tables -- because that was the norm. So, instead of "conventionally grown" may I suggest "chemically grown food" to accurately reflect the state of what's in the super market. Or as we sometimes call it around our house "dirty food." Try this term swap yourself, and suddenly organic food seems a lot more reasonable.

  • "Organic Food" as a term is itself problematical. It makes that food seem special, even unusual. This is not good for at least three reasons: First, many large producers charge unnecessary premium prices for organically grown products, trading on the implication of "specialness" to make a higher profit. Second, organic food should be the norm -- i.e., "conventional" should mean "organic," but it never will so long as we refer to clean food as something special. Third, "organic" brings with it all sorts of baggage suggesting hippies eating brown rice stored in hand thrown pottery jars that many folks just don't want to be associated with, even if they really aren't all that excited about poisoning themselves or our farmland by eating the chemically grown variety. So, in our house, we call organic food what it is: "clean food."

  • "Bike rider" or "cyclist" similarly does not convey the (should be) mainstream nature of human powered transportation in our cities and suburbs. I have taken to referring to "bike drivers" when discussing vehicular cyclists. Bike drivers have a right to use the road; bike drivers are serious vehicles, going places and doing things, not just sports enthusiasts out for a little ride.

  • "Drivers" or "car drivers" used to refer to motor vehicles operators does not either accurately include all vehicles on the road, or the activity that takes place in a car. I actually drive my bike; I push it forward under my own muscle power. If you are in a car, the best that can be said is you are out for a ride. Thus, of course, I often refer casually to "car riders," both as the flip-side of "bike drivers" and to demonstrate the passivity of the activity.

So, you might hear me say something like this:

Tomorrow I'll drive my bike to the market after work; because of the bike I'll have an easier time parking than most of the car riders making the same trip. I'll buy our favorite clean pasta and sauce to cook for a big group of folks, but will probably compromise and buy chemically grown dark chocolate for the dessert we are making, and dirty artichokes because the clean ones are currently out of stock. "

See what I mean? The need to buy chemically grown and dirty food over clean food is terribly reduced. In my revised paragraph, the patchouli-tinged aura associated with a fluffy bike ride to buy organic pasta is reduced, as is the whingeing and whining factor that comes of complaining that your store is out of organic vegetables. No one could blame you for griping about having to buy chemically grown food -- even though most people don't realize that's what they're eating already anyway!

Remember the advice of good old Humpty Dumpty:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.' 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'