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Joseph Barnett: It's a wonder what bicycling can do for us

The Tallahassee Democrat: Joseph Barnett: It’s a wonder what bicycling can do for us

JOSEPH BARNETT • MY VIEW • OCTOBER 31, 2009

I read a book called "The Seven Wonders of the World." The bicycle made the list, right up there with public libraries! There are many reasons for this great award:

 

Anyone can bicycle. I’ve ridden with 3-years-olds and 83-year-olds. I remember riding 100 miles next to this strong bicyclist. He started talking about his Navy years — before World War II. He looked like an 18-year-old, until he took off his helmet.

Anyone can afford a bicycle. You can get a workable bicycle for $20 at garage sales, Goodwill or Krank it Up community bicycle shop. I had a great five-day camping bicycle ride across West Virginia on my $20 mountain bike. It carried all my gear and worked great except for one flat.

Bicycling makes us a lot wealthier. I got rid of our second car for 10 years and bicycled to work. According to AAA figures, owning a car costs over $7,000 dollars a year. I guess I saved $70,000 dollars just bicycling to work. Don Walters, director of a community development firm, said the major obstacle to owning a home was car expenses.

Bicycling instead of driving reduces taxes. Expensive road widening is less necessary when inexpensive bike lanes (shoulders) are fully used. Ithaca, N.Y., once found that two-thirds of its budget (and taxes) was due to roads and motor vehicle related expenses.

Bicycling solves the current health care debate by reducing our "obesogenic" culture. A close relative spent six months in France for postgraduate school. Without his car, he quickly lost the 25 pounds he had gained in college.

Bicycling or physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control, can reduce obesity-related heart disease, some cancers, hypertension, stroke, liver disease, sleep apnea, arthritis and especially diabetes. My patients who have lost weight, and kept it off, say they exercised every day. One cyclist said he lost 60 pounds and no longer needs expensive and inconvenient insulin.

A bicycle culture might have saved a coworker’s father from diabetes and associated high blood pressure. His kidneys shut down, requiring expensive and uncomfortable dialysis several times a week. Diabetes-induced infection led to amputation of his leg. He was a great man with a great family. But sadly, he died in his early 50s.

A bicycle culture might have saved a 53-year-old husband from expensive, uninsured heart surgery and later diabetes with an associated severe foot infection. He is expected to be on disability and Medicaid, all a huge tax burden on us all. Ironically, he once complained about bicyclists using "his" road.

 

Bicycling to work, shops and school reduces traffic and associated climate change and water and air pollution. Traffic kills 40,000 a year, and $237 billion is spent on traffic accidents. If more of us bicycled, we’d have more parks instead of parking lots. We’d hear birds instead of road noise.

Bicycling can prevent drilling for oil off our sugar-white beaches. Protesters may delay drilling, but unless we stop wasting gas with our one-driver, one-car habit, drilling will eventually occur here.

Bicycling reduces our huge overseas debt from buying overseas oil. We wouldn’t need so much military (and taxes) "protecting" those overseas oil supplies. Our soldiers could finally come home. And shouldn’t we save "some" oil for our kids and grandkids?

Bicycling to school might save our kids from diabetes and could reduce busing and driving expenses. Davis, Calif., stopped its school busing. And in Schaumberg, Ill., safe bike paths and lanes often results in more bicycles than cars at soccer practices.

Bicycling reduces crime, according to Science magazine. Crime is reduced when people are outside meeting their neighbors. Turn off the TV and computer games and get outside. When more people bicycle, roads become safer, as drivers become more watchful and aware.

Bicycles really are the seventh wonder of the world. We need to promote anything that gets us out of our cars and onto our bikes. Except for dangerous drivers, most bicycle commuters find it fun, like being a kid again.

Sadly, Canadian bike racer Louis Bertrand came to Tallahassee to scout out the area as a winter cycling mecca for Canadians. He marveled at the beauty here. But on his last day, while cycling a rural road with very little traffic and a wide-open passing lane, he was nearly hit by a speeding van.

Bertand said, "He had to have seen me. It was a deliberate attack. He (the driver) was saying, ’I hate you.’ " The incident upset the friendly Canadian enough that he reconsidered recommending Tallahassee as a winter cycling tourist destination to thousands of Canadians.

That one uneducated and uncaring driver caused great damage to our badly needed tourism industry and possibly to a whole better cycling way of transportation.