|Local environment stories on urban biking are plentiful and can address approaches such as protected bike lanes and networks of linked bike routes, municipal bike support programs and bike sharing. Above, two bicyclists in a dedicated bike lane along San Francisco’s Embarcadero in 2014. Image: Mission Bicycle Company, Flickr Creative Commons. Click to enlarge.|
TipSheet: Bikes Make Path for Local Environment Stories
By Joseph A. Davis
For environmental journalists looking to put global issues into a hometown context, the topic of bicycling makes for some easy pedaling.
You can call it infrastructure. Counties and cities, faced with proposals to widen freeways for hundreds of millions of dollars, have started to look at bike paths and bike lanes as a winning strategy.
You can call it public health. Biking helps cardiovascular fitness, which reduces risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Oh, and you can call it climate, since bikes emit no greenhouse gases.
Here’s what you need to know about reporting on cycling as an environment topic.
Twenty years ago, streets in North America were pretty much for cars, and cyclists usually had to adapt to what amounted to a hostile battlefield. But states, cities and counties today are finding all kinds of ways to be bike-friendly. And that often means cleaner air and physically fit commuters.
U.S streets didn’t always belong just to automobiles. Once it was horses and carriages. Students of history know that it was bicyclists who sparked the “Good Roads Movement” back in 1890-1920, getting muddy country ruts paved. But by the 1950s, it was autos that ruled the road.
Bikes started a comeback for all kinds of reasons beginning in 1965-75. Instead of a children’s toy, they became a vehicle for adult recreation and transportation. Use of bikes for commuting and errands about town became cool again. You could find bike racks.
Why it matters
Start with selfishness. When city streets become gridlocked parking lots, cyclists can smirk serenely as they pass right through the bunches of idling cars carrying ill-tempered drivers.
By the way, all those non-moving, idling cars (and even the moving ones) create huge amounts of air pollution — not just smog precursors and sooty particulates that assault our throats and lungs, but carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming.
It may come as a surprise to many
more greenhouse gas emissions
than does electricity generation.
All that makes bikes an attractive alternative to cars, especially for the shorter local runs.
Physical fitness and better health is another predictable benefit of encouraging more people to bike. It’s OK to pay big bucks for a stationary exercise cycle that goes nowhere in the privacy of your basement or athletic club. But going somewhere is a bonus, in addition to the cardiovascular benefits.
Let’s be honest though: Biking is not good for your health if you are in a crash. Bikers, less protected, are more often injured than people in cars.
There are more known techniques for improving bicyclist safety than we can mention (start with wearing your helmet!). You can find some from the National Safety Council, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the League of American Bicyclists and bicyclesafe.com.
The big family of stories for environmental journalists centers on how to create bicycle-friendly communities. Many communities are in fact already well down this road. Many have much farther to go. Some have plans to get there. Some have even put money aside to do it. [If you run out of inspiration, ask your editor to send you to Amsterdam].
Here are some ideas:
- One-way protected bike lanes: These are considered the … er… Rolls Royce of bike-friendly urban infrastructure. Many cities are building more of them. Is yours?
- Linked bike routes: Not all streets are bike-friendly, but you can link together a planned, comprehensive network of paths and streets to make ways to get from here to there. Does your city have a map of bike routes?
- Municipal bicycle support programs: Does your city or county have a complete program for supporting bikes within its transportation bureaucracy? The one in Washington, D.C., is a fair example. Look for citizen participation and go to a meeting.
- Bike-sharing programs: These fee-based temporary-use programs have sprung up in many cities in recent years. The upside is that they can encourage many more people to bike. There can be downsides, too.
- League of American Bicyclists: A very old membership-based cyclist advocacy and support organization.
- National Association of City Transportation Officials: A professional organization of city transportation planners that is very bike-aware. It provides holistic city planning.
- Local bike clubs and advocacy groups: These will vary by locality, but will be rich in local story leads. The way to find one near you is to go to a local bike shop and ask or pick up literature. Or search here.
Joseph A. Davis is a freelance writer/editor in Washington, D.C. who has been writing about the environment since 1976. He writes SEJournal Online's TipSheet and Reporter's Toolbox columns. Davis also directs SEJ's WatchDog Project and writes WatchDog Tipsheet, and compiles SEJ's daily news headlines, EJToday.
* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 4, No. 28. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.