Bike to School

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National Bike to School day was yesterday (or as I like to call it, Wednesday). I got a picture on my way out yesterday, but this morning’s sunrise was too pretty to not do a retake.

Unfortunately, only a handful out of about 1,000 students where I teach are able to walk to school in this part of town, and only 2 or 3 actually do. None to my knowledge ride a bike. The school is surrounded by neighborhoods on all sides, but apparently the developers expected everyone out here to pile into cars in order to get anywhere, even if it’s just a few blocks away. Despite plenty of space for better design, the neighborhoods are bottlenecked and there are no cut-through paths for people on foot or bikes.

Or to better illustrate my frustration, the city I moved from was very car-centric, but on the other hand our local elementary school looked like this outside daily:

DIS

 

But it’s bike month, and if anything, bike month is about hope. Hope that we can remember the joy of riding as a kid, and work to make our towns and communities places where our children and grandchildren can experience that same magic.

 

“There’s the way things are. There’s also the way things could be.
Thankfully, there’s also you.”
~ Kid President

Bike to School

Step off the treadmill

I’m going to preface this post with this: our bodies are absolutely amazing and wonderful things, with fabulous diversity and incredible potential. How we use them on a day to day basis simply does not do them justice.

Earlier today I stumbled across this article about Biggest Loser contestants gaining back the weight that they fought off during the TV show, their bodies “fought” to return to their previous size. But obesity isn’t what our bodies were designed for (ex., heart disease is the leading cause of death in America).  it’s just the ‘new normal’ that exists now for a rising number of Americans, and it’s what we have created. And normalcy isn’t created by imposing diets and workout regimens. It’s created in our day to day lives and what comes naturally to us.

Unfortunately, what comes “naturally” or easiest to us now in our world is a lack of movement and easy access to processed foods with low nutritional content.

If we were happy with the results of our lifestyle, we wouldn’t have billion dollar industries convincing us to spend our time, money and energy trying to trick our bodies into looking a certain way. On the other hand, if we could allow our bodies to do what they were designed to do, and incorporate movement and healthy habits into our daily regimen, everything would be completely different. By that I mean a) having fun, b) built in to our every day lives, such as commuting to work, gardening, or walking to do errands, and c) yes, I’m saying outside. Am I the only one who hates the smell of stale sweat in a gym?

Shonda Rhimes hit the nail on the head when she explained how she lost over 100 pounds in her book The Year of Yes (by the way, it’s amazing, go read it), and it resonated with me when she explained that after she changed the way she thought consciously about her food cravings and paid attention to what her body wanted, she added exercise – but only activities that she wanted to do. By using a positive mindset and making purposeful decisions, she ended up making lifestyle changes that were way beyond a diet or a gym schedule. These are the kinds of changes that make people successful in their long term health goals, not New Years resolutions or giving up chocolate for Lent.

For the record, I have always been a couch potato. It is absolutely shocking to my parents that their little lazybones has grown up into someone who willingly sweats it out in the heat, shrugs off the cold and bemoans getting into a car. I will never willingly do burpees unless perhaps I’m being called out in front of people by an aggressive fitness instructor. You will not find me on instagram telling you how to incorporate kale into your every meal or promoting some sort of magical unicorn fart weight loss supplement. I tried a spin class with a friend out of curiosity the other day, and it was interesting but you’d never see me in there every week. In high school, my mother used to drag me kicking and screaming to an early morning low impact workout circuit that still makes me shudder to think about (I’m looking at you, Curves). But now I love to ride my bike, and as a result of commuting and letting my body have the movement it craves I have literally never been healthier in my life.

In a lot of ways, we as a culture try to pretend that our surroundings don’t affect us. We ignore our worsening air quality, we curse our way through terrible commutes through heavy traffic, and we shrug and accept the assumption that we have to get in our cars, drive to a gym and pay someone money to lose the weight that piles onto our bodies from the sedentary lifestyle that we unconsciously join as we get older. But our current approach to our health is clearly not working for us as a society, to the point that our children are suffering from it. And that’s simply unacceptable.

Step off the treadmill

It’s the asphalt

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I ran across the story behind this picture in my newsfeed and I think it really speaks volumes about how we have been treating our outdoor and public spaces in the present age of motor vehicles. Illustrating this mindset, the CDC has 3 suggestions listed on their website under “prevention” for pedestrian deaths:

  • Pedestrians can increase their visibility at night by carrying a flashlight when walking and by wearing retro-reflective clothing.
  • Whenever possible, cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection.
  • It is much safer to walk on a sidewalk or path, but if a sidewalk or path is not available, walk on the shoulder and facing traffic.

Well that’s all well and good, CDC, and I do agree, on the road is not where you should bust out any ninja camouflaging techniques. But if we want to get serious about pursuing a Vision Zero world, we need to think bigger picture.

Talking about how we design public spaces for more than just cars sounds about as sexy as those fluorescent safety vests look. “Imagine all the people sharing all the world” sounds a lot more poetic than “your petroleum based method of transportation is simultaneously killing and paving the whole damn planet”. But unless you are an Indiana mole woman, this Culture of Car directly affects your health and well being every single day. How we interact with the world around us is directly tied to how we physically get around. If we want to start creating solutions instead of more problems*, we need to start planning our communities with healthy, active transportation options. And we need to start today.

So on National Walking Day, take a walk. Ride your bike. But don’t stop there. Tell your local officials, planning committees, representatives, even your local school PTA that walking is important and the time to take action is now. If your child’s school principal is threatening to have you arrested for walking your child to school, get her fired. Donate to a local trail or volunteer to pick up litter and encourage others to do the same. Because to quote Jane Goodall, “what you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

And now I will step off of my soapbox, and go take a walk.

*we have enough problems as is: rising obesity, soaring asthma rates, air pollution deaths, chronic stress from our commutes, and that’s just a start. 

It’s the asphalt

Speaking of infrastructure

I’ve scrolled past this video playing in my newsfeed for a few days because I thought it was something about bait bikes that I’d already seen. Turns out it’s actually about pop-up cycling infrastructure, and how simple changes can encourage more people to ride.

Creating that infrastructure is so integral to making real change in our cities and communities. Copenhagen, for example, realized in the 1970s gas crisis that they had built a system for cars, so over decades of engineering projects they went from 10% to 40% of the population using a bicycle for transportation. So, to quote from Bikes Vs. Cars (on which I am far overdue on a blog post!): the decisions we make now will impact future generations and determine the outcome of the next 100 or so years. Either way, our children and our children’s children will live in a reality that we are creating right now through our (often short-sighted) choices.

And, thanks to some of the innovations seen in this video, some of those choices are very easy to make.

Posted by Eco Bicycle on Monday, March 21, 2016

Speaking of infrastructure