Saving the Earth one bicycle lane at a time: Active Transportation and the Environment

By: Jeremiah Asaka

Earlier this week I was privileged to attend Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s 2013 Summit on Sustainability and the Environment. The conference was themed “Building resilience for a climate of change. “

The conference was segmented into three tracks: community, business and local government. All the tracks had sessions going on concurrently in the morning, mid morning and afternoon.

In order to get the best out of the conference I attended three sessions — one from each track. At one of the sessions, titled “Pathway to a Resilient, Energy-Efficient Economy,” I was pleased to see the contribution of the Voinovich School in fronting an energy-efficient-economy paradigm recognized by Dr. Fiksel of Ohio State University.  This recognition was done alongside that of Millennium Initiative and Ohio State University.

However, a discussion on active transportation really caught my attention. Active transportation is defined as any means of transport that involves the active involvement of one’s muscles, such as bike riding and walking.  According one of the panelists at the session titled “Active Transportation Is for Everyone,” active transportation has several advantages including, but not limited to, healthy living, reduced risk of obesity and heart disease.  As a panelist described it, “Walking and biking is a significant part of a healthy community.”

While active transportation is not a new phenomenon, its popularity as a central part of transportation has reduced over the years among most communities in the United States who prefer motorized transportation. The discussion at the conference centered on bringing active transportation back to its past glory. A major starting point suggested by one panelist was having every individual reserve short-distance travel for active transportation. For example, it was suggested that going to the neighborhood grocery store should be done either by biking or walking — depending on which one suits the scenario at hand.

Panelists at the discussion also shared experiences from different areas, mainly Chicago, Columbus, and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Compared to Columbus, Chicago was said to be way ahead of the game with the city mayor recently mandating the construction and protection of bike and walkways on nearly all major roads within the city. This, one of the participant said, has attracted major blue chip companies like Motorola to the city because of the convenience such options offer to their employees. The City of Calgary was touted as a better model on which to base future active transportation plans for Columbus..

The session also addressed some of the challenges faced by those already engaging in active transportation. Some the challenges include unprotected walkways, limited walkways and bike lanes, and, as one panelist put it, “motorists who don’t know that cyclists don’t belong to the sidewalks.”

If the discussions that I listened to were anything to go by, there is a lot of opportunity in the realm of active transportation and any community that chooses to make active transportation a big part of its culture stands to gain a lot in this era of living with our means.

Lastly, the conference did not conclude without a stab at the climate change debate. I must say it is a great source of hope for me whenever I see such a huge group of Americans gather to discuss climate change as a real threat to their existence and try to find solutions that can augment their resilience.

One of the speakers at a lunchtime panel discussion on climate change ushered conference attendees into the now highly politicized debate. The speaker, Ben Gelber — an NBC4 metereologist — said, “Climate change debate has been politicized. And that’s unfortunate. We are better than that as a society.” In agreement with Mr. Gelber, I think the politicization of any issue is actually the greatest misdeed that we as individuals can ever proffer upon humanity. The politicization of the cause and threat of climate change is costing humanity and life on earth dearly. The sooner we all realize that the better.

Just to give a glimpse of how much cost we are talking about here, another member of the panel, Kevin Reardon of the American Red Cross, had this to say: “One dollar spent on preparedness equals four dollars spent on response.” Imagine that!

We had all better agree that climate change is costly, real and that we have played a part in propagating it. Planning early enough for any eventuality even as we work on mitigating our impacts on the climate is surely the way to go


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