Colin Harrington: Slow down, ride a bike, save the air



There is nothing that can compare to the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle. It feels like flying. It’s adventure! The tubes and lines and many variations in the structure of a bicycle can accommodate virtually anybody. I love to ride my bicycle for recreation, touring, sport, and probably most importantly, I have been using my bicycle for transportation to and from work for 35 years.

Right now where I teach is 35 miles away, which, if I ride all the way, means I have to leave the house at 4 a.m. Otherwise I put the bike in the car and ride in and back from a halfway point where I park. I kind of resent this situation. I would like to ride my bike all the time but I have to be at school at 7 a.m. Teenagers coming into school at 7:15 a.m. are half asleep, grumpy, and not ready, and I have just burned a lot of gas I wish I hadn’t and that pollutes the atmosphere.

It occurred to me that people all over the world might not be riding their bikes or enjoying a nice walk to where they work because just to make ends meet we are all being forced to be there too early and in too much of a rush. If we could get to school and work just an hour later every day maybe Americans would be healthier and the air pollution in cities would dissipate just a little and the best part would be a higher quality of life cycling, walking, and using public transportation. Why hasn’t building in commute time into all workplaces made sense to Americans for health, productivity, and environmental solutions?

Air pollution has reached new levels of lethality in our world. A recent study reported in the news indicated one in eight people world-wide die as a direct result of air pollution. The great cities of Paris and Brussels have been wrestling with strategies to control thickening air pollution to little effect as it is impossible to limit cars rushing out early and flooding avenues with more traffic than ever. These are traditionally huge bicycling cities!


When Los Angeles was the science model for "the greenhouse effect" it seemed startling. Now the city of Beijing’s air pollution problem is so bad the Chinese government issues alerts and warnings throughout the day on how unsafe it is to just go outside! Some days the air is too poisonous for authorities to recommend leaving home at all. Do any of us feel the science fiction future shock in any of this?

Global warming is happening full throttle but we don’t seem to have any policy makers who could look at our lifestyles as a possible solution. The oil industry and the car industry would have us believe that all electric cars and hydrogen cell cars are too far off. Maybe we should just walk, or bike, or as many people do anyway, take a run. A solution could be as simple as starting the day less frantically and an hour later. Be more productive and less frantic. Why does everyone need to rush to the car, jump in, and turn the ignition so automatically?

I remember a more genteel, civilized time when many of us actually walked to school and work. We even came home for lunch at midday for an hour, kids and parents, and I never remember a school day that had to start at 7 a.m. The idea of air pollution was a hippy notion to be laughed away. To those people and those times that may have been right. But now we have major climate issues and it’s time to get some quality of life back.

This is why a lot of young people are saying "no" to the rush around world. Whole communities are springing up around supported local agriculture because fresh eggs, non-GMO vegetables and non-steroid/vaccine-free meats are being raised right nearby. Our new CSA is only 10 minutes away, a half hour by bicycle. I don’t know why Americans aren’t taking a closer look at claiming a higher quality of life and talking it up.

Before the school year is out I will make the 4 a.m. bike trip to school a few times I hope, and I’ll be up at 5 a.m. tomorrow to make the half-way ride, not because I’m trying to prove anything -- then again, maybe I am. I want to prove that it’s OK to enjoy the ride to work and it’s better for us all to do just that, take back our lives and take back the air.

Colin Harrington is a writer and educator and occasional contributor to The Eagle.


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