Going Bike-Crazy for the Environment

This article discusses a new bicycle transit center that is nearing completion in downtown Washington, D.C. The article does not discuss an environmental problem, like polluted parkland or a fouled waterway, but rather a part of the solution to living more sustainably. The new bike center will contain 150 enclosed bicycle racks, 20 new additional racks outdoors, as well as changing rooms, a repair shop, lockers, and a store. The building contains 1,700 square feet and cost $4 million to build. While small, the facility is the first such building on the U.S. East Coast, and is an initial step in a broader citywide effort to prioritize biking as a major and viable form of transportation. The majority of the funding, 80 percent, came from the U.S. Department of Transportation, while the city paid the rest. A major problem throughout D.C., and especially at metro stations, is a lack of bicycle parking. Many people are also reluctant to leave their bikes out in the open, where the forces of weather, vandalism, and theft wreak havoc.

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I discovered another article that I was able to connect to this local issue, thereby applying it more broadly. Across the U.S., if more cities were to prioritize bicycle parking and cyclist safety, it is likely that more people would feel comfortable biking, thus leaving their cars at home. This has the potential to save an enormous amount of space. The average size of a single parking spot is 9 by 18 feet, whereas 92 bicycles can be stored in the Biceberg, a kiosk (being used in many Spanish cities) the size of four parking spaces. Given that all of the parking lots in the U.S., if combined, would equal an area the size of Connecticut, creating an urban infrastructure for bikes could allow formerly paved areas to be used for better purposes, like dense, mixed-use developments, or green space.

Many European cities, like Amsterdam, have adopted bikes with great enthusiasm. Amsterdam’s central train station has some 9,000 spots. Put in this perspective, the D.C. bike facility looks minuscule—but perhaps it’s an important step to facilitating greater usage of bikes and public transportation in the U.S. Other American cities, like Portland, Oregon have already gone a long way; many businesses, recognizing the benefit of increased bicycle traffic, have actively petitioned the city for more bike parking. This local article and biking are extremely relevant because much of the energy that we use is devoted to personal transportation. If we can work to encourage modes of transport that contribute less carbon to the atmosphere, then we can go a long way to living more sustainable and healthy lives.

Here is an image of the modes of transportation used to travel to various stations in the Washington Metro system. I think this is relevant here, because it shows that the stations in dense neighborhoods, as well as in the city core, have a lot of pedestrian activity (blue) and some bike activity, whereas the stations located further out, in car-oriented/less dense areas have far more people arriving by personal automobile (orange). This shows that the way we design our communities can greatly influence how we travel.

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