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More Americans Bike To Work

  • Babak Bordbar

Rising gas prices and a slowing economy are forcing many Americans to leave their cars at home and find alternative methods of transportation. Many are choosing bicycles to get around. VOA's Babak Bordbar looks at the rise in bicycling in America and what its impact is on the environment. Brian Allen narrates.

As gas prices soared this year, many Americans began leaving their cars in the garage and pedaling to work on bicycles.

Andy Clark, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists, an organization that promotes bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation, says that is good news for the environment.

"It doesn't burn fossil fuel and it doesn't create dangerous emissions or pollutants and the numbers are there to back that up if people choose to ride instead of driving, there are enormous benefits in all those areas," Clark said.

The benefits are most dramatic on short trips. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 50 percent of Americans commute five miles or less to work. However, a car engine's catalytic converter - the device used to reduce the toxicity of emissions - needs to warm up before it can function properly, which is why shorter car trips pump more pollution into the air on a per-mile basis.

"If we can move people, especially on the shorter trips, out of their cars and onto bikes, I think we'll make a big dent in at least the transportation sector emissions- greenhouse gas emissions," Eric Gilliland said.

Gilliland is the Director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. Each year the group sponsors a bike to work day to encourage people to use their bicycles. This year, despite being marred by rain, the event drew large crowds, including both novice and experienced cyclists.

One bicyclist said he tries to avoid driving, due to the gas prices.

"All of the impacts that we would associate with car use: the pollution impacts, the climate impacts, don't apply to a bicycle so there's not that kind of environmental downside," Gary Gardner said.

Gardner is a senior researcher with the environmental research organization WorldWatch Institute and has written on a broad range of sustainability issues, including bicycle use.

"Where gasoline is expensive, people drive smaller cars, they use public transportation more and increasingly they use bicycles," Gardner added.

Members of the U.S. Congress have taken note and are encouraging this eco-friendly mode of transportation.

"The last couple of transportation bills in the United States have set aside sizable amounts of money for cycling infrastructure," Gardner said.

Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar is Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a strong proponent of bicycle use.

"We're transforming the landscape," Oberstar said. "Cities, counties, state governments, state highway transportation agencies are planning the roadways of the future and planning for bicycle facilities in dense urban areas creating bicycle lanes along with bus lanes and setting aside well marked, well protected paths for bicycling in urban centers and between communities and establishing off-road bicycle paths"

As biking routes become more plentiful, Oberstar and others believe many more commuters will give up their cars and begin biking to work.

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