Over the past weeks, we’ve all become newly accustomed to changes in our daily routine. For those fortunate enough to be able to work from home, that often means juggling calls and emails while taking care of the kids (because daycare is closed), doing grocery shopping at seemingly odd-hours, and going more than a little stir-crazy.
Since the beginning of the shelter-at-home, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of walkers, bikers, and trail users on our streets and in our parks. Across our community and throughout the country, people are jumping on their bikes to stay active and explore their neighborhoods in a whole new way. For many, the roads feel safer than ever due to the sharp reduction in traffic.
While recognizing the challenges being faced by so many, the science of behavior change tells us that we have a tremendous opportunity amid this global crisis.
From a very early age, we learn that driving a car is the norm. Our society emphasizes the primacy of the automobile as our mode of transportation, from the way that our streets are designed and funded, to how we ritualize the driver’s license as a signpost on the way to adulthood. But that dependence, and that cultural expectation, comes at a tremendous cost.
Over 35,000 Americans die on our roads every year, at a rate roughly six times that of many other developed nations. And the United States ranks third in the world for per capita CO2 emissions, largely due to our dependence on the automobile.
Prior to COVID-19, transportation accounted for 58% of greenhouse gas emissions in Napa County. And while some of those emissions can be attributed to our tourism industry, a significant amount fall to us – driving our personal vehicles to work, shuttling kids between school and extracurricular activities, running errands, or just “taking a drive.”
A staggering 63% of vehicle trips countywide are five miles or less, with nearly a third of trips at just two miles or less, a distance that is easily done by bicycle or even walking.
Since the shelter-at-home order was issued, we’ve seen a significant drop in CO2 and other greenhouse gas pollutants – as much as a 40% reduction, according to the County’s most recent data. We can use today as a starting point to recognize that a “return to normal” does not need to include a return to sole dependence on our cars for transportation, to traffic fatalities, and runaway GHG emissions.
Each year, our cities and the county declare the month of May to be Bike Month in Napa County. While some Bike Month activities such as Bike to Work & School Day have been postponed until the fall, there is no better time than now to try riding a bike for recreation or transportation, or to make a personal or household commitment to reducing your dependence on the car.
Whether you are a seasoned rider or you are just dusting off your bike, biking is a healthy, climate-friendly way to get exercise, enjoy the outdoors, or get to your essential services during the Shelter in Place order.
It is also critical to remember that being safe outside looks different today than it did a few months back. Riding safely always means wearing your helmet, utilizing hand signals for turns, and obeying the rules of the road as you would if you were in a vehicle. Even while riding, it’s important to maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and any other rider or trail user.
Together, we can all help to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, and also flatten our own greenhouse gas emissions. Here are a few things you can do right now to celebrate Bike Month while getting some exercise and enjoying our great outdoors:
— Get Ready to Roll: Ensuring that your bike is safe and ready to roll is always the first step to a successful ride. Before every ride, check your A-B-C’s, Air, Brakes and Chain. We’ve posted a great tutorial video online at napabike.org to show you how, or call your local bike shop to schedule a tune-up. They’re open and would love to see you.
— Get the Kids Outside: Celebrating Bike Month and reducing your carbon footprint can be a fun activity for the whole family. We’ve designed a bike-themed scavenger hunt to get you and the kids active and outside on bikes. Get all the details online at napabike.org/scavenger
— Pledge to Ride: Take the Napa Bike Month Pledge to Ride your bike during the month of May. Sign up at www.napabike.org with your name and email, and each week throughout the month of May we’ll be selecting winners for great prizes.
Patrick Band is the executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition.
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