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Save gas, ride a bike

For some time now, the writing staff at Wheelbase Communications has been pushing the virtues of saving gas by getting out and stretching the old limbs by walking to the corner store or, better yet, really tearing up the miles by riding a bike.

Other journalists have echoed the sentiment, jumping on the bandwagon, citing recent (and steady) gas-price hikes as the motivation we finally need to get off our high-backed bucket seats.

Fair enough.

It’s obvious enough, but yours truly recently wrote that you’ll be doing your heart, mind, stress level, body fat ratio and the environment a whole lot of good by hanging up the keys and strapping on a bike helmet.

With enough participation, lower pollution levels and less delay-causing road maintenance (less money) over the long haul are distinct possibilities.

However, many of us have neglected to consider one teeny, tiny detail: The North American road infrastructure is just not set up to accommodate cyclists/roller bladers/skateboarders, or just about any other kind of alternative transportation, whether it be solar-powered scooters or giant paper airplanes with 12 cupholders and seating for seven. That’s just how narrow the thinking is: There’s little or no consideration for anything other than cars as personal transportation modules. A recent trip to Europe really drove home this point.

Sure, there are bike paths around parks and sparsely populated suburban areas, but not much to get you safely downtown in rush-hour traffic. In most cases, you’re taking your life into your own hands just leaving the driveway. And when you get to work, where are you supposed to park your wheels? Does your work provide a bike locker indoors? How about a shower? Or, what about adequate bathroom facilities to reapply makeup or at least toss on a fresh top? No?

This is how dependent we’ve become on our personal gasoline-powered conveyances: We’re just not set up to do anything else.

Drivers are not used to seeing anything other than other cars on the road, most cities haven’t adequately planned for anything other than cars — even people who own pedal bikes wouldn’t dream of actually taking it to work.

Despite this, the reasons for pedaling couldn’t be any more obvious. In fact, given the congestion in most of our downtown areas, it’s quite likely that your morning commute on a bicycle would not only be healthier and cheaper, but faster. Great, but could the odds be stacked any more heavily against cyclists?

What would it take to put bike/rollerblade/scooter lanes on most streets? Not much. A little paint, in the form of divider lines, because, lord knows, the roads in most cities are wide enough to add a bike lane. If you don’t think so, spend a little time driving in Europe.

So, who’s going to get the ball rolling and be the first to draft a real plan to encourage people to use other forms of personal transportation? Who will be the first to offer discounts on health insurance for daily cycle commuters? What will be the first workplace to step up with a proper cycle garage? And who will spring for the first drum of lane paint?

We’re not talking about a few streets here, but a real infrastructure that rewards people — or at least accommodates them — for working hard at being socially responsible.

It’s doubtful that your trusty sport utility vehicle will ever give way to two-wheeled propulsion, but, right now, in most places, you don’t really have a choice. You have to drive to survive.

So bring it up at your next city-council meeting or kick it around at the coffee machine tomorrow morning.

Riding a bike is a great idea that just needs a little help to actually make it more socially acceptable and practical as a means of transportation and not just a means of recreation.

Rhonda Wheeler is a journalist with Wheelbase Media, a worldwide supplier of automotive news, features and reviews. You can e-mail her by logging on to www.wheelbase.ws/media and clicking the contact link.

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