By Karl Kemnitzer
Reaching our transportation energy goals is often postponed until after we have weatherized our homes and installed solar panels, but since it is the largest energy use (37%) and emissions (46%) of any Vermont energy sector, it should be one of the first places we look. With transportation, renewable energy, and industry all using similar electronics, batteries, and motors, we should expect innovations to happen simultaneously across all sectors. Change is happening now in transportation, and just as in renewable energy, it’s not a question of whether it’s possible, the problem is our old infrastructure.
As we reinvent transportation, we shouldn’t forget that the cleanest and most efficient vehicle of them all is the bicycle, or that humans are made to walk. Active transportation has so many financial, health, environmental, personal well-being, and societal benefits that it deserves a much larger place on our roads then it has had in the past. In Vancouver, they found that if a pedestrian spent a dollar on walking, the city spent 1 cent to support them, a bicyclist cost the city 8 cents, a bus ride was $1.50, and for a personal car the city paid $9.20. In Helsinki, they found that for every Euro spent on biking facilities, the return to the city was 7.80 Euros. Many studies have shown that regular bicycling will extend your life by half a year or more while improving how you feel both physically and mentally (a medical benefit of around 20 to 1). Bicycles emit around 1/10 the lifecycle emissions of cars and use less than 1/10 the energy. They wear out the roads less than 1/1000 as fast as a car. Their infrastructure costs a small fraction of car infrastructure. They knit together downtowns and promote local economies. They’ve been shown to be faster than traffic in both Burlington and the Norwich, VT- to-Hanover, NH rush-hour commute. They are socially equitable and inclusive. They promote connection to place and neighborhood cohesion. It’s been our loss that we have not kept a lane open for everyday bicycling.
After 90 years of car-centered road policy, it’s time to actively support bikes. In addition to bicycling’s benefits, we now have electric bikes that enable more people to ride, and new car-share plans for those who only need a car occasionally or during winter. Bikes can help meet energy and emission goals too, but in Vermont only 0.6% of commuters use a bicycle. We should be aiming for 10% or more like many northern European areas. I’ve proposed “An Act to Promote Work and Commuter Bicycles” which would exempt them from sales tax. It is VT House Bill H.355, cosponsored by John Bartholomew and Mollie Burke. I have estimated an annual cost of $47,000, but numerous studies have shown paybacks of 2 to 10 times the amount spent on bicycling programs because of resulting health care savings. Although H.355 is a small step compared to the support we give to cars, it was cut in committee to include only electric bikes. Please write your legislators that we need a more balanced transportation policy that looks to where we are going, not where we have been. We use our cars every day because we’ve made it easy, now it is our job to make biking and walking just as easy.
- Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Forum in September 2017 (like the one at the Montshire in 2014). We are looking for EV owners who would like to display their cars. Please contact me if you are interested. firstname.lastname@example.org or 802 436-3061.
- The Vermont Walk/Bike Summit will be held in the White River Junction area in April 2018! This biennial conference includes speakers, presentations, and displays. For more information please contact Rita Seto at Two Rivers Ottauquechee Planning Commission. email@example.com or 802.457.3188.
Karl Kemnitzer enjoys riding solar electric cargo bikes and is on the Sierra Club Upper Valley and V-Bike committees.