Bike trails and greenhouse gases. Obesity and global warming. Don’t tell Jim Sayer that bicycling is just a sport. The head of America's largest recreational cycling organization believes bicycling is also a powerful antidote to two of our most pressing health trends: escalating obesity rates and fossil fuel emissions.
“The thing about bikes, walking and community design is they are so simple, and they are already here, in terms of solutions,” says Sayer, who serves as executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.
But you can’t just tell people to get out of their cars. An important step, Sayer says, is community design that creates paths, greenways and interconnected trails that are safe and accessible—and the political will to make bicycling an essential part of transportation planning.
“Europe has achieved a remarkable integration of density, design and facilities that enable anybody and everybody to ride,” he says. “Like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, they don’t see bicycling as something different or unusual—it’s part of everyday life.”
Sayer cites data from the 1995 National Personal Transportation Survey, indicating that roughly half of all trips in the United States are three miles or less. By his calculations, making just half of those short trips by bicycle instead of by car would save about 24 billion gallons of gas in a year.
“We can make a big difference in U.S. consumption,” says Sayer, who has also served as president of the Sierra Business Council and director of Greenbelt Alliance. “People talk about ethanol, biofuels, hydrogen, but first things first: There are things we can do simply and economically and begin to reduce demand for any type of energy for transportation.”
Still, Sayer admits there’s no silver bullet for addressing climate change.
“There will be probably dozens of solutions on how we control the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere,” he says. “Community design is a good traditional tool.”
Recently, Adventure Cycling teamed up with AASHTO (American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials) to jumpstart a national route system that will link existing and new state bicycle routes across state borders. Although mapping and popularizing longer, multi-state bike routes is its hallmark trait, the Montana-based organization is also committed to inspiring children and families to embrace the health benefits of cycling. Last month, the organization published a bicycle travel guide for kids.
Sayer’s top priority remains inspiring more people to bicycle more often.
“It’s fun to see people who say they haven’t ridden a bike in 20 or 30 years and now they’re thinking about it again,” he says. “Bicycling has become more popular—more and more people are getting excited about it.”
Established in 1973, Adventure Cycling Association researches, develops and publishes comprehensive route maps for its 42,000 members and other cyclists.
Adventure Cycling Association (ACA)
National Bicycle Route Network
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