Active Transportation Can Make You Feel Alive Again

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly 9-3-2012

by Vikki Armstrong

One of the most gratifying conversations I had on Bike to Work Day in May of this year was with a friend who hadn’t biked in almost 30 years. Bike to Work Day inspired her to borrow her son’s bike and whiz down the hill from her home on East Hill to downtown. She was radiant when she told me about it. I had advised her about the Bikes on Buses option, so she felt free to bike down the hill and take the bus back up. “It was magnificent” she said, her eyes shining.

Sometimes doing the right thing, making the environmentally sound choice, can feel like deprivation. This is rarely the case when it comes to biking. It is definitely much easier on the planet if you bike or walk where you need to go instead of taking a car. You emit no harmful toxins into the air, you don’t burn irreplaceable fossil fuels, you take up much less space.  Air quality is thus improved, dependence on foreign oil and all the ill politics that engenders is lessened, and more public space can be devoted to other purposes, maybe even to green space. It is also much cheaper for you to bike or walk than to take a car. And it keeps you more fit, and thus healthier.

Yet for me perhaps the most compelling reason to choose this most sustainable form of transportation is that it is fun. This is clear from the stories of folks who have taken up biking as a step to save money and resources on the Get Your Greenback Tompkins website.  Aara Edwards writes energetically: “I never get stuck in traffic jams! I even have ski goggles for really cold days. I love being a biker – it gives me convenience and independence, and saves me lots of money. Combining bus, Carshare and bike I can get anywhere in Ithaca.” And here’s a similar story from Barbara Perrone.  “I bring my bike in on the bus each morning and love riding around town to run errands on my work breaks.  I love to buzz thru town, enjoying the neighborhoods and not dealing with the traffic. Having a bike in town makes me feel very free.”

Streets Alive! is a new event coming to Ithaca on Sunday September 23rd.  Cayuga Street from Court Street to East Shore Drive will be closed to cars and open to people for three hours in the afternoon, from 1 to 4 pm. This will be an excellent opportunity for people who might be nervous riding in traffic to come out and try biking, either again or for the first time.  Cornell Big Red Bikes will be there with bicycles to borrow. Way2Go and Cornell University Police have organized a bike rodeo with an obstacle course to work on bike skills and learn safe ways to ride in traffic. And of course the street will be open and wide with no car traffic, perfect for a Sunday stroll or a short and shaky bike ride.

Streets Alive! is inspired by an open streets movement taking place in more than 80 cities in North America. Streets are closed to cars for a short period of time, and people get the chance to experience their city space in a new way, and to actively move through the space via biking, walking, rolling… and dancing, unicycling, rollerblading, longboarding, and more. It is remarkable to see how much space we typically reserve for cars, and to have the chance to re-envision that space, if only for a moment, as a place to socialize, to be active, to have fun.

Many hands make light work, and the organizers of Streets Alive! are all from different local organizations that promote biking and walking in some way – from the City of Ithaca Transportation Department to Finger Lakes Cycling Club, Way2Go, Get Your Greenback Tompkins, Cornell Big Red Bikes, the Creating Healthy Places Project of the Human Services Coalition, Ithaca Carshare, the Ithaca Tompkins County Transportation Council, and more.  The goal of Streets Alive! is to spark more interest in biking, walking, and rolling; to inspire people to make this a transportation choice at least some of the time; and to engage people in the conversation of how to improve the environment for biking and walking on a more permanent basis.

The first step is to come on out. It’s just like riding a bicycle.

For more information see

Vikki Armstrong is a Program Associate at the Human Services Coalition, working on the Creating Healthy Places Project, a state wide initiative that seeks to improve the built environment for public health.   She rides her bike whenever and wherever she can.

If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles