(Parry Burnap is the executive director of Denver Bike Sharing.)
I am mostly a bike commuter and errand runner. I replace relatively short car trips with my bike and pair transit with bike sharing too. On weekends, my family takes rides when we have time, when we are together. I don’t race. I don’t wear spandex or bike shorts. I ride about 12 miles a day, on average four days of the work week. My commute takes me in equal parts through old tree-lined neighborhoods, along Denver’s Cherry Creek Greenway and through the heart of downtown to my office.
I ride because it helps me know where I am in space and time. I have eye contact with my neighbors. I am aware of my breathing and in touch with my health. I know what season it is. These cool Colorado spring mornings are glorious. Last week, I rode through clouds of Iris fragrance. Soon it will be the flowering Linden trees. I see hawks on top of trees, herons along the creek, inspiring sunsets as I ride on the highway overpass near my home. In the bottom half of my visual field: eight lanes of clogged, stop-and-go traffic on Interstate 25 going both directions. In the top: the Rocky Mountains, often snowcapped, lowering sun piercing through multi-colored clouds. Beautiful!
Riding helps me prioritize my time, enforces a kind of preparatory discipline or mindfulness about the day and weeks ahead. I organize meeting places to be on my ride in or out, or I consolidate those that are far away on one day. Any marginal extra time it may take me to ride to work regularly is quickly compensated for by efficiency. At the end of long work days, I might start dragging, think how much easier it might be if I had a car to pop into and numbly drive.
Then, without fail, every time, within three blocks I am smiling.
So I ride for me — my joy, my health, my energy, my sense of belonging.
But that’s not all.
In 1989, before either of my two children were born, I had the great honor of working with Walter Orr Roberts, an older gentleman, a brilliant scientist and the Founder of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He changed my life forever. The project was an exchange on climate change with the Soviet Academy of Scientists. In the 21 years since, my husband and I have raised our two children, Luke and Meg. In truth, not a day has gone by when I did not, at some moment, experience a wave of despair for the world we are leaving them and outrage at the perpetual inattention and inactivity of our generation. How is it that not everyone feels this urgency!!!
While raising Luke and Meg, I worked on pollution prevention and sustainability projects for different sectors – for a non-profit, for different levels of government, with a partner on our own small business. Enter bike sharing. Since 2008 I have worked to bring bike sharing to Denver, and without contest, this work is the single most effective, most rewarding, most real contribution I have made to a sustainable world.
I can see it. We can measure it. We know that 37% of our riders are replacing car trips, and it makes them smile while they are doing it. We know that the emission of more than 1 million pounds of carbon to the atmosphere have been avoided since we opened. Not to mention, we estimate our riders have burned almost 20 million calories while headlines rage about an obesity epidemic that will cripple future generations for years to come.
And not to be underestimated: My now college-aged children and their friends think I’m cool. How great is that?!
While our political and social institutions are polarized into inaction on almost every issue at every level, each of us can do something real. With each simple ride, we are simultaneously helping our own sense of well being and place, our neighborhood cohesion, our city’s public and economic health, our nations’ reliance on limited fossil fuels supplied by unstable and unethical governments, and if we are not too late already, the habitability of our planet for future generations and communities we cannot imagine.
I ride my bicycles for me.
And I work long hours every day to get more people to ride for the planet.
May is National Bike Month and this year’s theme is One Ride, Many Reasons. To highlight and celebrate the many benefits of bicycling, throughout May we’ll bring you the personal reflections and inspirations of a diverse collection of bicyclists from coast to coast with our daily 31 Days, 31 Reasons blog feature.