I have never considered myself very “green.” Sure, I ride a bicycle to work every day. In doing so, I avoid emitting well over a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere per year than I would if I drove to work instead, which is nice. But before I began riding regularly, any concern that I had for the environment was rather vague. I started riding primarily to avoid the nearly $10,000 a year needed to own and operate a car, and to keep myself healthy without having to carve out extra time from my day to exercise.
But as the miles on the bike piled up, I started becoming more aware of the natural environment around me. I noticed it in ways that one cannot from behind the wheel of a car, or from the seat of a bus, or speeding under the city on a subway. On any given day, I might see the deep-amber sunrise of a low-air-quality day, a milky-brown river from storm runoff, or the first cherry blossoms sprouting in springtime. Perhaps an offshore weather system shifted the breeze from its usual northwesterly direction, or the summer humidity sent steam rising off of asphalt.
In my days before the bike, I never would have noticed any of these things. My bike ride to and from work transformed ecology and the environment from an abstract concept into something that I saw, heard, and felt for 40 minutes, twice a day, for every day I went into the office. This remains one of the most surprising, and rewarding, aspects of bike commuting for me.
Whether this coming Bike to Work Day is your first time trying a bike commute, or just the latest of many, I would heartily encourage you to take a few moments on your ride to look around for the things that would otherwise fly by your window. I do on every ride, and it is often the highlight of my workday. Though, saving all that money and avoiding the gym is not bad, either.
Brief bio: Darren Buck is a marketing specialist with the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, and has also published research on bicycle transportation planning topics. He has been using a bicycle to get around the Washington, DC area for nearly 12 years.