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Two Wheels, Zero Emissions, Zero Guilt:

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” – H.G. Wells

My bicycle habit has long been a source of contention between my parents and me. Though they support most of my green lifestyle pursuits, the notion of me on two wheels navigating through streets of distracted drivers in gargantuan guzzlers keeps them up at night.

To make my little urban jaunts seem tame by comparison, I thought I’d introduce them to a transportation life-stylist much more extreme than I.

Months back, I’d read about a Canadian journalist traveling the world for two years using only human power to raise awareness about climate change. From Vancouver to Moscow, across the Americas and now in his final push back to Vancouver, Tim Harvey crossed seas and continents on foot, canoe, rowboat and bicycle – all without using a single drop of oil. The sustainable sojourn is documented on his website,, as well as an upcoming book, and a film in the works.

Instantly intrigued, I encouraged Tim to visit Santa Monica, both to take a little family heat off my own biking behavior, and to share his car-free message with the local community. Though the former objective failed completely (both parents shot frequent “don’t you dare get any ideas” looks), the latter surpassed my initial hopes. Tim was happy to share, and Santa Monicans were eager to listen.

Santa Monica is a community uniquely positioned to hear and act upon Tim’s call to cut the carbon cord. Frustrated with ever-worsening traffic, steeper (though not steep enough) fuel prices and the devastating repercussions of our foreign oil dependency, residents are hungry for auto alternatives. Our local layout affords many the luxury of living within a short distance from work and play. Yet still we cling to our cars like lifeboats, knowing full well we’re going down with the ship.

The true costs of car ownership

In the best of all possible worlds, we’d choose bicycles over cars for planetary health and personal well-being. There are, however, purely economic motivators perhaps more compelling to most: our vehicles are guzzlers. And I’m not talking oil.

Just ask Chris Balish, author of the recent book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car. Chris calculates the annual costs of owning a car ($8,410 a year), and guides readers through the challenges of adopting a low petroleum lifestyle. Another in a growing list of car-free individuals who shatter the stereotype of commuters as fringe throwbacks, Chris is a six-time Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist who sold his vehicle after feeling the pocketbook pressure at the pump. He now survives and thrives in Los Angeles completely car-free, using mass transit and his bicycle to get around, and saving vast amounts of money.

There are other associated costs more difficult to quantify: the emotional costs of road rage, the isolation of being trapped in machines amidst potential community, the physical costs of our sedentary lifestyles, the social interactions missed simply by being closed off from the world…

And of course, anthropocentricism aside, there are the looming ecological costs of our fuel addiction.

2 wheels haute, 4 wheels hot

The connection between burning fossil fuels and cooking the planet is hardly news. What many may not fully realize, however, is the tremendous impact switching from four to two wheels can have:

A short, four-mile roundtrip by bicycle keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe;

If one out of 10 car commuters would switch to walking or biking, we’d save two billion gallons of gas a year, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25.4 million tons a year;

Over the course of a year, a daily seven-mile commute by bicycle instead of by car prevents approximately nine pounds of hydrocarbon emissions, more than 66 pounds of carbon monoxide, 4.4 pounds of nitrogen oxides and 1300 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Paving the way towards safer pedaling

All that being said, safety is unquestionably a serious concern. Fleets of distracted cell-phone drivers pose grave threats to unprotected cyclists, giving pause to many would-be commuters.

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of local organizations working to improve infrastructure, advocate for more bike lanes, pass on safety skills to newer riders and create a safer, healthier community. Leading the charge: the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, (LACBC), and Cyclists Inciting Change Through Live Exchange (C.I.C.L.E), both tremendous resources for anyone interested in pedal power.

If the idea of an oil-free, calorie-burning way to run local errands has ever crossed your mind, now is the time. Your lungs, your wallet and your political peace of mind will provide all the fuel you need.

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