Because Cycling is the Future
So lots of people are now talking about the climate crisis, which is, of course, amazing. More and more people and organisations appear to want to do their bit and there is encouragement everywhere on how to reduce plastic consumption, say no to fast fashion, eat less meat, take fewer flights and reduce car journeys. Yet here in the UK (outside of London), I still feel like there is a slight stigma surrounding the use of public transport. I'm not sure if this stems from a time where only people above a certain household income could afford to run a car or not, but it emphasizes once again how society's mindset needs to move away from materialism and towards less actually being more.
As a teenager I remember been infuriated when every adult appeared to insinuate that learning to drive as soon as possible, along with everyone else, was a rite of passage. Oh but you must learn to drive at 17 so you can grow up and have the freedom they would say, yet I learnt to cycle confidently on the roads and navigate complex public transport networks on my own from being primary school age. I'd been cycling, walking and training all over the country, both with friends and alone, since being about 12. I didn't need a polluting metal tin to obtain freedom. Oh but you will definitely need a car once you have the baby they would say, how else are you going to ferry him between appointments/playgroups etc? Well, erm, we have legs for a reason and walking in nature with a young child actually has the potential to turn our whole day around for the better. I grew up trying to resist the use of our family car on such a regular basis and I'm determined to show my son that cars really don't have to be necessary.
As you can see, I really don't like cars and like nothing more than a good rant about it, but I have also done a bit of research to back up my thoughts on how bad and unnecessary cars can really be. Though I should just say that yes I understand some people heavily rely on a car and a certain degree of privilege needs to be taken into account here. Some people may live in the country, needing a car to get almost everywhere, some may need a car due to health reasons or caring responsbilites. But the point is, at the moment we are abusing the use of cars. They have become such second nature that we no longer question or even consciously think about alternatives. It's just what everyone does and any family going against the grain and not having a family car is looked upon suspiciously.
Looking at motorised road transport on a much wider scale though, when thinking about issues such as urban air pollution, child obesity rates and the current climate crisis, it's about much much more than whether you have a family car or not. For starters, the type and age of car certainly makes a huge difference, but thinking beyond personal transportation and looking at other forms of road transport, we have to think about our current obsesssion with online shopping and deliveries and crucially, our overwhelming need for convenience in the modern age.
Worldwide, outdoor air pollution kills 3.3 million people every year yet because the harm is invisible, there's very little public pressure to change anything. Interestingly, and despite prevailing opinion, it's not pedestrians and cyclists that are the worst affected by air pollution either, but the people inside the cars. Simply because air pollution collects and circulates around inside cars, an effect which is amplified when vehicles are stood in traffic. Toxic air in our cities is such a serious issue and it's not just carbon dioxide emissions we're talking about here. Diesel vehicles, although having better carbon emission ratings and fuel efficiencies than their petrol running counterparts, generally have greater nitrogen dioxide levels. In fact the level of nitrous oxides in London actually exceeds legal limits set by the World Health Organization. Electric cars have hit the limelight recently and although they will obviously reduce carbon dioxide emissions, especially if the electric vehicle's power comes from renewable sources, there are concerns over the manufacture and ethical disposal of the batteries at the end of their lifetime. There's also all the emissions related to the car manufacturing process in general, which isn't often talked about. I'm no expert in cars and their different types, as you can see I've never really shown any interest in driving one. Yet I think it's pretty clear that whilst yes diesel cars are better than petrol for long journeys in order to take advantage of the increased fuel efficiency, petrol cars are better for short, urban trips to minimise toxic fumes in the city and electric cars are better than both diesel and petrol from an emissions perspective, the BEST solution will surely always be to slow down, reconnect and actually use our legs for what they have evolved to be used for - walking. And if you really need a speed fix, there is honestly nothing more satisfying than pedalling like crazy down the street, zooming past the traffic and wind in your hair, it's the closest feeling to freedom there is. Cycling saves money, requires a decent amount of exercise, means you are less exposed to urban air pollution and gives you time to reconnect with nature, it really is a win-win situation.
At the moment we don't have a family car, we are in the very fortunate position that if we would really like to use one we can borrow Kieran's Dads. I cycle everywhere when I'm on my own and use public transport all the time when I'm with Roscoe. I have cycled with him in a bike seat but as he has got older I feel increasingly more unstable, especially on busy roads, so we are looking into investing in a cargo bike instead of Kieran getting another car. I also have no doubt that local investment in cycle paths and public transport infrastructure is absolutely paramount if we are to convince more of the public to give up their cars. Which is why I am part of my local Extinction Rebellion group, individual action is important but it's what we can achieve together which will really make a difference.
I've cycled all my life, to everywhere locally for everything, including many times to pre-drinks during my undergraduate years at Cambridge, usually whilst wearing heels and a small cocktail dress, with a bottle of wine dangling below my handlebars. I've been known to cycle whilst carrying 2 weeks worth of grocery shopping, whilst dragging a huge suitcase to the train station, whilst having a singing toddler blurting 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' on the back and even one time whilst carrying a rather large and impertinently spiky yucca plant because it was down the reduced aisle in Wilkos. Cycling is fun and the more people I can encourage to get on their bike the better.
If you want to learn more about how air pollution affects us and how this changes depending on the transport method we choose, take a look at Hubbub's #AirWeShare campaign or check out some of the references below.
Thanks for reading and if you have any thoughts, do leave them below,
'Can Air Pollution Negate the Benefits of Cycling and Walking', M. Tainio, A. J. de Nazelle, T. Gotschi, S. Kahlmeier, D. Rojas-Rueda, M. J. Nieuwenhuijsen, T. Herick de Sa, P. Kelly & J. Woodcock, Preventative Medicine, June 2016, pgs 233-236
'Comparison of air pollution exposures in active vs. passive travel modes in European cities: A quantitative review', A. de Nazelle, O. Bode & J. P. Orjuela, Environment International, February 2017, pgs 151-160
'Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health', World Health Organization, May 2018: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health (accessed 08/09/2019)
'How does London's air pollution compare to other cities?', P. Yeung, D. Knowles & A. Kirk, The Telegraph, December 2015: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/12055618/How-does-Londons-air-pollution-compare-to-other-cities.html (accessed 08/09/2019).