Like a bike – it’ll save you and the planet

First Published in the Chronicle Journal Tuesday, September 8, 2015

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS by Jason MacLean | 7 comments
Two years. Two years since I moved to Thunder Bay. Two years in Thunder Bay without a car. Or truck. Or monster truck.
How do I get around?
I bike (mostly). And forgive me for saying so, but so should you.
Some background: Every so often I give a public lecture on environmental law and sustainability, and the question I get most often is this: As an ordinary citizen, what can I do to help?

I usually tell people to start small and think local. Do something in your own community. Join a local coalition seeking to protect a small piece of the planet from unsustainable development.
Don’t have time for that? Then find a way to support such a group. Make a donation to an environmental non-governmental organization like Ecojustice or Greenpeace or Ontario Nature, etc. Sign a petition supporting divestment from fossil fuels. Ask a politician a question about climate change. This last option comes with the added benefit of free entertainment.
I still believe these things can help, more than we’re likely to ever know. But I can tell that some people want to do something even more direct. They want to change their lives.
To those people, and to all of you, I say this: Get a bike. Ride it everywhere. Ride it to work. Ride it to school. Ride it to the local farmer’s market.
But, you ask: Isn’t it too dangerous to ride a bike in Thunder Bay?
Hardly. I used to ride my bike to work when I toiled on Wall Street in New York City. Cab drivers used to tell me at the lights that they were coming for me, and a few of them meant it! Compared to the Big Apple, or Paris, or Toronto, other cities where I rode a bike as my main means of transportation, Thunder Bay is a veritable cycling utopia! Wide streets, a growing number of bike lanes and the absence of soul-crushing traffic make Thunder Bay a terrific place to cycle every day.
What about the cold, you counter? No matter, it’s just a question of the right gear, and no different than getting kitted-out for skiing or snow-machining.
Lately, I’ve started taking my friend’s toddler to daycare in a chariot that hitches to my bike, thereby freeing her up to cycle to work in the other direction. What’s remarkable is how much room drivers give us on our little journeys. After all, no one, no matter how one may feel about cyclists (a topic for another column), wants to hurt a child.
Which got me to thinking about the connection between kids, cycling and sustainability.
My friend’s toddler is almost ready for her first bike, not one with pedals but one of those really neat balance bikes. The industry standard is LikeABike (, which is made by Kokua Holzspielzeug in Roetgen, Germany. One distributor of LikeABike introduces itself by declaring that bicycles “are the solution to all the world’s problems – congestion, pollution, obesity, dependence on fossil fuels, affordable transportation – so we bring you products that make riding more fun and more convenient.”
Who can deny, let alone forget, the joy we experienced as kids when we first learned to ride our bikes. The newfound freedom and adventure. The beautiful simplicity. Given its manifold virtues, why give up cycling when we become adults?
Cycling is a perfect and practical way to promote sustainable development – development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Other cities are reaping the advantages of promoting cycling as a means of transportation. In an earlier column I described how 50 per cent of the denizens of Copenhagen ride their bikes to work.
Closer to home, the city of Duluth has actively branded itself as an outdoors city. Outside magazine recently counted Duluth as one of America’s top 10 outdoors living cities and places to move to. In 2010, Minneapolis was named the United States’ most bike-friendly city, with nearly 180 miles of bike lanes and trails. The state of Minnesota is ranked by the League of American Bicyclists as the second most bike-friendly state, with 16 bike-friendly communities, 72 bike-friendly businesses and two bike-friendly universities.
Why not Thunder Bay? What’s our excuse?
Maybe I’m an optimist, but over the past year I’ve noticed more and more of us cycling in the city, not just for exercise, but for getting from A to B and getting stuff done. The more of us that do it, the easier it’ll seem for the rest of us.
That’s how change happens.