Friday, May 30, 2008

People Gotta Move

From the expense of the daily commute to the cost of groceries, gas prices are impacting every aspect of our lives. The bad news is that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Some analysts are predicting that by the end of the summer prices will soar as high as $2.00 per litre.

There is some good news in all of this. Soaring gas prices may force us to finally break our ever-increasing dependence on private motorized vehicles. Since the transportation sector is responsible for approximately 27 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, what's good for our wallets will also be good for the planet.

Getting us out of the family car will be easier said than done. Access to the private automobile determines virtually every aspect of our lives: where we live and work and shop, how, when and where we play, even how we design our cities. There are, however, a number of options worth exploring.

While most of us think of cycling in terms of recreation, there is a growing number of utility riders who use their bikes as a primary mode of transportation. Over the next couple of weeks, cities across Canada will be hosting Bike to Work Week activities. Bike to Work Week festivities vary from city to city, according to the strength of the local biking community and the level of support that it receives from its municipality.

This support is critical to the success of promoting cycling as a viable alternative to driving to work for a couple of very good reasons - safety and road access. In the absence of dedicated bikes lanes, cyclists are often forced to occupy the same road space as automobile traffic. The unfortunate reality is that the drivers of many of these vehicles view cyclists an annoyance that slows them down. The result is that cyclist are often seriously injured or killed on roadways.

"We don’t block traffic," states the Critical Mass website, "We ARE traffic." Critical Mass is a loosely formed group of cyclists around the world that gather together for monthly rides that celebrate cycling and the cyclists’ right to the road.

For those of us who love cycling but can't go the distance, e-bikes offer an environmentally friendly alternative to the automobile. In order to encourage this mode of transportation, the Government of Ontario began a three-year pilot project in October 2006, which exempts e-bikes and other low-powered vehicles from the Highway Traffic Safety Act. Essentially what this means is that e-bikes are legally considered bicycles. As such, they don't require licensing or insurance and operators are not required to hold a motorcycle licence. The only restrictions worth noting are that e-bikes must not exceed 32 km/hr and operators must be at least 16 years of age. Helmets are mandatory.

While e-bikes are relatively unknown in Eastern Canada, Vancouver offers free charging stations for the City's estimated 3,000 e-bike commuters. E-bike riders in Europe measure in the millions, and China has more than 80 million e-bikes on its roads.

I purchased an e-bike several weeks ago and I am delighted with its performance. Its twin batteries provide the bike with a range of up to 85 km. Using my e-bike to commute has added about 10 minutes each way to my daily drive and immeasurable fun to my day. At a cost of $1200, which includes a helmet, rechargeable batteries and a secure bike lock, I estimate that the bike will pay for itself by next summer.

For the rest of the work force whose commute is either too long, or whose body just isn't up to cycling of any kind, Smart Commute provides yet another option. A program of the Government of Ontario, the goal of Smart Commute is to reduce traffic congestion and take action on climate change through transportation efficiency. Smart Commute helps employers and commuters explore and promote different commuter choices, such as carpooling, transit, cycling or walking, as well as telecommuting and flexible work hours.


Check out

For more on e-bikes, visit

“How to Not Get Hit by Cars – important lessons on Bicycle Safety” is a must-read for cyclists and motorists alike and can be found at

Information on Bike to Work Week events across North America can be found at

Critical Mass is an idea and an event, not an organization.


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