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Bikes are the answer to halting climate change

There’s no time for long-term solutions. We have to cut carbon now.

Summit Ave bike route sign
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the August 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report “code red for humanity.” CNN said, “There’s now a 50-50 chance that the world will surpass a critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming in the next five years. The report says that surpassing the limit is likely to be temporary — temperatures could come back down again — but science shows that even a temporary overshoot could bring irreversible changes to the planet.”

Remember the heat waves, drought and wildfires of 2021 that drove away the tourists our economy depends on? Those will become more common.

According to the state of Minnesota, “Farmers are seeing the effects of warmer weather with pests, plant diseases and heat-stressed livestock.”

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There’s no time for long-term solutions. We have to cut carbon now.

The city of Minneapolis is planting trees, but once the trees are planted, “it will take them about a century to reach maturity,” writes NASA.

The White House said “President Biden … set an ambitious target of 50% of electric vehicle (EV) sale shares in the U.S. by 2030.” An EV has no tailpipe emissions, but ultimately it’s only as carbon-free as the power plant that charges it. The grid in Minnesota won’t reach 100% renewables for decades, if ever. And most people can’t afford an electric vehicle.

But lots of people already own a bicycle, and could start riding it today. It’s simple, reliable, affordable and a true zero-emissions vehicle. You don’t have to pay for gas, oil changes, insurance or parking. Not only that, it improves your personal health as well as the health of the climate.

Some claim that bike lanes contribute to ableism. But senior citizens who can’t walk find that they can ride a bike because it puts less stress on their joints.

Some claim that bike lanes are elitist. But I often see homeless people on bikes, not to mention ordinary commuters. Every year I see more parents drop off their kids at day care in a cargo bike, then continue on to work.

Keith Heiberg
Keith Heiberg
Even car-mad Paris will become a 100% cycling city by 2026. Minneapolis has a more modest goal in its Climate Action Plan: “Raise the bicycle commute mode share to 15%” by 2025.

But Public Works routinely blocks bike lanes with signs and trucks. On May 13, I contacted 311 about a huge sign blocking the very popular bike trail beside West River Parkway, and was told, “We have submitted a service request to our Traffic Department to look into this … your case should be addressed by June 12.”

A month to move a sign. Maybe longer. In the meantime, two-way bike traffic swerving around it might cause accidents — not just on the bike lanes, but on the pedestrian path next to them.

This is peak time for cycling. It’s time to take bikes seriously as everyday transportation for everyday folks.

Keith Heiberg volunteers for MN350’s communications team and First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis’ Climate Justice Team. These views are his alone.

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