[Opinion] – A cycle of savings

Our mayor loves to bike. Back in May, he won the Twin Cities Great Commuter Challenge on the aforementioned mode of transit. Granted, the race was a competitive scavenger hunt downtown among Ryback and two other local celebrities on foot, transit and by car âÄî and given a healthy cyclist is 53 times more energy efficient than a guy in a car âÄî Rybak won with flying colors. HeâÄôs built a searing bike bridge across Hiawatha that pierces the skyline with taught but streaming cables of support, and the cityâÄôs multi-million dollar greenway system is constantly speckled with cyclists. WhatâÄôs more, he recently proposed $2.2 million dollars to repair and expand the bike trails on campus as part of the 2009 proposed budget. The money for the trail is part of $8.5 million dollars set aside for citywide maintenance and repair, but also constitutes the first time Minneapolis has dedicated money from the cityâÄôs general fund to maintain bike trails. But you shouldnâÄôt be alarmed by this seemingly gastric monetary sum; the mayor isnâÄôt spending money we donâÄôt have. Most of the funds for the trail will stem from the Non-Motorized Transportation Fund âÄî a federal grant that was awarded in 2005 to Columbus, Mo.; Marin County, Calif.; Sheboygan County, Wis.; and our very own Minneapolis and St. Paul. The project aims to demonstrate the extent to which biking and walking can carry a significant part of the transportation load and represent a major portion of a cityâÄôs transportation solution. A simple Google search can tell you that our biking system already surpasses most. WeâÄôre the No. 2 biking city in the nation, and the most active city overall. On Sunday, funds were raised for Minneapolis parks through an annual bike tour, and an abundance of bike shops and co-ops exist within minutes of campus. Last spring, our neighbors at Augsburg College implemented a bike share program with which students can check out a bike and helmet for no monetary fee. A few weeks ago during the Republican National Convention, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Rybak brought more than 1,000 bikes to the area for rental, 70 of which are to remain in the cities to begin an ongoing bike sharing program, dubbed Freewheelin. According to the details by the U.S Department of Transportation of the Non-motorized Transportation Program, each of the four cities can apply for over $6 million per fiscal year for state, local and regional agencies to improve non-motorized transportation systems. With the changes like new bike trails and improved public transportation implemented by the funding, the government plans to gather statistical information on changes in transportation usage: public, private and self-powered. Each city is required to report its results by September 2010, consequently allowing the federal government to assess how the changes by each city will have decreased congestion and energy usage, and increased the frequency of biking and walking. But beyond utilizing the federal funds weâÄôve been granted, it is easy to suggest that biking for the purposes of errands and daily transportation is the best option. The complaint of rising oil prices is exhausted. Gas is expensive, but itâÄôs safe to say youâÄôve been under a rock if youâÄôve only recently come to this conclusion. As a nation, weâÄôve been collectively complaining since we sent our troops off shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. That was seven years ago, and we know itâÄôs not going to get better. As National Public RadioâÄôs âÄúMorning EditionâÄù addressed in July, the Department of Energy says drilling in our own country wouldnâÄôt produce a tangible difference in our gas prices until 2030. WhatâÄôs more, because of hurricane Ike, the pumps spiked again. With 20 or 30-cent increases here, the Star Tribune reported Minneapolis had a much milder fate than other parts of the country that saw increases past $1.50. Paralleling the prices, Metro Transit has been forced to raise its fees. At a current cost of $84 per semester, this yearâÄôs graduating class has seen nearly a forty percent increase in the price of U-passes since beginning school in the fall of 2005. By contrast, according to the Minnesota Safety Education Program, Share the Road, biking costs an average of one cent per mile, or about thirty times less than a carâÄôs 34-cent mileage. For the price of riding the bus one or two semesters, a student can easily purchase a bike in good condition on Craigslist or from a used bike co-op in Minneapolis. It also goes without mentioning that biking is good for you. Depending how rigorously you pedal, cycling burns 350-700 calories per hour. In 2004, the German Sports Academy of Cologne conducted the most extensive research ever compiled about the effects of cycling on general health and well-being. According to the results, a 20-minute commute wakes up the joints, muscular and circulatory systems and strengthens the immune system. CyclingâÄôs main benefits for 20-30- year-olds were body toning in women and a general well-being for men. It also helped to lower levels of stress. Beyond a 20-minute ride, cycling began to improve cardiac function and endurance, and raise metabolism and lower body weight. Most believe a cycled commute will bring them to campus sweaty and worn out, but if planned properly a leisurely ride in the morning can be enjoyable. Beyond this, the Share the Road website reports that for a trip less than three miles, biking is traditionally the fastest method of transportation. This is important as we face constrained use on the Washington Avenue Bridge. As Vice President Kathleen OâÄôBrienâÄôs latest e-mail addressed, âÄúWe can expect to live with the bridge restrictions for the rest of the school year.âÄù As the congestion of the bridge impedes the convenience of biking, the threat of an $80 ticket for disregarding the instruction to dismount on the bridge could cost a student the money they saved without a U-Pass. It is essential, then, that cyclists are familiar with list of bike laws in Minnesota. The U.S. Department of Transportation has a great list of these laws, but a friendlier version can be found on Sharetheroadmn.org. As it turns out, motorists have equal responsibility in the safety of cyclists on the road. Bikers are allowed on all Minnesota roads, streets and highways, and should ride on the road in the same direction as traffic. Bikers are 25 times more likely to experience an accident on the sidewalk as motorists often do not detect them there. Cyclists are responsible for obeying traffic control signals as cars, and equally, motorists must maintain a three-foot clearance when passing someone on a bike, and yield to a bikeâÄôs right of way as they would a car. In addition to properly signaling turns and wearing a helmet, a white headlight and a red flashing backlight must be used when biking at night. Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]