Let’s talk transportation. If you are truly interested in living an environmentally conscious life, one of the quickest ways to make a positive eco-impact is to adjust the way you travel from point A to point B. This is because the cars we own play a significant role in the amount of greenhouse gases we emit.
And while choosing a hybrid and/or fuel-efficient vehicle is a positive step in a green direction, personally I’m more excited about skipping the purchase of a giant four-wheeled hunk of metal for something more streamlined and innovative.
Bikes, my all-time favorite mode of green transportation, are finally starting to catch on — really catch on — in the U.S. While bike-friendly European cities like Paris and Amsterdam have been quietly spearheading a two-wheeled revolution for years, urban areas throughout America are also beginning to see the benefits of biking.
Take Portland, Ore. The city’s bike culture can’t be beat, with a 60-mile network of “bicycle boulevards” and a federally funded signage system that includes destination signs (complete with riding times and mileage) as well as pavement markings that safely direct cyclists. Boulder, Colo., is also a fabulous place for bike lovers. The state’s Safe Routes to School program uses federal funds to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in school zones and to educate students and parents on the benefits of walking and biking. Not too shabby. Boulder’s enthusiasm for riding can also been seen during the city’s Bike to Work Day. Last year more than 5,000 people ditched their cars for their feet or two wheels.
Bike sharing is another innovative way to get where you need to go. Paris has mastered this concept with Velib, a system of 20,000 bikes that are available for rent throughout the city. But Washington, D.C., is also getting in on the game with SmartBike DC, a smaller program that allows cyclists to rent one of 120 bikes at 10 stations around the city and return it to any other station when they are finished.
Biking is clearly an eco win-win — healthy for the planet, healthy for your body. But if a lack of bicycle parking space is preventing you from experiencing the pleasure of human-powered transportation, you now have options. There are numerous folding bikes on the market today. Some are a better ride than others, some become more compact than others, and most are fairly expensive, but if the only thing stopping you from pedaling is limited storage space, you might want to consider investing in something like the GoBike. Citizen Bike offers decidedly more affordable folding options.
Sometimes driving is unavoidable. But if you must get behind the wheel, take comfort in the fact that you can now drive a car without actually owning or traditionally renting one. Car sharing services like Zipcar allow members to rent a car for an hourly fee and pick it up at convenient locations across more than 40 cities. Members (applying is an easy online process) simply swipe their Zipcard on the car’s windshield for access to smooth rides like Mini Coopers, BMWs and the Toyota Prius. The green benefit? Zipcar has found that 40 percent of the people who utilize the car sharing service eventually decide against purchasing a car or end up selling the car they own.
Another green option for those who require four wheels is to tap into a carpool community like Zimride. Whether you’re going to Albany for the weekend or Santa Fe for the night, it’s clear that sharing a car with a stranger would be much more enjoyable if you knew that you and said stranger shared similar tastes in music, smoking preferences and political viewpoints. Like social networking sites, Zimride allows members to create detailed personal profiles, which helps to find others who think like you. No more awkward small talk — with Zimride, your rideshare may actually be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.