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Las Crucens urged to park cars, use bikes for shorter trips


May 20 is National Bike to Work Day, when local cyclists join a half-million nationwide as they enjoy a scenic ride to work. While they’ll mostly ride for pleasure, this cycling cadre will avoid rising fuel prices, boost the local economy and build community. To improve our community, we must appreciate the bicycle and its rider as an elegant solution to the ongoing challenges we face.

Though our health care crisis is no news, it may be surprising that limited transportation choices are a leading cause of rising health care costs. Since the 1950s, we have designed our cities around the car, spending trillions on highways linking us to work, shopping, entertainment and recreation. These changes have hindered our ability to engage in active transportation for daily transit and recreation. The resulting sedentary lifestyle now causes diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a host of other illness, adding billions to health care costs. Added to this are costs from lost productivity, costs passed on to employees, business owners, taxpayers and consumers.

The rise of obesity among youth due to the misalignment of transportation options is especially troubling. Despite significant efforts by advocates for active transportation, only about 10 percent of our children walk or bike to school, putting them in danger of obesity-related health problems and a life expectancy shorter than their parents.

And, as health care costs have risen, so has our dependency on imported oil, funneling wealth even to our enemies.

While we traded health and wealth for the convenience of the car, we robbed neighborhoods of serenity. Neighborhood groups, complaining of excessive traffic and resulting noise, pollution and unsafe roads, demand traffic calming devices and increased enforcement of speed laws from beleaguered police. Yet all too often, we'll still drive a mile for a loaf of bread, the trip costing more than the cost of that staple.

The car has its place, but it is often the worst choice for short trips. Approximately 40 percent of all trips are two miles or less. Yet this is where the bicycle shines as the most efficient and appropriate form of transportation on the planet. It’s a community friendly form of transportation, requiring little government intervention, a benefit that should be attractive to conservatives and liberals alike.

Cycling benefits our economy and supports the business bottom-line. Counting reduced health care costs, fewer sick days, increased productivity, eased congestion and virtually no wear on our roads, the total local savings each cyclist generates puts money back into our community. With improved bike lanes, bike paths and employer incentives, increased cycling is a win for cyclists, their employers and local government.

To increase cycling, we need to make biking short distances easier than driving. The new bike paths on local flood channels is a good start. Increasing the number of these paths could make Las Cruces a bike-friendly city, making it more attractive to those who want to move to a locale that is less dependent on the car. Local cycling organizations like Velo Cruces can help guide local efforts.

Government leaders should take a leadership role and call for improved bike facilities. On this Bike to Work Day, local leaders should cheer on those who forgo the car and bike to work.

Jim Wilcox is a retiree and directs Livable Las Cruces.

Jim Wilcox, biking