Do your city a favor: Ride a bike to town

Charleston, S.C. — one of the world’s most popular cities — is a nice place to live, especially if you have good physical health.   A morning stroll along The Battery overlooking Charleston Harbor is delightful, especially during the spring and fall. You are certain to see ships entering and exiting past Fort Sumter to and from the Atlantic Ocean. The sky is typically clear with white clouds billowing in calm winds mostly from the south. The old city sparkles today — generally fit and healthy, always alive and largely well.

It’s a thriving, livable city for good reason. Its people are generally happy and healthy and work hard to keep their historic port city ship-shape, so to speak. But it could be so much better. We have too many cars and trucks constantly breaking the silence and fouling the air. We have few bicycle riders risking life and limb to share the streets, and it doesn’t have to be this way. More bike lanes and a modern, reliable system of public transportation would do wonders.

Cities — like people — must stay active to remain healthy. And fiscally speaking, Charleston appears to be doing just fine. But it’s way past time to make it easier for folks to check their cars at the door. The walking and bike lane on the “new” Ravenel Bridge on the peninsula’s east side is an obvious success, and its use is growing day after day. Having a bike lane from the West Ashley Greenway across the Ashley River is a no-brainer as well. Closing one lane of the Legare Bridge into the city makes a lot of sense to me, but even if the traffic studies prove it will do more harm than good, then why not widen the span instead? If city, state and federal government would provide the seed money, there is no doubt in my mind that the balance could be raised by walkers, bicycle riders and others in very little time. Every one of the 40,000 or more Cooper River Bridge runners would happily contribute at five dollars per year, and friends and advertisers could surely cover the balance.

Each of us needs regular physical activity to help protect ourselves from serious diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes and arthritis. Riding your bicycle regularly is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s also fun, cheap and good for the environment. Riding to work or to the shops will become routine with convenient bike lanes and parking areas. An estimated one billion Americans already ride bicycles every day — for transportation, recreation and sport.

All is takes is between two and four hours of cycling per week to achieve marked improvement in one’s general health. It’s low impact and less dangerous for strains and muscle injuries that most others forms of exercise.   Cycling uses all of the major muscle groups, and it does not require a whole lot of physical skill. Once you learn, you seldom forget. And you control the intensity.

These are the benefits, according to health experts:

— Increased cardiovascular fitness.

— Increased muscle strength and flexibility.

— Improved joint mobility.

— Decreased stress levels.

— Improved posture and coordination.

— Strengthened bones.

— Decreased body fat levels.

— Prevention or management of disease, including cancer and diabetes.

— Reduced anxiety and depression.

— Weight control.

You get none of these benefits by sitting in traffic waiting for the light to change, a broken down car to be removed from the roadway or the police, ambulance and wrecker to clear a wreck. And the cost and convenience of building bike lanes on roads and bridges are minimal compared to building superhighways to accommodate all of the cars and will only make matters worse in time.

Charleston has some excellent bicycle-advocacy organizations whose members would be happy to join forces with you to achieve the necessary goals. Go on line. Check them out. And get busy. We all could use some help.

Lisa Burbage

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