I have recently joined the League of Ungodly Rent Payers in San Francisco, largely in order to reap the benefits of commuting by bike. It doesn’t take much reflection to be sure: it has been well worth it.
The quiet beginning of my trek is my favorite: I get to see San Francisco in a completely different way. The pastel-colored houses and tiny gardens people care for are often missed when zooming by in a car or bus. The little turns and backstreets I take to avoid car-heavy streets never fail to offer some little delightful surprise like a small mosaic or previously unseen view of the Bay. There are sadder sights, too; in the heavily trafficked area of my ride there is a Ghost Bike memorial that serves as a reminder of the real dangers bikers face.
Though San Francisco is generally very bike-friendly, the steep hills of the city make a specific route to work the only feasible one for me and the other 82,000 San Franciscan bike riders, most of whom also work downtown. It’s a strange combination of an individual and communal experience, as the first part of my journey to the office begins as a solitary ride, and then I join the crowds of other intrepid bikers braving Market Street traffic, trying to make our lives healthier and the world greener.
I call us intrepid because, as pointed out in a recent Washington Post article, biking to work definitely has its risks. According to the article, in the U.S., you are more than twice as likely to die while riding a bike than riding in a car, per trip. And riding a bike is about 500 times more fatal than riding a bus. Because they are breathing harder, bikers inhale about three times as much air pollution as drivers.
These statistics are scary, but there is a bright side. A National Institutes of Health study shows that because it is so good for your heart and is a buffer against depression, the health benefits of a bike commute outweigh the risks. In fact, though injuries to bicyclists remove five to nine days of their life, and air pollution leads to between one and 40 fewer days, cycling benefits add up to 14 months to your lifespan.
According to People For Bikes, 50 percent of all trips Americans make are three miles or less, and almost 30 percent of all trips are shorter than one mile. A lot of these trips could be transformed from tedious battles with traffic to pleasant excursions that benefit your body and soul and teach a deeper connection to your city. While the risk is real, for the brave of heart, the payoff is enormous.