Health on wheels: Bicycling is good for fitness, city’s vitality

Print Friendly and PDF By: Andy Miller Published: Apr 6, 2012
 Mike Gerke of Decatur (right), shown with Mark Schmitt of Atlanta arriving at the Atlanta bicycling event, says a ''fringe benefit'' of biking is good health.

Mike Gerke of Decatur (right), shown with Mark Schmitt of Atlanta arriving at the Atlanta bicycling event, says a ''fringe benefit'' of biking is good health.

Henry Slack is one of the 1 percenters.

That is, he’s one of the estimated 1 percent of locals who ride their bicycles to work every day.

It’s about 8 miles from Slack’s Decatur home to Atlanta, and the trip takes 30 to 40 minutes.

“It keeps me healthy,’’ says Slack, a federal employee who figures his commute burns 600 calories a day, round trip.

“It’s fun,’’ he adds. “The idea that I can do something fun going to work is ridiculous.’’

Slack, with a change of clothes in his bag, made a side trip after work last week to attend an Atlanta lecture called “Better Biking for a Safer, Healthier, More Competitive City.’’

The event was sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and the cities of Atlanta and Decatur, among other organizations.

It featured bicycling experts from Boston, Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas, discussing the methods each area used to improve the city’s bike-friendliness.

The main speaker, Nicole Freedman, known as the “Bike Czar of Boston,’’ described her city’s climb from “worst’’ bike city to one of the best.

The improvements included adding 50 miles of bike lanes and bike-share sites, where people can check out a bicycle for a short trip and return it when done.

Boston’s ridership has jumped 50 percent, said Freedman, who called bicycling “the fastest and funnest way’’ to get around town.

She said Boston has added 200 jobs from the creation of bike-related businesses and organizations.

Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, says the number of bike commuters has jumped in this city, which she rates as about average in its environment for bicycling.

Serna, who bikes to work, told GHN that Atlanta can improve its status by investing more in protected bike lanes, connecting current trails, and increasing bike-sharing programs like the one set up at Georgia Tech.

Added Lauren Cardoni, a Georgia Tech grad student, “The main issue is changing the mindset of drivers. Typically, motorists think they own the road.’’

Atlanta city officials told the audience about several new initiatives to promote bicycling, including new bike lanes and the BeltLine.

(Here’s an article by Maria Saporta on how adding walking and green space, along with biking, can make Atlanta more livable.)

And Penelope McPhee, the Blank Family Foundation’s president, noted that Emory University and Georgia Tech have been cited as bike-friendly universities.

As most readers can guess, there’s also a health payoff.

On average, states that have lower bicycling and walking rates have higher levels of obesity, diabetes and hypertension –- all of which are major health problems in Georgia.

A 2010 report from the Alliance for Biking & Walking said that increasing bicycling and walking can help achieve public health goals of increasing physical activity and lowering rates of overweight and obesity.

Henry Slack says his two-wheeled commute not only keeps him fit, but also lets him avoid spending on gasoline and parking.

“It saves me buckets of money,’’ he says.

Slack has a common-sense, safety-oriented approach to biking. He takes generally less-traveled roads to and from work, and doesn’t use his bike when the weather is very bad or very cold.

But in the spring, it’s a delight. “Even when it’s bad, it’s good,’’ he says.

Here’s a video on the Atlanta biking event, courtesy of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

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