J500 Media and the Environment

A Stuck in the Mud State by denzylj

In America, the leading cause of death is lethargy and bad dietary habits. Americans are obese and diabetic and what we should be doing is looking at healthier living. Cycling is free. All people have to do is get out their cars and start riding their bikes.” This startling and somewhat provocative statement was told to me in an interview with a Lawrence resident. Why, doesn’t he know the love affair Americans have with their cars, cynics might say. The latter sentiment though, is one constantly posed by an American friend, ironically during our frequent trips in his car.

But the man prescribing cycling being the solution to all evils, is someone eminently qualified to advocating a lifestyle change. He’s 52-year-old Michael Hajdu, a cardiologist, and yes he comes with a bias – he loves cycling and has spent the past 27 years of his life riding around the country. As a matter of fact, Dr Hajdu serves on the Lawrence Bicycle Advisory Committee – a group of enthusiasts who work with the City Commission and the community on cycling matters. Of course, the good doctor is not saying people should strive for such marathon feats as navigating their way around the country, but merely to become attuned to cycling, as something that’s fun and recreational.

Eric Fansworth
, writing in the Lawrence Sustainability Network, shares some personal hints for getting started. It’s not rocket science, just the ability and willingness to get going. What Farnsworth and Hajdu don’t dwell on are the obvious environmental benefits, like reducing carbon emissions. This article by Sarah B. Hood, picks up where Fansworth and Hajdu left off by addressing pollution concerns.
On a bicycle you take up little space, burn no gasoline and produce no waste, and a bike can travel 1,600 kilometres (960 miles) on the equivalent energy of a gallon of gas.”

That’s all well and good if you have a bicycle friendly city, something that Lawrence is not. Cycling along 23rd Street, the pedestrian and bicycle trails end abruptly at different intervals. It occurs along many other streets and often there just aren’t any trails at all. It’s a situation that Dr Hajdu knows all too well. He doesn’t have kind words for city administrators, adding that other states have taken the lead in erecting trails for cyclists.

If the elements are not the obstacle, the trails (or lack thereof) are, along with negative attitudes to cyclists

I found that being on the (Lawrence Bicycle Advisory) committee, that we are fighting an insurmountable battle because the entire society is so entrenched in the belief that cars are the only way to get around. And the city is limited in putting any effort into changing things. It’s conservative and a stuck in the mud state. It’s not known for innovation. Missouri is not exactly the bastion of forward thinking, but it has bicycle trails from one part of the state to the other,” Dr Hajdu said.

With such a dim outlook, it doesn’t appear that Lawrence, or the state of Kansas is on course to make the state more bicycle friendly. The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) might disagree though. According to a report, it has administered “$66 million in federal funds since 1991 for trails and other transportation features,” that supports bicycle and pedestrian traffic. KDOT’s Comprehensive Transportation Program comes to an end next year and although the groundwork for future planning has begun, cycling enthusiasts would be keen to see how the plan will address their needs. On paper, there’s a projected annual need of $15 million a year for the next 20 years to cater for trails. It’s hard to gauge whether that amount is sufficient and whether there will be a genuine commitment from the state for improved safety, mobility and access for cyclists.

There may yet be some forward thinking in the long-term vision, but the hope of cycling enthusiasts is that like some of the trails, the plans don’t come to a dead end.



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[…] a post on the Media & the Environment blog (a collective effort of students and professors at the University of Kansas), Denzyl quotes […]

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