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Welcome to BIKE TO SAVE THE PLANET, a series from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia that explores how bike advocacy and climate issues are inextricably linked. The Bicycle Coalition, founded in 1972, was birthed out of the Earth Day movement. We’re launching this series in homage to our roots and to shed light on an important element of our work. We’ve partnered with the Energy Co-op, a local nonprofit community of responsible energy consumers, to present this content. Learn more about how you can decrease your impact on the planet below.

According to Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner, vehicles are our biggest source of air pollution.

About 400,000 people drive to work every day in Philly, per Census data from the 2018 American Community Survey. The emissions from that vehicle traffic impact community health — particularly health in communities of color, as studies show that structural inequalities in housing, transportation access, etc. leave these communities disproportionately exposed to dangerous air pollution.

The good news is that there are changes we can make as individuals that will lead to a healthier urban environment. Right now, air quality is improved, and Philadelphians are looking to bicycling to get some exercise. Trail traffic was up significantly at the end of March from where it was at the same time last year. There is a renewed interest in bicycling to get around.

But to build a greener, healthier Greater Philadelphia for the long term, one that benefits all folks equitably, more needs to be done beyond individual behavior shifts to encourage bicycling and make people feel safer while doing it.

Here are steps local governments can take to encourage people to shift to getting around by bicycle:

  • Build more protected bike lanes and off-street trails. Studies show the biggest obstacle to getting more people on bikes is the fear of riding in traffic. Protected bike lanes and trails help mitigate that fear.

  • Have more “Open Streets” days. Open Streets events are great ways to introduce bicycling to those who don’t regularly use a bicycle to get around. Providing people with more Open Streets events increases their opportunities to understand the power of bicycling on public street space.

  • Expand more bike share stations to more neighborhoods. Bike sharing is a popular form of transportation, but, at least in Philadelphia, it doesn’t connect enough neighborhoods. Every neighborhood should have access to multiple bike sharing stations.

  • Create new incentives to riding a bicycle. Around the world, governments have recognized the importance of utilizing a bicycle over a motor vehicle; bicycles save governments money, have less impact on the road, and are better for the environment. Local governments can begin creating incentive programs to encourage more bicycling in the city.

Shifting from automobile trips to bicycling, public transit, or walking is part of the solution, but there are more pieces to the climate change puzzle, like where the energy powering our homes comes from.

Pennsylvania is one of 17 states where consumers can choose who they buy electricity from and how that electricity is generated — so you can have the option to use clean, renewable energy sources. Power is still delivered by local utilities like PECO or PPL, but clean energy choices reduce your carbon footprint and encourage increased investment in the rapidly expanding green energy economy.

In 1998, our partners at The Energy Co-op became the first supplier of renewable electricity in southeastern Pennsylvania. To this day, The Energy Co-op is the only local, nonprofit energy supplier in southeastern Pennsylvania and one of the few that only supplies 100% renewable electricity. Many other suppliers are subsidiaries of larger fossil fuel companies that primarily sell coal and natural gas-fired electricity. The Energy Co-op is a different kind of energy supplier. As a member-owned, nonprofit cooperative, The Energy Co-op works for their members to help them affordably and sustainably buy, use, and understand energy.

And since January 2020, with The Energy Co-op’s Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) program, Philadelphians can now choose RNG for their homes as well. RNG is biogas, comprised primarily of methane that is captured at landfills and other waste treatment facilities. It’s often flared, wasting the energy content of its methane component. However, RNG can also be used like conventional natural gas – but without any drilling or fracking! So, if you’d like to reduce drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania, switching to RNG is a good way to start.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, consider becoming a member of the Energy Co-op’s renewable energy programs. To learn more about the programs and to enroll, click here.

Amanda Ruffner

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