The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Kick your car to the curb, and bike

There are bike lanes all over Brookline, including right in front of the high school. These dedicated lanes make biking safer and more efficient.

Climate change is the number one threat facing humanity today. How can it be combated here in Brookline? As a member of the Climate Justice Club, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to tackle the climate crisis on our home turf. I strongly believe the key to combating climate change is getting students to make the switch to carbon-free transportation.

Such a task has proven to be an uphill battle. A few months ago, the Climate Justice Club sent out a survey to find out what challenges students face in commuting to school. Our goal was to find out how to help people get to school safely and sustainably. In the end, we got results from over 300 students. The data was far from encouraging.

According to survey results, most high school students (78 percent) have a commuting distance of less than two miles. This translates to a commute via bike of under 20 minutes, so one would think that a lot of those students would choose to walk or bike.

Unfortunately, 37 percent of all students drive to school regularly. Out of those who live between one and two miles from the high school, that figure is a disturbing 48 percent. When surveying those who drive, 49 percent listed “time” as their reasoning for not using a more sustainable alternative to driving.

I bike to school every day, and it takes me five minutes to commute one mile. If you factor in not having to park, biking saves me a few minutes. So timing isn’t the real issue here. It seems like people just don’t want to bike.

And even if driving is a little faster than biking, would you rather spend your morning getting a quick workout on your bike and helping save the planet in the process, or spend almost the same amount of time in traffic, contributing a huge amount of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and helping kill the planet? And driving doesn’t just have terrible consequences for the environment; it’s incredibly destructive to people’s health as well.

So why is it the case that so many people who have an acceptable, sustainable route to school refuse to get out of their cars? Seeking an expert’s opinion, I emailed Tarang Shah of the Boston-based advocacy group TransitMatters.

“​​People choose to drive because they feel that is the safer, easier, faster or more convenient choice, and sometimes for social and habitual reasons as well,” Shah told me over email.

Notice that everything in Shah’s explanation is about how drivers “feel,” and not about any tangible benefit. They “feel” like driving to school is faster, even though bike lanes are far less congested than Route 9. They “feel” like driving is more convenient, even though they waste so much time trying to find parking. Worst of all, drivers “feel” like driving isn’t that bad for the environment, despite transportation making up 42 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts according to state data.

Lastly – and, in my opinion, most problematically – driving has become the norm in many people’s social circles. For example, people who live in less urban settings might see biking as a form of recreation rather than a genuine method of commuting. This makes driving seem like the only feasible way to get around. Yet again, it’s about how drivers “feel,” not about any tangible evidence in support of driving. I’m lucky enough to have never felt this way. Still, I can kind of understand how the psychological and monetary aspects of owning a car would make people dismiss all other transportation alternatives while inventing excuses (i.e. “time”) for not traveling in a better way.

I’m no transportation expert, but I’ve spent enough time biking around Brookline to know that biking to the high school from anywhere within a two-mile radius is just as easy, if not easier, than driving. Additionally, I highly doubt that anyone who feels pressure to drive would be ridiculed for biking. I think we can all agree that people biking more often would be a good thing. And any thinking person knows that biking is infinitely better than driving from an environmental or public health perspective.

Driving to school, on the other hand, carries a laundry list of negative consequences, particularly with its impact on global warming, warned Shah.

According to Shah, electric vehicles can’t save us here; after all, a car is still a car. EVs emit much more carbon than walking, biking or public transit, even if they are slightly better for the environment than gas cars. If the high school community were to substantially reduce its car usage, Shah told me, we would see better air quality, decreased rates of asthma, and, unsurprisingly, fewer car crashes.

Cars pollute our air, heat the planet, cause horrendous traffic, kill over 40,000 Americans each year and cause persistent laziness in countless others. The chronic nature of driving in today’s world has made so many people unfit and unhealthy.

The argument in favor of biking is clear. Biking, first and foremost, is a zero-carbon mode of transit. It also eliminates traffic jams, takes roughly the same time as driving, and provides an amazingly convenient source of exercise.

Simply put, the car commuter lifestyle has got to go. Biking, more than all other transportation methods, is the antidote due to its convenience and efficiency. Every able-bodied high school student would benefit from biking to school. If people change their habits – and I think that over time they will – a healthier, happier high school community awaits. And this same future promises a healthier, happier planet. By kicking their cars to the curb, choosing a mode of transportation that heals rather than hinders humanity, everyone in and around the high school community will benefit. So let’s start worrying about how much “time” we have to save the planet and change gears by making the necessary shift from driving to biking.

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