Stephen Burke

After an all-time high of around $5 a gallon in June, gasoline has dropped to its lowest price since March, now that few people are planning any more long vacation trips.

Don’t think the oil companies don’t care about socio-economic conditions.

The price of gas has decreased from the extortionate to merely exorbitant because people are buying less of it: a textbook case of supply and demand. A recent poll by the American Automobile Association showed that, due to high gas prices, a majority of Americans are taking steps (so to speak) to reduce their car use, either by walking, biking, consolidating trips, ride-sharing, or using public transportation.  

Saving money is good. Of course, there are other excellent reasons to shun car use, such as saving the planet and saving lives.

Gasoline use is a major source of climate change. It produces over 20 pounds of carbon dioxide and other climate-warming gases per gallon in its extraction, production and combustion.

Each year in the U.S. over 35,000 people die in car accidents. Almost 10 percent are teenagers. Car crashes are the leading cause of death worldwide among people ages fifteen to twenty-nine.

Less grimly, but significantly, keeping out of cars can help one’s general physical, mental and emotional health.

The physical benefits of walking and biking are clear. Less obvious, but also real, are the psychological travails one avoids by not driving.

You know: road rage. If you think this is a limited or easily avoidable problem, try this simple test today, or any day: Get on Route 13 in downtown Ithaca. Try to change lanes. Prepare for trauma or death.  Every driver in every lane is tailgating the car in front of them to prevent lane changes from happening in front of them, which is seen as a personal insult severe enough to warrant immediate destruction.

Something about car travel is so isolating and alienating that somehow your fellow travelers will sooner commit vehicular manslaughter than, for instance, let you take a left into Ithaca Bakery; or comfortably get where you’re going in general. 

In his new book, “Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle,” journalist Jody Rosen supplies a pithy quote from writer Iris Murdoch in a novel from 1965: “The bicycle is the most civilized transport known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure at heart.”

The bike is cheap, clean and simple to use. In providing mobility along with independence and anonymity—no licenses or registration required—the bicycle is singularly liberating. (Rosen quotes Susan B. Anthony from 1896: “Bicycling…has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”)

The bicycle has long been construed as a political instrument. Rosen notes that one of Adolf Hitler’s first political targets was a German cycling union “which was associated with anti-Nazi political parties and was capable of assembling tens of thousands of cyclists in the streets.”

The bicycle was crucial to the assemblies in China’s Tiananmen Square, where countless thousands of riders gathered, ultimately fleeing soldiers and tanks. It has been central in the U.S. recently to Occupation and autonomous zone protests and to Black Lives Matter demonstrations, providing means of mass array and avoiding arrest.

Ithaca is a politically progressive place and a good biking town. Topographically, it has its ups and downs, with a nice flat downtown, but hills all around. But the town shows invention and innovation in having buses with bike racks to help negotiate those inclines for those so inclined. Every bus has one, the first bus system in New York to incorporate them fleet-wide.

In various locations around town you can find a free Ithaca and Tompkins County Bicycle Map, a handy and valuable resource. The map shows city streets color-coded for biking suitability. It denotes marked bike lanes, paths restricted to non-motorized use, and off-road links (described as “paths and sidewalks used as shortcuts by bicyclists and pedestrians, not approved as formal trails”). It maps Ride Suggestions, such as a Two Gorges Route linking Taughannock Falls and Treman State Parks (28 miles round trip, “moderate” level). It lists local biking resources, such as Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles and Bike Walk Tompkins.

Each year Bike Walk Tompkins sponsors Streets Alive!, a day when cited city streets are closed to cars for a festival-like occasion of walking, biking, visiting, informal performances, and neighborhood safety and vitality. The Southside neighborhood hosts one in spring, and Fall Creek in autumn—or, actually, at the end of summer this year, on Sunday, September 18. Details (including volunteer opportunities) are available at

(1) comment

Bee Bensa

What happened to Lime bikes?

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