Earth Matters: Manhattanites walk, bike more than Long Islanders

Earth Matters: Manhattanites walk, bike more than Long Islanders

There are many ways in which living in the suburbs differs from living in a big city. One of the striking differences is that suburbanites drive everywhere.

A good friend recently moved from Long Island to Manhattan. Last weekend when he came for a visit his wife dropped him at his favorite deli and instead of calling us for a ride he decided to walk to our house. It took him 12 minutes. He arrived with the comment that while living here he would never have walked this distance. Living in the city taught him to walk again. And guess what, he really enjoys it while at the same time getting all the health benefits that walking has to offer.

Manhattan residents always walked a lot and over the past couple of years, encouraged by bike sharing programs and newly added bike lanes, they also started to bike a lot. Very similar to what can be observed in European cities, bikes are everywhere.

Now you see people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and professions choosing this mode of transportation for their daily commute to run errands, or simply to get around. They wear exercise clothing, jeans, shorts, but also suits, skirts and dresses. They ride in good and bad weather.

A 2018 report from the European Cyclists’ Federation states: “Already at current levels, cycling produces global benefits of 150 billion euros per year. More than 90 billion euros of these are positive externalities for the environment, public health and the mobility system. In comparison, a recent study by the European Commission estimated the negative externalities, i.e. the costs for the environment, health and mobility, of motorized road transport at 800 billion euros per year.” (Source:

From the 10 benefits that the ECF measures, one is especially compelling: Longer and healthier lives. Estimated annual benefit = 73 billion euros ($81 billion). That’s a lot of money.

Unfortunately in the United States, less than a quarter of all people between the ages of 18 and 64 rode a bike in 2018. That means that three quarters of adults didn’t ride a bike at all; not even once. (Source: Can you imagine what Long Island would look like if we increased that number by building high-quality protected bike lanes instead of highways, which by the way is considerably cheaper?

Why am I talking about this? Well, transportation creates more greenhouse emissions than any other sector of the United States economy. The U.S. Department of Transportation found that in 2017 over a third of all vehicle trips in the United States were two miles or less, a distance that can easily be walked or cycled. Over half of all trips were four miles or less. (Source: And there is no reason to think that this statistic will change in the near future, unless we are all proactive about it.

When I first moved to Long Island I tried to walk or bike everywhere in reasonable distance. I had to concede and be a bit more restrictive. Many roads on Long Island are simply not built to accommodate a walker or biker and consequently not safe to use this way. But there are equally as many trips that can easily be handled without a car. Taking the car to an exercise or yoga class never made sense to me. And paying for a parking spot at the train station (or just praying you find one) sounds silly if it’s less than two miles distance from home.

Not everybody lives in walking distance from their exercise studio or the train station; consider biking and you’ll extend this radius substantially. We therefore need to ask our public officials to build more bike lanes and additional bike racks for our stations to encourage more biking while at the same time lessening the strain on available parking spots. Up to 12 bikes can be “parked” in a spot that can accommodate only a single car. That’s easy math.

I will leave you with a quote from a recent New York Times Climate Fwd newsletter: “When you get into the car, the first question that you need to ask yourself is: Do I really need to drive there? If everyone was to cut just 10 percent of the car trips they take, that would lead to a pretty significant reduction in emissions.” (Source: “One thing you can do: Drive smarter”

Juliane Saary-Littman
Port Washington

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