By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Columbus, Ohio. It’s not the first place you think of when green cities come to mind. Or the second or the third.

Indeed, there’s a whole string of burgs more strongly associated with sustainability. There’s Boulder with its rock solid commitment to community gardens, organic food mecca Eugene and all wind-powered Austin. The U.S. has many traditional pockets of non-tradition paying daily homage to the green spirit.

But now here comes Columbus — and Little Rock, and Raleigh, and Sioux Falls. These regular-folks towns are getting their green groove on too. They’re setting up sustainability offices, buying biodiesel buses, hosting solar car events and designing new bike lanes.

Take Columbus. Set in the middle of middle America, no one really expects it to be a green leader. But the world around is changing — no Rust Belt city needs a lesson on that — and the capital city of Ohio sees how the green future can be cleaner, more economical and seed a more robust job market.

The city is trying to seize those new green jobs and that cleaner air with a variety of approaches. But it has a particular penchant for biking. Driven by Mayor Michael B. Coleman (that’s him in the black jacket and blue helmet above riding to work on Bike-To-Work Week in May), the city aspires to become a national center of biking (sharing the spotlight of course with veterans like Seattle). It is planning to double its existing 62-mile trail system and intends to connect those new bike paths to each other in smart ways, assuring two-wheel commuters that biking can be convenient, reliable and safe from surrounding motor traffic.

The city’s Pedal Instead program already is winning converts at recreational events. More than 2,000 bikers used bike corrals at city festivals and Ohio State Football games last year. A Columbus report claims the bikers saved 1,000 gallons of gasoline and 18,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, though how they measured this is anyone’s guess.

Let’s just say that biking saves a LOT of gasoline. And it helps tune your  cardiovascular system while aiding the environment, a far better plan than eating french fries in your idling vehicle.

“Spreading bicycle use goes hand in hand with sustainable transportation. It’s good for people’s health and is a low-cost way to reduce pollution,” said Gary Gardner, a senior researcher for the Worldwatch Institute and the author of a “Vital Signs Update” on bike transportation released today by the Worldwatch Institute.

Gardner found that bicycle production was up 3.2 percent in 2007, and that an increasing number of cities are expanding bike-sharing plans worldwide. Paris, for instance, installed 20,000 bikes at 1,450 rental stations.

Because our cars (and houses) produce the vast majority of our personal contribution to greenhouse gases (* transportation accounts for 32 percent, and housing 35 percent),  getting people off the road and onto the bike trails seems like a great priority for cities.

So Columbus, lead us to the promised land.

(* See The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists, for more details on how households contribute to global warming and can reduce their carbon imprint.)

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