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LETTER: ‘Bike friendliness’ is all about quality of life

GRAND FORKS — I am writing in response to the Herald’s editorial, “Bike-friendly communities win big,” which makes the important point that “becoming bike-friendly is a cost-effective way of improving Grand Forks’ brand” (Page A4, March 21).

The editorial justifies this advocacy on the basis of biking promoting “traffic calming” and on the chances of the city being cited by the League of American Bicyclists. Both issues presumably relate to the promotion of business interest.

The editorial’s position that those ends may be “not a bad return for an investment that starts with a few drums of traffic paint” may be true, but it misses larger and more important points about biking as well as what a community needs to do in order to be “bike friendly.”

People bike for the fun of it, for the benefits of the physical activity and for the cost savings that bicycling can provide.

I can’t be the only one in town who feels like a kid again on a bike. I love it. And so do many, many people. It is a fun activity.

But biking also provides a benefit as important as fun: enjoyable physical activity. How many of us get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, aerobic physical activity each week, as recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the North Dakota Department of Health?

In fact, the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control show that in North Dakota, only one in three adults are physically active. Worse yet, an alarming four in five North Dakota high school students are not physically active.

Being physically active is important in supporting healthy body weight. As the Herald pointed out in its March 20 front-page story, “The obesity gap,” this is a serious problem in North Dakota, with 36 percent of 10-year-old to 17-year-old children being overweight or obese — exceeding the national average.

Being overweight/obese in adolescence typically leads to obesity in adulthood, with increased risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer later in life.

And biking is cheap and green. The biker is not dependent on fossil fuel and produces no additional greenhouse gases — unlike drivers of automobiles who, for every mile they drive, discharge a pound of carbon dioxide into the air.

So, making Grand Forks bike-friendly needs to be about the real issues: those that make the community a better place to live

That will require more than “a few drums of traffic paint.” It will call for developing the current, adventitious array of bike paths into a coordinated system that can be used for active commuting — to work, school, shopping, play and entertainment. That should not be difficult; if it can be done in Minneapolis and Boston, it can be done here.

There are experts in the community who gladly would contribute their time to developing such a plan.

Improving the Grand Forks brand is a big, important goal that demands attention beyond such issues as traffic and awards. Ultimately, it must be about quality of life, which is what being bike-friendly is all about.

Jerry Combs