Teen Pedals Across Canada for Climate Change

  • 17 year-old Malkolm Boothroyd rode a bicycle for 3 months across Canada. Here he is giving a speech at the end of his trip on Parliament Hill. (Photo by Karen Kelly)

All over North America, people
are becoming more concerned
about the dangers posed by
climate change. Karen Kelly
spoke to a teenager who comes
from the far north of Canada,
one of the areas of the continent
that’s already feeling the effects:

Transcript

All over North America, people
are becoming more concerned
about the dangers posed by
climate change. Karen Kelly
spoke to a teenager who comes
from the far north of Canada,
one of the areas of the continent
that’s already feeling the effects:

Malkolm Boothroyd is 17. He lives in Whitehorse in the Yukon, a province at the northern tip of Canada.

It’s a wild mountainous place, with huge caribou herds, moose, bear, and foxes. It’s also a place where climate change is already evident.

The winters are shorter. The permafrost and sea ice are melting. And for young people like Boothroyd, it’s a source of worry.

“Climate change is impacting wildlife patterns, tundra ponds are vanishing. We are one of first places that will feel the severe impacts of climate change. Growing up in the Yukon, you’re maybe more aware of that.”

Boothroyd says already the native Inuit tribes are having a harder time living off the land. And he felt frustrated by what he sees as the Canadian government’s lack of action.

The government has not kept international commitments it made to reduce the gases that cause climate change. So he decided to head to the capital city of Ottawa to lodge his complaint.

Ottawa is 3,700 miles away from the Yukon.

(sound of gears)

Boothroyd hopped on his bicycle.

“I think there are days when you question your sanity, when you’re sitting out in the rain with black flies all around your head and with a soaking wet tent and wondering, ‘why am I doing this?’ But I don’t think there was any time I wanted to go back or anything like that. I just wanted to see the project through and make sure we were here on Parliament Hill to give our message to the government.”

It took him just under three months to ride from the northwestern tip of Canada near Alaska to Ottawa, which is just north of New York State.

His mom rode with him for the first 1,200 miles.

Then he joined up with other young riders, arriving for a rally on Parliament Hill in late September.

“I’m 17-years-old, and that means I’m too young to vote. But I believe I should have a say in decisions that are made on this Hill because when Parliament makes decisions about climate and energy, its people my age – people who are too young to vote – who will live in the world determined by what decisions made.”

(applause)

About a dozen members of Parliament and maybe 50 cyclists showed up for the rally. Boothroyd talked to hundreds more as he rode across the country.

He says he wasn’t just doing it for a good cause, he was doing it to protect his home.

“You’re very protective over wherever you grew up, and the place you know very well and love, so if you see a threat to that, you want to do everything you can.”

Now, Boothroyd is a regular twelfth grader again.
But unlike most, he’ll be keeping a close eye on the climate change talks taking place in Copenhagen in December.

He’s hoping his effort convinced the Canadian government to do more.

For The Environment Report, I’m Karen Kelly.

Related Links

Biggest Health Threat: Inactivity

  • One researcher says we need to re-engineer physical activity back into our lives. And part of that includes making communities super walk-able and bike-able. (Photo courtesy of the National Cancer Institute)

We hear a lot about how pollution
and contamination can hurt our health.
But an ongoing study indicates the
biggest threat to our health is a
lot simpler. Kyle Norris reports:

Transcript

We hear a lot about how pollution
and contamination can hurt our health.
But an ongoing study indicates the
biggest threat to our health is a
lot simpler. Kyle Norris reports:

Many of us have engineered physical activity out of our lives. We sit in front of the computer, we sit and drive everywhere. We don’t move much.

That’s what Steven Blair says. Blair is a professor of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. And he says, more than anything else, America’s physical in-activity will cause this century’s biggest public health problems.

“You want to stay out of the nursing home, the best insurance you can take out is regular physical activity program – three ten minute walks five days week. I’m not talking about training for the Ironman triathlon or a marathon.”

He says we need to re-engineer physical activity back into our lives. And part of that includes making communities super walk-able and bike-able.

For The Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.

Related Links

Going Car Free in a Car-Crazy Society

  • Kathryn Stewart and her boyfriend Roger Williams have gone car-free in Phoenix. They live 30 miles apart, so it can be a very long bike ride to see each other. (Photo by Rene Gutel)

The cars we drive pump out a lot of pollution. The average car puts out about 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. So whenever we drive, we’re adding to the global warming problem. To cut down on that pollution, there are some people who are giving up their cars altogether. They’re joining a movement called the “World Carfree Network.” Rene Gutel reports on one of their members:

Transcript

The cars we drive pump out a lot of pollution. The average car puts out about 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. So whenever we drive, we’re adding to the global warming problem. To cut down on that pollution, there are some people who are giving up their cars altogether. They’re joining a movement called the “World Carfree Network.” Rene Gutel reports on one of their members:

Kathryn Stewart doesn’t own a car. She’s never even had a driver’s license. She’s an editor at a publishing company and commutes mostly by bus and by bicycle.

And while you might think you know plenty of people like Stewart, especially in big cities such as New York or Chicago, consider this: Stewart lives in Phoenix – the land of freeways and strip malls and summers that top 115 degrees.

“Honestly it’s really difficult in Phoenix. It’s challenging but not impossible if you’re really committed to it. It takes a lot of advance planning.”

(sound of street)

Stewart’s work is just a few miles away, but it takes her half an hour to get there.

She says one of the hardest parts of being carfree in Arizona are those broiling summer days. But she has a secret weapon – a heat-shielding umbrella that she daintily refers to as her parasol.

“My parasol is great. I don’t care how I look – it’s amazing.” (laughs)

But major cities in the US aren’t necessarily built for people who like to walk to work. This is especially true in the West.

Carol Johnson is a planner for the city of Phoenix. She says this is due, in part, to a theory that was popular in the 1960s, when everything was planned for the car.

“This is my opinion, maybe there were some efficiencies of scale in terms of infrastructure – if you only had to put one road in, even it was six lanes wide, that was more efficient.”

But a lot of cities now are trying to get people out of their cars. They want to cut pollution and ease traffic problems.

The mayor of New York, for example, proposed a fee on cars to get more people to take public transit. And San Francisco hosts “CarFree Days” where they promote walking, running, and bicycling.

(sound of biking outdoors)

Okay so this may all sound well and good, but what does being carfree mean for Kathryn Stewart’s social life? How does she meet people and have any fun in this city built for cars?

Turns out she manages. She and her boyfriend – Roger Williams – see each on weekends. They like to take bike rides.

“We going right or left, Roger? Take a left. After these cars.”

They live about 30 miles apart – not a long car trip, but by bike, the ride can take two and a half hours. Williams owns a car, but he figured out pretty early on in their relationship that a willingness to be carfree was a good way to impress her.

Williams: “The first real date that we did, I surprised her and she was asking me questions, oh what are we going to do? Where are we going to go? And I’m like, it’s a surprise but we’ll be able to walk the whole date.”
Gutel: “So you were like the carfree Casanova?”

Williams: (laughter) “I love it! I saw the opportunity and I seized the opportunity.”

Stewart and Williams also encourage each other to be healthy and have less of an impact on their environment by the foods they eat. But being carfree, that’s the main sacrifice.

“I really feel like I’m making a big dent, cause, you know, there’s a lot that people say you can do, make small changes, do this, do that, but when you don’t have a car, it’s automatically, like, a big change.”

Stewart says she realizes it’s big change most people would have a hard time with. But it’s a choice she’s dedicated to in order to do something about global warming.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rene Gutel.

Related Links

Co-Ops Get Bikes Road Ready

  • The Sopo Bike Coop - new bike coops are still opening around the country, even in cities that haven't always been seen as friendly to human-powered transportation in the past (Photo by Dana Goldman)

Partly because of the economy, bicycles are becoming more popular now with adults. Dana Goldman reports a growing number of bike cooperatives is giving hands-on lessons about how to make old bikes road-ready with the help of some used but still-usable parts:

Transcript

Partly because of the economy, bicycles are becoming more popular now with adults. Dana Goldman reports a growing number of bike cooperatives is giving hands-on lessons about how to make old bikes road-ready with the help of some used but still-usable parts:

Matari Yumoja isn’t the typical bicyclist – yet.

He’s young, African American, and lives in the suburbs.

But on a recent weeknight, he was in the city hauling around his un-ridable hand-me-down bike. And trying to figure out how to get it working.

“Ever since I got it, its been looking that weird. The metal part of the wheel is really bent. It’s got a lot of issues right now. I definitely need new tires.”

In fact, Matari’s bike tires kinda looked like they’d been run over – more than once. Matari didn’t know how to fix them, and didn’t have money to spend at a bike shop. But on this clear spring night, none of that mattered.

“We are working on – what’s your name? Matari’s bike. And I’m Big John.”

“Big John” Brazwell is a regular at the Sopo Bike Cooperative in East Atlanta.

Sopo is one of more than a hundred bike co-ops that have opened around the country over the last few years. They’re do-it-yourself community centers with tools and used, donated, and salvaged parts.

People like Matari can learn to take old wheels, or handlebars, or seats and put them on other bikes. They end up with a functional bike that’s cheaper – and more unique than what they’d find in a store.

“The frankenbike is an industry term to refer to a bicycle that’s put together out of parts.”

Rachel Speewack is the founder of Sopo.

“Usually parts salvaged from bikes that aren’t functional any more. So it’s a term of endearment for one bike put together out of many.”

Speewack likes her Frankenbikes, and the bike coop model because they help people who want to start biking but don’t know where to start – like Matari Yumoja. And bicyclists like Big John are more than happy to teach what they know.

“Dude, we have to go in and find you a rim, because that one’s bent.”

“That’s what my biggest fear was.”

When Sopo opened 3 and a half years ago, Rachel Speewack couldn’t have known gas prices get so crazy – or that the economy would tank. But in car-centric, sprawling Atlanta, she and a few friends wanted to show that bikes could be a cheap, environmental, and practical.

We’re a community of people who already had our eyes on what gas prices were doing and the actual cost of being car dependent. To us the gasoline crisis was already here. And we wanted to do something proactive about it.”

When gas prices went up last year to more than $4 a gallon, Speewack watched as the number of visitors to its donations-only shop grew and grew. Just about everyone was looking for an option besides driving.

Now with more people out of work and pinching pennies, Sopo’s seeing even more people coming in with their bikes, looking for help.

During January and February, 275 people came to Sopo – even though the shop’s only open a few hours a day. Some came in a few times every week. But the bike coop’s popularity doesn’t really surprise anyone, including Speewack.

“We figure: how many people have a bike? Most everyone. How many have ridden them recently? Not many. Why is that? Flat tire, the brakes are kind of out. Minor repair issues. There’s an infinite supply of discarded bike parts and an infinite need for transportation and a lack of money. That’s where we come in.”

And there’s so much demand and interest it’s not just Sopo that’s coming in. New bike coops are still opening around the country – even in cities that haven’t always been seen as friendly to human-powered transportation in the past.

But these days all the co-ops – whether new or slightly less new – are happy to watch people who came in carrying their bikes leave riding them. After all, those same people often come back and help someone else looking for a new start on an old bike.

For The Environment Report, I’m Dana Goldman.

Related Links

Ghostbikes: Two-Wheeled Memorials

  • With more cyclists on the road, there is concern about keeping accident rates from going up as well (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)

There’s a grass roots effort to
honor people killed while riding bicycles.
It’s called “ghostbikes”. Chuck Quirmbach
reports:

Transcript

There’s a grass roots effort to
honor people killed while riding bicycles.
It’s called “ghostbikes”. Chuck Quirmbach
reports:

Only a tiny number of bicyclists are hit and killed. But some riders say the death toll should be
zero.

So, in about sixty communities across the US, bicycle groups are painting bikes all white. Then
they chain them to a post near the site of the bicycle fatality.

Rider Jessica Weinberg compares the skeleton-looking ghostbikes to white crosses placed where
people die in motorized vehicles.

“I think anyone who drives on the highway when they see a cross on the side of the road, that
does kind of make you think for a minute, ‘should I drive a little more carefully here, there was a
tragedy here, what was the situation?’ We want the same thing with the ghostbikes.”

Weinberg says with high gas prices putting more bikers on the road, ghostbikes may help keep
accident rates from going up.

For The Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Mapping the Path Less Traveled

Sidewalks don’t go a lot of the places we’d like to walk. So people do what people have always done: cut through empty lots… or woods… or across railways. A lot of these pathways, worn down by use, never seem to make it onto maps. The GLRC’s Jennifer Guerra reports one group thinks they ought to be mapped… and their stories told:

Transcript

Sidewalks don’t go a lot of the places we’d like to walk. So people do
what people have always done: cut through empty lots… or woods… or
across railways. A lot of these pathways, worn down by use, never
seems to make it onto maps. The GLRC’s Jennifer Guerra reports one
group thinks they ought to be mapped… and their stories told:


When Hilary Ramsden moved to Detroit from England, she thought the
best way to explore the city was to bike it.


“And I was run off road by cars, and people shouted and screamed at me.
So I decided to cycle on sidewalk but then I noticed sidewalks came to
end, and started singing little paths.”


Ramsden points to a little ribbon of dirt that run thru a neighbor’s yard
or cut through a vacant lot…


“And I noticed there was a whole network of these paths through the
city. So I started exploring them!”


Soon Ramsden’s co-worker, Erika Block, starts tagging along on the
walks, and since none of the trials they want to take are listed on any
maps, the two just start wandering:


“And then we started thinking about mapping and what’s really
represented on traditional maps and what’s missing.”


Block thinks of maps as a kind of storytelling. So if the short cuts and
gravel paths that people take aren’t listed on a map, then the stories of the
people who use them aren’t being told. So Block and Ramsden – who
run a theatre company in the city – decided to turn their walks into a performance
art piece of sorts. It’s called The Walking Project.


Once a week they pick out a section of Detroit and walk it. To track their
route, they use a handheld Global Positioning System device. They also
bring along digital cameras to snap pictures and record conversations
they have with people. Eventually, the photos, recordings and GPS tracks will
all be uploaded to a computer and transformed into a sort of 3-D digital map.


“And so a representation of place is going to be more than just lines and
dots and symbols on a map, it hopefully will become the video, and audio, and drawings
and conversations that people bring to it.”


And that’s really what these walks are about for Hilary Ramsden…
meeting people.


“…oh look at path here…this is a great shortcut. Is there a story here?
Tons of stories here, but no one walking here to ask at the moment. I’d
be interested in talking to someone.”


About twenty minutes into the walk, we cut across a gravelly path that
runs through a small field. There, we run into a homeless man. The
minute Block and Ramsden say hello, the man starts talking. About
himself, about the path and about the field we’re standing in…


(Sound of talking)


Block and Ramsden snap pictures and record everything he’s saying.
Their hope is to one day have it all linked to a virtual map that places this
man and his image on this particular Detroit dirt path, and because Block
recorded their conversation, his story will become a part of the map, too:


“People will ultimately be able to drag and drop images to build their own maps
of these places that tell different stories. And I think people are fascinated by
other people’s stories, and I think that ultimately the more we know of other
people’s stories the less afraid we become and the more comfortable it becomes.”


Block admits that the technology for creating such a map is at least two
years off. But in the meantime, she and Ramsdon will continue to walk
around and record the stories of those who choose to travel off the beaten
path. In hopes that maybe one day they’ll have a map to call their own.


For the GLRC, I’m Jennifer Guerra.

Related Links

Winter Cyclists Woo New Recruits

  • During the warmer months, this free bike garage near Chicago’s Millennium Park is filled to the brim, but on this winter day, it has room to spare. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

There are some people so determined to fight pollution and traffic congestion that they bike instead. There are even some brave souls who bike year-round, come good weather or bad. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Shawn Allee meets one woman who wants to join them:

Transcript

There are some people so determined to fight pollution and traffic
congestion that they bike instead. There are even some brave souls who
bike year-round, come good weather or bad. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Shawn Allee meets one woman who wants to join them:


For a lot of people, transportation’s more than just a way of getting from
point A to point B. They take it personally. They want to cut air
pollution, use less energy, or they want to save money on commuting.


For those kinds of reasons Julie Lenfest doesn’t own a car. For years, she
relied on buses, but she hated them. They ran late. They didn’t go
everywhere. She was fed up, so she tried biking.


“I hate to beat down on the buses, but I got really frustrated with the
buses and it made me want a car, and then having a bike made me not want a car
anymore … it took that whole frustration away.”


For a while, each ride was a kind of … personal triumph.


That was fine while she lived in California, but Julie’s routine hit a snag
after she moved to Chicago. She was used to mild, Californian winters,
not blustery, frigid Midwestern winters. Sometimes the cold here gets so
bad it brings tears to your eyes. No wonder Julie chickened out last
winter. She stayed off her bike and hopped the bus instead.


“I don’t know, just, ah, talked myself out of it, but we’ll see. Now, I need
adventure.”


Julie started thinking about winter biking weeks before there was any
snow. She needed advice. So, she came to a seminar on how to prep
herself and her bike for winter. She’s come to the right place.


“I’m Alex Wilson. This is my shop, West Town Bikes … (continue)”


If anyone’s capable of teaching Julie and the other folks here, Alex is.
He’s more than just a winter biker and expert repairman. He’s a bike
evangelist.


“I just can’t find any inherent bad in bikes. Plus, bikes are fun, you know.
What better reason to be interested in bikes than, bikes are a lot of fun?”


Alex starts the class with how to keep warm. The trick’s not to get too
warm, otherwise you get drenched in sweat. Layering’s good, but
there’re no hard and fast rules about which long underwear goes with
what rain gear. Alex says trial-and-error works best.


Then there’s safety. Alex suggests putting reflective tape on your bike as
well as your jacket.


“Motorists are not looking for cyclists in the winter, so you need to be
seen.”


The next lesson’s about street salt. Salt corrodes your bike and can make
it hard to peddle.


“After after you’ve gotten to your destination, do this:”


(Sound of a bang)


“Bounce your bike hard and knock off all the stuff that’s built up on your
bike.”


Alex says all this mechanical advice is important but misses the point.


“The biggest thing that holds people back from biking in the winter is not
any gear or special equipment. It’s having the will to do it or having the
courage to do it.”


And there’re plenty of things to be scared of. Everything from being seen
in geeky winter outfits to more serious stuff, such as frostbite, but Julie’s
encouraged and she peddles out of the seminar, with her resolve intact.


(Sound of bike wheel)


A month later, I meet Julie to see whether her determination was a match
for the weather. Today, she’s biked to an outdoor ice rink. Snow’s
heaped along the sidewalks and we can see our breath. While she laces
her skates, she tells me the good news first. Turns out, she hasn’t been
alone.


“There are other people winter biking, I thought I’d be the only person.”


These strangers offered useful tips on clothes and safe routes.


There have been problems, though. Early on, Julie was looking for
adventure, but she changed her tune after the season’s first major storm.


“There was snow and it was slippery and they hadn’t put salt down yet.
So I decided I would walk on the sidewalk because I didn’t trust my
brakes and I didn’t trust other people’s brakes.”


That day sapped the fun out of winter biking, but she realized something
else. She’s kind of over the thrill. She’ll keep biking, but more and more,
it’s just the way she gets around. She doesn’t have to prove anything to
her friends.


“They just don’t understand how you can live without having a car, and
I’m just tired of explaining it to them over and over. So, I just say I can be
there at this time and I don’t tell them how I’m getting there; it’s my
business.”


So, she doesn’t talk about it so much anymore. It’s good to cut down on traffic or
save energy, but winter biking’s not so easy. If she chooses to keep it at, it’ll
be because she enjoys it, not because someone’s convinced her she has to. That’s
to say, it’s personal, and, to her, important.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Bike Co-Op Pedals Self Sufficiency

  • A volunteer at re-Cycles looks for a replacement. Volunteers teach bike repair to amateurs and novices. Their goal is to get people out of their cars and onto their bikes. Photo by Lisa Routhier.

When it comes to bicycles, many of us are weekend warriors. The thought of riding a bike to work is intimidating – especially given the chance it might break down. Now, some cycling advocates are helping ordinary people become amateur bike mechanics. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly visited a community-run repair shop and has this report:

Transcript

When it comes to bicycles, many of us are weekend warriors. The thought of riding a
bike to work is intimidating – especially given the chance it might break down. Now,
some cycling advocates are helping ordinary people become amateur bike mechanics.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly visited a community-run repair
shop and has this report:


(ambient sound in shop)


It’s the perfect day to work on your bike.
Rainy and cold. But the forecast says warmer weather is ahead.


And that’s why people and bikes are packed into a so-called
bicycle cooperative based in Ottawa, Canada. It’s called Recycles.
And it’s a bike repair shop that’s open to everyone.


Its walls are lined with cookie tins filled with greasy bicycle
parts. Fenders and inner tubes hang from the ceiling.


For just a few bucks an hour, you can get a bike stand, access to
tools and advice from mechanics.


The shop is run by ten volunteers who keep it open two nights a
week and on Sundays.


Mark Rehder is the coop’s director. He’s a firm believer that anyone can fix a bike.


“If they’re a complete novice, we’ll start. We’ll sort of,
‘here.’ We’ll do it or show them and hand them the screwdriver or
the wrench and say ‘you keep doing that and when you get that part
off, let me know.’ And then so the head mechanic will move on to
someone else and the person, ‘okay, I’ve got the thingamajig off’
and we’re ‘okay, now you have to clean that out’ and just step by
step…guide them through the thing.”


The coop was started seven years ago by a group of dedicated
cyclists. Lloyd Deane is one of the coop’s founders. He says their
mission is simple – to get people out of their cars.


“There is an alternative out there and it’s quiet, it’s
healthy, it’s cheap, it’s uncomplicated and you can actually fix
it yourself and we’re a living testament that people with no
mechanical skills whatsoever can come in here and fix their own
transportation.”


(pedals turning)


Volunteer mechanic Rob Galdins focuses intently on the bicycle
wheel spinning in front of him. He works on one side of the bike
as a client tightens nuts on the other.


“We’re putting on some new brake pads and we’re just sort of
centering the brakes so that they hit the rim squarely…
And yeah, tighten that nut. There’s already a nut there. Okay….”


Nearby, volunteer Jennifer Niece is making the wheel true on her
own bike. She says this experience has changed the way she uses
her bicycle.


“I do a lot of touring and I wasn’t really able to do that by
myself until I started volunteering here because if I got a flat
tire or if my brakes busted or something out on the road, I
wouldn’t have been able to fix it. So it’s really valuable for me
to learn that.”


When the volunteers aren’t helping other people, they’re refurbishing
used bikes. They sell them to keep the operation going. But the
group also receives some outside support.


Most of their tools and parts are supplied by the Mountain
Equipment Co-op, a Canadian nonprofit that sells outdoor gear.
Mark Vancoy is the social and environmental coordinator at the
Ottawa store. He says they support Recycles because it fills a void in the
community.


“If you were to go to a bike shop, a lot of times … the
shop rate is, for most people, sort of out of range for them. So this
really empowers people to be able to one, afford to have a bike
and two, to keep them up in working order.”


The bicycle co-op is probably one of the smallest volunteer
organizations in Ottawa. It has a tiny budget, no rules, and virtually no
hierarchy. But the leader of this band of volunteers, Mark Rehder, is
convinced it’s an ideal way to change society.


“It’s great to go up on parliament hill and wave the signs,
‘down with Bush’ or whatever, but at a local level is where change
is most effective. It’s just little groups like us, doing little
things and connecting with the other little groups and maybe every
now and then sort of pulling out a pillar that was propping up
something society didn’t need anyways.”


(sound of bike shop)


Rehder says sometimes they’ll talk about politics. Mostly, they’re focused on
flat tires and broken chains. But many of them share the same dream –
they look forward to a day when cyclists will have the roads to themselves.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.