Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

biking for the animals

I am in the process of transitioning to a car-lite life.

Using a bike to commute, to run errands, to essentially do everything other than get myself to or from the sanctuaries. And maybe at some point I’ll figure out how to go car-free without giving up the sanctuary visits as well. My first step is to get in gear with bike commuting.

It is a mere 14 miles each way.

Entirely doable by bike. There’s a great local bike advocacy group, there are great published maps for finding bike routes, there are bike commuters online who can help with routes. Millions of people already do this, I’m just going to be one more.

I had heard about a book called “How to live well without owning a car.” I happened to see it at the library this weekend so I picked it up. A lot of the information didn’t apply that much to me. The guy writing the book went car-free by accident, in that his car sold a lot faster than he’d expected, and he went car free while looking for a new car. He saved $800/month by going car free.

Between gas and insurance I’d save under $300/month. Add another $100 monthly for projected yearly maintenance – repairs, tires, and oil changes. It is a fair amount, and more than I’d have necessarily expected. I have no car payments (I paid cash 11 years ago), I have very low insurance (it is a 14 year old beater), and I have no property taxes on it (it is a 14 year old beater). Still, it would be about $400/month, thanks to the gas costs.

And that’s not why I’m doing it. The environment, pure and simple, with an added bonus of the kind of independence that is really only possible when you’re getting around on your own steam.

Another reason the book listed for why to go car free (or at least car-lite) is “Animal Casualties”. It was its own header in this particular chapter. Of course it caught my eye. I couldn’t help but to think about the many deer I see on my travels, sometimes the turkeys, always the small sometimes unidentifiable animals. I can picture the lifeless turtles, raccoons, ground hogs, birds, cats and dogs I’ve seen.

It often makes me feel sick when I see them. The lost lives themselves, but also that I’m in one of those same machines that puts their lives in obvious risk. I find myself braking for butterflies.

“An estimated one million animals die on U.S. roadways every day.” (p. 39) That would be 365 million animals every year. I don’t think butterflies are included in those numbers.

That’s a lot of animals.

“According to the humane society, the most serious threat to wildlife in the U.S. is habitat fragmentation caused by road and highway construction. Fragmentation forces animals to live in areas too small to meet their basic needs for food, water, shelter, and finding a mate.” (p. 40)

Well, you know what’s coming next from me, the person who pointed out the problems inherent in palm oil, and thus products like Earth Balance. And ABC cookies. (I looked online – I used to get them sometimes, but obviously not anymore.)

Yes, indeed, I think that from an animal rights perspective, our transportation choices can’t be ignored without consideration to the costs to the animals. I haven’t even touched on the environmental costs to the animals from the extraction of material that goes into making the cars themselves. This is just the obvious and more immediate cost to the animals. Our sprawl is taking away what they require for life. Our cars are hitting and killing an incredible number of animals.

I just can’t deal with that anymore. I need to align this aspect of my life as well. If I can’t stop it, I at least will limit my contribution to it.

And I’d hope that between the incentives of the animals and the environment and your wallet, you might think about how you can lighten your car usage as well. It is estimated that the majority of car trips undertaken in America are 2 miles or less.

Food for thought, I hope.

I know some will argue that this type of thinking makes veganism less achievable than if we ignored these pesky issues with habitat destruction.

And so perhaps this is really a post for current vegans more than those in the process of transitioning, and a reminder that our consumption is more than the food we eat, and our impact is more than our consumption. I hope most see that veganism is a path, rather than a destination.

Or maybe that’s just me, too willing to see areas where I need to improve to better align the path I’m traveling with where my ethics point me.

Besides, biking is a hell of a lot of fun! In a similar way to veganism opening culinary doors for me, so will biking add to my life. Sacrifices they are not.


9 responses to “biking for the animals

  1. Seb July 13, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Well done Deb! I completely agree with you on this, and I also find myself thinking about the animals killed by cars or otherwise affected by the roads. I never caused roadkill when I drove, and I always watch out for the possibility of animals running across the road, like you are, but still, it’s much better to be part of the solution than part of the problem. My commute is a lot shorter than yours (about 25 min on the bike each way) and I’m lucky to be able to use public transport instead if I’m tired that day or if the weather is bad, so you seem very brave to me! Hat (or bike helmet) off to you! And even if in the end you find it too hard given your current circumstances (including a cat who wants you home on time) at least you’ll have tried!

  2. Deb July 13, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks Seb! I’ve been researching for what seems like forever – the idea wormed its way into my head about 3 weeks ago, and I got serious about it maybe 2 weeks ago. I have found a lot of information on how to handle various weather issues, and other things specific to longish rides. Including what to do about freshening up in a workplace that doesn’t have showers. I wish I could say that public transportation would be a good option for the days I’m tired or the weather is bad, but it would take about 2x as long to get there on public transit as it should take me by bike. Crazy, but I’ll look into my half and half solutions as I get closer. It is really important to me! And hopefully I’ll be moved to a different office this fall, 2 miles closer, and much easier to get to on public transit for the days I’m not excited about riding in the elements.

    But, you know, if Minneapolis, MN has the 2nd highest percentage of bike commuters in this country (they do, behind Portland), I guess I have no real excuse! lol.

    Seriously, I feel like I’m starting on a grand new adventure, and I’m really excited about it! It is so nice to hear of others bike commuting as well. Hats off to you too! 🙂

  3. Mary Martin July 14, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I just walked 2 miles to the pharmacy so as not to use the car, only to pick up Violet’s glaucoma medication, which was tested on animals.

    If it’s not one thing . . .

    I stopped traffic on a very busy road last week after someone hit a snapping turtle and didn’t even slow down. He was gigantic (probably about a foot long) and very easy to see and avoid. Unfortunately, his shell was cracked open and his head was crushed. I dragged him to the grass beside the road so the hawks and vultures wouldn’t become further casualties trying to snatch a meal. People honked and yelled at me and even flipped me the finger. It was a three lane road and the turtle was in the middle, but still . . . I thought what I did was perfectly acceptable and was surprised by the reactions I got.

    I pulled over and put my hazards on, so it’s not like my car was a problem. They just didn’t like the fact that I was slowing them down for someone (someTHING, they’d probably say) as insignificant as a turtle.

    Now you’ve got me looking into bikes again.

  4. Deb July 14, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    Mary, that’s great that you walked to the pharmacy. It is the things under our control (mode of transportation to the pharmacy) that we should focus our efforts of change on, not the things out of our control (violet having diabetes).

    It isn’t possible to remove all harm, after all, the goal (at least my goal) is simply to reduce/eliminate it where we can.

    That’s horrible that people were so rude when you moved the turtle to the side of the road. I honestly don’t understand what goes through people’s heads most of the time.

    Having just experienced this weekend one of the hills I’ll be dealing with on a regular basis as I start bike commuting…all I can say is that I am SO jealous of your flat Florida landscape! I’m imagining you with a beach cruiser and a basket, tooling down the road to the pharmacy. 🙂

    Something I’d also recommend for anyone looking into bike commuting is to take a road safety class if you can find one in your area, even if it is just a refresher!

  5. Eric July 14, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    I broke my wrist “running” errands on my bike a week ago, due to a stupid miscalculation on my part that led to an accident, so I am back on foot and public transit (mostly trolley/subway, but some bus, too). I can’t seem to make this bike thing work without getting into an accident! At least I haven’t owned or leased a car in over a year and a half, for all the same reasons. And, yes, I don’t mind saving the $600+ a month!

  6. Deb July 14, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Eric, that’s a bummer! I hope your wrist heals up quickly. I broke my wrist as a kid, falling into the strawberry patch! Not much fun, but at least it wasn’t anything worse.

    Seriously, I do worry a bit about an accident, but hurtling down the highway at 75mph isn’t really the safest thing either. Sometimes I feel lucky that I’ve not been in an accident because I’m so often tired.

    Kudos on being car free for so long!

  7. Ari Moore July 26, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks so much for writing about this – what an inspiring post. My partner and I are also trying to reduce car usage, and are finding it’s easier on our wallets as well as on the environment and animals. We’re even moving to a more bike-friendly city, and hope to get some used bike baskets and trailers and everything so we can handle hauling stuff (like groceries and babies!). It’s time every vegan called themselves an environmentalist!

  8. Gabriele July 26, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    I only recently came across your blog, but this post stuck out to me. You’re so right. I fell into the habit of driving to the supermarket, which is only about a mile away, when I knew it was entirely possible to bike there instead. Sometimes you just need someone else telling you that’s it’s doable and the right thing to do to kick your butt in gear. (I also had never realized that switching to a car-free lifestyle would also support my veganism). So thank you!

  9. Deb July 26, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Ari, well said! And I’m glad my own little journey is inspiring. I have found it helps so much just to know that other people are doing things like bike commuting in my area, and going car-free even in the suburbs. And as vegans, every bit we help the environment helps animals. It is a good feeling!

    Garbriele, I know what you mean about getting in the habit of driving for the small trips! I got in the habit of walking to the post office and library (both much less than 1 mile) this past winter, and then I fell out of that habit for a while. Sort of astounding to me now (with my bike commuting goals) to realize that I would sometimes get in my car to drive the 1/3 of a mile (or less, to the post office). Yikes! Glad reading my post helped you get back on the bike! And yes, having someone else say it is doable has been one of the biggest catalysts for my own change! Kudos for working towards a car-free lifestyle! The rewards will be great, without a doubt! 🙂

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