BY JOHN PARSHALL, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
I might have the best commute in the world.
Every day, I hop on my bike and pedal through one of the greenest, most bike-friendly cities. I get my blood flowing which warms me up for my busy days as a student who works full time. I see the landscape of our city change seasons ever so slightly every morning.
I decided to attend Augsburg specifically because I wanted to live an urban experience. As an urban studies major, I’m a student of this city. I know the unsavory effects of automobile culture in our society, and Minneapolis is no exception. That’s why it was unfortunate to see an article in the Oct. 6 edition of this paper suggests that Augsburg has better accommodate students who drive. Since the effects of automobiles do not seem to be common knowledge on this campus, let’s take this as an educational opportunity.
Automobiles are possibly the worst contributors to local environment degradation and climate change. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control agency, vehicles produce over half of the state’s air pollution. When you drive your car to school, you make it harder to breathe on campus. Further, the paved surfaces that both electric and gas-guzzling automobiles require ruin our pristine Minnesotan waters. Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” estimates that for every vehicle on the road, there are eight parking spaces. This may seem insignificant, but cars are not small, and there are a lot of them, and studying parking alone overlooks our roads and interstates.
When it rains, instead of storm water soaking through the ground to replenish our natural aquifers, it runs off our streets and into our lakes and rivers carrying an array of pollutants with it. If we care about our environment, we must stop pretending that all students, faculty and staff have a right to commute by car.
If we are indeed indifferent about our environment, then we should think about the toll automobiles take on the environment. Automobiles diminish a human’s natural physical activity and social connections. The United States is facing an obesity epidemic, and automobiles are largely to blame. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that people in the Atlanta region that live in walkable or bikeable neighborhoods were 12.2% less likely to be obese across gender and ethnicity than those who lived in neighborhoods where they had to drive. Driving negatively affects our mental health and cuts us off from the natural world. Disturbingly, automobiles are also leading Americans to lonely lives. The most socially connected spaces in the United States are walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. This shouldn’t be surprising. Two people that are on a sidewalk have a better chance of striking up a conversation than two people separated by two big metal machines.
There’s an economic toll on the University and on our community for parking as well. Paving lots or building ramps is not an inexpensive endeavor. I shouldn’t need to remind anyone that any expense to the university is transferred as an expense to students. More troubling is the likely effect on the price of land in this neighborhood if we decide to build more parking. Parking is not the best use of land when there is a metropolitan-wide housing shortage, and we are in a neighborhood well-served by bikeways and transit.
I get that riding a bike or taking a bus is hard if you’re not used it and may not work for everyone tomorrow. Disabled individuals who struggle with mobility may need the comfort of a car. For some larger families, a van might as well be called a bus. Further, transportation and landuse work hand-in-hand. As the Twin Cities has planned sprawling communities for decades and Minnesota legislators have been luke-warm about investing in transit, making a trek across the metropolitan area is near impossible. And yes, there are a few days in January where it will be so cold that I’ll take the bus instead.
But for most of our students who live at or around Augsburg, there is simply no excuse for driving other than laziness. As an institution that cares about our earth, our students and our urban community, we need to lead a shift away from driving to more sustainable modes of transportation. After all, I’d like to think about bikes like this university — small for their riders but big for the world.
This article first appeared in the Friday, October 13, 2017, Edition of The Echo.