Pedaling for Resilience
ires in Fort McMurray, Alta., waterlogged basements in Montreal,
Que., GO trains stranded in Toronto, Ont.’s Don Valley and buildings brought to a standstill by power outages are daily reminders that as more of us work and live in dense urban places, our vulnerability to unexpected weather and environmental conditions is now routine.
For instance, our travelling expectations, once comfortably aimed at day-to-day predictability, are now increasingly challenged by road gridlock. Even the availability of gas for our car can be impacted by an unanticipated calamity preventing its delivery to a nearby service station. It doesn’t take much wisdom to conclude that failed electrical service, heating systems engulfed by water, suddenly inoperable fire sprinklers or tenants unable to reach their 45th-floor residence or workplace can often mean the best line of defense is to escape from the problem.
Resilience is the new watchword not only in building design and ongoing maintenance, but also increasingly in how we anticipate the actions, needs and safety of our fellow humans.
If we look back to the 19th century, we often see it as a far more flexible moment in time with regard to responding to unanticipated trauma. People lived in more intimate communities in which they knew their neighbours and could help out if necessary. Most people were not far from a countryside replete with necessary foodstuffs. Finally the newly popular bicycle in the last decade of that century was an effective, relatively cheap means of getting about.
Of course, one would be remiss in looking back to those days if they ignored the incidents of childhood mortality, the catastrophic effects of infection without today’s life-saving medication and the socially restricted life choices many faced.
Still there are some things from those days we can learn, and at their center was the bicycle.
The bicycle is the ultimate decentralized, or distributed, means of transit. If other forms fail, one has at least this option. There are, of course, limitations. Flooded streets make the act of pedaling almost impossible, depending on depth. In New York City, however, with its recently landscaped High Line right-ofway, at least one option is available. The
High Line was once an elevated freight line passing through Manhattan, but it faced an uncertain future after its decommissioning, that is until the brilliant recommendation that it be turned into a linear park in the sky. Today it’s one of New York City’s marvels, but also a handy means of getting people about if flood conditions threaten below.
Elevated bike paths might just be a handy model for other places and a particularly novel, safe way of encouraging regular city use.
A second challenge is the inappropriateness of the bicycle for many physically leery seniors, but here again we err in assuming one either is or is not a candidate for bicycling. The increasing potential of electric bikes at least widens the scope of its use.
The environmental benefits of such bikes shouldn’t be ignored either. Granted they are not as environmentally benign as the solely human-powered wheel, but the small size of the recharge battery pack makes them ideal candidates for renewable resources such as solar energy.
Sanyo took advantage of this possibility by setting up what are described as “solar parking lots,” in which e-bike riders can recharge their bicycles under photovoltaic panels while parked during the day.
The potential of linking such solar-powered bikes with at least a minimal capacity to transport the truly immobile person caught up in the maelstrom of weather-related disaster should not be ignored. And once a safe place is reached, what about using the tiny bit of energy a person on a stationary bike might generate to at least provide some lighting or back-up radio support.
The bicycle will not keep us from disaster, though it might go a long way to mitigating some of its harm, and with a little imagination, it just might be one tool of the many required in the event of those almost certain weather and environmental calamities sure to occur in this century.
David Viney competing in cycle-cross event, 1975.