Our Backyard: Bike to the Future

Alameda’s very existence depends on embracing climate-friendly modes of transportation.


Stephen Loewinsohn

2016 is on track to be the warmest ever recorded—by far. And that’s after 2015 shattered global temperature records. Climate scientists are even rethinking their climate-change models, realizing that earlier estimates were too conservative, especially when it comes to sea-level rise. As The New York Times reported in a Sept. 3 story, U.S. coastal areas are already being inundated by flooding due to global warming.

That’s bad news for coastal communities, especially ones like Alameda in which the entire city is essentially at sea level. Earlier this year, scientists reported that rapidly melting ice in the Antarctic could cause sea levels to rise by 4 feet by 2100. According to a March 30 study in the scientific journal Nature, the last time the Earth’s atmospheric carbon levels were this high—400 parts per million—was during the Pliocene era when sea levels were about 30 feet higher than today.

But coastal communities around the nation, including Alameda, have been slow to reduce carbon emissions. One obvious solution is to curb our reliance on cars, SUVs, and light trucks—the single largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the United States. And the best way to do that is to embrace climate-friendly modes of transportation: namely, walking and biking.

Across the estuary, Oakland is becoming a trailblazer for biking. The city has obtained numerous grants to repave city streets and complete “road diets” that reduce room for cars and add more bike lanes. Oakland is also realizing that bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets are good for retailers—because they make shopping areas more inviting.

Many Alamedans, however, seem stuck in the car-centric 20th century, and continue to resist more bike lanes. But the threat of sea-level rise changes the equation. Indeed, Alameda’s very existence depends on stemming the tide of catastrophic climate change.

Luckily, the city has many wide streets that could accommodate bike lanes and pedestrian pathways so that more Alamedans can get out of their cars to buy groceries, run errands, and take their kids to the park. Also luckily, and ironically, the city’s flat topography—the very thing that will make it more susceptible to climate-caused flooding—also makes it ideal for walking and biking.

The time to act is quickly running out.

Published online on Oct. 6, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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