MARQUETTE - Danny Beck's daily ride to Marquette Senior High School is healthy, environmentally friendly and free. The 16-year-old sophomore lives in Harvey and he has been riding his mountain bike to school nearly every day since sixth grade. "I enjoy the exercise and it's great for the environment and it's free," Beck said. Beck, along with other students and teachers at MSHS, are participating in this year's Green Commuter Challenge organized by Northern Options Energy Center in honor of National Bike Week, which is next week. "The purpose of the Green Commuter Challenge is to get people thinking about different ways of commuting to work," said Jennifer Binkley Power, program manager for Northern Options. "(We) hope to encourage people to try bicycling or use other non-motorized modes of transport for daily activities and leave the car at home." At least a dozen local businesses and organizations have signed up for the challenge to commute to work via bicycle, foot or public transportation next week, Binkley Power said. "Because we realize that some individuals live too far to commute by bicycle or walking, the challenge also includes more sustainable modes of transportation, such as carpooling or using mass transit (MarqTran)," she said. "It's a simple way to reduce our energy use and dependence on fossil fuel and a great way to stay active, get fit, and enjoy the beauty of our natural surroundings." Binkley Power said research shows autos are the single largest source of air pollution in the United States. Motorized vehicles are responsible for 70 percent of the carbon monoxide, 45 percent of the nitrogen dioxide, and 34 percent of the hydrocarbons people produce, she said. "Short trips are up to three times more polluting per mile than long trips," Binkley Power said. "Forty percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work." If people would bicycle, walk or use non-motorized transportation instead of driving cars, 3.6 pounds of pollutants per mile would not be emitted into the atmosphere, Binkley Power said. Walking and cycling to work not only reduces air pollution, it's healthy. "Commuting time can be used to stay in shape instead of sitting frustrated in traffic," Binkley Power said. "For a 180-pound man, a 10-mile round trip bike commute burns 400 calories. For a 130-pound woman this same commute burns 300 calories." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Binkley Power said, more than 200,000 deaths per year can be attributed to physical inactivity. "Obesity costs our nation in excess of $68 billion in health care and personal costs annually," she said. Lynn Montgomery, who is a registered nurse with Women's Health Associates of Upper Michigan, and two other members of the clinic signed up for the challenge. "We just participate because we believe in good health and helping the environment," Montgomery said, adding that she'll bike or walk the two miles from her house to work during the challenge and any time she can after that. "It's not nearly as difficult as people might think," she said in regards to switching to more green modes of transportation. "It's like anything else in life - bad habits are easy to create but good habits are more difficult to come by." Last but not least, with rising gas prices, riding a bike or walking to work can also save a person money. "We all feel the price of gas right now," Montgomery said. "I look forward when I can leave my car in the garage all summer." To sign up for the challenge, call Northern Options at 226-1136. The grand prize is a bike-shaped bicycle rack.
Danny Beck rides his mountain bike to Marquette Senior High School from Harvey every day. (Journal photo by Miriam Moeller)