Current Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Technically, this is my third monthly challenge. I tested myself on challenges in April and May before I made this blog public, and I will eventually write about what I did for the past two months. This month I am challenging myself to make biking to work a habit. This is a great challenge to start out with because Geneva is a very bike-friendly city. Almost every street has bike only lanes in the roads or on the sidewalks, there are special traffic lights for the bike lanes, and many buildings offer bike racks. Geneva is certainly no Amsterdam, but vehicles and pedestrians seem to be very cognizant of the cyclists.
There are several reasons I decided to make this my first official challenge. Firstly, this is a fairly soft challenge. It’s about a ten minute ride to work from the apartment I’m subletting, and a 20 minute ride to my French class. I’m not exactly biking through the Alps. Secondly, I need the exercise. It turns out that I hate and am terrible at pretty much all forms of exercise besides swimming. As I’m not eager to jump back into a regular pool routine, biking is an alternative that I don’t hate.
Lastly, and most importantly, I want to make a permanent habit of biking as my primary means of transportation. I spent the last two summers living and working in DC, and I used Capital Bikeshare (similar to Citibikes if you’re familiar with the bike sharing system in Manhattan) or I walked whenever possible. Being outside, getting fresh air, and seeing the city was a wonderful way to get around DC, and I think biking is becoming an increasingly popular mode of transportation in urban centers.
While Geneva does have an excellent bus system, biking is clearly the more eco-friendly option (since it is an option that is available to me given my proximity). Individually, my choosing to bike to work obviously does not have a direct environmental impact. If I don’t take the bus in the morning, my one choice does not impact the number of buses that are run that day. It is not individually rational for me to forgo a potentially more convenient form of transportation.
However, if everyone participates in that line of thinking, we face a collective action problem. We are disincentivized to change our habits because our individual choices do not impact society as a whole in a meaningful way. I am choosing to bike for the same reason I exercise my right to vote even though it is not individually rational. My choice is based on a belief and not necessarily rationality. And maybe, over time, my choices could have a cumulative impact.
(Can you tell I took bargaining theory? Rationalizing my irrational decisions. Alors…)
Steps I’ve Taken
To achieve my aim of biking to work for the summer, I obviously need a bike. Geneva does not have a bike sharing system like in the American metropolises. They do have a free bike loan system called Genèveroule which allows you to loan a bike for up to four hours and return it to any of their stations. Unfortunately this is not a feasible option for me since the locations are neither near my home nor my office.
Instead, I elected to buy a used bike for the summer for 120CHF, which I will likely be able to sell back at the end of the summer for 80-90CHF. This article has a really great guide to buying a bike in Geneva. I elected to purchase my bike at Péclôt 13. Péclôt 13 is a really cool business which places a strong emphasis on recycling and ecological criteria. They work in all arenas of bike recycling and bike repair. They sell used and new bikes, offer bike repairs, and offer cycling associations. Unlike other used bike shops, Péclôt 13 really takes care to ensure that the refurbished bikes are high quality and safe. They test the breaks, replace the tires, make sure the lights are functional, etc. They were also incredibly kind despite my poor French skills (or lack thereof) and they helped me pick a bike that was the right size and appropriate for my needs, as well as a really sturdy helmet that fit properly.
I did decide to invest in two non up-cycled bike accessories: a really good lock and helmet with a light. You should never compromise your own safety or health for sustainability. In order for this challenge to be feasible, I need to know that I am being safe. I am not aiming for biking in any conditions for the sake of a challenge; I opted to take the bus this morning because it was pouring rain with low visibility. My goal is a long term biking habit, and safety is certainly an important component of that.
This is a fun and exciting first (public) challenge, and I’m already enjoying the perks of being outside all the time in this beautiful city.