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A cycling spin on Earth Day

John Bennett is Executive Director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.

Save. Recycle. Grow.

These three words form the tagline of the City of Savannah's 2013 Earth Day Festival. The annual event is Saturday, April 20 in Forsyth Park. It will feature exhibitors, live music, workshops and the always-popular Recyclerama, which attracts folks bearing all sorts of things they are not sure how to dispose of properly.

And, of course, there's the Savannah Bicycle Campaign's Sixth Annual Earth Day Wheelie bike ride and post-ride "Wheelie Dealie" party at the new location of Blowin' Smoke BBQ on Habersham. The ride departs at 4 p.m. from the south end of the park. It's free, casually paced and family friendly. Helmets are required for children under 16 and strongly encouraged for everyone else.

The three words in this year's festival apply to the event's purpose of celebrating "environmentally responsible living and business in coastal Georgia" and serving as "an important opportunity for local government, businesses, non-profits, and community groups to connect with the public and each other."

They also describe individual components of the Earth Day Festival and I will now apply "Save," "Recycle" and "Grow" to bicycling specifically (big surprise) but not exactly in that order.

Can bicycling save the planet? It certainly can help. Reduced carbon emissions are the most easily recognizable benefit of replacing car trips with bike trips. But it's not just about burning fossil fuels in internal combustion engines. Simply providing parking for cars carries an environmental cost according to researchers at the University of California Berkeley. Figuring in all that pavement can add 10 percent to the CO2 emissions of a motor vehicle. And that doesn't include other environmental consequences such as storm water runoff.

Even if you don't care about the Earth, there are other expenses to consider. Remember the 1996 Olympics, which restricted driving in many parts of Atlanta and caused a temporary 23 percent decrease in morning rush hour traffic? During that time emergency room visits and hospitalization for asthma patients declined by 42 percent.

Let's presume you don't care about your fellow citizens with asthma or significant reductions in health care costs, either. What's there to like about bicycling? Even if you don't have an altruistic bone in your body, you can still take comfort in the fact that riding a bike instead of driving a car will save you lots of money.

Around this time last year, AAA released its annual "Your Driving Costs" study, which measures the "yearly costs to own and operate a sedan in the U.S." AAA found that in 2012, "the average costs rose 1.1 cents per mile to 59.6 cents per mile, or $8,946 per year..."

How much does it cost per mile to bike? I've seen varied estimates, but none more than a dime per mile. Even a nickel a mile would be on the high side if you already have a bicycle and can handle basic maintenance.

Sound good? Hold up a second. Before you drag that old bike out of the garage and press it into service in your quest to reduce your transportation costs, make sure it's up to the task. At 11 a.m. during the Earth Day Festival, the Savannah Bicycle Campaign is offering a workshop called "Get Back on Your Bicycle." An experienced bicycle mechanic will teach participants recognize when a disused bicycle needs minor adjustments to be street ready and when it requires the attention of a professional at one of our fine local bike shops. Bicycles are elegantly simple, especially compared with the increasingly complex machines that surround us.

Still, there are repairs that require bicycle-specific tools and bicycle-specific experience to complete efficiently. Attempting these jobs without the proper tools and know-how can be frustrating.

After the bicycle workshop you can stick around for the "Growing Culinary Mushrooms" workshop sponsored by the Urban Gardening Alliance. While there are no plans for a "Grow Your Own Bicycle" workshop, you can be sure that interest in bicycling is growing in Savannah, in Georgia and across the nation.

I can offer plenty of statistics, but I'd like to offer an unconventional metric for tracking the popularity of cycling. Note the number of bicyclists in commercials for all sorts of products (except for bicycles, interestingly). If you get back on your bike, you'll be part of a growing movement.

So what's left? Recycling? Check! Watch this space for exciting news about a program that will rehabilitate discarded bicycles and match them with deserving folks who need dependable and affordable transportation. It won't be ready by Earth Day, but it's coming soon.