There is no doubt that burning fossil fuels is heating up the planet. One literal avenue to reducing our carbon footprint is to take a few more trips under our own power by walking and cycling.

Walking and cycling are two of the world’s most widely used forms of transportation. Globally, bikes outnumber cars 2 to 1. A good pedestrian network allows people of nearly all ages and abilities to get around.

Despite their worldwide appeal, North America is just catching on to the idea that human-powered transportation is not only good for the planet, but also good for our physical and mental health, our communities’ vitality, as well as our bank accounts.

The 2009 National Household Travel Survey from the U.S. Census tells us that 28 percent of all trips taken are less than a mile, and 50 percent of all trips are less than three miles. While people may have long commutes or errands requiring a vehicle, opportunities also exist for a short walk or bike ride. The average cyclist can ride 10 mph, and pedestrians can average 3 mph. Most destinations are well within reach in many Maine communities. Downtown, major employers, retailers and commercial areas can be reached quickly and easily via both modes.

Getting started walking or cycling is easy, but here are some things to consider:

• Plan out the route. What may be a great way to drive could be a terrible walk or ride. Pick side streets and watch out for hills that are too steep.

• Know how long it will take. Try the route out on an evening or weekend or map it out on the Web.

• Dress for the occasion, by wearing clothing that is comfortable and weather appropriate. Remember that walkers and cyclists make their own heat once they are moving.

• Be prepared for the weather. A poncho or umbrella may be all that is needed. For emergencies, carry a few bucks for cab or the number of a friend who provide a ride.

• Freshen up after the walk or ride. Take a few minutes to clean up. Walkers and cyclists should keep deodorant at work and a fresh shirt or blouse in a bag. Slowing the pace can minimize perspiration.

• Drink water and have a snack along the way, especially if the commute is rigorous.

• Get a comfortable bag, backpack or bike panniers to more easily carry the load. Inexpensive ones often can be found used.

• People who are unsure about riding a bike or walking alone can join a group or find a partner. These activities might seem intimidating for beginners, and group rides or walking partners make getting started easier.

• Be street smart. Walk facing traffic on the left, ride with traffic on the right. Turning traffic is the biggest hazard for both cyclists and pedestrians. Be predictable, seen and communicate appropriately with other roadway users.

• Have fun. Walkers or cyclists should look for opportunities for short trips when they begin and work their way up to longer walks or rides when their conditioning is better.

Many people already walk or cycle for fun and transportation. The Albert S. Hall School in Waterville hosts walking school bus days, when students, teachers and parents walk to school. The results indicate that students who walk to school are performing better.

The group, Greater Waterville Walks and Bikes, hosts weekly rides for those interested in a non-competitive slow bike ride exploring routes throughout the area. Inland Hospital organizes walks at Quarry Road for those looking to get fit. For more information about these opportunities, contact Sustain Mid Coalition at [email protected]

Scott Workman, of Waterville, is an avid bicyclist and pedestrian. He serves on Waterville Planning Board and the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition Transportation Team. He also organizes weekly bike rides during the summer and facilitates the occasional bike rodeo to teach kids to cycle safely.