Ray LaHood Gets Behind 2 Mile Challenge

On his “Fast Lane” blog this week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave a shout-out to the 2 Mile Challenge, an initiative by the Clif Bar people to encourage people to bike instead of drive. LaHood started by saying that with gas at $4 a gallon, there’s no reason to use a car for the 40 percent of urban trips that are less than two miles, yet 90 percent of the time, that’s what people do.

That's the spirit. Photo: Found SF/Chris Carlsson

Many of these trips could easily be taken by public transit, on foot or by bicycle–saving money, helping the environment, and even affording the chance to stay fit all at the same time. At the Department of Transportation, we know these are the kinds of alternatives people are looking for, and we’re working to provide transportation options that don’t require getting into the car.

That’s why I was pleased to hear about a new competition called the 2 Mile Challenge that demonstrates how many car trips could be replaced by bikes.

Here’s the upshot: between May 12 and October 31, you can log the miles you bike on the 2 Mile Challenge website. Those miles become points for the team of your choosing: either the Alliance for Biking and Walking, Safe Routes to School, or 350.org. The more you bike, the more points they get.

Each organization got a $15,000 grant from Clif Bar just to participate. (Last year, it was $20,000 but that was all they got unless they won first place – a $25,000 prize.) This year, each team wins. Third place gets $5,000, second place gets $10,000 and first place gets a cool $20,000. Clif Bar will give an additional $20,000 in “mini-grants” to other organizations nominated by participants.

The money is a great boon for these hardworking organizations, and it’ll help them continue their work to encourage clean transportation and clean air.

But the idea that the 2 Mile Challenge is “a competition to see how many car trips we could replace with a bike instead” is a little misleading. I logged the six miles I rode yesterday, but if I hadn’t biked those miles, I would have ridden the bus or the metro. As a non-car-owner, I didn’t replace car trips, I replaced transit trips.

Besides, it’s all on the honor system. I could have logged 20 miles yesterday and no one would have been the wiser. Or I could have forgotten to log them and my team never would have gotten the points. Or I could have innocently misjudged the distance. After logging six miles I worried that maybe it was only five, but now that I look on Google Maps, I see it was actually 7.4.

Recreational rides also count toward the 100,000, and those aren’t replacing anything. Jeff Miller, director of the Alliance for Biking and Walking, said that’s all right. “The challenge is set up partly as an incentive for those who might be doing short car trips to think about using the bike instead,” he said, “ but it’s also just about celebrating bicycling as a mode of transportation.”

Miller suggests participants load the 2 Mile Challenge website as their homepage or onto their toolbar so they remember to log their miles every day. For those just entering now, there’s no need to reach back to May 12 and remember how far you’ve ridden – just start from today, he said.

And if you really are replacing car trips with bike trips, give yourself an extra pat on the back. That’s really what the competition is about, and that’s the mode shift that needs to happen in this country. We shouldn’t be sending young men and women to the Middle East to safeguard access to oil so we can drive to the pharmacy or the mini-golf course two miles down the road.