Many people in the U.S. are beginning to catch on to something Europeans have known for years: bicycle transportation is one of the sanest solutions to city traffic woes. In fact, thousands of Bostonians regularly cycle to work or school.
Bicycle commuting makes good sense — here are six good reasons to consider oiling up your old faithful and getting out onto the street:
For short trips, bicycles are actually quicker than cars. People are sometimes surprised to find that, even riding slowly, they get to work earlier on a bike than they would driving or by subway. Once at work, bikes can be especially helpful for that quick trip to the post office, the lunch meeting, or the photocopy center. Even co-workers who are intimidated by the thought of a thirty mile bicycle commute might enjoy having a bike to use at work. Almost everyone makes short trips for which bikes are ideal.
If you’re riding four miles three days a week, you’re maintaining minimum fitness levels. Of course, you may feel apprehensive about the kind of health risk that goes along with cycling — the kind with four wheels and fenders. Studies show that bicycling reduces risks of heart disease, cancer, and that experienced cyclists face no more risk of injury or death than do motorists. You can greatly reduce the possibilities of injury on a bike by taking a few precautions: Obey the Rules. Your bike is like any other vehicle; know and obey all the rules of the road. Running lights and stop signs may shorten both your ride and your life! Be seen. Don’t surprise drivers with unexpected moves. Signal your intentions, and claim the safe space you need. At night, wear bright or reflective clothing and use headlights and tail lights. Tune your bike. Keep your bicycle in good working order. WEAR A HELMET! It’s better to wear a helmet you don’t need than to need a helmet you’re not wearing.
No gas, free parking, negligible upkeep, how can you beat it? The cost of buying and maintaining a roadworthy bike in Boston is less than the cost of using public transit.
What other vehicle emits no noxious fumes, uses up none of the earth’s non-renewable resources and creates no loud, unpleasant noise? Well, yes, a rickshaw. But cyclists also deserve to feel good about themselves, environmentally speaking.
Regional Planners all over North America are starting to regret that they didn’t plan for bicycles earlier in the century. Nowadays, cities and suburbs are beginning to take the needs of cyclists into consideration. The more bike riders, the less parking problems, traffic snarl-ups and smog.
It needs little elaboration; there’s nothing like the feeling of coasting down a gentle hill with a warm breeze on your face, watching the rest of the world from behind the handlebars of your bike.
Time is money, and when you ride to work, you are saving both. According to Scientific American, the bicycle is the most efficient way of moving through space. It uses three to five times less energy than walking, and the energy it does use is human power — completely renewable. For commuting distances that are less than three miles, commuting by bike usually takes less time door to door than driving or public transit. Using human power also means increasing efficiency at work. Physically fit employees who do not spend time caught in traffic jams are more alert, ready to start work in the morning and tend to suffer less illness and fewer job-related injuries.
The bicycle is the most economical vehicle. A person who commutes by bike eliminates gasoline, parking and car insurance costs. Many persons commuting by bike would significantly reduce public expenditures on gasoline subsidies, road maintenance, parking lot construction and maintenance, insurance claims, health care for accident victims and environmental clean-ups. Employees commuting by bike avoid the time and expense of auto maintenance and repair, and help reduce the costs to provide parking spaces and other facilities. The cost of one auto parking space is at least ten times the cost of a secure bike locker, and at least twenty times the cost of secure bike racks. Bicycles are space-efficient. Twelve bikes fit into one car parking space.
Bicycling is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness, and is much less stressful on knees and feet than jogging. It can contribute to stress reduction, improve muscle tone, create a more positive mental attitude, and excess weight loss. Older people in studies have improved lung capacity as much as 76% through cycling and other aerobic training. There is no better way to wind down at the end of a stressful day — you’ll recharge your batteries for the next day.
Cars and other motor vehicles create more air pollution than ANY other human activity – 70% of the carbon monoxide, 40% of nitrogen oxides, and 30% of VOC’s according to the Massachusetts DEP. Every day that you ride to work you have saved the atmosphere from the carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particulates that you would have emitted had you taken a car. Bikes also waste far fewer materials than cars. It has been estimated that each year over 2 million automobile tires are discarded into our landfills. One hundred bicycles can be built with the resources needed to build one automobile. Bicycle commuting makes you feel good.
When you’re not surrounded by a ton of metal and glass, it’s a lot easier to relate to your environment and with the people in it. While on a bike, you can actually talk to or wave to your fellow bike commuters, and with a bike it’s much easier to stop, park, and chat or do errands than with a cumbersome car.
Bicycles are great for neighborhood and business development because they are far more flexible and maneuverable than cars. Bikes do not pose nearly as big a hazard to pedestrians as do autos; imagine you and your kids being able to safely walk down the street.
Bicycling is one of the fastest growing means of transportation in the U.S. There is a reason for this. And there is also support for this. Recently the media has turned its attention to environmental issues in general and to bicycling in particular. Promoting bicycle commuting as an environmental initiative and as a vehicle to a healthier lifestyle might well bring you media encounters of the positive kind. Or if your company isn’t really in search of media coverage, you may just want to use snapshots of our event in your next annual report to boost your corporate image. Increasing the number of cyclists increases the demand for cycling facilities as well as for a stronger voice for the cycling community. So the more fashionable cycling gets, the more fashionable it gets…
Almost anyone can commute by bicycle, even if they think otherwise. After all, bicycling takes even less energy per mile than walking. Below are some of the most commonly-perceived barriers and a few of the many creative ways around them.
Don’t let the fact that you haven’t done a marathon lately deter you. A modern bicycle with a wide gear range makes it easy for anyone to ride uphill, even people who are out of shape. Just go at your own pace. Do a trial run on the weekend. If your commute is long, try bicycling to or from public transportation or a carpool. Cycling part way to work is a great way to ease your way into reasonable shape if you’re not quite Wonder Woman or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Soon the ride may begin to seem too short, and you’ll find yourself riding further or all the way.
Don’t let your fashion sense deter you either. Think of it as a creative challenge. For example, how might you co-ordinate spandex with your colorful jacket? And how might you arrange to cycle and dress for success? One way is to leave your suit clothes at the office. Another way is to wear permanent-press clothing while you ride, or carefully fold your permanent-press pants or skirt into your pannier bag for a quick change when you get to the office. Panniers are now available that are specifically made to accommodate dress clothes – ask at your local bike shop!
Get a rain jacket and some rainproof pants and you’re all set. Just in case, you may want to bring a set of dry clothes (especially socks), add fenders on both wheels, and of course carefully wrap any important papers in your pannier bag. Many cyclists — you’ve probably seen them — ride every day of the year. Besides, there’s nothing more refreshing than a spring rain while you ride — especially if you’re prepared for it. And when the sun shines — just enjoy!
Don’t worry too much about having to freshen up when you get to work. Think of how un-fresh you are after screaming at the guy who cut you off on Storrow Drive. A stress-free cycle to work pales in comparison. Seriously, there are two options: ride at a pace just under the sweat level in all but the hottest weather, or find a place to freshen up. Your company may have showers. If not, suggest that they install one; it may be that no one ever considered the idea. You can also try to convince the nearest fitness club or business with showers into letting you use their facilities. However, youUll usually find that the washroom basin is adequate.
If you don’t have a fancy bike (or don’t want to use it), don’t worry. In fact, sturdy old clunkers are preferable when it comes to commuting. You can carry your briefcase in the basket, the wider tires absorb road shock, it probably has fenders for those damp days, and you don’t have to worry so much about getting it stolen. Just make sure it’s roadworthy by taking it in to your nearest bike shop, or by giving it an overhaul yourself.
If you don’t have a bike at all, you can get one inexpensively: Go to a police auction, watch for sales, check the classifieds in your newspaper or a classified AD magazine. You can even check your local transfer station, or keep your eyes open on trash day. People often throw away perfectly useful bicycles. When considering the price of a bicycle, think of how much you spend per year on other forms of transportation!
If bike parking is a concern because you do happen to have a fancy bike, talk to your company or to the owner of the building about securing parking. It may be the beginning of a beautiful, ongoing relationship. Building managers and staff can usually find space in the basement, in a utility closet, or in some other underutilized storage space. Be creative and ask around. Call us for information on what we’re doing to find public parking near your workplace. We have a bicycle parking brochure listing manufacturers and installation hints.
The health benefits of bicycling far outweigh the accident risk, according to the British Medical Assoc. (see Cycling towards Health and Safety published by Oxford University Press). Furthermore, only 18% of serious bike accidents involve motor vehicles. There are further ways to make your commute far safer statistically than the everyday car ride. Regular bicycle users have an accident rate 5 times lower than that of casual riders. If you use your bicycle regularly and learn traffic and bicycle handling skills, you can avoid accidents, including those that involve motor vehicles. Contact us to obtain the publications Street Smarts and How to Ride in Boston Traffic – or Anywhere listed in the back of this Guide.
If you are already a recreational cyclist or a racer, you should adapt fairly quickly to commuter cycling. If you’re a little less experienced, try your commute in non-rush hour time on the weekend, or ride with a buddy. We will be providing safety information and riding tips for your transportation fairs or lunch time seminars, and with enough notice we could send a speaker free of charge. Boston’s Bike Map indicates routes that are especially suited to safer commuting, and experienced commuters are often glad to lead novice cyclists. In fact, we’re organizing group rides throughout greater Boston, and businesses and transportation management agencies are doing the same around the state. We’ll also be talking to motorists about sharing the roads during Bike to Work Week.
It’s really important, during Bike to Work Week and every week, that people go at their own pace. While we want to promote cycling, we also want to make sure people feel confident on two wheels, because confidence is the first pre-requisite for safe cycling.