Biking every day and (almost) everywhere as made me more aware of all of the other cyclists out there. I’m sure that there is a story behind these cyclists’ decision to ride a bike instead of driving, so over the course of this blog, I will try to interview a few people and see why they choose to bike. Before I start harassing random cyclists on the street, I’ll start with a profile of my co-worker Jim.
Jim has a full-time gig at a local university and works a few hours a week as an engineer/producer for the radio station I work for. I had seen Jim’s bike in my building’s bike rack many times, and talked with him briefly about biking, but I finally decided to ask him to sit down with me for a few minutes for a proper interview. Although I work with some excellent journalists, I’m afraid that their journalistic skills have not rubbed off on me, so I tried to keep it simple with a few “where, what, why & how” questions for Jim.
Jim lives in Barrington and works in Providence – mostly on the East Side, but part of the time downtown. His bike commute is 7.5 miles each way which takes him about 45 minutes. He doesn’t bike every day, instead he often bikes to a bus stop, puts his bike on the bus, and rides the bus in from there. He estimates that he bikes the entire distance about 1/3 of the time and does the bus/bike multi-modal thing about 2/3 of the time (with a few exclusively bus trips when there are high snow banks or 100 year floods!). When he bikes, most of his commute is on the East Bay Bike Path. He says that he recognizes 3-4 people who also do the bus/bike thing on a regular basis. It’s easier to set his time to leave home with a bus schedule, but oftentimes he finds that he leaves work at a time such that he would have to wait 20-30 minutes for a bus, so he might as well bike home. Also, it’s more fun for him to bike home and then he doesn’t have to worry about the schedule.
Jim rides an 18 year-old Trek mountain bike. I tried lifting it – it’s super-heavy for my tastes, but it looks like a sturdy steed. He has it outfitted with street-appropriate tires and a rack on the back. He secures a gym bag or backpack (or whatever else he needs to carry) to the rack with a bungee cord. He said that he’s thinking about getting something lighter in the next year or so and he’d keep the Trek as a backup or maybe leave it at his office for those days when he just takes the bus in.
When I asked him how long he has been biking to work, Jim said, “I’ve always biked to work.” When he lived in Princeton, NJ, he usually biked, but he lived close enough that he could walk during inclement weather. When he lived in Somerville, MA he biked from the Davis/Teele Square area to Back Bay – about 6-7 miles (he also did the multi-modal thing, using the T). His bike commute took him down Massachusetts Ave through Cambridge and Boston which he says required “concentration and courage… but was quite manageable once you got used to it.” I remember being initially intimidated by Mass Ave, but I also got used to it once I figured out what I needed to pay attention to (there’s some pretty bad door zones on that street). He says that he prefers biking in the city because there is usually a sidewalk or shoulder to escape to, unlike the suburb of Barrington where drivers are generally considerate, but he feels more at their mercy.
The Trek is Jim’s only bike. He occasionally uses it for errands or to pick up something on his ride home. Jim does not do a lot of recreational riding – every once in a while he’ll ride south on the bike path down to Bristol. He doesn’t wear any special bike gear for his ride (aside from the helmet). On warmer days, he may bring a change of clothes, but he usually rides pretty easy on the way in. His workplace attire is pretty casual – no need to worry about pressed suits. On the way home, he may ride more quickly in order to get some exercise.
He and his wife own one car between them which she uses to get to work and they use for errands, trips, etc. They used to own two cars, but when one finally died about a year and a half ago, they found that they didn’t really need to replace it. They have a teenage daughter and a car can be useful for getting to events and such. Right now, she often rides the bus with Jim in to school in Providence, but Jim and his wife are considering getting a second car sometime soon now that they have 3 drivers.
I think Jim is an excellent example of someone who can live in a suburb, work in a city, but still commute by bike and live a relatively car-light lifestyle. By my calculation, he saves about 4,000 car-miles per year. It’s pretty low-key really. He doesn’t have a fancy bike, doesn’t need any special gear to ride it and he still has his car for when he needs it. I’m sure there are many potential Jims out there: people who live less than 10 miles from their office and could combine cycling with transit or the occasional car trip. Maybe they just need to try it for a week or two.
When I asked why he commutes by bike, Jim put his reasons in this order: 1. It’s more environmentally friendly than driving. 2. It’s cheaper than driving. 3. It’s fun and 4. good exercise. Elaborating on point #3, Jim said that often when he his biking home in the evening on the East Bay Bike Path, and he’s looking out on the water, enjoying the sunset – it’s the best part of his day.