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Follow up: Biking to Work

2008 June 13

About the author: Kay Morrison joined EPA’s Office of Public Affairs in January.

I moved to DC in January without a really good idea of what it would be like to live in an urban setting, but one thing I knew was that a city like this doesn’t play nice with bikes. So much for what I know – I’ve learned that my neighbors can ride bikes through Rock Creek Park all the way down town … I could do it too if I had a bike. From reading the answers to the May 12 question of the week, “Why are you or aren’t you biking to work,” I have learned that a surprising number of our readers do bike to work, all over the country.

The question really hit a nerve for our readers. Back when we “only” had 704 comments we counted them up (thanks to our intern, Dominic) to see who does, and who doesn’t, bike to work, and why. I assumed that far fewer people would bike to work than those who don’t, but it turns out to be really close. 345 commenters said they do bike, 359 said they don’t. Some of you combine biking with public transportation, some bike part of the time, some can’t bike to work but you use your bike when you can.

Bar chart showing number of comments why people don’t bike to work. Too dangerous: 119. Too far: 111. Too hot or too cold: 61. No place to shower or lock up the bike: 61. Taking children to school: 23.Of those who do bike to work, you do it to be green (saving carbon emissions not to mention $$ on gasoline and parking), or for the exercise, or for the pleasure it brings to be out in the air with critters and birds.

Those of you who do not bike to work were concerned for your safety – it’s clear that there aren’t enough safe biking routes, bike trails, or driver awareness of bicyclists. You also live pretty darn far from where you work.

What have you or your bike club or town planning commission done to make your community more bike friendly? How did you get your employer to support biking to work? Share your success stories and current projects. What steps can we, as citizens and bike to workers, take to make our communities and work places more bike friendly?

Thanks so much for all your interesting and thoughtful comments on this topic. I’ve learned a lot about biking from reading them – one of these days you may see me biking to work too!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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19 Responses leave one →
  1. Alex permalink
    June 14, 2008

    When I worked for Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund in DC they had a designated set of bike hooks in their storage space (w/ access to the alley) for bikers. It’s not something that’s expensive or very intensive to put in place, but it was really nice to have that place to put my bike.

    Another cool bike commuting story is the new bike shop started by Lance Armstrong in Austin (http://www.austin360.com/recreation/content/recreation/stories/2008/02/0214bikeshop.html). It’s not just a bike shop, but also has facilities for downtown workers to shower, change clothes, and store their bike. Pretty amazing stuff.

  2. chowder permalink
    June 16, 2008

    EPA should work with the next generation getting them prepared to bike to work by helping them bike to school.

    Safe Routes to School programs are being set up across america to promote biking and walking to school safely. Something many of us used to do, but is seldom done by todays youth. This coincides with the trend of youth being overweight ironically.

    Biking and walking help address a myriad of community and individual issues ranging from not knowing your neighbors to lowering your gasoline bill, to getting some much needed exercise. Unfortunately when you look at just one aspect of how wonderful biking is it may not measure up (say the environmental benefits) for investment, but overall it is a great community investment

  3. Bob permalink
    June 17, 2008

    The Safe Routes to School program is brilliant. We need a Safe Routes to Work program. And a Safe Routes to Just About Everywhere Else program. Its sad that people are detered from biking because they feel like they’re going to be run over by a car (yes, even Priuses can hurt). Understandably, there are many people that lack confidence on bikes. City riding is not easy. Suburban riding can be even worse. We need to throw money (buckets of it) into viable, SAFE routes around cities and towns. Also, its all about connections. The routes actually need to go somewhere. I’ve been on too many trails that suddenly end in a busy intersection/narrow bridge/highway on-ramp/etc. You can have a beautiful trail for 10 miles, but if for a 100 feet bikers feel endangered, most people won’t even bother.

  4. Gary permalink
    June 19, 2008

    I don’t bike anymore because I’m over 60, self employed,
    the old carcass can’t take it any more, and I travel around
    too much.

  5. Richard Belzer permalink
    June 21, 2008

    When I accepted a job in Washington in 1988, I specifically looked for a house near the Potomac so that I could cycle to work. As a UC Davis graduate, I had been accustomed to cycling, but more than eight years in Cambridge MA had reduced my interest. (Anyone who thinks DC is is bike-unfriendly needs to learn about Boston in the 1980s, where drivers did not merely sideswipe cyclists — the aimed.)

    So beginning in 1988 I cycled (weather permitting) 35 miles round trip from Mt. Vernon. The route is safe as long as there is sunlight. (I bought heavy-duty headlights to ride at dusk and dark, but I noticed that trees still tended to jump out and attack.)

    The major hazards are casual afternoon users of the Mt. Vernon Bike Path, who think nothing about allowing their children or dogs to wander just about anywhere. C’mon, EPA: Figure out a way to ban those retractable leashes! I’ll write the RIA for you.

    There were no casual bike path users at 7 o’clock in the morning. I was able to reduce my inbound trip to 1:15, which closely approximated the time needed to drive to Huntington and Metro in. (There was a bus, and in winter I often used it, but it added another 45 minutes to the commute.)

    My cycling days ended on March 15, 1994, when I was rear-ended by an SUV driven by an inexperienced and inattentive teenager. The neck injury caused me to lose months of work. I became dependent on medication to make it through the day, and my exercise program tanked. It is ironic that this happened while driving a car; never during my cycling days did I have a blunt-force encounter with a motor vehicle.

    Riding defensively helps a lot, but my chief advantage was that I chose a place to live where one can commute safely by bicycle. Too many people worry about silly things, such as the (alleged) quality of the nearby public schools or the crime rate. Give me a place where cycling is feasible and safe, and everything else falls into place.

    I’m self-employed now and work at home, so my contribution to transportation congestion and environmental impacts cannot get any lower. But if I needed to commute to DC I’d go back to the bicycle, age and injuries notwithstanding. I’ve just bought a Townie, an 8-speed cruiser that allows me to sit upright instead of lean forward, which I no longer can do. It might take me 2 hours now, but so what? It sure beats the highways, and Metro. And you get a secret, perverse pleasure: Riding at 15 mph on a bike path past a ribbon of vehicles traveling 0 mph.

  6. Sara permalink
    July 28, 2008

    I try to be an ambassador for biking to work. If people are hesitant to ride their bikes, I remind them of a few things:
    1) I used to think I lived too far from work (12 miles) to bike there. Then I tried it and found I am able to handle the round trip three times a week.
    2) You don’t have to bike every day. If it’s raining, or too hot, or too cold, or you feel tired–don’t beat yourself up about not riding. If you start biking in conditions you are comfortable with, you will enjoy it more. Maybe you will enjoy it enough to try biking in less-than-ideal conditions too someday!
    3) It’s not as hard as you think it will be, but start small. If you don’t ride your bike much, start riding it regularly on quiet streets in your neighborhood to get in shape and get used to a bit of traffic.
    4) It’s no more dangerous than driving a car (statistics back this up), it’s just that you’re used to driving and not used to biking. Remember that it took you a while to learn to drive; take the time to learn to bike safely too.

    Sometimes we all need a bit of encouragement; there are so many people giving reasons why they can’t bike to work, and a number of them need to hear: “I can do it, and there’s nothing extraordinary about me, so you can do it too!”

  7. Brian Lacy permalink
    December 9, 2008

    As a cycling coach, helping 1,000’s of novices become lifelong cyclists, the factors that help people ride are:

    1. Learn handling, aggressive driver and awareness skills. Showing assertiveness/expert handing, not reacting with anger, staying alert are very effective. Outwardly firm/friendly, inwardly noting license plate/witnesses/details about the violator. Get out your phone as soon as it’s safe to do so, or get one from a witness.
    2. Ride with others. Alone many of us feel too exposed to the real and imagined risks. Cars are typically nicer to even small groups
    3. Dismantle all hurdles step by step. My program is built in 4 stages:
    a. Motivation/Cycling-mindset (feeling part of the solution, learning to enjoy and be great at spotting/avoiding hazards),
    b. Trip Planning (clothing, lights, bus/bike commuting, parking, route selection, ride/work clean up, time management, etc),
    c. Bike Handling (detailed rodeo from start stop, feather/emergency braking, crossing slippery surfaces/RR tracks, emergency turns, looking back while riding straight etc ),
    d. Repair essentials – as indicated by the student’s riding goals.

    Final point. The rate of car trips continues to outpace the increase number of bike trips. Some lucky urban / suburban areas have facilities like lane striping etc – which are great. But — real-world, no-jargon, empowering education is an urgent missing link, as the more there are of us devoted to living all the benefits bikes give us, the wider the door opens for those just a bit less pioneering than ourselves. This goes double for kids and their parents.

    I plan to launch this program nationally in spring of 2010. Your involvement is wanted. Email best as web site in under construction – brian@bikempowered.com

  8. Scott permalink
    June 16, 2009

    You’ve asked several good questions, Kay.

    I’ve been a year-round bike commuter in DC for the last five years. My commute is very short (less than 5 miles round trip), but takes me on some less-than-bike-friendly roads. The weather here in DC in the summer can be difficult, but I’ve learned to wear the proper clothing (light weight wool) since I bike in my work clothes. I’ve had to adjust my commute to accommodate carrying my two young children to their daycare. I first added a trailer, then I bought an Xtracycle so the three of us could ride together.

    I attended the last Bike to Work day and was very impressed with several federal agencies who displayed a strong presence wearing their team jerseys. Besides EPA, USDA, NASA and the US Coast Guard were all there in force. The Secretary of the Dept. of Energy gave a speech as well as Admiral Allen of the USCG.

    What I missed entirely was a strong showing from the US Department of Health and Human Services, where I work. This was likely due to a delay in getting our political leadership in place. However, Bike to Work Day has spanned several administrations, so we should have had something. As the primary Agency dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the American people, I was saddened to see we had not committed any effort to support the rally. The downtown office is pretty friendly to bike commuters–it has secure bike racks in the parking garage and a gym facility where we can shower. Hopefully, I can convince our leadership to make a stronger showing next year. Any suggestions to help the employee effort would be appreciated.

  9. Zac Appleton permalink
    June 16, 2009

    For the last couple of years, I’ve been promoting and tracking Bike to Work Day participation through my office’s program in San Francisco. Here are some of the numbers and lessons we’ve gleaned: my office has approximately 70 cyclists that range all ages and levels of experience.
    – In 2008, 35 riders chalked up 302 miles.
    – In 2009, 22 cyclists rode 178 miles. We also know that at least 11 more cyclists participated on Bike to Work Day, but were not accounted for in our information-gathering tool.

    We also learned a couple of valuable lessons from the experience:
    1. Reach out and remind. Setting up a voluntary Bike Clinic to analyze and repair employee’s bicycles was a great way to get the word out and improve participation on the day.
    2. Recognize the role models in your cycling population. Some of the experiences and stories our cycling commuters shared included: people who have suffered bike theft and back pain, but were determined to return to bicycling to their suburban train station; people who quite late in their careers have kept a resolution of biking “a new way every day” for four years; and a family who commute their two kids to Daycare with bikes.

    Our greatest environmental gains were from coworkers who decided to leave the car parked that day, and instead hopped on their bike to get to the train, ferry, or office.

  10. Dr Timothy Lim permalink
    August 9, 2009

    One of my friends also started biking to work and the only concern I have is traffic. If not for his Low back pain.

  11. Sharron permalink
    November 9, 2009

    I’ve been a practitioner of Oriental Medicine and other wellness modalities for over 30 years LumaSun and I’m certain based on my experience that biking in general is a great exercise and biking to work could make a big difference in peoples well being. I leave in Phoenix and everything is spread out so much that I assume only a small percentage of the population leaves close enough to where they work to make it practical to bike to work. There is also the issue of the summer heat which makes it impossible to bike anywhere after the very early morning hours.

  12. Jack permalink
    November 28, 2009

    It would depend on the climate of where you live and work? Biking is not for everyone, but the few who are able to make it work, can make a different!

    I work for a Green Company in Southern California, and we are promoting a program called “First Mile, Last Mile.” For the folks who don’t live within walking distance and take the bus to work, this program works out very well for them.

    Each morning they ride their bike to the bus stop, they place their bike on the rack, which is attached to the front of the bus. They then take the bus to the nearest stop to their office. Then ride their bike the remaining distance. All the while getting exercise and helping out the environment. This program will help reduce the carbon foot print around the world.

    Peace,
    Jack

  13. GetLowerBackPainReliefNowcom permalink
    August 8, 2010

    i’ve noticed an increase in people riding their bike and even electric bikes. however, i’ve also heard of huge problems for people who do ride their bikes. polution is terrible in big cities and create problems for bikers

  14. Matthew permalink
    September 1, 2010

    Cycling to and from work is fantastic. It provides a great cardiovascualr workout, decreases carbon emisisons, no parking troubles and its cheap & effective. The only problem is traffic. With most drivers showing little awareness, it can be dangerous.

  15. Gavin permalink
    September 11, 2010

    As a physical therapist I occasionally see patients who spend many hours per week training on their road bikes who in turn develop low back pain. If someone has more than a 15 mile commute this may be an issue for them. Pedaling on a bike for long periods where you are bent over with a flex lower back can create some muscle imbalances that lead to back pain. There are some simple spine stretches that can help prevent low back in cyclist who ride a lot.

  16. Jason permalink
    October 12, 2010

    Biking is one of the best forms of cardiovascular and weight-reducing exercise.

  17. Fadi permalink
    December 30, 2010

    Biking is definitely one of the best way to get fit. Thanks for this very interesting information.

  18. Back Pain Relief permalink
    January 30, 2011

    Biking to work doesn’t work year round here in new york – the weather is brutal lately – so its a great idea but hard to practice. 15 minute and under commutes to say ferry to path train would be ok – but more than that I’m not sure makes sense .. anyway thanks and lets toast to fitness !

  19. Advanced Medical permalink
    March 20, 2013

    I have read your blog related to bike to work and also seen the graph with you have shared in this blog. This graph helps me very much to understand your blog.

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