Bike to Work Today!

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Zack Furness, author of One Less Car, talks about the growth of biking to work and how to get started as a commuter yourself.

This May marks the 54th celebration of National Bike Month in the United States and with it, the annual keystone event known as Bike-to-Work Day.  Hundreds of thousands of participants ranging from seasoned urban cyclists to first-time riders will take to the streets on May 21st in a mass display of pedal power that reflects a broader change in the way that Americans are starting to think about transportation.  While biking to work is still something of an anomaly in the US, the sheer number of people who are getting turned on to the environmental, economic and health benefits of bicycle transportation is staggering, particularly when one considers the tremendous roles that automobiles and driving play in American culture.  Dozens of cities dotting the landscape between Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine have seen their numbers of bike commuters double, and in some cases triple, in the last decade.  The persistent advocacy work of national organizations like the League of American Bicyclists and the success of locally organized events like Bike-to-Work Day are part of the reason why adult bicyclists are becoming more commonplace in both big cities and small towns throughout the country.  But there are a number of other factors at work that range from the most pragmatic to the most political.

One the one hand, people who try their hand bike commuting quickly realize that it is dramatically cheaper than driving.  Depending on where one lives, the total amount saved on gas, insurance, parking, maintenance, and car payments can be up to $10,000 a year.  In addition, one of the things that often surprises new bike commuters is that biking can even be quicker than other forms of transportation, especially when one accounts for traffic.  For example, bicyclists routinely beat drivers and transit riders in annual ‘commuter contests’ staged in Boston and New York City, and TV viewers witnessed a similar outcome when the hosts of the Today Show conducted their own version of the NYC race on their May 14th broadcast.  While these potential advantages are alluring to the everyday commuter, there is also a growing number of people who are getting interested in bike commuting as a response to the threats posed by global warming and our country’s collective reliance on both automobiles and oil.  The notion that ‘what’s good for GM is good for America’ is wearing thin amongst a sizeable cross section of the population, and this skepticism is undoubtedly compounded by the epic oil disaster currently unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.  Put simply, citizens are quickly realizing—by way of transportation—that the personal is very political.

Biking to work is certainly not an option for everyone, but there are millions of people for whom the bicycle can be both a useful and enjoyable tool for getting back and forth from work each day.  Like anything else, it takes some practice and knowledge in order to get the hang of it.  The slew of bike blogs and commuter-specific websites make it easier than ever to find out information about biking to work, or simply getting used to bicycling for transportation.  But the best thing to do is to talk to bike commuters in your town.  Ask random questions to the guy with his bike on the train, or to the lady who is riding with her kids in tow.   Talk to the people at your local bike shop or the folks who run your local bike advocacy group.   Find out some basic rules of the road as well as tips that will make it easier to get started.  But most importantly, don’t be afraid to give a try.


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