Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Pleasures of Commuting by Bicycle

a group of citizens from the community working together to make Champaign County, Illinois the most bicyclist friendly county in the Midwest.

Photos of campus bike path hazards by UIUC professor Gary Cziko.
These illustrate why I leave bike paths out when discussing commuting by bike.

Bicycle Commuting web page by the League of Illinois Bicyclists.

Listen to the commentary
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Between three-dollar-a-gallon gas and mounting concern over global climate change, more and more people are looking for ways to burn less fuel as they commute. In this quest, we often plow straight ahead to new technologies—hybrid cars now, hydrogen powered cars in the future.But you know, I bet you’ve already got a vehicle in your garage that can “out-green” any new car, a vehicle that’ll get you from point A to point B quickly and efficiently using century old technology. I mean your bike, of course.

I’ve been commuting by bike in Champaign-Urbana for just over twenty years now, and I’ve found that there are really very few days when taking the bike to work isn’t my best option. I don’t ride in thunderstorms, or when snow and ice make the roads hazardous. Otherwise, the weather here doesn’t present many obstacles that can’t be overcome with the right clothing. And the flat terrain means you never have to pedal all that hard.

Sometimes when I’m biking I’ll stop to talk with friends or colleagues who comment on the environmental virtue of not driving. But you know what? I don’t bike because it’s virtuous. I bike because I like to.

When I get to work on the U of I campus, I park right outside the door to my building and pay no money for the privilege. Aside from other bicyclists, who else does that? I am able to listen for birds all the way to work, and if I hear something interesting, I can pull over to take a look. I don’t need to make time in my day to “exercise” when that’s taken care of in my commute. I get to enjoy the sun on my face, and the breeze in my hair. And of course on my bike I never stop at gas stations.

I suppose there are plenty of reasons for people not to use bikes for commuting, but I suspect that the most significant one is automobile traffic. People fear being hit by a car while riding a bike . . . so they hop into a car, instead. The thing is, bicycle commuting need not be dangerous, and it’s not scary once you become accustomed to it.

In order to enjoy commuting by bike, you need to claim for yourself a place on the road. There are plenty of web pages and books that provide detailed instructions about how to do this, but the main idea here is really not that complicated.

As a bicyclist you are not in the way of traffic, you are traffic. You should operate your bike as a vehicle and expect others using the roadway to treat you as one. This means you use lights when lights are needed, you signal your turns, and you obey other traffic laws as you do in a car. You turn left from the left turn lane, you don’t pass on the right, and you don’t ride on the sidewalk. In short, you assert yourself and behave predictably.

Now, asserting yourself need not include riding on the busiest streets in town at the busiest times of day. One of the great pleasures of bicycle commuting is developing routes that allow you to enjoy the journey.

If you’re interested in touching base with others in our community who want to promote bicycle commuting, check out on the web. They are a newly formed group whose goal is to make Champaign County the most bicyclist friendly county in the Midwest.