Wednesday, May 27, 2009

the case for biking to work

Recently I saw a PBS show called Blueprint America about the problems with this country's infrastructure. Today we face not only issues like bridges falling down, but issues that affect our quality of life: suburban sprawl, which has led in PA and elsewhere to the decline of small towns and neighborhoods, traffic jams that not only are maddening but lead to pollution and unsafe streets, and poor public transportation.

The show that I saw, Road to the Future, profiled a couple living in Portland, OR, where a large percentage of residents bike to work. The couple lived in the city and biked everywhere with their two young children. They said they rarely go anywhere they can't bike to.

It made me feel guilty for applying for a parking permit. While it takes me less than 15 minutes to drive to work, it takes me a half hour via bus in the morning (not bad), but between 40 and 45 minutes for the afternoon commute.

One of the (many) reasons both Dave and I like city living is that we have so much more free time because of quick commutes. Dave bikes to work most days and walks when the weather is too icy or rainy to bike. He's never once driven his car to work in the five years he's worked Downtown! His bike commute takes him 10 minutes each way. Compare that to commuters who live in the suburbs and have an hour commute each way (which is very common where I work). If you take out two weeks vacation, it comes to 500 hours, or roughly 20 full days, of people's lives every single year that they spend driving to work. And that doesn't take into consideration the costs they spend on gas, car maintenance, and parking; the congestion they contribute to; and the greenhouse gas emissions they contribute, which is fouling up our entire planet. It makes perfect sense to us to live in the city where we don't have to drive to work and can walk most places. (And for those who say they won't live in the city because of city taxes, obviously they pay more for car gas, maintenance, and parking than the tax increase.)

Given this, it's hard to stomach a 40-minute commute when I live 15 minutes away. But I hate the idea of driving to work and contributing to congestion and pollution. SO, I'm saying it here, publicly, so I can't back out of it: I'm going to start biking home from work. My morning commute is up through Polish Hill, so I'd have to shower in my building before work because I'll be sweaty from the ride (and, furthermore, I seriously doubt that I'd be able to make it up the hill without stopping and pushing). Luckily, my bus, the 54C, has a bike rack, so I can put my bike on the rack and ride the bus in the morning, then ride my bike home after work, which is all downhill and should be pretty quick.

This is a huge step for me because I've never been comfortable biking on roads. I like mountain biking on trails, but even then I'm pretty uncoordinated and fall and hurt myself a lot. But I'm going to start! The Port Authority has some instructional guides on how their Rack and Roll program works. I'm going to start as soon as I'm back from Prague in two weeks. Wish me luck!

Oh, and if this has inspired you, please consider taking mass transit, biking, or walking to work! Watch that Road to the Future documentary I linked to above, seriously. And here's a link to Bike Pittsburgh, who advocates biking to work.

Image taken by Dave, who not only commutes via bike to work, but also takes hour-long bike rides every day after work, as well as multi-hour rides on weekends, all over the city.