Monday, March 12, 2012

I am now a bike commuter, sometimes

I've written a fair amount on this blog about cycling and making the use of bikes easier in the Fresno and Clovis area. However, I've never really been able to bike to work, due to distance. That is, I frequently have used my bike to run errands, attend events and so forth, but not for commuting.


Mind you, commuting isn't that big a deal. There seems to be some inordinate focus on how people commute, but some studies have show that commuting makes up only 25% of trips. Makes sense if you do your own math. Commuting is a simple back and forth, but those shopping trips, runs to the grocer, visits to the cinema, dinners with family and friends, trips to the park and so on and so forth....well, most of the time we spend on the road it's because we're going somewhere other than work.

But the government puts all their focus on commuting. When people pull out stats like "2% of people bike" there's a giant asterisk. The stat is actually "2% of people commute to work on a bike the majority of the time".

So say everyone drove to work, but did absolutely everything else on a bike (ie 75% of road time on bike) the government stat would say "0% of people bike". What I'm getting at, is that when talking about getting people to use their bike for things, commuting isn't all that important.


The point of all this is that in the time I have lived in Fresno, I had only biked to work twice, and those two times I was aided with a bus. The fact is, I didn't work close enough to where I lived. For me anyway. I know some people are fine and dandy with 100 mile commutes. Indeed, I know one guy who would go on a 50 mile loop just to add it to his commute. As someone who values an extra 3 minutes of sleep, if possible, that blew my mind.

For me, anything more than 10 miles on a bike is an extraordinarily long trip. But now I have a new job, and it's only 3 miles away from home.

And at a distance of 3 miles, it doesn't make sense to NOT use my bike.

So I've started doing that, and it's given me a good insight into some of the difficulties in getting people to bike to work. That is, a trip to Target on a bike and a trip to work on a bike are very different animals.

When talking about cycling for recreation or errands or other personal trips, the only real concerns are safety and distance. When it comes to work, you throw in a whole load of other things that you need to worry about, like dress code, sweat, entire-day bike parking and more. So safety and distance are still the most important parts of consideration, but I quickly found out there are many personal decisions to be made as well.

Over the next few days, I'm going to be talking about my bike commute and the challenges involved. So if you're considering giving it a try, I may have some good tips for you. In fact, tomorrow I'm hitting up the store to purchase a package of disposable baby wipes. That's not something I'd ever thought I'd need, but apparently, it's an excellent addition to a bike commuting kit. I'll explain why in a few days.

One other thing, I say sometimes in the title because I won't be doing it every single day. Last Tuesday for example, it was very windy and there was a high chance of rain. So car it was.

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Today, I want to talk about the actual route of my trip, and an annoyance with it.

The distance between my home and the front door of where I now work is 3.3 miles....
If I drive.

If I bike it's actually 4.0 miles.

Why does my bike commute increase by more than 20% over my car commute?

Because as I've mentioned many times in this blog Shaw Ave is home to many, MANY jobs in the region. It's packed with stores, restaurants, offices for doctors, lawyers, consultants, call centers, tattoo studios and really, everything else.

Shaw is almost entirely zoned for commercial and office development, so that's where the jobs are, including my new one.

But both Fresno and Clovis don't believe that such an important corridor should be accessible to bikes. The logic is, all those jobs and such mean a lot of traffic, and bikes would simply get in the way. 6-8 lanes for cars? Absolutely, it's of vital importance to move those vehicles. Sidewalks? The minimum legally allowed. Bike lanes? None. Both cities show Shaw as a bike route on their master plans, but the plans are simply pieces of paper in a vault, and neither city has any intention of striping Shaw, even in locations where bike lanes can be added with no change in anything else.

So no bike lanes. And while biking on Shaw is legal, on both the 4 foot sidewalks and the 11 foot traffic lanes, it certainly isn't safe. And indeed, both Fresno and Clovis encourage cyclists to use parallel routes, like Barstow and Gettysburg. Those two roads are certainly more pleasant for cycling, but that's a .5 mile detour....each way. Adding a mile to any trip that originates and terminates on Shaw.

That's a pain in the butt. For my trip, it adds 20% to the distance.

For me, personally, I don't think I would bike more than 5 mile to work (each way). So imagine my job was 4.5 miles away. Great, I can bike! Add the detour and it's now 5.5 miles away, making me a car commuter.

Is that the right message to send? That forcing people on bikes to take a 1 mile detour is ok, but those in cars need the quickest and shortest route?


This is Shaw. 40-50mph speed limits. Tiny sidewalks, no bike lanes. It's where the jobs and destinations are, but cyclists are told to go elsewhere.

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Elsewhere is a pleasant enough ride, but why should one have to add 1 mile to their daily commute just to be able to feel safe? Isn't a safe and short commute something that should be available to all?

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One thing I'm going to talk about in the future is a big negative that comes with riding on a secondary road like Gettysburg. Basically, I'm forced to ignore some of the traffic lights because they simply won't detect my bike. And because there's little car traffic, the odds are, there's no car coming to activate the light for us.



I've noticed 4-5 other people biking to work, based on what I see parked around the building. However, I know that a surprisingly large amount of my coworkers live closer to the office than I do.

One girl lives .5 miles away, due north.
Another lives 1.5 miles away, south and and west.
A guy lives a mile or so away, to the south.

But they all drive. Why? They all acknowledge that the distance is very short, and they state that they'd like to try something else, but they simply don't feel safe on a bike.

We have the nations worst air quality, some of the highest concentrations of poverty, an unemployment rate more than 2 times higher than the national average, and record high gas prices.....but a city design which forces people to pay sky-high commuting costs so that they can feel safe. That's messed up.

3 comments:

  1. I have a long way in to work, but I really wanted to try bike commuting. I have settled on a combination car/bike route. This is largely possible thanks to my folding bike, which I keep in my trunk. Like you, 5 miles is about my max, so I drive until I'm 5 miles or so from work (depending on where I park), then I ride in. It's nice too, to have the bike during the day in the city to run errands. It's actually a lot faster there than having to walk or find a new parking spot every 10 minutes.

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  2. There are so many reasons people have to avoid commuting by bike that drivers aren't even conscious of until they try biking. What's funny is that once you've gotten used to getting around by bike, switching to driving seems like a headache, prison sentence, etc. I think what happens to many people that try biking is that they get a flat tire or they get caught in the rain or they sweat on the way to work and they start longing for cheap gas days. Maybe they think that if enough people stick with driving, the economy will figure out a way to keep everyone in a car and tanked up.

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  3. Does the topic has to do with your education sphere or is it mostly about your leisure and free time?

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