Bike Commuter Journal – The Wimpy Way to Work (So She Says)

Friday, May 30 by JerryFoster

Kiyomi bikePlease welcome Kiyomi Camp, who also serves on the Princeton Free Wheelers bike club board, as our guest commuter this week.

When I was in high school and college, I used to ride my bike everywhere, both for transportation and for pleasure. As an adult in semirural Montgomery, New Jersey, that didn’t really seem like an option, especially after my kids were born. I lived on a 2-lane highway 4 miles from the nearest commercial area and about 8 miles from my workplace and the kids’ school.

Then I went to my 30th college reunion. Seeing all the people riding bikes at the college brought back happy memories. I resolved to try riding my bike to work, at least during the summer when I worked shorter hours and didn’t have to chauffeur kids.

The route I worked out involved riding on the towpath for 3 miles then taking to the streets. At the time, I only owned a mountain bike. The first climb up Mt. Lucas on knobby tires nearly killed me, then I had to climb Cherry Hill Road! I changed my route to avoid Cherry Hill, bought slick tires, and eventually got strong enough to make it up the hills without having to stop. My route was about 9 sweaty miles. I work in a school and have access to showers so this was not a problem. My clothes and lunch fit in my trunk bag and I kept shoes and toiletries in my desk. I really enjoyed riding to work during the summers, when I could ride home before rush hour, but I’m a pretty wimpy rider and found the rush hour traffic on my road during the school year was more than I could handle.

In 2011, I moved to Hopewell, a mere 7 miles to work but on more heavily traveled roads. From Princeton Free Wheeler ride leaders Diane Hess and Andy Chen, I learned some routes through developments that minimize my time riding on The Great Road. I also make use of the “bike lane” (really, a sidewalk) on The Great Road for the uphill portion of my ride home. My new route turned out to be rideable at rush hour so I can now ride year round although I’m still a wimp and drive if it’s icy or visibility is poor (or if I oversleep.) My ride to work starts and ends with pretty nice downhills. Of course, this means that my return trip starts and ends with some pretty serious uphills, but I can reward myself with a shower and a recovery beverage when I get home.

I acquired some different bikes and became addicted to a couple of bike blogs that extolled the pleasures of riding to work on an upright bike while wearing one’s normal clothes. Enamored of the vision of myself riding to work on a stylish bike in my dress and ballet flats, I decided to give that a try.

Unfortunately, seven miles with a couple of miles of uphill each way is not really fun on an upright bike. I concluded that I really prefer riding a road bike while wearing bike shorts. I’ve learned to bring in a bag of office outfits on my driving days so that I can commute on my unencumbered “fast” road bike. I also built up a vintage touring bike with a Brooks saddle and Carradice bag for days when I want to look picturesque or carry my clothes and lunch.

As a wimpy rider, I like to make myself as visible as possible. My bikes sport front and rear lights that are used even in daylight, and my main commuter has reflective tape on the frame and rims. I wear a helmet, use a rear view mirror, and avoid road-colored clothing.

I don’t bike to work every day, but I’ve never had a day where I biked to work and wished that I hadn’t. I guess this means I should bike to work more often!

Thanks Kiyomi – if you’d like to share your commuting experiences, please contact wwbikeped@gmail.com.

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – All in the Mind(set)

Friday, May 23 by JerryFoster

Please welcome Jim Angelus as our guest commuter this week – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact wwbikeped@gmail.com.

Everyone has an experience that births the compulsion to begin and end the work day on a bicycle.

Until ’98, my commute was limited to the overcrowded and undersanitized Lexington Avenue line in lower Manhattan. I was born in the city and lived there for 35 years commuting to ad agencies, where I was a creative director. Living in Hopewell 20 years later, a stark contrast – I rise at 6, am out the door at 7.

It wasn’t until taking *mandatory* retirement from my marketing job at Merck that cycling took over. It was 2001. I was out of a job with newly born twin boys; retirement at 45 not an option.

Time to redirect, refocus, narrow down, be practical, and use time wisely. I had been cycling the Sourlands, up through Frenchtown, Holland, and Lebanon townships trying to plan next steps.

Fortunately, logic and sound thinking didn’t reign – however, a self-absorbed plan to cycle cross-country with a close friend in ’02 did. This 3,215 mile/25 day ride from Point Reyes, CA to Keyport, NJ was the perfect gestation cycle that gave birth to the “third wheel” in my marriage.

A decade later in ’12, my German friend joined me once again, as we cycled from Seattle, WA to South Seaside Park, NJ – 3,300 miles/37 days later.

Today, I ride to work in South Brunswick, on Rte 518 into Rocky Hill, up the hill by the quarry to Rte 27. My ride home varies as does my mood. Sometimes a detour up Lindbergh Rd, other times Aunt Mollie Rd serves me well. Decisions! Decisions! My single speed wheels are picky and I must keep them happy.

Whit is planning a Lewis and Clark Trail excursion in ’15. Three’s a charm – I may just ride home…

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – Decades of Dedicated Energy

Tuesday, May 20 by JerryFoster

Ted Borer bike commutes for 30 yearsOur guest commuter this week is Ted Borer – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, contact wwbikeped@gmail.com.

2014 marks my 30th year of commuting by bike. At this point bicycle commuting isn’t just a passing phase, it’s part of what defines who I am.

For the first year out of college I didn’t own a car. Living in West Philly, cycling was faster and cheaper than any other way I could get to my job in Center City.  Back then I’d wear my shirt and dress pants and carry my suit jacket and tie in a backpack. I could park outside the building entrance, while most of my co-workers had to walk several blocks from lots where they’d paid to park.  I kept a massive chain and lock locked around the bike rack directly outside our office building so I didn’t need to carry it back and forth, and the building security officers could see the bike.  I only had a few miles to ride, so washing up in a men’s room was all I needed. Without spending my income on car payments, insurance, maintenance, parking, or gas, I was able to save enough for a down payment on a house much sooner than my peers.

When I got a work assignment in Phoenixville, I moved to Devon and regularly bicycled through Valley Forge park to get to work. That was 12 miles and fairly hilly. So I didn’t do it every day. After my wife and I moved to Media, PA, I was able to find a bike trail that took me to the plant where I worked in Eddystone for a few years.

I was mostly a warm weather commuter until I got a job in Princeton and we moved to Pennington. After commuting by bicycle for a decade, I realized that it was a pretty high priority in my life. So I drew a nine mile radius around my new office and told the realtor we’d only consider looking at houses within that circle — and she needn’t bother showing us anything that involved crossing Route One.

Year by year I’ve sorted out what it took to ride comfortably in any weather. I ride 12 months a year but avoid the road when there’s a risk of ice or snow cover. My lifetime bike odometer should pass 85,000 miles this year. I expect to pass 100,000 miles before I retire. Not all of those miles were commuting. I’ve done fifty or sixty century rides, earned a Super-Randonneur award along the way. I’ve done some other ultra-distance riding, some very fast “training” rides with triathletes and solo,  and dozens of bicycle camping trips with my children.

We live in a pretty neighborhood with more property and a larger house than we could afford in Princeton. I enjoy a few miles of rural riding past cows and sheep, then a few miles of county routes that have steady, 45 mph traffic but great wide shoulders, then a few miles of urban traffic in downtown Princeton. It’s a wonderful mix. My 7 ½  mile ride takes 35 minutes at a natural pace. I carry books, phone, and clothes in panniers and shower when I arrive.  The fastest I’ve ever done the ride was 25 minutes home-bound — just after my wife told me she’d started labor with our second child! He’s now deciding on which college to attend.

As our kids grow up, my wife and I are beginning to do more and more riding together and anticipate seeing foreign countries by bike in retirement. But we have four college educations to pay for, so I expect to be bicycle commuting to work for at least another decade!

Ride well,
Ted Borer

 

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike and Walk to School Week is May 19-23

Friday, May 16 by JerryFoster

WW HSS Track Team Running cropBiking and walking to school is good for children and good for the community.

Walk and Bike to School Week will be celebrated this year from May 19-23, 2014. Governor Chris Christie signed a proclamation encouraging state and local governments and school districts to promote active and healthy lifestyles by walking and bicycling to school.

Safe routes to schools is a priority for the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance (WWBPA) because it benefits health and well-being of the whole community, from our youngest members to our oldest. Biking and walking to school is great for student health and academic success. Studies in Denmark and Spain have shown that biking or walking to school leads to higher levels of concentration that lasted throughout the morning hours – “Walking and biking to school is also a great way for kids to get the physical activity needed for healthy minds. Kids who are more physically active have better academic performance. Studies are also beginning to show that exposure to nature and free outdoor play can reduce stress and relieve ADHD symptoms,” said Dr. Jennifer Rupert.

Not only is active transportation good for kids’ school success, kids who get themselves around also know their neighborhood and environment better.  This study looked at kids in a high traffic neighborhood and a low traffic neighborhood and found that students who lived in the high traffic neighborhood, who were driven most places due to safety concerns, had a negative attitude about their neighborhood and could not draw a map of their street network. The children in low traffic neighborhoods had a high knowledge of their neighborhood and more positive feelings of their place. The study followed up with the adults and children in the same neighborhoods after the facilities for biking and walking were improved in the high traffic neighborhood. The children’s knowledge of their town improved once they were able to get around on their own. Previous studies had shown that adults living in high traffic neighborhoods felt more isolated from their community, too. Being able to get around outside of a car builds community and connection between neighbors.

Beyond the health and community-building benefits from walking or biking to students themselves, getting more kids and parents out of cars has congestion and air quality benefits for the whole community, especially for folks living near the schools. A traffic engineer interviewed by NPR noted that “One of the biggest problems we have with schools in general is parents dropping off kids, buses, and kids walking, all converging in the same fifteen minute period,” says Lees.  In fact, 20 to 30 percent of morning traffic is children being driven to school, according to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.”

As Dr. Rupert points out “think about the air quality around a school when dozens of parents sit in idling cars while their children jump out. Air pollution has contributed to childhood asthma rates doubling between 1980 and the mid-1990s. Asthma rates remain at historically high levels and cause 14 million missed school days every year. Walking and biking to school is healthy for kids, healthy for communities, and healthy for the planet.”

In New Jersey there are a number of organizations working to make biking and walking safer for students and their families. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognizes that safe routes to school has benefits New Jersey, “Since 2005, $13.5 million of this grant money has helped pay for New Jersey projects, from the construction of a bridge and sidewalk system along Route 539 and Frog Pond Road in Egg Harbor, to new crosswalks and flashing school zone signs in Jersey City. In January, Gov. Chris Christie announced a new round of grants totaling $5.7 million for 25 communities, including some struggling areas such as Garfield, Jersey City and Brick, where many children don’t have access to safe places to be physically active. This is good news for our kids, for our communities and our health.”  New Jersey has a safe routes to schools organization which helps provide coordination and resources to folks wanting to organize and advocate for safe routes to schools. They run an award program to recognize schools making strides towards safer biking and walking. We also have a walking and biking resource center funded by NJDOT and run out of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers New Brunswick.

WWBPA supports biking and walking to school as a healthy, community building activity. We partner with students, parents and teachers in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district to host bikes and walks to school, biking and walking “buses” and to advocate for safer routes to schools. Recent partnerships have included working on the Knight Trail as well as the Cranbury Rd Sidewalk and Safety Project. We know that safe routes to schools are an important part of a community active transportation network.  Want to plan something for bike and walk to school month in October? Check out this fact sheet from NJ Safe Routes to School campaign through NJ DOT. Contact us at wwbpa.org to partner with us as you plan an event at your school.

Thanks to former trustee Beth Zeitler for contributing this article, a version of which also appears on the Greater Mercer TMA blog.

 

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Bike Commuter Journal – Blinking Winter Bicyclist

Friday, May 9 by JerryFoster

Our guest commuter this week is Mike McCormick – if you’d like to share your commuter experiences, please contact wwbikeped@gmail.com.

Since July, 2007 I’ve commuted just about 25,000 miles by bicycle from my home in Allentown (NJ) into Trenton – about a 25 mile round trip each day.  I’ve found it to be a great way to begin and end each day, with a few notable exceptions due to bad weather, and/or worse drivers.  For the most part, I’ve remained unscathed, thanks to some brightly colored clothing and a lot of lights.

During the winter months, it’s been said that I’m a cross between a Christmas tree and a Las Vegas casino, blinking and flashing my way down the street.   I do draw the line at ice or snow covered pavement, of which there has been plenty this past winter.  I’ve been reminded of how much I dislike traffic, interstate highways and parking lots that seem to be a mile away from my office door.

There are many instances when my bicycle is the fastest vehicle on the streets of Trenton, and to date, no one has taken my indoor parking spot:  a sewage pipe in the basement of the Hughes Justice Complex, to which I chain my bike each day.  After almost seven years, it is hard to imagine how – or why – others insist on driving to work each day!

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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Bike Commuter Journal – Where to Ride

Friday, May 2 by JerryFoster

Alexander Road Bike CommutersLet’s say you’re tired of winter, especially this winter, and you can’t wait to get back into shape for the beach (or whatever). Maybe you want to ride your bike to work to start working off the winter weight, but there’s a dicey road section, perhaps a 5 lane arterial, between your house and work. What are some of the strategies to ride safely?

Strategy 1 – avoidance – do some exploring and you might find a quieter road section, a trail, or a series of linked driveways and/or parking lots. Be aware that driveways and parking lots require 360 degree vigilance, but are generally low speed so you have decent reaction time. Like sidewalks, trails require vigilance at intersections.

Strategy 2 – the sidewalk – it’s legal to ride on the sidewalk in New Jersey, unless the municipality has an ordinance restricting riding on a specific section, typically in downtown areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic.  The sidewalk can be more comfortable if pedestrian traffic is minimal, but care must be taken at driveways and intersections since motorists do not usually look for bikes on sidewalks.

Strategy 3 – the road – New Jersey law grants cyclists the same rights and responsibilities as the driver of a motor vehicle.  Experienced cyclists prefer the road for predictability and getting there faster, but care must be taken to actively manage the traffic around you. This means being aware of the road and whether there are safe places for motorists to pass, and positioning yourself so that you are visible to motorists, both those approaching from behind and those at intersections looking for gaps in traffic.

It’s worth quoting the New Jersey Statute verbatim:

“39:4-14.2. Keeping to right; exceptions; single file

Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that any person may move to the left under any of the following situations:

(a) to make a left turn from a left-turn lane or pocket;

(b) to avoid debris, drains or other hazardous conditions that make it impracticable to ride at the right side of the roadway;

(c) to pass a slower moving vehicle;

(d) to occupy any available lane when traveling at the same speed as other traffic;

(e) to travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded.

Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway may travel no more than two abreast when traffic is not impeded, but otherwise shall ride in single file except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.”

The New Jersey Department of Transportation has an excellent website for bike commuters – see the Frequently Asked Questions for good advice regarding riding on the road safely.

A version of this post appeared in On the Move, the blog for the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.

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