Commute Solutions Guest Blog!

I am very pleased to have a guest blogger spot for Commute Solutions in observation
of Bike Month!  I’m Kristen, a daily bicycle commuter, graduate student, and research intern here at CAMPO.  Bicycling is a big part of my life in Austin; I actually moved to Austin knowing I wouldn’t have to own a car.  As a Los Angeles native, being car-free is particularly meaningful to me…I am of the opinion that, in Austin, bicycling as a primary mode of transportation is more liberating than limiting.

I want to share some of the internal musings that accompany my everyday bicycle commute to work and school.

Recurrent thought #1: Biking to work each morning, I think to myself: “I’m so glad I live in Austin; it’s so sunny!!”  In Austin, sunny, bikeable weather can be expected almost year-round.  Compared to my previous home in central Pennsylvania, which was neither sunny nor particularly bikeable, Austin is a warm-weather paradise.  In fact, Austin is the second sunniest major city* in Texas with 229 days of sunshine per year.  Austin’s good weather, the compact nature of West Campus and Downtown, and bike-friendly initiatives make my commute one of the best parts of my day.  I love having to wear my sunglasses at 7:45am!  The sunshine that accompanies me most mornings puts a huge smile on my face.  So if you see a cyclist going down Nueces early in the mornings with a weirdly large grin, it may be me.

Recurrent thought #2: When drivers occasionally cut me off or tailgate me, I often think to myself in frustration, although less eloquently and at times much more crassly: “You probably don’t think about the fact that this bicycle is my car.  I don’t have another form of transportation!  If you understood that my calorie-powered commute is not solely for recreation, but also because I cannot afford a car and I strive to make the world a better place, you might be more polite.”

If you are an automobile commuter, please be kind to cyclists.  Because we commute by different modes, we each view traveling singularly: cyclists don’t sit in traffic thinking about why automobile commuters may be frustrated and drivers don’t think about cyclist’s fears or needs.  This silly rivalry between cyclists and drivers doesn’t have to exist; both parties need to take larger steps to understanding the frustrations and needs of the other.

Drivers, try to understand that cycling can be a scary thing, especially when the average American car weighs 4,000 pounds.  Add 20, 30 or even 40 mph of force behind those 4,000 pounds and put it up against a 30 pound bike frame and a 150 pound person with zero crash protection besides a helmet.  If that’s not scary, tell me what is.  Also, try to understand that many cyclists are carbon conscious, trying to reduce their damaging to the environment; try to appreciate that the four or five cyclists you see on your commute home are not four or five other cars increasing congestion and your commute time.

Cyclists, first try to understand that drivers can’t maneuver traffic as easily as you which leads to longer commute times and more frustration.  Second, bicycle commuting logistically does not work for some people.  Third, when you blow through stop signs or zigzag dangerously through traffic or disobey traffic laws that apply to you, understand that you are making all cyclists look bad.  You will make drivers nervous, leading them to immediately dislike you, become more irritable, and probably form negative opinions about cyclists in general.

So let’s all be more understanding by recognizing that we have different needs, different fears, and different frustrations.  Let’s recognize that our own mode of transportation, be it bicycling, busing, or driving, doesn’t work for everyone.

Recurrent thought #3: On my commute home, after biking up that particularly killer hill between 6th and 8th Street going north on Lavaca, my first thought is: “My calves must look great right now, even though I am seriously out of breath”.  Bicycling to and from work and school provides me with a great cardio workout, to the point that sometimes I must look like a wheezing wreck.  My follow-up thought usually is: “I may look disheveled but at least I won’t have to go to the gym.”  On an average day, my bicycle commute to and from school and then to and from work provides me with about 75 minutes of cardiovascular activity.  And according to CalorieCount.com, this daily cardio burns 680 calories, so I don’t need to pay a costly gym membership on top of what would be an outrageous monthly gas expense!

My biking experience here in Austin has been awesome and enlightening.  It has changed the way I live my life, the way I conceptualize time, and my level of fitness.  No longer do I pay for parking or have to sit in infuriating traffic.  I not only get a workout, a rush of endorphins, and a boost of Vitamin D from the sun, but also have the satisfaction that I am doing something good for the climate, Austin’s air quality, and Austin’s street congestion.

Now that’s something to smile about.

*Major city being defined as a city having over 1million residents.

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