Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Florida Weekly feature--cycling to work
Florida Weekly 6/15/11
This week's edition features an article about cycling to work in Southwest Florida--the joys, benefits, and difficulties. It interviews Dan Moser (FBA & BWL), Eric Stockley from Charlotte County Health Department, Mike Holms from Schwinn Bicycles in Fort Myers, and Michelle Avola, Naples Pathways Coalition. Do you bike to work? Be inspired & give it a try!
Cycling to work can be a hassle, but more are enjoying the benefits
BY EVAN WILLIAMS
Riding a bicycle to work could eventually reduce the cost of employee health care plans, make the environment cleaner, and control road congestion, advocates say. But cars are still king of the road, and most people aren’t used to making a bicycle commute or being on the road with those who do.
Cyclists who choose to ride for business purposes must adapt to a variety of practical issues, such as prickly motorists, how to pick up the kids from school later on, locking up an expensive ride, getting pant legs caught in the chain, helmet hair and rush-hour traffic.Whatever the inconveniences, those who make the trek expound on the benefits and don’t plan to give it up anytime soon.
“I get wet — I don’t care,” said Greg Holmes, who rides his bicycle more than seven miles to and from work at Fort Myers Schwinn Cyclery, and doesn’t mind getting caught in the rain. He brings a change of clothes in a waterproof backpack.
And sweating on the ride in — that can be the worst. A thorough shower before you set out means wiping off only a single layer of sweat will still leave you reasonably fresh, some attest.
Most companies don’t provide showers, although a few, such as Chico’s FAS and the Charlotte County Health Department, have installed them. Disposable wipes or the office lavatory are sometimes the next best way to stay clean.“You put a wedge against the door and stand there in your underwear and hope nobody walks in,” said Eric Stockley, who works at the CCHD’s older location, which doesn’t have showers.
“The shower issue is huge. I understand the expense though,” said Dan Moser, director for the Florida Bicycle Association, who also writes a column for this newspaper.
Mr. Stockley usually bikes to work nine miles, two mornings per week, leaving his car at the employee lot the night before so he doesn’t have to worry about afternoon heat waves, rain and lightning. He said the challenges for him are worth it. “It’s a great way to save money. It’s a great way to start your day.” His co-worker Scott Hoverman, who considers himself lucky to work at the CCHD’s new building with showers and a locker room, agrees.
“I think my blood pressure has been trending lower over the last six months or so; the weight has been pretty stable,” said Mr. Hoverman, considering the health benefits of his 5½ mile ride to and from work, which he undertakes three days per week. “Certainly when I get to work I’m awake, I’m energetic, I’m ready to go.”
The transition from driving to bicycling to work was a “pretty small adjustment,” Mr. Hoverman said. “I need to leave about 45 minutes earlier than I would if I were driving a vehicle, but included in that is I get here and take a shower. I really only have to get up about 15 minutes earlier.” He keeps changes of clothes at work, learned a route that included backroads, and packs his lunches rather than driving somewhere for lunch.
Most streets built in Florida were engineered for cars, and in some places, planning organizations are retrofitting them with signage, side lanes or other features that make them more bicycle-friendly. But sometimes those can seem like half measures. For instance, signs on the Midpoint Memorial Bridge, a commuter route connecting Cape Coral and Fort Myers, make it clear that cyclists are allowed.
But last Thursday morning at about 8 a.m. when Ori Schwend bicycled over the Midpoint Bridge (for fun), she said there was garbage off to the side of the road. And when you reach the Fort Myers side, there’s no bike lane, and you must merge into a center lane with rush-hour traffic on both sides. “It was scary. I don’t think I’d do it again,” admitted Ms. Schwend, an experienced cyclists who used to commute on her bike to school in downtown Miami. She stopped in a parking lot to wait for a ride because a nail had threaded her back tire coming across the bridge.
Engineers who build future roadways should consider all the details of what a cyclist needs, lest they miss the forest for the trees, suggested Mr. Moser. “You’ve got to get out of your car every now and then, or your truck, and go bike or walk the roads you’re building.”
Aside from sweat or debris, the greatest practical challenge to business cyclists may be that people don’t often enough take bicycles seriously as vehicles.
“A lot of people will equate a bicycle to a pedestrian rather than (equate a bicycle to) a motor vehicle,” said Lt. John Buckley, public information officer for the Naples Police Department. “I would say off the top of my head that would be a very rare occasion that we’d give a bicyclist a moving violation.”
Conversely, Mr. Stockley at CCHD said he thinks law enforcement should issue citations or warnings to cyclists — say, for riding the wrong way in traffic or ignoring red lights — just as they do cars.
Michelle Avola, director of Naples Pathways Coalition, said there should be stiffer penalties for drivers who hit cyclists, and more education for cyclists.
“One goal would be really stiff penalties if you cause an accident, and for there to be just a really big push for education, so the people on bikes are more informed about what they’re supposed to be doing: what direction to ride in traffic, that they need to ride signal at stop signs, for turning, making eye contact with drivers. And for drivers to step up and realize, OK, we’re not the only ones on the road here, and for that to be consistently communicated in every possible way — through the media, through drivers license places, through everywhere — to get that message across,” she said.
Where bicycles belong
Advocacy groups such as the Florida Bicycle Association and Naples Pathways Coalition, not to mention the law, say bicyclists should be treated like any other vehicle operator when they are on the road.
Florida law says cyclists must ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” But exceptions to that rule include when a lane is too narrow to share safely with another vehicle or preparing for a left turn, and avoiding hazards often found on the side like nails or potholes.
In his CyclingSavvy classes, Mr. Moser teaches a program geared toward cyclists who want to ride on the roads, whether for business or pleasure, in a car-centric society. It’s one of the best ways to learn to ride safer and be more confident on the road, said Mike Holm, owner of Fort Myers Schwinn. One of the things it teaches is how cyclists can and sometimes should go ahead and command the entire right-hand lane.
“Being a shop owner for 30 years, probably my biggest fear is to hit someone on a bicycle,” Mr. Holm said. “Even with someone doing everything right, it’s still fearsome to try to pass them. Hugging the centerline and worrying about oncoming traffic, it’s unnerving. For a cyclist to actually take control of the lane and be passed like a slow moving vehicle should be passed, it seems to be more comfortable all the way around.”
The scariest part of bicycling to work may be the threat of getting sideswiped by a car. Mr. Holmes at Schwinn, for instance, changed his route to work after being hit on McGregor Boulevard in 2005. He was riding legally in the right lane when a driver’s sideview mirror struck him in the back of the head. A helmet saved his life, although he suffered other injuries, such as a broken collarbone.
“He was probably doing 30 miles per hour when he hit me,” Mr. Holmes said. “My helmet was cracked all the way through.” That hasn’t kept him from riding. “I enjoy riding my bicycle so I’m not going to let something like that push me away.”
Ms. Avola of Naples Pathway Coalition points out than any mode of transportation has its dangers and setbacks. “If people are alert when they’re on their bike, if they wear a helmet, if they scope out the road they think would be safe to go on errands, to work, wherever, if you are a confident rider of your bike and know where you’re supposed to be and you’re very alert, you can do it.”
Tips on bicycling to work
Do some serious route consideration. Keep the sun in mind. If you’re riding east at sunrise, that’s an issue; same thing going home. ¦ Make sure you’re wearing clothing that’s appropriate for the weather and for handling your sweat. Bring a change of clothes. ¦ Give yourself plenty of time, including time to cool down once you get to your workplace. ¦ Sneaking through parking lots is usually more dangerous and less efficient. Using the roads is usually the safest and most efficient way. ¦ A cyclist is safer riding with traffic than facing it. ¦ Lamps must be used on a bicycle after sunset to alert other drivers. ¦ A cyclist traveling more slowly than other traffic should ride to the right, except to pass, to make a left turn, when necessary to avoid hazards, or when a lane is too narrow to share. — Source: Dan Moser and The Florida Bicycle Association.