It’s been ten years since that Friday in June 2008 when I first rode my bike to work. I had always been intrigued but too intimidated to actually ride on the streets with cars. A generally active person, I finally decided to give it a shot one year on the Friday of Bike to Work Week (now called the Bike Commuter Challenge) knowing there would be a lot of encouragement and technical support along main routes to downtown. I plotted the five-mile trip from my house in Lakeview in advance and rode south along Broadway to Clark. At the corner of Clark and Wells a throng of cheering Active Transportation Alliance staff encouraged folks to stop for high–fives, free Clif bars, sports drinks and even a bike light. It’s true: Everyone loves free stuff.
Biking was not at all the death-defying game of dodge with cars I had feared. Normal people could do this.
After the encouraging midpoint break, I continued riding in the striped bike lane on Wells. The day before my first ride, a Biking Ambassador emphatically instructed me to ride to the left side of the bike lane so as not to be “doored” by a car—and I dutifully followed that advice. After reaching the Loop and making a few turns, I pulled up at Daley Plaza, feeling truly surprised and grateful that biking to work was more peaceful than I expected. With pride I grabbed the bagel, banana and t-shirt I had earned, and listened to city officials cheering on a large crowd of riders. Then I continued to my office in the Loop, just a few blocks away. It was a revelation that the ride did not leave me frazzled. Biking was not at all the death-defying game of dodge with cars I had feared. Normal people could do this.
I liked it so much I did it again. I bought a used bicycle which I used to commute by bike more regularly that first and second year. Then I invested in a serious commuter bike—with delivery specially arranged by my Dutch husband. You might have heard that the Dutch are crazy about cycling—more on that another time. At first I rode mostly in the warm summer months, and since then have extended my riding from earlier in the spring to later in the fall, as I acquired more and more bike swag (panniers, detachable lights, flashing pedals). Now riding to work is part of my life for at least half the year.
I value the ability to notice the small things while I ride through neighborhoods—like new stores, public art and different flowers blooming each season.
A year and a half into my job as the Director of Transportation at the Metropolitan Planning Council, I have found MPC to be my most bike supportive employer yet. We have a locked bike room in our building and are located adjacent the Dearborn protected bike lane. As part of the amenities to acquire a LEED sustainable building certification, our office suite boasts a dedicated shower and changing room for bike commuters. And the piece de resistance is a free Divvy membership, available to all employees! But none of that was in place the day of my first ride and it was just fine.
While it’s true that I am a transportation professional and like to walk the talk—what’s the bike equivalent of that phrase?—I truly enjoy riding to work. One of the incentives ten years ago was that this would be a way to incorporate exercise into my commute, a huge bonus for a full-time working mom who likes to multitask. Riding also ensures I get an hour of outdoor time each day. I value the ability to notice the small things while I ride through neighborhoods—like new stores, public art and different flowers blooming each season. And it’s completely charming to have friendly chats with fellow riders at stop lights in a big city like Chicago. The cycling community is friendly and increasingly diverse. Compared to 10 years ago, with the advent of Divvy and all the new protected bike lanes, it’s common to see people of all ages riding, wearing business clothes, exercise clothes or anything in between.
The days I ride to work, I have noticed I am more likely to put my standing desk up and work upright in the morning—riding to work is very energizing. And I love getting home and knowing that I already have put in an hour of exercise so I can just relax with my family. Not to mention that riding is free and one of the best environmental choices out there. What’s not to like?
It’s that time of year again: Next Friday, June 15, the two–week Bike Commuter Challenge goes into gear. Will this be your year?