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VIA Bikes to Work

May 29, 2012
VIA Bikes to Work

by Katherine Idziorek, Urban Planner,VIA Architecture
Photo credit: Cyclists on Dexter Avenue, Flickr user Oran Viriyincy

As we near the end of the Bike-to-Work Month Challenge, it seems like an appropriate time to share some of the experiences of VIA Seattle’s team, the BIA-king VIA-kings (that’s right – choosing the team name is half the fun).

This is the first time that I have worked in an office that has formed a team to participate in this event, which is organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club and sponsored by Group Health (among others).  As a relatively recent road bike convert and a new addition to VIA, I was excited to join the team.

Bike-to-Work Month is an event meant to inspire. It presents a challenge and gives us a reason to ride. It’s an opportunity to learn new skills while building cycling confidence and promoting awareness of the potential for Seattle streets to accommodate multiple modes of transportation.

Cascade works hard to make the month of cycling as accessible as possible by providing supportive services and activities such as commuter classes, route recommendations, bike-to-work breakfasts, and online safety and equipment tips. Each individual or team participating in the challenge is able to log in to an online account and record the number of trips made and distance traveled.  A calculator displays individual and team statistics as well as the health and environmental benefits of cycling in the form of calories burned and CO2 offset.

I have long wanted to attempt commuting to work by bike, but I was never really able to motivate myself enough to give it a try.  I have plenty of alternatives – it’s easy for me to walk to work, and I live on an express bus line. I thought that biking through downtown would be unsafe and scary, and that the long climb home (I live close to the top of Queen Anne Hill) would be torturous.  But I felt a bit safer trying out the bike commute during Bike-to-Work Month because I knew that other cyclists would be out there – both seasoned riders from whom I could learn more about commuting etiquette as well as newbies like myself who were giving it a try for the first time. As for the hill…it would be extra exercise, and good for me.  I promised myself that I would commute by bike every day this month, rain or shine.

The team aspect of the challenge made it more fun.  Having my VIA workplace team for support and inspiration definitely provided needed encouragement.  Our fearless team captain, Steve McDonald, kept us organized and motivated.  We even took on a challenge from the WSDOT SR520 team, “We Wheel West.”  We’re a bit behind at this point, but we are sure making a valiant VIA-king effort.

VIA works on a daily basis to design and build healthier, more accessible and livable cities and to support multiple modes of transportation. The Bike-to-Work Month challenge gave the team an opportunity to promote our office values through our actions and transportation choices. By participating in this event, we are hopefully working toward building awareness and acceptance of bicycle commuters, contributing to a safer culture for cyclists, and garnering support for improved bicycle amenities and infrastructure in our city.

Bridge Cyclist, credit Flickr user ebis50

According to Cascade, thousands of people started biking for the first time during Bike Month last year. This year, on May 18 (Bike-to-Work Day) alone, more than 16,000 people participated in the event. In July, Seattle will be getting the nation’s first bike counterso that the city’s cycling data can be recorded and shared year-round.

As of this posting, the BIA-king VIA-kings have logged 320 miles.  Collectively, we have made 73 trips, burned 15,800 calories and offset 315 lbs. of CO2 emissions that would have been generated choosing to commute by car instead.  We have added more riders to our team every week, and even the most seasoned of riders among us had something to gain from the experience.

Here are some of the BIA-king VIA-kings’ observations, accomplishments, and lessons learned:

Catherine biked to work for the first time since she was a teenager and found it to be a more fun and interesting way to exercise – and that commuting by bicycle has an unexpected “cool” factor.  On Bike-to-Work day, she rode the entire 17.5 miles to work via the Kingston-Edmonds ferry!

Matt found that Seattle’s hills and rain and often make cycling tough, but misgivings about getting soaking wet on the way to and from work can be somewhat assuaged by amenities like bike storage lockers, clothes-drying racks, changing rooms and showers.

Our team captain,Steve, has biked to work for nearly 16 years, and although he has seen cycling gain recognition as a means of commuting in Seattle during that time, he still feels a bit naked without his helmet on. He notes that although the situation is improving, a lack of infrastructure and good behavior on the part of both cyclists and drivers still keeps us from being safe.

Kristin racedher kids to school by bicycle and won!  Very impressive.

Dan rides every day all year, so this month was no different for him except that this month, there were more cyclists in his way and he occasionally lost his spot on the bike rack.

For me, the best part of Bike-to-Work Month was having a reason to explore new routes and to learn the city better – I love riding through Seattle Center every day and along 5th Avenue under the monorail.  I learned three different but correct ways to make a left-hand turn in traffic (thanks to Cascade’s helpful how-to guide). I gained commuting confidence.

Having transportation options is great. It’s key to creating a livable, viable urban environment. Commuting by bike was always an option for me, but it was one that I had left unexplored for various reasons.  After taking part in the team challenge this month, I now know that it’s by far the fastest way for me to get to work, that it feels good to get the extra exercise, and that it’s not as scary (but just as steep) as I thought it would be. Will I keep cycling after the month is over? I’m honestly not sure yet. But now I don’t really have an excuse not to – because now I know that I can do it.