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February 22nd, 2012 MICHAEL LOPEZ | Culture Features
 

How To: Choose Your Best Route To Work

So much depends on avoiding as many stop signs as possible.

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It may seem overwhelming at first, but the decision to commute to work by bike isn’t one you’ll regret. Maybe you’ve thought about it but haven’t figured out exactly how it’d work. Well, start scouting your route and you’ll see just how easy this biking-to-work thing is. Here is what seasoned bike commuters had to say on the subject.


1. Get an overview of where you need to go.

Yeah, Google Maps is great, but it’s no substitute for local maps like the “Portland By Bicycle” map from the city’s transportation bureau. “It folds up small and you can get it free at a lot of places around town,” says Stephanie Renfro, a statistician at a local health-care nonprofit who commutes from Southeast Portland to her job downtown. Also, she says, keep your eyes peeled: “Take note of what streets experienced bikers seem to be using.”

If you’re crossing the river, choosing the right bridge is key. Depending on the time of day, certain bridges may be more crowded with bikers than others. Stephanie’s husband, Jeff, a grad student at Portland State University, fears the popular Hawthorne Bridge at certain times of the day. “I’m happy that so many people are riding, but the bike traffic jams that happen on the Hawthorne remind me of the car traffic jams I ride my bike to avoid,” he says. Instead, if you’re also going north or south at some point, look at your options for the Steel and Broadway bridges. Also remember that you don’t need to take the same bridge every time you cross the river.


2. Figure out how much traffic you can handle.

Biking down streets with fast cars is scary—at first. Just ask Aaron Beatty, who works at Sellwood’s Bike Commuter shop. Beatty has relied on his bike as his main mode of transportation for six years. At first, he was more timid.

“There would be times where I would dip into a neighborhood where there was lower traffic and wider shoulders,” he says.

Not anymore. “I will use bike boulevards or bike lanes if it falls in my route,” he says. “If it doesn’t, I’m very comfortable riding with traffic.”

Stick with more bike-friendly streets to start, even if that means adding a few miles to your commute. And go the same direction as cars, along with other bikes.


3. Don’t ignore public transit.

The object of commuting by bike is to avoid driving, but that doesn’t necessarily require biking the entire distance. There are factors during your commute—rain, steep hills, rider laziness—that can turn an enjoyable ride into a chore. Next thing you know, you’re at the Suburu dealership. Don’t let it get that far. There’s no shame in hopping on a bus or train

Dr. Randall Bluffstone, a PSU professor, has commuted by bike since 1989—longevity he attributes partly to his willingness to take the MAX when he just doesn’t feel like biking.

“If I’m lazy and don’t want to climb up the hill to PSU, I’ll just put my bike on the nearby MAX line and let it haul me and my bike up the hill to PSU,” he says. Planning a route that incorporates the use of the bus or MAX is a great way to keep motivated when bad weather or fatigue creeps up.


4. Don’t view cycling as a sacrifice.

Rather than thinking of a bike commute as a social responsibility, the cycle commuters we talked to said it’s good for their bodies, wallets and psyche.

Changing up his route, especially in nice weather, motivates Bluffstone: “There’s enough options that if sometimes if the weather’s really nice and you just want to ride along the river, you can.”

Says Renfro: “Every year or so when I replace my tires or pay for a tune-up, I gripe at the expense until I remember that’s what a typical person spends on gas every two or three weeks.”

“I don’t feel like I’m making a sacrifice when I commute by bike,” says her husband, Jeff. “I feel like it is just the better way to do it.”  

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