Small town girl cycling in a city world
I moved to a big city for the summer -- and brought my small-town values with me.
Friday, August 6, 2010 - 12:51
Photo: Audrey Rabalais
Challenge: I will walk, bike or use public transportation for two weeks.
Normally, living in Athens, Ohio, where a bike path runs behind every major store in town and everything else is in walking distance, I would have looked at this challenge, laughed and picked a different one. However, I took an internship at a magazine in Dallas, Texas, this summer. Did you know that Dallas is the ninth largest city in the United States? Suffice to say, it was a big change.
Since April, I don't go anywhere without my road bike. So naturally, it came to Texas with me. I live only three miles from where I work downtown, and it seemed a shame to drive that distance every day when I had a perfectly good bike and slowly evolving cycling safety skills.
My first challenge was to find a route that didn't involve the interstate, a lot of traffic or off-roading. This is where Google Maps came in handy. You can type in a "to" and "from" address, just like you were using a car, but click the icon that looks like a bicycle and you'll have cycling directions! However, I suggest driving the route first, as the cycling directions are still in beta form. I did this and found that I could swap almost a mile of my route that was on a major street for neighborhood streets that paralleled it.
So far, it's been a fantastic experience. The benefits include:
Lower carbon emissions: By not driving a car, especially the stop-and-go driving that characterizes most city dwellers' commutes, I am reducing the pollutants that are put into the atmosphere by car exhaust. I'm also buying less gasoline and conserving fossil fuels.
Exercise: At work, I mostly sit in front of a computer all day. My bicycle commute allows me to exercise during a time I'd have to block out in my day anyway. By doing this, I'm getting (at least!) the 30 minutes of daily exercise recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
A fat wallet: Well, that might be exaggerating a bit. I'm an intern, after all. But I would be spending a lot more on fuel if I used my car to drive to work every day. Living in a big city, I've learned, is expensive. If there's an opportunity to save a penny, you can bet I'm jumping on it.
There are a few things without which I could not commute by bicycle. Safety gear is extremely important. I never get on the saddle without a helmet and gloves. I also took a little time to learn hand signals for use in traffic. Even though many motorists don't know what some of the signals mean, they will at least recognize that you are about to change what you are doing and can be alert. I also do not cycle at night and do my best to avoid harsh weather conditions, though I've been caught in the rain on the way home a time or two.
The take home lesson for me: If I can ride a bike in the ninth largest city in America for a few weeks, then I can ride it at home in Ohio absolutely anywhere. "No excuses," I tell myself. Now, driving a car feels a little bit like cheating.
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