Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When the Driving's Done: A Moderate Manifesto

It's Bike To Work Month and I'm one of those guys who gets called now and then to say something on the subject. Today I was one of the people asked to say a few words and answer some questions about bicycling for a brown bag seminar for the City of Issaquah employees. These things are mostly question and answer sessions, but you have to have some kind of introductory remarks. So I went over to City Hall with a nice Trek Allant and a bunch of bike maps and this is what I said.


I'd like to thank Micah for inviting me here to talk about bike commuting. I'm sure he thinks I'm going to talk about bike commuting. All you folks probably came here thinking that I'm going to talk about bike commuting, but I've got to confess, I'm not actually going to talk that much about bike commuting. What I am going to talk about today is how we get where we need to go and ways to do that without getting in a car and driving. I'm going to talk about bad things and good things and walking and biking and taking the bus. I hope you find it worth your time.

I'm going to start today with a quote from one of my favorite authors, the novelist T.C. Boyle. Boyle is describing one of his characters who actually isn't actually stuck in traffic at this moment, she's in her kitchen which is within hearing distance of the freeway:

"A horn sounds out on the freeway, a sudden sharp buzz of irritation and rebuke, and then another answers and another. She pictures the drivers, voluntarily caged, one hand clamped to the wheel, the other to the cell phone. They want. All of them. They want things, space, resources, attention to their immediate needs, but they're getting none of it--or not enough. Never enough. Of course, she's one of them, though her needs are more moderate, or at least she likes to think so."

-- T.C. Boyle, When the Killing's Done

We've all been there, right? Stuck, not where we need to be. Irritated.

One phrase sticks in my head. "Voluntarily caged..." My initial reaction is to object, "no I have to be..." where ever it is I need to be. "Need" as in "I need to be at work on time" or "I need to wear a suit for this presentation and can't be all sweaty" or "I need to drop my kids off at school or pick up the groceries at Costco..." Need. As in I need to drive.

But do we all need to drive, all the time? If we're all on the freeway or on Front Street at the same time, our needs are our undoing. There has to be a better way.

There is a better way. I know it. I live it, right here in this little town. I don't drive, I haven't driven in years. I'm happier and healthier since I don't spend my life voluntarily caged. And later I'll answer whatever questions you have about living car-free in a car-centric world but right now I'm not going to tell you that you don't need to drive to work. I don't know what your situation is. But I am going to suggest one simple thing that will improve your life and the lives of all of us. It'll save you money and improve your health. It'll make the air cleaner and the roads less crowded. It's really simple.

Drive less.

That's it.

Now here are some stats to back up this simple idea.

Most trips Americans make are short: 49% are less than 3 miles, 39% are less than 2 miles, and 24% are less than 1 mile. For trips less than a mile, I'll probably walk. I love biking, I'm a bike guy and I work in a bike shop but if I'm going less than a mile, I walk. I don't find it to be worth the time to strap on my helmet, unlock and lock my bike. Why in the world would I drive that distance?

Now you might be thinking that driving is quicker or you can haul more stuff or it's more comfortable but think about parking. Think about traffic. Think about what you really need to haul from here to there. Sure, maybe you drive some trips. But do you have to drive every trip?

My carfree wife loves to recount the tale of the only time she was late to a church meeting. It was a rainy evening and Christine accepted the offer of a car ride from a well-meaning friend. And, of course, they wound up stuck in traffic on Front Street. On foot, under her umbrella on the damp days, Christine's trips are consistently quicker and less stressful.

Let's talk for a bit about health. 3 hours of biking per week reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%. 50% is a lot. In fact, it's huge. If a drug had that kind of effect, it'd be worth billions.

Now you can get that 3 hours a week in lots of ways, fun ways and useful ways. And that's the thing, biking is fun. Remember when you were a kid, the thrill of going someplace under your own power? That fun is still there.

Maybe you ride on the trail along Lake Sammamish or maybe you ride on some of the quieter streets in your neighborhood. Find someplace you want to ride and ride there. I've got a nice stash of King County Bike Maps here and I'll be happy to give you one. And if you've got questions about biking anywhere around here, ask me.

I sometimes refer to myself as a retired bike commuter because I now live four blocks the Bicycle Center, the shop where I work. It's less than a mile, so I walk to work. In April I joined this thing called the 30 Days of Biking in which I made the pledge to ride my bike everyday. Just a bit, there was no minimum distance requirement. So I just went out and rode. I decided I'd post a picture everyday and blog about it. I wound up exploring this town quite a bit and I rode into Seattle a few times. Many days I only rode for a couple of miles, maybe to the coffee shop or the grocery store. It adds up. In April, I rode 237 miles.

Since I like the coffee at Tully's and the granola bars at Trader Joe's, one of my very common trips is from downtown Issaquah (I live two doors east of City Hall) to the commercial area north of I-90. Since there's the north branch of City Hall up there, I imagine some of you city employees might make this trip often as well. I'm here to tell you, it's a nice trip by bike, thanks to the many fine trails we have in this city. I've seen deer on the trail and eagles soaring on the thermals. I don't feel trapped or caged on the trip, I feel alive.

If you don't feel like walking or biking, we have a good shuttle bus in our town, the Route 200 Freebie. Studies have shown that "people who live in communities with high-quality public transportation drive less, exercise more, live longer, and are generally healthier than residents of communities that lack quality public transit.” And every mile you are not driving is more money in your pocket.

While biking, walking or taking the bus are clearly good for you, you also help make things better for all of us by with every trip you don’t take in your car. Traffic congestion wastes nearly 3 billion gallons of gas per year in the U.S. For every 1 mile pedaled or walked rather than driven, about 1 pound of CO² is saved. Those little steps you take get us all a bit closer to a better place for all of us.

You don’t have to make a big change in your life to make a difference in the world. What I’m suggesting today is a moderate manifesto, a small commitment to drive a bit less and to move around a bit more under your own power. You’ll be healthier, you’ll save money and you won’t be stuck. You’ll be moving toward the better world we’re all building, one step and one pedal stroke at a time.


Ted said...

Brilliant approach Kent - hopefully you persuaded some people to drive LESS!!!

Dan said...

Right on, man. Well thought out speech and some convincing arguments. I'll admit, I am rather lazy and I will usually bike to the grocery store half a mile away from my house. :)

LBJ said...

About a year ago, I got a Montague folding bike and have been able to ride my bike so much more ever since. Instead of driving everywhere now, I keep the bike in my trunk, and if I'm running a lot of errands, I drive to a convenient spot, park, and do everything else on my bike. It's faster and so much more relaxing than getting in the car and looking for a parking spot.

Jim Laudolff said...

I ran into a friend on the commute home the other night. Since we were both on bikes, we chatted, caught up on jobs, family, and riding plans.

That's never happened when I auto commute and if it did, "ran into" would have an entirely different meaning.

fatbob29r said...

Glad you were able to recover the post Kent. You continue to inspire as always. I dedicate my ride tomorrow to you.

FixieDave said...

I like this alot!

training said...

A very well presented post.

Bikejuju said...


Captain Hairdo said...

Great post Kent, you really summed it up. I wish I had a copy to hand out to everyone who asks me why I choose to be car-free, do I think everyone should be car-free, do I hate driving, etc.

Tejvan said...

Interesting post. Often first step is hardest people get used to a certain mode of travelling and its hard to change.

Brawny said...


dcee604 said...

Great post! I also dedicate my commute today to you!