Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May is Bike Month, why not give pedaling a try?

By guest blogger Ann Briggs

Bicyclists enjoying a ride on one of Washington’s
many bike paths
Is your bicycle sitting in a corner of the garage gathering dust? Have you considered skipping the traffic jams and pedaling to your destination instead? What would it take for you to give up your four wheels for just one day and give two wheeling a try?

Governor Inslee has proclaimed May as Bike Month in Washington and May 13 to 17 is National “Bike to Work Week,” culminating in “Bike to Work Day” on Friday, May 17. So here’s an open challenge to you:  Pump up the tires, check the chain, dig out your helmet and safety gear, plan your route and give those wheels a spin!

A bicyclist and vanpooler
“Why?” you ask. How about, you’ll get some great exercise and can skip the gym tonight. Or, you won’t have to pay for gas and parking today. And, you’ll be doing something good for your community by not burning fuel and taking one more car off the road.

Trying something new can be scary at first, so we asked some of our regular bicycle commuters for advice on getting started and to share their experience. Here are their tips and stories:

Mike, a Web applications developer, has been a bicycle commuter for 16 years. He rides six miles to work nearly every day during the summer and travels by bike about half of the year overall. His tip: “Research your route. Find routes with good lighting and fewer vehicles and look for trails or shortcuts that are inaccessible by car. Exploring is half the fun.” Mike also recommends that you find a bicycle that fits and is comfortable to ride. “It’s much easier to stay consistent and enjoy the commute on a bicycle that fits you properly.” On Mike’s essential equipment list are helmet, patch kit, bicycle pump and side-view mirror, which he notes is especially useful on narrow roads with little or no shoulder to ride on.

Jenna, a construction analyst, has a goal to commute the 11 miles to work, twice a week, from May through October. She advises, “Keep it fun when you’re starting out. You don’t have to bike to work every day, just do it when you feel the urge.” On her essentials list are waterproof shoes, fenders and rain suit, along with a watertight container for rainy weather. “Everything that isn’t covered in a waterproof container will be wet – your change of clothes, wallet and other personal items that are along for the ride.” Trust her on this one – she speaks from experience.

Bicyclist utilizing Sound Transit
A relatively new bicycle commuter and tribal liaison, Megan, grew up in Bothell along the Burke Gilman trail. “I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, but starting up made me feel like a kid again!” She bikes the two miles to work two to three times a week between spring and fall. Her advice is to pack up your things the night before so that in the morning you can get on your bike and go. She also leaves an extra pair of shoes at work so she doesn’t have to haul them back and forth. Making sure there are no surprises is important to her. “Try out your route on a weekend, when there’s no pressure to get to or from work. That way, you’ll know what to expect and you can make adjustments as needed.”

Anna, a transportation planning specialist, started commuting the five miles to work for the exercise and to use her birthday gift – a “beautiful bicycle.” She explained, “I really love how stimulating it is – the physical movement, the smells, the feeling of a misty morning, the quietness when you’re riding on a path at 7 in the morning – and I love the feeling of accomplishment when I arrive at work under my own power!”  On her essentials list are a U-shaped bike lock (her cable lock was cut and her original bike stolen); strong, bright bike lights; biking gloves and a waterproof biking jacket. Her advice: “Ride as if you are invisible and obey all the rules of the road. Don’t assume drivers see you until you see them respond to your presence – make eye contact.”

Long-time cyclist, Streator, an administrative risk manager, has been pedaling to work for about 14 years. For him, bicycling the 2.5 miles to work is an everyday occurrence. “It just seems to be the right thing to do – for my health, for my pocketbook, for the environment.” His advice: “Just do it!”

So give bicycling to work a try. Let us know how it worked for you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What we know now...and didn’t know then – an evolution of environmental awareness

 By guest blogger Ann Briggs

Kelsey Creek, I-405 wetland, 2008
Recent talk about budgets and the effect environmental regulations have on transportation costs have people asking why we spend money on environmental studies, wetlands and things of that sort.

It has me thinking about my own views on the environment and how they have evolved. As a child of the 60s, I remember riding in my parents' car, tossing candy wrappers out the window (sigh!) and my dad dumping the car ashtray on the ground, scattering butts everywhere. We just didn’t give much thought back then about where this stuff ends up…as if it would simply disappear into the wind. We certainly know better now.

Thanks to better science and practices, an environmental awareness and evolution has taken place over the years in the world of transportation too. Much of what we do today to protect the environment and mitigate for the impacts of highway construction is based on lessons learned and a greater understanding of the effects the transportation system has on our surroundings. A significant amount of money is spent fixing the problems that were created in decades past.
Gold Creek side channel I-90, 2009

Environmental missteps, like those tossed candy wrappers, can pile up if we keep repeating them. We used to build roadways with drainage systems that funneled highway runoff directly into lakes and streams. Wetlands were soggy ponds that got in the way of progress, so we drained them. We built culverts to let the water through, but didn’t think about how fish would manage. We built highways in places that made good engineering sense, but not necessarily good community sense.

We now build highways with stormwater management systems to filter out oil and fluids from drippy cars before it enters our streams. We know now that wetlands are critical for reducing flooding, recharging groundwater supplies and providing habitat. Between 1988 and now, we’ve built and monitored 194 wetlands covering 942 acres. Since 1991, we’ve been replacing culverts that block fish and have restored fish passage to more than 900 miles of habitat. We conduct environmental studies to determine how our work will affect communities, cultures, habitats, air, water and noise, and find ways to avoid or mitigate for those impacts. And, we work hard to report the results of those studies in easy-to-read-and-understand formats.

SR 167 Panther Creek fish passage
culvert installation, 2012
While it’s true that none of this work comes cheap, we have to ask ourselves, “Can we really afford the ultimate price of not doing it?” I think not. We’ve made good strides in environmental stewardship, but we’re far from done and we’ll continue to work to create a transportation system that is compatible with communities and nature. We all have a responsibility to future generations to take care of the things that make the Pacific Northwest such a rich and vibrant place to live. It’s the right thing to do.

As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, think about what you know now that you didn’t know then. What changes have you made as a result of your own environmental evolution?