Bike Commuting in 2020
Sharie Dodge, TOSC Office Manage
My New Year’s resolution for 2020 was to reduce my carbon footprint. My plan to achieve this: A) Avoid buying new – reduce, reuse, recycle – and B) Bike into work 50 times.
I live in Northeast Colorado Springs and work close to Downtown. It wasn’t until 2019 when the Academy Bridge Project was completed that I considered commuting to work on bike a possibility. This project was a game changer for me, and really all of Northeast COS. I went from having about 5 miles of connected trails to having 40+ miles! I wanted to celebrate this great community improvement and what better way than to regularly use the Homestead, Cottonwood, Pikes Peak Greenway, and Shooks Run Trails, and relish the fact that I have 14 miles of paved trails to get me from my house all the way to work.
Well, the Pandemic changed things a bit. I thought it was going to be easy to bike in about once a week with more rides taking place in summer, but by April our office had shifted to working from home and I was only going into the office about once a week. Another barrier, the trails were at high capacity, especially the Pikes Peak Greenway. So, I started looking for new routes; I tried bridging the gap in the Homestead Trail, used the streets to connect to the Rock Island Trail which leads into Shooks Run Trail. While it was about a mile shorter, the hills were far more intense and there was a lot of street crossing. So, I began looking for the most direct route. By car my commute into work is about 10 miles and takes 25-35 minutes; by bike I found I could get there in 9 miles (one way) in about 35-40 minutes using streets/sidewalks, trails and bike lanes. It took me a while to find the Templeton Gap Trail, I could see it there next to Union, but I was unsure how to access it when heading west on Austin Bluffs. Eventually I figured it out, which was great because it felt a whole lot safer than trying to merge into traffic for a left turn onto Union from Austin Bluff – no sidewalk, no pedestrian signal.
What did I learn commuting via bike in 2020? I discovered several new routes/connections. I experienced the pains of trying to navigate with minimal signage and how to cope with getting lost. I learned to change a flat tire. The importance of communicating my intentions with other users is deeply seared in my brain. I researched the rules of the road and trail etiquette so I had a thorough knowledge of what to expect. I learned that while legally I have the same rights and responsibilities as a car on the road, in practice, I was rarely given the same respect as those with a motor.
At times I felt very discouraged, it seemed there was no good place for me as a cyclist. I startled runners with earbuds that couldn’t hear me announcing I was coming on the trail. The streets seemed to be a particularly unwelcoming and unkind place for me and my bike; I had drivers honk and get way too close when I used the road, pedestrians yelled at me to get off the sidewalk. Luckily, there were also some interactions that gave me hope that maybe the culture is shifting.
Trails are great, and I think most people prefer to use trails rather than streets, but it seems inevitable when commuting that you will have to use a road to get to your destination. Even though I know I should have the right of way in many situations, I also know that if I collide with a car I have everything to lose and the car will be fine; so I yield. I remember the first morning a driver yielded to me. It was a such nice surprise! We made eye contact. He acknowledged my existence by promptly stopping behind the stop sign and waved hello. I can’t describe how uplifting it was to be acknowledged after spending so much time feeling vulnerable and unseen, it was glorious. It boosted my confidence and helped to encourage me to stay committed to my goal. Instead of giving up because it was hard and somewhat unsafe, I decided I wanted to be a part of the solution.
I had several close encounters with vehicles during my travels, it’s an all-too-common story. You may have even seen a stark white ‘ghost bike’ travel around the city, reminding people of cyclists that were killed while riding in our community. We built our city around motor vehicles and our society has been slow to accept other modes of transportation to be as legitimate and worthy of sharing the road/infrastructure. Another issue is inexperienced drivers that don’t know how to interact with bikes or foot traffic on the road because they have never been exposed to it. 2020 was a bike Renaissance, bike sales hit record highs in our city and around the country. With many people working from home, there were less cars on the roads and more people decided to hop on a bike for their dose of outdoor exercise. It will be interesting to see what happens as the virus dissipates and we start to emerge from isolation. Will bikes, cars and pedestrians learn to coexist?
I am proud to say I commuted roughly 1,000 miles on my bike in 2020. While some days I dreaded the long uphill ride home after work, most of the time it was a great healthy outlet. It helped release stress, it was exercise I was committed to doing because I had no alternative and the reward was home; and (most importantly to me) it reduced my fuel consumption and carbon footprint.
It has been fascinating to see different communities respond to the huge shift to accommodate more outdoor recreation during the Pandemic. I watched in awe as some cities transitioned streets to foot paths. Bike share programs like Pike Ride have been popping up all over the US, and there are rumors that E-scooters are coming soon. I hope that one good thing to come from 2020 is an acceptance and desire to have multimodal streets that are safe for all users in Colorado Springs. We are lucky to have some AMAZING resources to help make this a reality! Joan and the Education team at Bike Colorado Springs teaches people how to access and safely use our bicycle network as well as teaching drivers how to interact with bicyclists and bicycle infrastructure throughout the Pikes Peak region. TOSC is proud to be a fiscal sponsor for Bike Colorado Springs, you can make a donation here.