Beat The Bay Area Traffic By Using Two Wheels – Bikes For The Win!

In the Bay Area, it can be said that we have a little traffic problem.  It’s gotten progressively worse as the Silicon Valley has added jobs at a rapid pace, but the housing has grown even scarcer.  A three-hour commute isn’t unheard of, as people start driving in from outlying communities to reach the tech-rich areas like Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Francisco.  However, the other downside to this mass influx of cars into these once sleepy communities is the effect it’s had on the residents.  Where it was once no issue to run out and grab some milk or bread at the nearest Safeway, it now becomes a half hour traffic nightmare on the neighborhood streets.

This is especially true if you’re going between the hours of 4:30 – 6:30 on a weeknight.  The morning can be worse, traffic-wise, any time between 8am and 10am.  My son’s school is 2.5 miles away, and it’s taken me forty minutes by car just to get to the doors on a bad traffic day.  I know this isn’t unheard of in the Silicon Valley lately, but some intrepid individuals have made transportation and lifestyle changes that are a direct result of the time-suck known as Bay Area traffic.

mopedsIn my house, we’re okay making changes because both my husband and I have motorcycle licenses.  I’m fortunate enough not to commute, so I can get away with using my bike to run errands. My husband owns a motorcycle, and since California is so sunny all the time, he’s been able to ride most days this winter. We both own Mopeds, which may seem archaic, but are the most fun two-wheel contraptions we’ve ever used to zip around on the weekends! This outlook has reached further past our household, and I’ve noticed many like-minded individuals out and about on their bicycles daily.

I decided to ask a couple of them about how they use their bikes for transportation, and how it’s affected their commute.

The takeaway from this is that there are three types of bike commuters.  The first are the people who use a bike sometimes and see it as more of a fun endeavor.  The second are those that use their bikes throughout the week to get to work, and sometimes on the weekend as exercise. The third is the person who’s made an extreme change and ditched their car completely in order to use a bicycle as their primary method of transportation: for money, health, and environmental reasons.

The first group I won’t bother expanding on any further, if you own a bike and sometimes ride it, you’re in this group.  The next group is the bike commuters through and through. I asked one adventurous techie who rides his bike daily, rain or shine, about his experiences.  His name is Mr. Nielsen, and he was kind enough to hop off for a second to answer some questions:

How long have you been commuting by bike?mrnielsen1

Regularly since about 2008. I commuted on and off before then, depending on the location of my work.

How long is your commute?

It’s about 15 miles one direction. It’s a beautiful ride, with separate trails on 80% of the commute. The Bay Area has done a great job providing lots of bike trails that make it a joy to ride to work, free of all the traffic, while riding along rivers and parks. A bonus is that Caltrain passes by the trail in a few locations, so it’s easy to hop on the train if it’s been a long day.

Do you use your bike for running other errands?

When I get to do it, I prefer using the bike. I mounted a porteur rack with a basket attached so that it can handle a large load. If it’s late, it doesn’t matter when it gets dark–a dynamo hub generates electricity when I ride so I can keep the lights on at all times.

Like most coders and tech-savvy denizens of the Bay Area, it’s clear that Mr. Nielsen has this bike-commuting thing down to a science!

The third Bay Area bicycle fan is someone I noticed at my son’s school.  Every day when I drop him off for Kindergarten, she’s there rain or shine, on a modified cargo bike.  She has two young children that ride on the back, and I’ve been constantly amazed at her fortitude and dedication to riding.  I was blown away when I was told that she and her husband decided to get rid of one of their cars and use the bike as a main form of transport. Her name is Mrs. Palmer, and she’s one of the healthiest looking individuals I’ve ever seen.

PalmerCargoBikeHow long have you been using this bike as your main mode of transportation?

Since September. It’s amazing! We got rid of our other car, and now we share one car. If it’s too stormy to ride, my husband will work remotely, and I’ll use the car to bring the kids to school.  It hasn’t been too bad this winter.

How much money has this saved you?

I don’t have exact numbers, but it’s been pretty significant with only one car.

Do you ride your bike to run errands?

Absolutely. During the day, it’s sometimes a necessity.

At this point, another bicycle mom joined us. Kimberly  has a Burley bicycle trailer attached to her bike, and she brings her child to school in it each day, as well.  She doesn’t use her bike every day to run errands, and certainly hasn’t replaced her car with it, but she was quick to point out the advantages of her ride.  The biggest one was not having to jockey for position at drop-off time in a car.  Sidenote: this is the one advantage that I agree with completely. If you’ve ever tried to navigate an elementary school parking lot in the morning, you’ll know this pain well.

While many of us don’t have the time or energy to commit to bike commuting on a regular basis, the benefits of just using your bicycle a few times a week to run an errand or two may surprise you.  Your body will love you for it, and eliminating the stress of trying to find parking at Target in the afternoon will more than make up for the occasional muscle ache and sweaty t-shirt.  One of the advantages to living in the Bay Area and working for any kind of tech firm, is the ability to work remotely when you need to. This can free up some time to simply take your bicycle out for a quick jaunt at lunchtime, which will make you feel better and increase your productivity.  It’s a win-win all around! So ditch that set of keys and grab a helmet, it’s time to ride.


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