TAWN PARENT Commentary: Here’s a cure for the commuting blues

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Interstate logjams. Sitting through three green lights before getting the chance to turn. Those idiots juggling coffee cups and cell phones who cut you off without even realizing it.

There is a lot to hate about the morning commute. On May 19, I found something to love about mine.

The day dawned crisp and bright-perfect weather for my first trip to work on two wheels. It was Bike to Work Day. When I learned that one of the group rides organized by the Indiana Bicycle Coalition was leaving from a bike shop just a few blocks from my Irvington home, my curiosity got the best of my sloth.

I arrived at the shop in jeans and a sweatshirt at 7:30 a.m. I joined about a dozen fellow riders, most of them equipped with shoes that clicked when they walked, special gloves, microfiberish jackets, helmets sporting tiny rear-view mirrors, and lots of straps. My gear consisted of a bike and a helmet.

We set off at 8. I missed the cup of tea I usually sip on my drive in, but then I got caught up in the ride and forgot the caffeine.

The route was almost exactly the one I’ve been driving for years, but at the slower pace of a bike, I noticed different things. I looked at the billboards less and the houses more. I saw architectural details I had long overlooked.

With the wind tingling my face, I felt friendlier than usual. I waved at roofers pounding in shingles and kids waiting for schoolbuses.

We made it to Monument Circle in 24 minutes-shorter than many car-bound commutes. I arrived at work a bit damp, with my hair flipping in all the wrong directions. But I felt alert and ready to take on whatever the day had in store.

Having a more enjoyable commute and arriving at work more refreshed and less stressed are some of the most commonly touted reasons for trading your steering wheel for handlebars. Skyrocketing gas prices highlight another reason: It’s cheaper. Biking to work saves not only on fuel, but also on maintenance and parking. And your workout becomes part of your daily routine.

Cyclists are no longer a rare sight downtown. Participants in Indianapolis’ Bike to Work Day doubled this year to 250. Observers agree that bicycle commuting is on the rise, although hard numbers are tough to come by.

This is a trend employers would be wise to embrace. People who commute by pedal power tend to take fewer sick days and to make less use of health insurance. If enough employees cycle to work, it can even mean the need for fewer parking spaces.

Here’s how employers can make it easier for workers to get out from behind the wheel: Provide a place for bikes. (It doesn’t have to be fancy; a covered bike rack or a basement storage room will do.) Install a shower and lockers, or work out a deal with a nearby gym. Sponsor a friendly competition between departments.

Emboldened by my initial success with “biking the drive,” I tried it again a few days later with my 5-year-old on board. He hopped on the trail-a-bike that attaches to the back of my bike and I shuttled him to school, which is just a few blocks from my office. My son had a ball. The only snafu was on the way home. I tried a narrower street, which brought honks and shouts from unappreciative drivers.

Bike lanes would make bicycle commuting safer and more pleasant. Such lanes are in the works for Michigan and New York streets on the east side. Here’s more good news:

A statewide public-private partnership called Indiana BikePort aims to put “bike ports” in and near where people work. These customized facilities can include bike storage, showers, changing rooms, lockers, repair services and even a place to get a cup of Joe. Employers, check out the options at www.inbikeport.org.

Maps and routes of area commutes are available at www.cibaride.organd www.bicycleindiana.org. The Indiana Bicycle Coalition is even working on something akin to Mapquest that would show the best cycling routes between any two points in the state.

You don’t have to pedal solo. Commuting groups are sprouting up all over. Find out more at www.inbikeport.org.

The National Institute for Fitness and Sport at White River State Park offers a commuter membership that gives cyclists access to NIFS showers and the use of a small locker for $22.50 a month.

All IndyGo standard-route buses now have bike racks, so you can take the bus to the starting point for your commute or ride the bus all the way in (to avoid having to clean up at work) and cycle home at the end of the day.

Bicycle commuting means cleaner air, less congestion and a healthier population. Jimmy Revard, frequent bicycle commuter and co-owner of three local Bike Line shops, commented: “The days when I ride my bike are stress-free days, and the days when I drive are not.”

So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike and ride!

Parent is associate editor of IBJ. Her column appears monthly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to tparent@ibj.com.

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