Given the recent discussions about the bikepaths, I wanted to share my story of commuting by bike for the first time this year. Though I live in Providence, my office is not downtown, but in Warwick.
I did it! I set out to bike to work at least once a week during the warmer months, and I did – about 13 miles each way.
My office is located on a commercial-industrial 4-lane street. Though my company is a small team of (mostly) engineers, our location is in close proximity to many truck-intensive companies such as Waste-Management, UPS, Fedex, and Ryder. The primary means of accessing our location is from the highway. In fact, the northern end of our street (Jefferson Blvd) ends at highway ramps. Needless to say, the last mile would be the toughest.
Though there is a relatively direct route along route 1 (Elmwood Ave) from downtown Providence, this road would involve heavy traffic, many traffic lights, and an overall feeling of bad. This approach would also take me down Post Road which becomes the secondary path to the airport. Again, not a place I feel comfortable on two wheels.
Instead, I found a route that takes me primarily through residential neighborhoods and along the coast. Many of these streets even have bike lanes or at least share-the-road signage. Along this route, I found that for the most part I could avoid the busy streets (Elmwood, Post, 117) and simply cross them at traffic lights when necessary. Parts of this ride are truly spectacular. Narragansett Blvd, through Edgewood and Pawtuxet villages are quite beautiful and include views of Narragansett Bay.
Seriously, there is no better way to get to or from work.
On a couple occasions, including my first test rides, I either wasn’t quite up for the return trip or the weather was unfavorable. On these occasions, I was fortunate enough to hop on the bus. Luckily in RI, almost all of our buses are equipped with bike racks able to carry 2 bikes. Another blessing is that there is a bus that follows my bike route pretty closely. I think if something should go wrong en-route, I could always hop on the next bus to or from the office.
There are certainly some challenges beyond pedaling 13 miles. The terrain can be a little unforgiving. By that I mean, potholes, debris, glass, and sand clog even the bike lanes. I can only remember one occasion this season where it was clear the streets had been swept.
I already mentioned the traffic I’m up against on the roads near my office. This is probably one of the scariest places, so for this stretch, I hop on the sidewalk. I’m not usually a sidewalk cyclist, but literally no one walks around here, so I have it to myself. Additionally, crossing the four lanes of traffic is so amazingly difficult that I stick to the intersection with the traffic lights and get right in line with the traffic to make sure I’m well seen. Unfortunately, this means I have to be on the sidewalk and on the wrong side of the road for the last mile.
To make things worse, this sidewalk sucks. This road contains a lot of surface parking and the lots abut the sidewalks, so naturally cars overhang into my travel space, and of course those pulling out of the lots never expect to see a bike coming towards them. The sidewalk is also covered in sand in places, and nearest my office, the curb cuts are not ramped.
Another minor challenge is that my office doesn’t have a shower. I wish it did… then again, I wish my office were downtown, too. To get around the shower thing, I basically make sure I shower really well before I leave. I bring a complete change of clothes to work and also something to towel off with. I get pretty sweaty, but I find if I’m clean, I get out of any damp clothes, and I dry off, I’m fairly unoffensive. Just need to brush out the helmet hair.
I commuted by bike about once a week from April until October. In total: 24 round trips; about 624 miles! And according to my iPhone app Cyclemeter, my last ride, both to and from work, were personal records with the ride in taking 53 minutes and the ride home 52 minutes. This was a great way to finish the season!
Unfortunately, October 26th was my last bike commute. Not so much because of the cold, but because of the dark. Though I have blinky lights, bright clothes, and reflectors, I had a scare on one of the last rides where I was moving along pretty well (around 20mph with traffic) when I went over an unseen rock. I didn’t fall, but my heart certainly skipped a beat.
If the roads were better lit, and I didn’t have to worry about potholes, sand mounds, sticks, and general debris, I’d be happy to bike most of the year. I know some people that continue all year, and maybe some day I will, but I still feel like a rookie, and I’m just not there yet.
It’s still pretty cool to tell people I bike to work in Warwick from Providence. Coasting through the city in the morning as people are just getting out is a great feeling. I also love the views just south of Pawtuxet Village. The leaves in the fall are magnificent, and the summer mornings with the sailboats on their moorings are spectacular. I feel pretty good, too. Some days, I just want to keep riding.
As soon as the winter sand piles are cleaned up on the edge of the roads, I will be back on two wheels this spring. Hopefully this year I can step it up to two or more rides per week, but it’s the after-work schedule that often gets in the way. Not necessarily that I can’t bike to those engagements, but it’s nice to get back before dark, and be able to have a shower when I’m done with my ride.
I’d love to hear from more bike commuters. Does anyone else do a similar route?