Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bicycling to work can be more than a once a year thing. In some cities in Europe, many people bicycle to work (and lots of other places) most every day. Groningen - a major bicycling city - in the north of the Netherlands has about 50 percent of commuters traveling by bicycle to work (US average is less than 2 percent). But, having a great bicycle route system can make a huge difference in bicycle commuting appeal. Friday was bicycle to work day and all of us were encouraged to ride a bicycle to work. Depending on where you live and work in the Greater Charlottesville area, however, this can be a fun opportunity or a challenge for even the most serious and experienced cyclist.

I received an account of what it would take to do a commute by bicycle from north of the city to the downtown mall in an email from Steven Ashby. One clearly needs a strong will, a strong bicycle, and a strong sense of humor to attempt commutes of this type. I have experienced some of these very same sorts of obstacles in bicycling in Charlottesville and the Ashby commute is perhaps best done in one's imagination rather than on an actual bicycle. Steve Ashby sent this email to our local government leaders as a means of encouraging expansion of our bicycle infrastructure and safe commuting options. But, he also agreed to my posting it here for your enjoyment - and perhaps to encourage you to contact your councilors or supervisors about making bicycle commuting a real option for you and many of our area residents.

Dear Board of Supervisors and City Council:

Thank you so very much for your kind invitation to take my bicycle to work on Monday. Although I am now retired, I thought it might be fun to bicycle to the Downtown Mall.

I loaded my panniers with water and a light repast and started up Tompkins Drive, in Jefferson Village. Whistling merrily and thinking of the vast improvements made since 1999, when I first sat on the Community Mobility Committee, I was shocked to see no pedestrian/bicycle path between Tompkins and Timber Pointe. Instead, I was greeted by a NO TRESPASSING sign. I relaxed when I remembered that I could access Timber Pointe and the other public roads in Forest Lakes, via a tiny path in the woods on the Baker-Butler Elementary School property. I quickly applied insect repellant, remounted, and braved the forest primeval.

Not long after porting the stream at the base of the path, where the roots of a hardy native red maple form a bridge, I came upon a large official Forest Lakes Association sign, which proclaimed NO TRESPASSING so loudly, it completely drowned out the murmur of the pines and hemlocks. I was more than a bit annoyed. I steadied myself and pedaled my lunch and Longfellow's dactyls back up the path, down Tompkins and up Colonial Drive to Proffit Road. I was a bit winded, by then, I admit, but, hey!—it's great exercise, right?

I snugged my helmet and switched on my strobe-light. Then I gave my quadriceps the OK to speed their burden west toward the safety of U.S. 29. The bicycle lane (the soft, gravel shoulder to the right of the white side-line) was a bit rough and often gave way to a ditch filled with water, rocks, and litter. It seemed that quite a few county residents were unaware of your thoughtful invitation, for many of them roared by me in their automobiles—one or two of them shouting friendly, but anatomically impossible, suggestions of where I might wish to place my two-wheeled conveyance. Several unfortunate amputees smiled and waived, showing their remaining middle finger. I kept my two intact hands wrapped in a death-grip around the handlebars.

Tired and tense, I finally reached the light at 29. I smiled, when I remembered Ken Boyd's public forum a number of years ago, where Wendel Wood, Jr., and Steve Runkle described the planned bus stops at the soon-to-be-built Hollymead Town Center. I turned left on the green light, then right at CVS, made my way into the Center's burgeoning parking lots, and began looking for a bus stop. I knew that all CTS buses have easy-to-use bike racks and was looking forward to a restful ride to Fashion Square Mall, where I planned to continue under my own power. I looked and looked. No bus stop signs anywhere! I interrupted a Target employee, who looked up from his long line of shopping carts, and said, "I don't think I've ever seen a bus out here. You could probably get a cab at the airport." Disappointed, I reached into my left pannier for water. Along with my bottle, out came my long-forgotten CTS schedule, with its inviting, smiling-sun logo. A glance and a sip and I was off to the nearest stop: WalMart, just 3 miles south. This'll be a piece of cake, I thought, taking pride in my trite metaphor.

The cake proved stale. The bicycle lane, though wider than the one on Proffit Road, was nearly as soft, with grass nearly two-feet high, and much broken glass. In a few places, it narrowed to the point that I was forced into 55mph traffic. Horns blared and flat-bed trucks and big-rigs slowed and crept by within an inch or two of my left elbow. I gave a joyful "yah-hoo" when the road finally widened again on the downhill to the South Fork Rivanna bridge. As I turned into WalMart, I saw the 5-bus pulling away. It would be at least an hour before the next bus. Somewhere out of my Methodist childhood came an oy gevalt!

Thank goodness for the cool weather! I ascended the steep incline—well in excess of the new county driveway ordinance—and turned onto East Rio Road. I was going to have to hurry to meet my fellow cycle-commuters at the Mudhouse. Again I smiled, when I remembered Sally Thomas speaking proudly of the wonderful bike lanes, planned for the Meadow Creek Parkway. I found myself singing the old Al Jolson hit, "(Across the Breakfast Table) Looking at You," rhythmically cranking my way towards Rio Station. Soon I'd be sipping coffee and eating my brown-bag breakfast with my chums.

Passing CATEC and approaching the bridge at Rio, I anticipated taking the ramp to the southbound lane of the Parkway. It wasn't there! Then I heard Rod Serling's voice: "Consider one Stephen Ashby, a typical Albemarle County citizen and his bicycle—about to take an exit into [pause] The Twilight Zone...."

I recalled Peter Kleeman's suggestion that the Parkway be declared an off-road vehicle right-of-way. My Mongoose has hybrid tires, so I girded up my loins and headed down to where the Washington City, Central Virginia & Great Southern Railroad once ran. Although there were a few times I wished I had my machete, I made it to McIntire Road and eventually to the Mudhouse.

After breakfast, I begged a ride home from a friend with a station wagon. For my next bicycle adventure, I plan to drop by Ken's & Brenda's for lunch in the lovely Key West subdivision.

Anyhow, thanks, again, for inviting me to join in the "fun" of bicycle commuting in our well-planned community.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Ashby


Jeff Stevenson said...

Hi. Please join the Bicycle to Work! LinkedIn networking group. Members pledge that they will try to ride their bicycle to work or on an errand at least once a week. Although the benefits should be obvious, let me outline them here.

Right now people in the industrialized world are facing two very grave problems: obesity and a growing scarcity of oil. Compounding this problem is the new food shortage brought about, in part, by the conversion of food cropland to bio-fuel crop production. Most people feel powerless to help, but there is one thing that we can do. Ride our bicycles to work.

If everyone would agree to ride their bikes to work one day per week we could cut oil consumption by as much as 10-15%. No one would argue that riding a bike burns more calories than driving the car. Although popular politically right now, most bio-fuels consume more energy than they produce. We would be much better to eat those bio-crops then use our own energy to transport us around.

So spread the word. Make it a movement! Bicycle to work one day a week and do your part to cut back obesity and the overuse of oil and precious cropland.

Just go to my profile at and you can click on the group to be included. While you are there, don't forget to ask to link to my network of more than 9,000,000 like-minded professionals. I accept all invitations and look forward to meeting you.


Ukulele Katie said...

Steve Ashby's account of cycling from county to city is very funny, and very sad. I particularly appreciated his ironic references to bike lanes--otherwise known as road shoulder (if any).

In the Bay Area of California, where I lived a couple decades ago, rural roads typically had actual bike lanes, in the form of pavement approximately 1 yard wide, outside of the white edge line--far better than nothing.

I'm convinced that bicycling in our county is a very dangerous activity and am glad that Steve made his journey safely!