Now that I've changed clothes and dried off, let's talk about commuting by bicycle. Last week, nature threw a big soggy monkey wrench in the cogs of Bike to Work Week. The high winds and thunderstorms probably discouraged a lot of well-intentioned folks who don't normally commute on two wheels, so to those prospective right-side-of-the-road warriors I'd like to propose a rain check: a post-Bike to Work Week Bike to Work Week.
Sure, we all know the long list of reasons to leave the Audi in the garage and dust off the Bianchiócut down on fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions, get in shape, reduce traffic congestion, blow off a little after-work steamóbut I'd like to focus for just a minute on the one factor that, while the least altruistic, is ultimately the most motivating: money. When Thoreau wrote his treatise on living simply in the woods, he didn't kick off with the observations of nature or accounts of growing food. The man knew how to grab his audience's attention; he talked in cold, hard cash. Chapter one of Walden is called "Economy" and it lays out in detail all the expenses of the experiment by the pond. This week, I invite you to consider one column of your budget in a similar regard: gasoline.
In the past year we've seen gas prices spike past four dollars per gallon (before coming back down a bit again, thankfully). But three bucks a gallon isn't much easier. Wouldn't it be so much nicer to cut some of that out of the personal budget?
So how much does the average Chicagoan spend on gas each month? It's different for everyone of course, but I'll posit one scenario, just as a point of comparison. Right now, it costs about $35 to fill up a 12-gallon gas tank. If Joe Commuter fills up his Saturn SL-1 once a week, he's spending $150 each month on fuel alone. Let's say half that petrol is burnt on his seven-mile commute to and from work; the rest is used for grocery shopping, shuttling the kids to soccer practice and taking his pet octopus to the vet. The seven-mile journey takes a reliable 35 minutes by bikeóless time than it takes Joe to fight traffic (especially on Fridays) and find a parking space. If Joe C. made a commitment to regularly bike to work during the snow-free months (roughly April through October) he could save several hundred dollars ó more than a stimulus check's worth. Double that amount if he quits his now unnecessary gym membership. What can Joe do with all this extra dough? Maybe pick up a few more locally-grown items from the farmer's market or organic octopus food that was heretofore outside his budget.
Biking to work every day isn't an option for everyone, but in Chicago we're fortunate to have access to safe, speedy, bike-friendly routes around town, a large community of cyclists and a city-sponsored organization dedicated to promoting bicycle use and safety. The convenience and camaraderie of bike commuting makes it easy for Bike to Work Week to expand into Bike to Work Month and, who knows? Your one-week challenge may just turn into the summer of Bike to Work.
If you're ready to take the commuter's challenge and new to city riding, check out the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation guides, full of helpful tips and tricks to make your bike commute smoother, safer and less sweaty.
Affordable refurbished bikes can be found at shops and co-ops throughout Chicago, including Working Bikes, Nearly New and the Recyclery in Evanston.
It took a move from the regimented lawnscapes of the suburbs to the congestion of a major metropolis for Sharon to look twice at what she puts in the trash, down the sink and into her own body. She reports fortnightly on her endeavors to change "greening" from calculated deviation to a practicable way of life. You can contact her here.