A recent study by the League of American Bicyclists shows bike commuting increased by an encouraging 80 percent in "bicycle-friendly [U.S] communities" from 2000 to 2011. The same study points out commuting by bike grew 47 percent nationwide during the same 11-year period. These are promising stats for advocates of alternative transportation—especially for those in "bike-friendly communities," the areas that experienced the greatest gains.
Emily Haggans, who moved to Bend from Missouri two years ago, considers Bend to be one of those bike-friendly communities and she's doing her part to pad Central Oregon's bike-commuting stats. Five days a week Haggans rides "Old Yella," her dated, yellow town bike complete with rear basket, fenders and pedal-powered lights, to Pine Mountain Sports, where she works. Although the ride takes her less than 10 minutes, the 32-year-old westside resident says it's one of the highlights of her day.
"I work inside," Haggans explains. "So just the little five-minute trip to here, with the wind...it just makes a little difference for my frame of mind. I feel happier, more balanced."
Haggans is not alone. According to a study by the nonprofit Bikes Belong, 95 percent of bike commuters say they ride for health and fitness. For comparison, 82 percent bike commute for environmental reasons and 52 percent do so to avoid congestion—all logical reasons for turning to one of the most efficient machines the world has ever seen.
Haggans says her reasons for choosing pedaling over driving extend to those listed above. Parking a car downtown can be a pain, she notes, and many Bend residents can get downtown and lock up their bikes faster than others can drive, park and then walk to their final destinations. There also are economic advantages, says Haggans.
"It's cheaper than driving and having to pay for gas," she points out. Considering a gallon of gas costs nearly $4 and a cheap two-wheeled commuter can be bought off Craigslist for less than $100, bike commuting starts to sound even better.
While some may scrunch their noses at Haggans' enthusiasm for Bend's bike lanes, which she says are great, it is worth noting where she came from and how Bend fits in with the rest of the nation in terms bike-friendliness. There were zero bike lanes in Haggans' hometown of Nevada, Missouri. Later, when she moved to Springfield, Missouri (a city twice the size of Bend), she found bike lanes, but only a few miles of them—and they often end without warning. Bend's bike lanes and bike-friendly drivers are among the reasons Haggans moved to Bend.
While far from matching Portland, the cycling-friendly city that boasts more bike commuters per capita than any other U.S. city, Bend is starting to take bike-lane infrastructure seriously. City officials, along with Commute Options, have pledged to increase intra-city bike lane connectivity, connecting north to south and east to west. The recently approved Riverside/Franklin bike lane project should be completed by this fall and will provide a platform for other projects, like the congested Galveston corridor, an area which already has been targeted for improvements.
Haggans, a model bike commuter, says promoting bike commuting is easy—pedal often and be respectful of all road users. Haggans obeys traffic laws, uses front and rear lights after dusk, and makes eye contact with other drivers.
"Be nice and respectful to the people driving on the roads. It's a pet peeve when people cut in front of cars—that's when it gets them upset at us," she says, before adding, "I'm always big on the courtesy wave." SW