On Commuting... By Bike, Bus, and Car

When I was in Grad School, I road my bike because it was the easiest thing to park on campus, it was environmentally friendly, and the quickest way to get around town. Now that I live in the suburbs, 10 miles from where I work, a few things have changed... but driving to work isn't one of them. Here's why:

Who has time to drive?

I love to "double-dip" on my time.  When I bike into work (a 35 minute ride one way), not only am I commuting, but I'm also getting my workout in for the day. When I ride the bus, I normally open my laptop, turn on the WiFi hotspot on my phone ,and have one of the most productive 30-minute chunks of time I'll see all day. When I drive (normally in rush-hour traffic), the best I can do with my time is listening to a thought-stimulating podcast or audiobook... but I generally see the 25 minutes it takes to work as a time-sink. I also hope you notice that the time-difference is small between cycling, busing, and driving.

Driving makes me a monster

When I'm in the zone on the bus, or constantly moving in the bike lane, small changes in my commute time (like traffic or a headwind) don't phase me. But when I'm driving, and a traffic light is backed up because people are too busy texting to realize the light has turned green, I feel my blood pressure rise and my thoughts towards others become decidedly non-holy. I become an aggressive driver: "Come-on Moron, get out of my way" only to get to work 3 minutes faster. Really, I could rant about how angry driving makes me: but I think it's probably good to focus on the inverse: Cycling makes me happyIt allows me to collect my thoughts, lower my blood-pressure, and enjoy the scenery. I think this video sums it up best:

Driving is Expensive

According to a 2011 study, the average american commuter spends over $800 per year on commuting costs. A more recent 2015 study found that commuters in urban areas can spend an average of $2,600 per year.  I'm prone to lean towards the higher number.  If you look at gas costs alone, you can get a ballpark estimate:

 \frac{\$3}{Gallon} \frac{Gallon}{25 Miles} \frac{20 Miles}{Day} \frac{30 Days}{Month} = \frac{\$72}{Month}

In addition to that, a parking pass in the city where I work costs $60/Month, and then you have to tag vehicle maintenance on top of that. That brings my annual estimated driving cost to $1500/year!!

Cycling isn't free, especially if you encounter the eventual stolen bike... but the startup and maintenance costs are super small compared to driving a car.  I'm fortunate to work for a corporation that provides bus passes to it's employees, so that's free for me as well.  If you live in a city with a bike share, the costs of cycling could be even lower than you think!

But what about...

Saftey? On average, cycling deaths constitute 2% of all traffic fatalities annually. Now of course, there are more car drivers than bike riders out there, and so it'd be wise to normalize this by how many bike commuters there are. Across the US, 0.61% of the population commutes by bike, so it'd be easy to conclude that cycling is 4x more dangerous than driving...

With enough training in statistics, you'll come to realize there's  always more than one way to look at the numbers. in 1998 a study found that there were 0.26 fatalities per million hours of exposure for cycling compared to 0.47 fatalities per million hours of exposure to driving passenger cars. This might suggest that cycling is twice as safe as driving.

In the same dataset I mentioned above, 24% of cyclists killed in traffic accidents had BACs of 0.08 or higher. In addition, 30% of fatalities occur between 8pm and 4am. My conclusion is that smart, sober, defensive cycling during daytime hours or with proper lighting can make cycling as safe as driving a car.

My kids? I don't have children yet, and so I can't speak to this. I had a hero I'd see around Boulder: He had a tandem bike, with a pull-along bike attached to it, with a burly trailer attached to that. He'd ride his 3 kids to school on that awesome bike train every day.  Kids can ride bikes too, and I'd like to ride my kids to school someday. It seems like great family time and  a good way to encourage healthy values to your children.

I'll get sweaty! This might be true, especially at first. I bring a change of clothes into work with me and some deodorant. I was also able to find a shower at my office building after staring at the fire maps for 15 minutes.