Give yourself permission to save money and your life by trying a different way to commute to work. I’m a Los Angeles native and have spent decades driving alone to work. I was able to carpool with a good friend for a few years then tried vanpooling for about 18 months. Those were all good alternatives for me but it did take an adjustment to my commuting mindset. I was so used to making side trips on my commute home.
Then I accepted a one-year contract where the work location was only six miles from my home. My work as an IT Project Manager could be high stress. I knew that commuting to work by bike would help me both focus before and unwind after work. Those morning rides lowered my blood-pressure. I spent my commuting time mediating on different things: life, solving a work problem or just enjoying the feel of my body moving. I even spent some commutes thinking about nothing!
My Kaiser primary care physician was always reminding me that I needed to exercise a minimum of five times a week. Since six miles was a reasonable easy commute for me, it made more sense to ride to work than to drive to work and then drive to the gym for cardio exercise. Since I went to the gym for cardio workouts, I decided to put my membership on hold while I was riding to work. That saved me $20 a month! I saved even more on gas money since I wasn’t driving to work every day and was not driving to the gym at all.
One of the surprising benefits was I had more time with my husband on the weekends. Before I started riding to work, I spent my Saturdays mornings to early afternoons getting in a long bike ride. Now that ride was spread over two to three days.
I backed into the plan carefully
My first task was figuring out where I could shower/clean up when I arrived at work because I am a sweaty mess after my ususal ride. I met my first roadblock: even though there was a gym on campus, I was not allowed to use it because I was a contractor. Bummer but that didn’t stop me. I decided I would just freshen up in the women’s bathroom. I brought a collapsible bucket, a wash cloth and Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap. I half-filled the bucket with hot water, added a few drop of soap and hung the bucket in the handicapped stall. I stripped and wiped myself down with the washcloth after dipping it in the soapy water and wringing it out. I also decided I would carry my work clothes to work instead of bringing them to work the day before.
(Note: At that point in my bicycling life I was riding a road bike and felt compelled to ride as fast as I could everywhere I rode. If I had it to do over now I would have taken a slower more leasurly pace, skipped the sweating, wore my regular work attire and would have skipped the clean-up. It was only six miles but back then I was always in a rush.)
Second task was where I could secure my bike. This very large campus had no bike racks near the building where I was working. In fact there were no bikes racks in any of the surrounding buildings. Not a good sign. I asked and received permission from security to bring my bike into the building. I also invested in a good lock just in case I got any push back and would have to lock up my bike outside.
Third task was driving the route. I know that the route I used to drive to work would not necessarily be the route I used to ride to work. I researched different routes using my Metro Los Angeles bike map. I drove my car the various routes I could ride during the exact times I would be riding. My goal was to see the traffic patterns.
I stayed away from very busy streets when riding especially during a commute. Most commuters are focused on getting to work or getting home and can get very cranky when anything slows their travel. I settled on two possible routes.
The fourth task was testing the routes on my bike. I tested out my routes by riding them on my bike on a Saturday morning the exact time I would ride them during my commute (no sleeping in that morning!). I could get a good feel for how much time it would take me and discover any challenges along the route that I could not observe while driving the route. This was also a great time to check out nearby bus stops because on a day when I didn’t feel like riding home, I knew where I could catch a bus and load my bike on the bus rack. I also used the combined bike/bus route on the Metro planner to find the appropriate bus routes. The Metro planner covers several bus lines, not just Los Angeles Metro buses: http://www.metro.net/
The final task was to actually ride to work. Since I had planned my commute, the ride to and from work was uneventful. My fellow commuters even got used to seeing me riding and often waved. I rode to work two to three days a week during the contract. I felt empowered commuting to work on my bike and have given myself permission to try other adventures by bike which I look forward to sharing with you in future articles.