Re-thinking the commute for bike promotion

Happy World Bike Day, USA Bike Month, and (for much of Northern California) Bike Week. Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area and the Monterey Bay region takes place this Thursday.

I love the bike celebrations associated with these events designed to encourage the bike-to-work trip, but is it possible that we focus too much on the work trip to the exclusion of other trips that can be done by bike?


Traffic surveys nationwide and in California show that work trips account for 16% of overall travel. These work trips, however, constitute nearly 30% of vehicle miles traveled, showing that our work trips are generally longer than trips to the drug store or the park.

Zoning that separates uses encourages this. As I’ve discussed previously, Bay Area zoning results in hundreds of thousands of commuters traveling ten miles or more on our regional highways and expressway by design, with significant numbers traveling 30 to 50 miles everyday to their jobs.

In the Bay Area, traveling from your residential zone to your office zone often involves crossing significant barriers such as freeways, rivers and railroad tracks, as well as the largest Pacific estuary in the Western hemisphere. My own commute involves a mountain range with over 2000 feet of elevation gain as I travel from the Pacific tectonic plate across the San Andreas Fault Zone to the North American plate every single day. I won’t even pretend that anyone besides the avid cyclist should attempt this commute.

Glenwood Drive

Joe Spandex can handle a 20 to 30 mile commute, but even ten miles is daunting to Joe and Jane Average. They’ll make the effort for a special event like Bike to Work Day, and we know a few will become regular commuters, but even after 20 years of Bike to Work promotions only have six-tenths of one percent of Santa Clara County residents routinely bike to work.

Some bike advocates dislike the common use of the annual American Community Survey commute as a proxy for the popularity of cycling in America. Like vehicular travel surveys show, our work trips aren’t our most common driving trips, so why should we focus so much on this mode, especially since distances tend to be longer?

Taking the lane on Stevens Creek Blvd

That’s why I’m excited to see events like Bike to Shop Day in Silicon Valley coming up on May 21, now in it’s third year. We have a Coffee Crawl through San Jose this weekend, beginning at 10 A.M. on Saturday, May 15.

Activities like this encourage bikes for shorter, but more typical trips, and still reduces greenhouse gas emissions and road congestion, if that’s your thing, while improving your personal fitness. Even that short trip to the corner store will elevate your heart rate and score you sweet electronic trophies from your activity tracking watch.

Even if you can’t bike to work on Bike to Work Day, load your bike in your car for the lunch time Downtown San Jose Bike Party.

Maybe your friends don’t feel like they can bike to work, but they probably can bike to nearby destinations like the corner store. If you have children and a reasonable route, invite the neighbors to bring their kids on a ride to the nearest ice cream store or a nearby park. Try a bike date to dinner with your honey.

Too much focus on the commute can suck a lot of the fun out of biking. Put the fun back into biking, and organize a fun ride for bike month.

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