By Kylie Blanchard
Whether biking for exercise, leisure or transportation, pedaling down the pavement can provide a variety of benefits. According to those who commute by bike, riding regularly provides a means to get outdoors, get some exercise, and make a positive impact on the environment and even the pocketbook.
Commuting in the Community
Katie Knoll’s love of biking began nearly a decade ago when she entered a few races for fun. This eventually led to her racing and training competitively and commuting by bike on a regular basis. “Commuting really takes the stress out of going places,” she says. “It has also saved me a lot of money on gas.”
“For four years, I consistently used my bike to commute around the community, and, for a few summers, I never drove unless I was getting groceries,” she continues.
Her commuting season lasted as long as North Dakota’s weather would permit, she says. “I think I made it through November one year, but my typical commuting year was March through October.”
For the last year-and-a-half, Knoll has taken some time off of commuting, but with good reason; she now has an infant son. She says she does have plans to resume training and racing this summer, and commuting when possible.
Knoll notes she and her husband also plan to make biking a family affair. “We definitely plan to incorporate our children into our biking and ride with our son,” she notes. “I’m a big believer in teaching kids to ride their bike so they have that independence too.”
Laura Boehm says she enjoys seeing the community from a different perspective when she is on her bike. “I choose to commute by bike to save money on gas and because I like being outside in the fresh air,” she says.
She has been biking competitively for 15 years and commuting for the better part of a decade. “Even if I don’t have time that day to work out, I know I will at least get some exercise. It is also my time of reflection,” says Boehm. “Another advantage is saving money. I live fairly close to wherever I need to go, so it is more economical to bike instead.”
Boehm bikes as much as possible year-round, but says the weather can hamper her plans. “It can be quite cold sometimes, but if you have the proper layers on, it isn’t bad.”
She notes traffic can also be a challenge during her commutes. “I use the bike lanes if they are provided where I am going and welcome knowing there is a designated space for me to more safely use.”
Sharing the Road
The discussion for implementing bike lanes in Bismarck began in 2010, and after extensive research and planning the community entered a Share the Road pilot project in 2012. “May 10, 2012, marked the kickoff of the Bike Lane Pilot project, coinciding with Bike to Work Week,” says Jeff Heintz, director of Public Works – Service Operation.
Select streets were identified in the community for on-street bicycle lanes, Share the Road signs and arrow markings on the pavement called “sharrows.” Heintz says the chosen streets help to link the community’s existing multi-use trails to employment, retail, and recreation centers. “We started the pilot program to provide multiple forms of mobility for residents to use while traveling in Bismarck. Bikes are one form of transportation that is convenient, cost effective, and a healthy alternative to driving,” he says.
The bike lanes have made commuting easier and safer in the community, says Boehm. “I wish there were more bike lanes available in Bismarck,” she notes. “They allow cyclists to be safe while traveling, and it might even help promote more cycling in the community.”
Heintz says feedback from bike lane users has been positive. “They like the designation of a lane for their safety, and the Share the Road signing brings public awareness about all forms of transportation that drivers may encounter who are using our roadways.”
Knoll says she prefers using the bike lanes over the community’s multi-use trails, and notes the lanes are helping to educate drivers on sharing the road with bicyclists. “Drivers need to be educated on allowing bikes to be on the road,” she notes. “This is evolving in the right direction, but it’s a slow process because it is a new thing in Bismarck.”
Boehm says she encourages other commuters to always ride defensively. “Never assume drivers see you,” she says. “If you are on the road, try and be as visible as possible by wearing colorful clothing, try not to impede on traffic as much as possible and follow the road rules.”
Boehm notes the responsibility for safety falls to everyone on the road. “Drivers really do need to pay more attention to what is going on around them, and give cyclists a little bit more room when passing.”
Knoll encourages bicyclists to always wear a helmet and says commuting doesn’t have to be a daily commitment to experience the benefits. “Take it slow, just commute a couple of times a week,” she says. “Or drive part of the way and bike the rest. Ease your way into it.”