Smile Politely

Gearing up for C-U Bike to Work Day

It sure would be nice if everyone would at least give bike commuting a try, and that’s where C-U Bike to Work Day comes in. The actual event is Tuesday, May 4 (if you’re planning to participate, register here), and you can get refreshments and win prizes on your morning commute at Bike Stations located around C-U.

There are three “Bike Commuting 101” workshops in advance, the first of which is tonight at The Bike Project:

  • Tuesday, April 13, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. @ The Bike Project, 202 S. Broadway, Urbana
  • Thursday, April 22, 6:30 to 8 p.m. @ Champaign Cycle, 506 S Country Fair Dr., Champaign
  • Thursday, April 27, 2010, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Durst Cycle and Fitness, 1112 W. University Ave., Urbana

As a regular bike commuter, I’m ashamed to admit that I am often dismissive of the (perfectly reasonable) concerns of folks who don’t bicycle to work. So when Lorrie Pearson, a planner with the City of Champaign and an organizer of CUBTWD, offered to put me in contact with a few non-regular bike commuters who will be taking the plunge on May 4, I thought that would provide some needed perspective to the conversation. The helpful contributors are:

  • Stacy Bennett, U of I employee
  • Lisa Karcher, City of Urbana employee
  • Jennifer Gonzalez, City of Urbana employee

I exchanged emails with each of them, and the virtual roundtable discussion is below.


Smile Politely: Where do you work, and where do you live? How far is it, and what route do you plan to bike?

Stacy Bennett: I work on campus and live in Southeast Urbana. It’s about 4.5 miles from work. I was worried about what route I would take since my driving route has a lot of traffic. I felt much better once I looked at the map on the [Champaign County Bikes] page (pdf). It looks like there are several routes, that won’t be out of the way, that have less traffic. I plan to do a test ride during one of the next two weekends.

Lisa Karcher: I work for the City of Urbana and live off of Kerr Avenue in Urbana. (Town and Country Apartments) I’d approximate that it is just over a mile. I am planning to travel west on Kerr Avenue to Broadway Avenue, then south on Broadway Avenue to Elm Street, then east of Elm Street to the Urbana City Building. I would recommend for anyone who is planning a route to use the “Champaign-Urbana Area Bicycle Map” (again, pdf) by Champaign County Bikes and League of Illinois Cyclists.

Jennifer Gonzalez: I work for the City of Urbana, and I live out by University and Mattis Avenue. It’s about four miles from my house to work… which is a bit much for a leisurely route to work most days, so I generally drive to work. For the Bike to Work Day I plan on biking down University until First Street, down to Green heading east until I hit the downtown Urbana area where they will have a “pit stop” located. I’ll head to work after that!


Smile Politely: Do you commute by bicycle regularly? What inspired you to try biking to work for C-U Bike to Work Day?

Lisa Karcher: No, I have not commuted by bicycle to work as of yet. I’m inspired by my co-workers that bike and/or use alternative transportation other than a car to get to work. The Bike to Work Day has given me the push I’ve needed to give it a try.

Jennifer Gonzalez: I do not commute to work on a bicycle regularly, mostly because I do not have a great bike and bike theft around here was always prohibitive while I was still attending the University of Illinois. I haven’t quite made the transition yet since I still rent and prefer not to leave a bike laying around outside. I suppose all the hype about the event is what inspired me to participate in Bike to Work Day.

Stacy Bennett: [Not in Champaign-Urbana.] I used to live in Chicago and rode my bike to work frequently there. I didn’t have a car so it was more convenient than taking the bus and faster than walking. I really enjoyed it.


Smile Politely: What are your major concerns about bicycle commuting? What would make it easier?

Jennifer Gonzalez: My major concerns about bicycle commuting can be summed up in one word: drivers. Just the other day I saw a woman lying in the street, surrounded by police and ambulances, having been hit by a car while riding her bike in the evening. Luckily she had a helmet on and looked like she would pull through, but who’s to say that couldn’t be me one day? Without designated bike paths away from mainstream traffic, it’s just not a safe bet. Even biking on sidewalks can be uncomfortable if the sidewalks are not well-maintained.

Stacy Bennett: I am not comfortable riding on the street with traffic. In Chicago, I only lived a block from the lakefront bike path, so I hardly had to deal with car traffic. Finding a low traffic route here would make a big difference.

Lisa Karcher: I enjoy bicycling, but I would call myself a recreational bicyclist. I ride mostly on trails and areas where there is either limited vehicular access or are not heavily traveled by vehicles. My biggest concern is my comfort level on sharing the road with a lot of vehicles that are traveling at higher speeds. Having a designated bicycle lane would make me more comfortable. I would know that vehicles would know where I am and I wouldn’t feel like I am “holding-up” traffic if I am traveling slower than a vehicle.


Smile Politely: Do you plan to attend any of the Commuting 101 sessions before C-U Bike to Work Day? Why or why not?

Lisa Karcher: Yes. I think it is important as bicyclists to understand how to appropriately share the road with other bicyclists and vehicles — i.e. where can I be and that I am bound to the same rules/laws as vehicles. In addition, I am looking forward to getting some firsthand advice on what to look out for and how to best handle certain situations that might arise.

Stacy Bennett: I hope to. Despite biking to work for several months in Chicago, I have realized I know very little about biking. I had no idea how frequently I should have been filling my tires or that my tires are actually designed more for mountain biking until a seasoned biker looked at my bike recently. I also do not know the correct hand signals to use in traffic. I think I will be more comfortable biking to work if I am better informed.

Jennifer Gonzalez: I probably will not attend the Commuting 101 sessions. If they were giving away free helmets, well, that would be a different story and I’d be the first one at the door.


Pearson noted, “To learn how to ride safely, refer to the League of American Bicyclists’ [Road Rules]. The basic premise is to follow the same rules as a car — for example, ride with traffic, stop at stop signs and lights, and signal your turns. The workshops will cover some of the basic principles.”

U of I Transportation Demand Management Coordinator Morgan Johnston added, “Many University employees do not realize how quickly and easily they can get to work on a bicycle. For people who live within the city, they may find that riding their bike directly to their office takes only a few more minutes than driving, parking, and walking to the office from a parking space. The C-U Bike to Work Day tries to address this by encouraging employees to give bicycle-commuting a try. Once a person has made the trip once or twice, they will have a better understanding of the options cycling offers, and they probably will enjoy the trip a lot more.”

If you don’t already ride your bicycle to work, C-U Bike to Work Day is a great excuse to give it a try. Stay tuned for more information as the event approaches.

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