More choosing to ride bikes to work instead of driving

Chris Green rides his bike to work on Tuesday. Green is an English professor at Marshall University who has been riding his bike to work for two years.

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                     Reasons to ride

May 15, 2008 @ 10:54 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Two years ago, when Chris Green was facing yet another repair on his 1988 Toyota Corolla with 231,000 miles on it, the English professor gave up the old beast and went even greener.

An assistant professor of English at Marshall University, Green donated his car to the non-profit organization The Good News Mountaineer Garage in Charleston and started bicycling to work.

He is a rare, yet increasing species of American commuters.

Green is among the more than 488,500 people (according to the last United States Census in 2000) who said they bicycled to work.

That number is growing, up from 466,856 in 1990, and expected to grow nationally as record high gas prices cause commuters to re-think their path to work.

Still, bicycle commuters only account for 0.41 percent of commuters in spite of the fact that more than half of all Americans live less than five miles from where they work.

Some people are working to change that.

Today is National Bike to Work Day. Sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, the day is set aside to promote commuters to consider pedaling to work as a way to save money, help the environment and get daily exercise.

Green, who has been living in Huntington for four years and biking to work for two years, said since he only lives two miles from Marshall, bicycling to work made sense on a lot of levels.

An ardent environmentalist who donates money to offset the carbon emissions created by his other car, Green said going down to one car saves a couple thousand dollars a year in expenses since he does not pay for insurance, taxes, repairs and parking -- not to mention gas.

Then there is the aspect of better health.

"I also get to exercise, which I didn't get enough of on a daily basis and that is incalculable in its benefits," Green said. "Also, when you're riding, you're smelling the places and really seeing the places so much more than being insular inside your car."

Green said before bicycling to work, he was one of those seven out of 10 Americans who fail to get the minimum recommended 30 minutes of activity per day.

According to the American League of Bicyclists, an average 150-pound person will burn about 500 calories during a leisurely paced 30-minute bike ride to and from work or school.

That means bicycle commuters can shuck those stubborn five to 10 pounds in about two to three months.

Franklin Furnace, Ohio, resident Donnie Kinnan, 29, started bicycling over the hill and across the highway to his job at Sun Chemicals in Haverhill about a month ago.

Kinnan, who also plays tennis, said bicycling the two hilly miles two or three times a week has been a great additional workout and energy boost at work.

"I feel better at work, and I've noticed a difference in my energy level," Kinnan said. "I'm just more energized when I get to work and feel a lot better physically and enjoy the aesthetics part of the ride, too. It's peaceful and just a leisurely ride."

Green, who usually rides the sidewalks along Hal Greer Boulevard to get to work, or who also picks his way through Huntington's Southside to make his way over to Marshall, rides rain or shine.

"I ride in the rain and in the snow," Green said. "Only in the worst snow do I have to walk."

Riding in all conditions, Green wears a backpack with extra clothes and other gear and uses ski gear in winter. For safety's sake, he's got reflective tape on his bicycle, his clothing and gear.

Even taking safety precautions, Green has twice been hit on his commute home by left-turning cars as he was crossing the street in the pedestrian crosswalk on Hal Greer.

Both sped off, and thankfully, Green was not injured in either accident, although his bicycle was banged up.

Jeff Joy, owner of Jeff's Bike Shop, 740 6th Ave., said riding in Huntington is generally safe, although it's best to avoid high-traffic roads such as 16th and 8th streets if possible.

"They're talking about bike lanes, and they're talking about different greenways and bike paths to make it easier, but it is not that difficult now," Joy said of bicycling in the city. "You can take 10th Street viaduct to get to work and get safely into the downtown. The 8th Street and 16th Street viaducts are little sketchier."

Joy said with gas creeping up to $4 a gallon, he's seeing a substantial increase in folks coming in and getting geared up to commute on a bicycle. It's something the majority of Americans use just for recreation and health purposes.

A national survey of bicycle use in February 2003 showed that of the 20.9 million people riding bicycles, the majority reported doing so for exercise/health (41 percent) and recreation (37 percent) while only 5 percent reported commuting to work by bicycle during the previous 30 days.

"We've seen a number of people coming in and needing to get into better shape and thinking that they should start riding to work since gas is so expensive," Joy said. "People are buying new bikes as well as fixing up old bikes. I wouldn't say it's been a huge number, but it's been a noticeable change."

Joy said the bike shop can get someone on the road for not a lot of money.

"I would say a lot of people can spend less than $50 and get their current bike they have on the road or our new bikes start at about $300 for a good quality bike they could ride to work," Joy said. "The Trek hybrid and the Trek 7100 with shocks, those are perfect commuter bikes."

Joy said riding four or five miles into work is easy for the average person, even if they're not in that good of shape.

"If you're talking about an average person that doesn't want to take a shower at work then riding four or five miles is not that bad," Joy said. "I think once someone would try that, they would know you don't have to kill yourself. Just take an extra 20 minutes and just take a ride. You'll find it's not that bad. You can usually pick less traffic areas instead of the thoroughfares and there's not that much traffic at all."

Kinnan said he can bike to work in about 10 to 15 minutes from his house on Junior Road.

"I wished I would have done this from the day I moved here -- I love it," Kinnan said. "It's funny, you drive a certain road or route for several years and yet when you either walk or take a bike ride, you notice things you never noticed before. Things you've probably passed a thousand times and never paid attention."