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Bikeable Boise

What cyclists think about commuting

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Maybe it's our growing awareness of the environment these days or the sonic boom of soaring gas prices, but there are indicators that more and more Boiseans will ditch their cars and begin commuting solely on bicycles. With ever-increasing traffic in the valley and commitments from the city and county to embrace cycling, the time and place for such a transportation transformation could not be better.

Cycling clubs are up and running, bike lanes are multiplying, and the Greenbelt is expanding to lure us away from the exhausting iron-clad masses of finger-flipping traffic-report addicts. Back to childhood and onto the bicycle seat, we'll make the air cleaner, the streets less crowded and rediscover one of only two physical activities we're told we'll never forget how to do.

Bicycle commuters are everywhere. I don't mean those who've worn out their roof racks getting their mountain bikes and extreme gear to the Foothills, but those who ride every day as a lifestyle and principal means of transportation in winter or summer, rain or shine, whether they feel like it or not. I took a short roll down Eighth Street to find sprocketeers with suggestions on how to improve commuting in Boise for both cyclists and motorists.

Susan Solarz, originally from Minnesota and more recently from Washington, D.C., works for The Wilderness Society protecting our nation's pristine areas. The "Ace," as she's known, is an athlete and member of Lost River Cycling, which organizes road races and promotes cycling for health, transportation and camaraderie. She doesn't own a car and believes that to be a true cycling commuter requires some planning in order to avoid "wussing out." She checks weather reports regularly and totes proper gear to avoid asking for a ride when things turn nasty. Even through rain or snow, the bike ride is, for Solarz, a connection with nature, the source of her vibrancy rather than an obstacle to it. Though Boise's laws, climate and streets accommodate cycling commuters greatly, she says motorists sometimes lack a sense of sharing the road.

Tony Commons ran a bike courier business in Boise for eight years. "My bike makes me feel alive and a part of nature. It is a richer way to live and I would not trade it for anything, not even a Hummer," he laughs. He says he has felt safer cycling in larger cities with much heavier traffic than in Boise, where it is so laid-back that motorists often pay no attention to cyclists.

Richard Lutz has gray hair, but the legs of a young man. I've seen him pedaling at far corners of the valley on the same day. When asked what would improve things for the cycling commuter, he says bike lanes are nice but thinks that in many cases, fog lines--the painted white lines at the shoulder--could simply be expanded. This would give cyclists more room without designating an entire bike lane. Bike lanes can create problems by removing cyclists from the motorist's eye, which peers through a long, dark pipe most of the time anyway.

Gregg Allen designs and builds unique three-wheeled carriages that may be powered by either legs or a small electric motor. It costs him pennies a day to ride into town to do his business, and his rigs don't emit pollutants. With the practicality of an engineer, he makes the point that the energy of a moving mass, or momentum, may be described by the equation e=mv²: Energy equals mass times velocity squared. Put another way, mass has no energy unless it is moving. Put yet another way, "If we hauled potatoes as inefficiently as we haul humans, we'd all starve," he says. Allen's strategy through traffic is to use streets that run parallel to the street he might take in a car, because moving along with traffic is safer than moving in and out of it.

Greg Tovey is a member of Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and coordinator of Boise Bike Week. Tovey commutes daily--six miles one way­--and says though cyclists and motorists love to blame each other for any interference, more awareness is needed on both sides. In its fourth year, Boise Bike Week looks to be a smash and is entirely free to the public. Anyone who rides a bike or wants to ride should check out activities designed to connect cyclists with many supportive resources. Highlights include a Bike Messenger Race on May 17 at Satchel's Grill on Bannock Street with live music by Marcus Eaton, and the KNIN Pedal Parade on May 19 at Julia Davis Park Shelter No. 2 with free raffles and Old Chicago pizza.

Understanding bicycle laws is key for motorists and cyclists to maintain awareness and create a reasonable buffer space while keeping things moving. Because Boise traffic laws recognize that momentum for cyclists comes less easily than simply depressing the accelerator, cyclists have all the rights of a car and more. Cyclists may treat a stop sign or right turn at a red light as a yield and may ride two abreast on a highway if not impeding normal traffic. When on a road at less than normal speed, cyclists should keep as far to the right as feasible and signal when the situation allows a free hand. Bike lanes exist for a cyclist's convenience but riders are not required to stay there. Cyclists may ride on sidewalks while yielding courteously to pedestrians. They must use a headlamp at night.

Besides laws that help cyclists keep rolling, motorists should remember that cyclists have excellent visibility, audibility and can stop quickly with great control. A bike in motion wants to stay in motion, so when cyclists approach a four-way stop with an awaiting car, they hope the intersection clears before they get there. Cyclists should approach such intersections with feet raised off the pedals indicating their willingness to stop, but if motorists wait too long, they should not be surprised if the cyclist keeps rolling. Cyclists don't normally need an entire lane unless an obstruction forces them to the left into traffic. Motorists should be prepared to let them merge. A motorist who stops in the middle of State Street to let a cyclist cross endangers other motorists and makes the cyclist have to wait for the car. Better to realize the cyclist moves with great agility and, in this case, will more likely be held up by the motorist's polite intentions.

The commuting cyclists make similar observations about cycling in Boise and offer sound advice. Lose the car and you may just eliminate the reason for driving so far to the job in the first place: to buy, maintain, insure and feed your car. On a bike, you'll go to the front of the line and never have to wait through an intersection more than once. Speeding tickets are rare, though not impossible. There is never parking to deal with, no having to warm the car before driving, and something about all that pedaling and smiling keeps the doctor away. The bike ride is time regained, when you can think about your workday and family while communing with nature, where fumes at the filling station are replaced by the smell of tree blossoms. Now get out there, Boise. It's like riding a bike.

: Boise Bike Week is May 14 through 19 and kicks off Monday with a celebration at City Hall Plaza from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and ends with pizza and raffles at the Avimor Boise Bike Week Finale at 5 p.m. at Julia Davis Park shelter No. 2. For a full list of events, visit www.boisebikeweek.org.