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Sacramento ranks fourth in U.S. for bicycle commuting

Sacramento ranks fourth in U.S. for bicycle commuting

Sacramento Business Journal - by Melanie Turner Staff writer

Lea Brooks commutes 42 miles round-trip daily between Rancho Cordova and her job downtown — on a bicycle.

Brooks, assistant director of communications for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, acknowledges she’s a bit of an “extreme” bike commuter who rarely misses a day. But even riding a short distance once a week means there’s one less car on the region’s often-congested roadways, she said.

“Even if you ride once a week well, then, good for you,” she said. “You should never underestimate the contribution you’re making.”

Though few people actually bike to work, the numbers are growing, according to American Bicyclist, the magazine of the League of American Bicyclists.

Brooks said she’s noticed the trend, and attributes the local upswing in bike commuters to the increase in gas prices and work the region’s cities have done to better accommodate riders.

“If you build it, they will come,” she said. “We still have a long way to go, but the facilities are improving all the time.”

Sacramento ranks fourth in the nation — and first in California — for bicycle commuting among the 70 largest cities, according to a national survey published by American Bicyclist.

The magazine ranked cities based on data from the American Community Survey, a nationwide survey of households meant to provide information about how communities are changing during the years between the decennial U.S. census.

Sacramento ranked fourth behind Portland, Ore., Minneapolis and Seattle. Portland more than tripled its bike share to almost 6 percent in 2008 from 2000.

The percentage of people in Sacramento who bicycle to work jumped 101 percent between 2000 and 2008, to 2.72 percent from 1.35 percent.

A bicycling infrastructure

Walt Seifert, executive director of Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, said he believes more people are riding bikes to work because the city has become more bicycle-friendly.

“I think the city has been good about making conditions better for cyclists,” he said, noting a number of changes the city made last year in midtown.

Several streets, including P, Q, 19th and 21st, went from three lanes to two with bike lanes. The city also converted a number of parking meters to bike racks.

Efforts by cities to improve conditions for cyclists, from investing in engineering and education to planning, are paying off with increases in bicycle commuters, according to an article in the most recent issue of American Bicyclist.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments Metropolitan Transportation Plan anticipates the region will spend $1.4 billion on facilities for cyclists, pedestrians and people with disabilities by 2035, a 56 percent increase over the previous plan. In 2008, SACOG awarded $11.4 million to such projects, and directors will consider next week approving another $8.6 million over the next two years.

Last year, Mayor Kevin Johnson said he’d like to see Sacramento achieve the top, or platinum, level of the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Communities program, which recognizes cities that actively support bicycling.

Cities such as Portland and Davis are platinum, while Sacramento is bronze.

The article notes that the American Community Survey, which it relied on to rank cities for bike commuting, does not determine how many people have ever, or sometimes, bike to work. “The phrasing of the question means that only the consistent bike commuters get counted,” the article states.

Multiple benefits

Matt Kuzins, president of Kuzins and Kumpany, a direct-mail fundraising consulting firm, said he averages four days a week on a bike.

“I don’t have a very long ride,” said Kuzins, who rides less than four miles each way between East Sacramento and downtown.

“Often one of the best parts of my day is during the daily commute,” he said. “Otherwise, I’m stuck in an office all day behind a desk and a computer.”

Kuzins’ office is casual so he wears jeans or Dockers on the ride. He said he chooses to ride for the fun and exercise.

“I get kind of burned out on driving around town,” he said. “I feel like I’m saving gasoline, cleaning up the air and making the town better by having one fewer car out there four times a week.”

Brooks agreed there are lots of advantages. She doesn’t have to pay for gas or for a gym. And she feels energized at work — even without coffee.

Most of her commute is on the American River Bike Trail, so Brooks’ views are of the river, trees and wildlife.

“You can imagine having a commute that’s 21 miles long and for most of it I don’t see any cars, and I’m parallel to Highway 50,” she said. I just don’t understand why more people don’t do it.”

For Brooks, a 30-plus year bicycle commuter, riding a bike to work is a natural. She loves being outside and in shape. She also works in the Cal EPA building, which has lockers, showers and secure bike parking.

On a rare day when the weather is “really foul,” Brooks will bike three miles to the light-rail station. Anything to avoid a trip in a car, she said.