Commuting by Bicycle
More than a decade ago, Sarah Abts and her husband, Howard Abts, got rid of their car. Howard seldom used it, and Sarah decided that having an unreliable car was worse than not having a car. Sarah is a part-time English Composition instructor at the University of Toledo, and Howard is an interim pastor. The couple are in their 60s and live near Highland Park in south Toledo. They now use bicycles for their primary transportation around town. Their experiences show that a bike can be reliable everyday transportation for lots of people.
While they sometimes rent or borrow a car, or take Greyhound or Amtrak, and Sarah uses TARTA, they manage most errands on two wheels. Friends often offer them rides, which they occasionally accept. Sarah’s spare bike can be folded and put into a car, which makes accepting a ride later in the day easier. When they go on vacation, they can both take their folding bikes on Greyhound.
“It takes more planning,” says Sarah of her commuting routine. She says that she certainly spends more time checking the weather than when she used to drive and she plans her wardrobe for biking. But their lifestyle is not a hardship and riding a bike has advantages over driving a car. “Parking is seldom a problem,” she said. And the most important advantage is that “I’m happier.” Sarah asked, “Are you happy when you get out of your car when you get to work? I’m always in a better mood when I get off my bike than when I started the trip.”
“Are you happy when you get out of your car when you get to work? I’m always in a better mood when I get off my bike than when I started the trip.” – Sarah Abts
As experienced bike commuters, the Abtses know several routes to get to their ordinary destinations. Howard favors main streets where he takes a full lane, usually riding where a driver’s right car wheels would be. Sarah prefers side streets that may be less direct, but have less traffic. Both keep their equipment in good working order, use head and tail lights, and wear light or reflective clothing. Sarah prefers not to ride at night on unfamiliar roads where she might not see the potholes, or on snowy, icy roads.
Sarah said that she’s more comfortable riding on Toledo’s city streets than she is in some suburbs. Traffic is a little slower on city streets, people are more laid back, and there are more people on bicycles. On busy suburban roads, people are driving fast and can be more impatient. “We get hassled more in the suburbs,” she says, “But most drivers are respectful.”
The Abtses combine errands efficiently, and choose groceries that they can carry home on their bikes. Howard carries most of the heavy loads, but Sarah is comfortable carrying up to 20 pounds in her basket. “Riding is easier than walking,” she points out, “Especially if you have things to carry.”
Both consider riding 20 or 25 miles around town a normal biking day, and about once a month, Howard cycles to Findlay and back in a day, about 90 miles. His current commute is 36 miles, round trip.
Using herself as an example, Sarah feels strongly that any ordinary person can rely on a bicycle for transportation. “The hardest part is allowing enough time,” she said, “It is easy to run late and then decide you need to take the car.” She can get downtown or to UT in a half hour and to Sylvania or Perrysburg in an hour. She is a small person and not a lifetime athlete. While she has practiced yoga since she was in high school, she does not work out regularly. “Because I get exercise in my normal day’s transportation, I don’t need to find more time for an aerobic workout. The exercise is essential for keeping my vision from blurring, a side effect of diabetes, and helps my blood sugar levels.”
Howard Abts serves on TMACOG Pedestrian & Bikeways committee, working to better incorporate non-motorized transportation into the transportation system. Sarah is currently working on a book that will document a 2015 bike trip that she and Howard took from California to Maine.
Howard and Sarah Abts at home after their cross-country bike trip. Sarah’s folding
bike is to the right.