SFGate: Commuters ditching cars for bikes, foot power
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Sunday, June 29, 2008 (SF Chronicle)
Commuters ditching cars for bikes, foot power
Amy Moon, Chronicle Staff Writer
In May, Blake Altshuler, 29, got rid of his car and joined the growing
numbers of people who ride their bicycles to work. Mainly, he said, it was
because of rising gas prices. His friend Dolly Totes, 25, who has been
commuting by bike since she sold her car two years ago, said, "I couldn't
afford it. I needed to pay my rent." It was partly gas and insurance, she
said, but also all the parking tickets she kept amassing.
In this era of increasing prices at the pump, bad air quality and general
belt-tightening, more people in the Bay Area are opting to commute to work
via heart-healthy biking or walking. But the financial and physical
benefits aside, that kind of commuting has the potential to wreak havoc on
one's professional image - even considering the casual-attire aesthetic
that dominates many offices.
"My main thing is getting to work not feeling like I just had a workout,"
said author Judy B. (her full, legal name), who lives in the Fillmore and
commutes to her job as a legal assistant in the Financial District. "If
I'm kind of going along, rushing to make red lights, and realize I'm
breaking a sweat, I go whoa, slow down," she said. "San Francisco has
ideal biking weather because the coolness is a perfect balance to the heat
I generate riding my bike at a reasonable pace."
Graduate student Lisa Foster refuses to let the peddling keep her from
wearing her pumps, as she wrote in an issue of the San Francisco Bike
Coalition's Tube Times.
"I really think bikes are made for people who wear heels," she said. "You
don't have to walk in them. It's so much better."
While it's impossible to know exactly how many new cyclists are on the
streets, bike-store employees and bike-rack attendants at BART stations
say that the numbers have jumped as dramatically as gasoline prices over
the past six months or so.
"Also, there's a hipness to bike riding now, so it's a combination of
factors," said Galen Nishioka, assistant sales manager at Valencia Cyclery
in the Mission District.
If you are already biking or walking to work - or are contemplating doing
so - you aren't alone. According to a 2007 analysis by the U.S. Census
Bureau, among large cities, San Francisco has the fifth-highest number of
bike commuters and the third-highest number of people who walk to work.
Also telling is that there were twice as many bikes as cars on Market
Street during the morning commute on Bike to Work Day in June, a nearly 30
percent increase over last year, according to the San Francisco Municipal
Transportation Agency. Biker fashion
New bike riders can benefit from the fashion-forward lessons learned by
long-time cyclists, many of whom have perfected the little fashion tricks
and tips that can ease the transition from congested city streets to
"I have a workaround for wide-leg pants that are the style right now,"
Judy B. said. "I pull the cuff over my knee, make them three-quarter
length and avoid the chain." Low-waisted jeans can present a little too
much information about the cylist ahead of you, but she said, somewhat
gratefully, that she's seeing "a lot more longer tops now."
Cheryl Brinkman also became an almost daily bike commuter in the past
year. She lives in the lower Haight and commutes 2 miles to her job as a
product manager at McKesson Corp., in the Financial District. About her
wardrobe, Brinkman said, "I've altered it for the better and only one
thing that I don't wear now that I bike so much is long full skirts."
Judy B. agrees. "Short tight skirts are easier to wear. Sometimes I wear
bike shorts or leggings or tights under them. Knee-length skirts blow up
and catch the wind like a sail, depending on the weather." Helmet hair
On the days she rides her bike, Brinkman tucks her skirt into a band of
elastic that she wraps around one thigh, a homemade garter belt solution,
as it were. And, she said, "I always have a small binder clip in my
handbag, as well, to keep wrap skirts or dresses closed while pedaling."
She brings her purse but eschews wearing a helmet - not because she fears
having dreaded "helmet hair" upon arriving at her destination, but because
she believes it gives her an advantage on the road.
"I feel safer in the city riding without," she said. "If I ride in Marin,
I absolutely wear the helmet, but in the city, when you look more like an
average person, I think drivers treat you that way. They give you a little
room, treat you nicer."
Judy B., however, says she always wears her helmet, and not just for
"I've always had helmet hair, that's sort of my look," she said. "The
helmet, if anything, helps me. My hair has a way of skewing weirdly. The
helmet kind of tamps it down, puts it in control."
Although many people carry a backpack when they ride, that doesn't work
"I have a rear rack," said Jeff Tumlin, who commutes from his home near
Buena Vista Park to the Financial District. "I hate wearing a backpack
while bicycling because I like having my shoulders free. If you're wearing
a suit, it's encumbering. Plus, the backpack against your back will make
you sweaty. If your clothing is loose, (sweat) evaporates. If not, you get
a wet spot on your back. Not attractive."
Brinkman solves the dilemma of carrying larger parcels by adding a set of
matching bags that sit on either side of her back tire.
"I just bought flowered panniers, and they are so cute," she said. "I was
with a friend and when we saw them we squealed - it was just like shoe
shopping." Walking attire
Walkers face similar issues as the bikers, although each person's approach
differs slightly. KQED reporter Amy Standen, 33, lives in Bernal Heights
and walks to the KQED office in Potrero Hill twice a week, which is about
2 miles each way.
"I would say there's definitely a shoe issue because I can't walk to work
in anything other than sneakers," she said. "I do bring shoes with me, but
what ends up happening is I leave the shoes at work, so by the end of the
week my entire repertoire of shoes is there."
Standen said she tends to wear pants when she walks to work. "I really
shouldn't care, but there is a certain hesitation with wearing running
shoes with a dress," she said. "Tights or nylons and white socks and
sneakers is ... I don't think so."
So why not just drive to work?
"I'm so much happier when I walk to work," Standen said. "It's a quality
of life thing. I think I just feel better having gotten fresh air before
work. It's calming. I know it takes 45 minutes and I can't speed it up, so
I know I'm just going to get there when I get there."
Those who bicycle say they get benefits beyond just buffeting their
budgets from gasoline prices.
"It's the fastest way to get to work. Compared to Muni, it takes half the
time," said Tumlin. "I bike because I can change my route and stop off and
run errands and see people along the way. It is great exercise and I find
a significant difference in my productivity when I bike to work. I am
smarter when I bike. I'm more patient when I bike."
"You get a completely different impression of San Francisco on a bike," he
said, "It's one of the best biking cities. There is nowhere you can't get
to on a bike."
E-mail Amy Moon at amoon@.... ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2008 SF Chronicle