To ease traffic pain, use other means

As a cyclist — and also as a motorist — there are few things I like better than fresh, new asphalt.

As a cyclist — and also as a motorist — there are few things I like better than fresh, new asphalt.

Especially riding, when you hit a stretch of new pavement, it feels like glass and you (almost) feel sorry for those fellow commuters who insist on riding knobby tires designed for dirt tracks, on perfectly-paved streets.

But of course, to achieve perfection, you have to tear up the imperfect. And there’s a whole lot of tearing-up going on in Red Deer right now.

When the city engaged street work on Gaetz Avenue, both north and south, closed 55th Street entirely, and restricted Taylor Drive for the entire summer, you can be forgiven if you think the flashing signs saying “Use Alternative Route” is more like a practical joke than practical advice.

Only when our usual travel routes are this severely restricted do we really get a sense of how important they are to the quality of life in the city. Our daily lives really are tied to the ways we move.

Yet, at the risk of irritating a whole lot of already-frustrated drivers who are just trying to get on with their lives here, I’m going to suggest that as well as “Use Alternative Route” there should be signs saying “Use Alternative Means.”

The quickest, most efficient means travel through the city’s central core during this summer of road construction will be by bike.

Several times, while traffic is backed up downtown in places where three lanes of traffic need to converge into one, I have found a careful cyclist can cruise through a commute at near-normal speed. Very little time is lost due to congestion.

More — and this is a definite tip of the helmet to Red Deer drivers — I have found people to be very considerate of the cyclists with whom they are sharing too-little road.

It’s no fun being trapped in a vehicle idling through a traffic jam extending front and back as far as you can see. Yet, I see that far and away the majority of drivers make good eye contact with riders, allowing them to merge into the flow of traffic, or to cross intersections which are already close to gridlock.

As a measure of thanks, I would extend an invitation. Join us. This would be a good summer for a whole lot more people to make use of the many advantages of two-wheeled commuting.

When traffic is slow, there is almost zero time advantage in driving. In fact, on some routes through town, cycling is now faster than driving.

There is a definite cost advantage. Everyone is aware of the high price of fuel these days.

This summer, the United States (make that North America, for this really is a continental market) sealed it’s spot as the world’s top oil and gas producer. Together, we put more oil into the pipeline than Saudi Arabia, and more gas into the market than Russia.

The experts who report on fuel markets tell us the only reason this new production hasn’t brought the price of fuel down, is the continuing war and violence in the Middle East. The markets don’t like this uncertainty, so the price of fuel will remain high, we are told.

So that’s all the reason you should need to let more fuel just stay in the pumps. Riding your bike to work each day gives you a real tax-free boost to your disposable income.

If you drive an economy car the average distance per year, Wikianswers.com estimates you will burn up about 1,400 litres of fuel. At today’s prices, riding diligently through just the four months of summer, you’ll save roughly $150. The savings increase, of course, if you own a gas guzzler.

That’s not enough to buy you a premium commuter bike. For that you have to go hardcore and ride for a whole year. But if you already own a bike, would you rather spend $150 idling your vehicle in a traffic jam, or doing something else?

Ride your bike just for the summer, and I promise that you will feel the benefits to your health and well-being. I talk with a lot of people about cycling, and I have yet to meet anyone who “took the pledge” and rode diligently for a few weeks, who did not remark how much better they felt for the exercise.

And now, you can also ride to reduce traffic congestion. If you don’t like sitting in a hot vehicle, burning gas and going nowhere, you can be one of the riders still getting places. The more riders, the fewer cars, and the less congestion for people who can’t ride.

This summer, with its high degree of road construction could be the time more people really notice the difference that alternative means can make.

And when the tearing-up of roads is done, and that new, smooth asphalt is laid down, there’s a whole new level of enjoyment waiting for people on their commutes. There’s an advantage in that, too. I promise.

Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor, and is currently president of the Red Deer Association for Bicycling Commuting. Follow Greg Neiman’s blog at Readersadvocate.blogspot.ca.

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