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North Hills Monthly

Riders Gain Many Benefits from Biking to Work

May 31, 2018 08:21PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

Photo courtesy of Matthew Thomas

By Kathleen Ganster

“You’re crazy,” were the words that crossed Ellen Beckjord’s mind as she interviewed Amber Blackwood for a position.

“When I hired her, I asked her if she wanted to know about parking options. She said, ‘No, I’ll bike to work,’” Beckjord said as to why the aforementioned thought crossed her mind. 

Little did Beckjord know that two years later, she would be biking to work with Blackwood. 

“I never thought I would bike to work, bike downtown, or identify as a cyclist. It’s now a really important part of my life,” Beckjord said. 

The two often commute by bike to their jobs at UPMC in downtown Pittsburgh. Blackwood cycles almost every day from Friendship while Beckjord drives from her home to Blackwood’s home three days a week so that they can commute together. 

“It’s a great way to wake up before I have to talk to people at work. It’s stimulating cognitively, and I’ve had some of my most valuable conceptual conversations about work en route with my boss,” Blackwood said. 

And of course, there are the physical benefits. “It’s a great way to increase your physical activity every week without a huge lift,” said Blackwood, who estimates that she has been commuting to work since 2011. She enlisted Beckjord about two years ago. 

Both Beckjord and Blackwood believe that having a more experienced bike commuter helps in the process. “Amber slowly convinced me to try it; I was so terrified my first day – Amber rode ahead of me and Rosa (another colleague) rode behind me. But I really got the hang of it after a week or two, and now I bike by myself if Amber doesn’t have the same schedule or is out of town,” Beckjord said. 

Blackwood suggested practicing the route and riding with friends like Beckjord did the first few weeks. “Walk through every single thing that you need and practice,” she said. 

Commuting by bike was so important to Matt Carrick that when he and his wife were searching for a new home, he made sure it would be bike commuter-friendly.

“It was a big factor when we were looking for a house—we needed to be close to bike routes,” the Sharpsburg resident said. Carrick estimates that he bikes to his job at Carnegie Mellon University two or three times a week. 

Like Blackwood, Carrick likes both the physical and mental benefits of cycling to work, but there are also other factors that come into play. “It’s faster than a bus and a lot cheaper than paying for parking. But the big thing is that it is a lot more fun–I legitimately enjoy my commute to work when I go by bike,” he said. 

CMU has several amenities that makes commuting by bike attractive. 

“There’s tons of bike parking and a lot of it is covered, so weather and theft are less of a concern. Plus, there are locker rooms that staff is able to use to change and store clothes on a daily basis,” Carrick said. CMU also provides bike repair stations on campus.

Alexandria Shewczyk, communications and marketing manager for BikePGH, said Pittsburgh is a great place to commute by bike to work. “According to the latest U.S. Census date for 2016, we are now a ‘top 10’ bike commuter city in the nation,” she said.

BikePGH is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to making Pittsburgh roads and routes safer for cyclists. They offer workshops, resources, Lunch-and-Learn events and sponsor community events such as Bike to Work Day, OpenStreetsPGH and PedalPGH to get more folks out on their bikes and as a way to increase awareness about biking.

“One third of vehicles on Penn Avenue were bicycles during the peak morning commute on Bike to Work Day in 2017,” Shewczyk said. The event, which was held in May this year, partners BikePGH with local employers and the city to encourage new transportation habits. 

“We want to inspire people to try to bike to work; we have maps and give individuals and employers tips,” she added. 

BikePGH also organizes three OpenStreetsPGH events, where three to four miles of roads in Pittsburgh are closed for car-free activities including bike riding, walking and running, fitness classes and workshops and kid-friendly activities. 

“This is a good opportunity to have the courage to try street biking in a safe environment,” Shewczyk said. 

Shewczyk lives in Shaler and will often drive to Lawrenceville, then bike the rest of the way to work. She suggests enrolling in BikePGH classes or workshops prior to beginning to commute to work. “We have City Cycling Classes that can help you learn the fundamentals of safe cycling and how to feel confident in interacting safely with traffic,” she said. 

For more information on resources offered through Bike Pittsburgh visit www.bikepgh.org. 

Even outside the city, many people choose to bike to work. Lisa and David Krack live in Butler, and Lisa bikes to her shop Darn Yarn in Harmony two to three times a week during the summer. 

“It’s 17 miles one way, so I have a pedelec, which has an assist mode,” she explained. “I have to pedal; it’s not motorized, but it has a sensor in the back wheel that tells it if I’m having trouble and helps to turn the wheel. 

“When I first started, I knew I could do the trip one way, but I wasn’t sure about both,” she laughed. “It would kind of defeat the purpose if someone had to come get me.”

Krack, who has bad hips, added that she likes that biking is a weight-bearing exercise that is not stressful on her joints. “It also gets me outside, and it’s tons of fun!” she said. 

 David Krack rides to his job every day as a teacher in the Butler School District. “My husband is a cyclist in general; if it has pedals, he rides it,” said Lisa Krack. “He bikes everywhere, and people are actually surprised to know that he has a car. He even uses a cargo bike to pick up groceries; we call it his truck.

“He recently saw one of his coworkers at a traffic light, and he got to school at the same time she did, even though she was driving,” she added. “He likes that he doesn’t have to sit in traffic and can use a human-powered machine; it’s faster than walking and very efficient.”