Bike Commuting in Oakland

Ali Aronstam, by Natalie Orenstein

Almost one year after graduating from college, Ali Aronstam is beginning to figure it out. She has a job as an Americorps member at West Oakland Middle School’s health center, and she’s found a cozy place to live just within her budget. But it’s Ali’s bicycle, which she rides to work most days, that is primarily to thank for her newfound sense of independence.

“There’s a special kind of gratification for getting yourself somewhere, for propelling yourself there,” Ali says. “It’s self-sufficiency.”

The four-mile commute from her Rockridge abode to the school takes just under half an hour, providing ample time for observation and reflection. “I work somewhere that’s pretty different from where I live, so it’s helpful to not just hop in a car and get out somewhere different,” she explains. “I can see the city transform, and go through different neighborhoods.”

Cycling is also “a nice way to appreciate Oakland and Berkeley,” says Ali, a Palo Alto native who went to school in Southern California. “When I’d just moved here, I really liked to bike and scope out the place. I’d get a little lost every day and it was a nice way to get to know my surroundings.”

Because she was new to the area, Ali, who doesn’t own a car, spent a chunk of time poring over maps and figuring out which streets were bike-friendly. She became so attached to certain bikeways such as Shafter Ave.’s and Woolsey St.’s, that the few times she did get behind a car wheel, she would have to remind herself that she couldn’t drive on them.

Ali was lucky enough to have parents who required her to ride regularly beginning at a young age. Although she resented their insistence at first, by high school her bike had become a part of her identity. Years later, it’s still her preferred mode of transportation; as a health educator, it’s important for her to know that she can model the behavior she promotes. “These days I choose to bike a lot because sometimes it’s the only time I know I’ll get to be outside and be active,” she says.

Ali still feels more comfortable on a bike than she does in a car, but she knows that riding in an urban area for the first time can be intimidating. “You have to give yourself some extra time, but it’s doable,” she says. “If you map out your route and try to find as many bikeways as possible, you’re set.”

Plus, she says, there are countless perks: cyclists save money they’d otherwise spend on gas, and they don’t have to worry about parking. Last week, when a car catastrophe made Ali miss a concert, she was reminded of yet another benefit of biking. “My bike has no chance of coming up with a dead battery!” she says.

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20 Years of Bike to Work Day

Ken Eichstaedt in SF, by Natalie Orenstein

Ken Eichstaedt has always biked to work – even when “work” meant simple arithmetic problems and playground games of kickball. The Marin County native treasures a photograph of his four-year-old self bundled up in a hooded coat, pedaling a tricycle. By age seven, Ken’s primary and preferred mode of transportation was the bicycle – and decades later nothing has changed.

Now a civil engineer in San Francisco, Ken has participated in all 20 Bike to Work Days. For Ken, cycling is the panacea. It’s his doctor, his desk, his social life, his gym.

“You can ride a bike and it can solve all your problems,” he explains. “You’re trying to contemplate something? Ride a bike. You’re trying to save money? Ride a bike. You’re trying to lose weight? Want to meet people? Want to treat the environment right? Ride a bike.”

Ken has been biking to his job in San Francisco from his home in Marin for 24 years. He’s lived in Mill Valley, in Fairfax, and now in the tiny community of Olema, so his commute has grown with each move. But he still manages to bike a significant portion of it most mornings, averaging more than 20 miles a day.

Since much of the workday is spent in meetings, Ken especially values the company of other cyclists during the commute. He meets up with his companions in Greenbrae and they ride into the city together.

“We get a good chin wag in, have safety in numbers, and ride responsibly by waiting at lights and riding single file when conditions dictate,” he says. Together, the crew logged over 5,000 bike trips to the city in 2013.

Of course, not everyone has the time or stamina to bike 100 miles a week. And Ken – the former president of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, a past member of the Caltrain Bike Advisory Committee, and a major force in the successful effort to get bike lanes in Sausalito – knows this. Really.

“What I try to encourage people to do is, just go to the grocery store,” he says. “You don’t need to wear special gear, you don’t need a fancy bike. Do a two-mile bike trip and you’ll be amazed.”

Ken had the fortune of meeting former Palo Alto mayor Ellen Fletcher shortly before she died in 2012. In her 80s, Fletcher encouraged her friends at her retirement home to hop on bikes.

“People like that, they help you see another way about things,” he says.

Ken himself takes the ferry home after a long day at work, and endorses riding a bike to public transit.
“There isn’t any place in the Bay Area you can’t get to non-motorized,” he says. “You do have to do a little bit of preplanning, which I think is a healthy thing.”

As the toddler on the tricycle, or the kid riding to elementary schools, it wasn’t the promise of lost weight or saved money that got Ken pedaling.

“It was the sense of freedom,” he remembers. “It’s still the same way. When I ride across the Golden Gate Bridge in the morning, I feel totally blessed. Independence is the big thing.”

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Become a Sponsor of Bike to Work Day 2015

The twenty-first annual Bike to Work Day, taking place May 14th, 2015, is the largest bike celebration in northern California. We invite your company to participate as a sponsor, position yourself as a community-minded business working to help reduce traffic congestion, enhance health, and improve the environment while reaching hundreds of thousands of people interested in bike commuting. 

We can tailor a sponsorship opportunity to fit your needs. 

Learn more about available opportunities.

For sponsorship inquires, please contact:

info@bayareabikes.org

Regional sponsors are featured on posters and tote bags in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area region: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. Sponsors receive high visibility during Nation Bike Month (May).

New Bike Commuter Shares Her Story

Emily Brotman by Natalie Orenstein

When after school instructor Emily Brotman rolls into the schoolyard on her bike each afternoon, her curious fourth grade students swarm around her, asking questions and admiring her bike.

Serving as a roll (er, role) model to her impressionable students is just one of the many benefits Emily has reaped from biking to work. The recent college graduate only began riding from her apartment in the Castro to Francis Scott Key Elementary School in the Sunset about a month ago, when Daylight Savings Time made the evening commute much more pleasant.

Before she started biking, Emily would endure two 50-minute muni rides per day. Cycling has cut her commute in more than half. Now she takes a pleasant four-mile ride on the Wiggle (the city’s popular mile-long bike path) and through Golden Gate Park.

“It’s beautiful,” she says. “It’s fun to see the plants changing. One week suddenly all these cherry blossoms had bloomed, and another week they were totally gone and had been replaced by thick green leaves.”
Seasonal change is something Emily missed out on growing in Singapore. The Bay Area native learned to ride a bike in Palo Alto, but spent most of her formative years in Asia. She returned to California to go to Pomona
College near Los Angeles, in another relatively consistent climate zone.

Because the driving age is 18 in Singapore, Emily never got a driver’s license. Traversing San Francisco by foot was fun, but her ability to truly explore her new hometown was significantly hindered. When she bought her current bike – from a man who fixes dead bikes and sells them for nominal amounts – San Francisco opened up to her.

“Suddenly the city is much more within my reach,” Emily says. Biking has given her “a really different sense of the size and accessibility of San Francisco.”

Take her favorite destination, Scrap, a warehouse in Bayview that sells recycled art materials.

“I always had this idea that it was out in the middle of nowhere, because it’s in this industrial area,” she says. “When I’d go there by bus I’d have to budget 40 minutes or more because you don’t know how long you have to wait for a bus. I biked there the other day and I went through a pretty part of the Mission I’d never seen before. It was so easy and I couldn’t believe how close it was.”

Despite how recently Emily began biking regularly, her new routine has already had tangible effects.
“I feel like I’m actually developing muscle for the first time in my life,” she says. “I notice myself getting stronger and being able to go faster without taking breaks.” She surprised herself by soaring over a particularly challenging hill by her apartment in one go the other day.

Like many cyclists, Emily has figured out the value of a bike buddy. Her coworker bikes behind her during their commute, challenging her to keep pace and push herself.

Emily insists that it’s easy to become a bike commuter, regardless of one’s experience (or lack thereof) on a bike. Just take a moment to familiarize yourself with the established bike paths and map out the safest, flattest routes, she says.

“You get the sense of accomplishment of having powered yourself from Point A to Point B,” she says.
Will she eventually trade her two wheels in for four? Unlikely.

“I don’t see myself getting a license,“ she says. “No matter where I am, if I’m in a city that’s relatively bikeable, I’m going to try to make it work.”

Bike to Work Day and SF2G Commuter

Brett Lider, by Mai Le

"It's the closest thing to flying that I can experience on a daily basis. It's fast, efficient, and empowering. It keeps me healthy."

With such enthusiasm for biking, it isn't surprising that for the past 14 years, Brett Lider has celebrated Bike to Work Day.

Brett works in UX at Google, so it’s an impressive one-way trip of 40 miles from his home in San Francisco's Mission District to the office in Mountain View. (To be effective at work, he takes the Google shuttle home.) And he’s not a solo cycler: as a co-founder of the SF2G cycling club, he’s encouraged coworkers to bike commute by leading the monthly ride down the peninsula for the past nine years.

Brett started biking to work in 2005. It took some planning, but at least once a month, he and some colleagues would meet at a local coffee shop and bike together, trying out different routes, along the Bayway. Soon, a website was set up and SF2G was born.

Workers at other companies on the peninsula started inquiring about the Googlers’ routes asking if they could ride along. What began with seven bike commuters on their first Bike to Work Day in 2005 ballooned to 500 by 2013. The media has noticed and in 2012, news helicopters followed the cohort on their Bike to Work Day commute as they cycled from SF down the peninsula. SF2G has flourished, in part, because companies in Silicon Valley, such as Google, offer shuttles with bike racks, a flexible work day, access to showers and space for bike storage. This infrastructure supports active transportation, as long as employees are willing to do the hard work of pedaling.

Brett's love of cycling started at an early age with his parents encouraging his need for constant motion.

"From as long as I can remember, I was hungry for the speed that wheels gave me,” Brett says. “I had pushcarts as a toddler, a big wheel, and as soon as possible, a bicycle. So I guess I can thank my parents for overcoming their protective urges and providing me with the technology to move at speeds no child was engineered to reach."

Brett never grew out of his need for speed.

"I was a huge fan of riding my BMX bike on dirt and dirt trails. That got me into mountain biking as a teenager and despite the allure of cars, I mountain biked all through high school and got into road cycling in college. So I guess you could say that I never stopped being into bikes," he says.

If Brett isn't on a bike you can see him urban hiking the hills of SF or on a traditional hike in the Bay Area.

"I like to go on long hikes in the Bay Area, such as a McKnee Ranch to San Francisco coastal hike we did a year or so ago," he says.

Brett's founding of SF2G and his lifetime of cycling has made him a cheerleader of both transportation policy (he's gone to public meetings in support of completing the SF Bay Trail) and of those interested in bike commuting. To hold true to SF2G's policy of "no rider left behind," members of SF2G place (water soluble) arrows along the "best" route from SF to the Google campus in the days leading up to Bike to Work Day. The arrows are invaluable in keeping novice bike commuters on the easiest route down the peninsula and in ensuring that pedal power is the only concern of the day.

Brett promises that bike commuting is not an exclusive endeavor.

"Despite the fact that I'm obviously a bit of dedicated cyclist, SF2G and Bike to Work Day is not for people like me, it's for everyone!" he says.