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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