Commuters turn to cycling as interstate congestion grows

LAWRENCEVILLE - John Dama used to sit in traffic on Interstate 285, daydreaming of a better way to get to work. He had lots of time to think about it - the one-way commute sometimes took an hour and fifteen minutes.

When he changed jobs and started working at Cisco in Lawrenceville two years ago, Dama made his dream come true, changing his mode of commuting altogether. He now rides a bicycle.

"I always had this dream," he said. "I was inspired by years of waiting in 285 traffic."

It's a dream shared by others this week as Americans celebrate Ride Your Bike To Work Week.

While riding a bike to work is not an option for everyone because of the distance involved, it is becoming a more viable option as people try to live closer to work because of traffic and rising fuel costs.

According to the Atlanta-based Clean Air Campaign, 80,000 commute trips were logged in 2008 by bicycling commuters participating in some of the group's incentive programs. During the last three years, the group also reports that the number of commuter trips taken by cyclists has doubled.

With more communities becoming live-work-play and with more office buildings weighing the option of including bike racks and shower facilities, it appears that biking to work is only going to continue to grow in popularity.

"I'm surprised more people don't do it," said Peachtree Corners resident Jeff Snyder, who bikes the two-and-a-half mile, one-way trip to work at Fiserv each day. "If more people tried it, I think a lot of people would enjoy it more than they think."

Snyder said the only thing that keeps his dual-suspension mountain bike off the road is "frozen precipitation and lightning." He also said his reason for biking to work is simple.

"I realized I could make a real difference by bicycling every day," he said. "As long as my pickup truck isn't moving, I'm helping things. It's really a win-win situation."

Snyder said the benefits of that win-win include reduced air pollution, the potential for a lower insurance rate and less money spent on gas and car maintenance. The effect of that is less wear and tear on the vehicle, he said, and Snyder's pickup only had 4,000 miles put on it last year.

There's also a benefit most people won't even realize until they try biking to work, he said.

"Riding a bike puts you in the moment and when you get to work you haven't had a commute," he said. "You get to work and you're smiling. And when you leave it's a great way to clear your head. It's also a great way to work in some exercise."

The exercise factor was what got Dama to start riding his bike to Cisco 18 months ago. That and those traffic memories from 285, which inspired him, he said.

"I always wanted to try riding to work but never got it together because it seemed a little overwhelming," he said. "But I really don't have the discipline to exercise and I do have to get to work, so bicycle commuting kills two birds with one stone."

Dama said he's got his commute via Old Snellville Highway to Sugarloaf Parkway and then to Cisco down pat. The seven-mile jaunt takes him 23 to 24 minutes and he takes a shower at work in the morning if necessary.

For those without the ability to shower at work, Dama advised using baby wipes or talking to the janitor and having them turn the broom closet into a changing area.

His other advice for people thinking about making the switch to bicycle commuting is to learn the rules of the road concerning cyclists in the Georgia Drivers manual, which is available online, and to be visible by using reflectors, headlights, taillights and reflective clothing. He also recommended taking a "Confident City Cycling" class offered by the nonprofit Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. He said the course can teach people how to handle a bike in traffic and how to fix a flat tire, among other things.

"The hardest part about bicycle commuting is getting started," he said.

He also offered some advice to the motor vehicles who share the road with bicyclists.

"Share the road and understand bicycles are vehicles, too," he said. "Not everyone has a bike lane."