My turn: It's possible to be car-free and carefree in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2005

This Friday is Bike to Work Day sponsored by the Juneau Freewheelers. For people who are unable to ride a bicycle, perhaps this can be "Alternative Transportation Day."

I want to share my enthusiasm for this event and a bicycle-dependent lifestyle. I use a bike, and to a lesser extent Capital City Transit, as my primary source of transportation.

My partner and I sold our vehicle last winter because it sat unused. Aside from dreadful driving skills, I choose not to possess a vehicle for economic, health, and environmental reasons.

According to AAA, the owner of a 2005 vehicle spends roughly $10,000 yearly on fuel, maintenance, tires, insurance, licensing, taxes, registration, depreciation, and finance. Visit AAA's Web site and complete a worksheet to determine the cost of your vehicle. Even if one only provides life support to a kayak-carrying Juneau body Subaru with a Flintstones floor, the dollars add up. To date, I've spent only $182 on transportation in 2005 by not owning a vehicle.

Beyond economic incentives, consider the personal health benefits of a bicycle-centric lifestyle. "Cycling for 30 minutes a day most days of the week meets the U.S. Public Health Services' recommendations for exercise," said bicycle-commuting Juneauite Karl Bausler FNP, PA, of the SEARHC medical center.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2003 Traffic Safety Facts, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for every age from 2 through 33.

Lessening petroleum dependency by driving less benefits the environment by reducing exhaust from vehicles. It benefits our local community by reducing traffic, and benefits the international community by lessening the demand for the controversial fossil fuel.

I took a fraction of the savings from not owning a vehicle and modified my mountain bike with fenders, a mirror, panniers, lights, a marine-grade rechargeable air horn, studded winter and road tires, and a trailer. I cached another fraction of the dough for the occasional taxi ride, foul weather gear, and bus fare.

Before selling the family wheels, however, it is important to understand the side effects of bicycle dependency. My commute time increased and life became less spontaneous. I've collided with two cars and a few scars tattoo my body from wrecks. More time is spent shopping and recycling. Clothing for the day is a challenge and one must allocate time to clean up before work.

Other considerations for me included prearranging the use of a neighbor's car in case of an emergency. I was able to find a residence in Douglas on the bus line, close to a grocery store and work.

Depending on wind, the ride from the Valley to downtown takes about 45 minutes; Douglas to town about 10 minutes; Thane to town about 25 minutes; and Bonnie Brae to town about 20 minutes. Hauling a kayak by bike is my next challenge.

After a stressful day at work, the journey home unwinds me. I bump into friends more often than when car-bound, and parking issues and speeding tickets are only bad memories now. The ride renders smells, sounds, and sights a vehicle can insulate one from - water cascading over mossy rocks in a road-side creek, the delicate smell of an unknown wildflower, or a songbird's distant melody. Once I walk though the door, I have processed the day and relax into evening.

By combining bike riding, walking, public transit services, and the occasional cab, it can be easy to live car-less and, in my experience, the benefits outweigh the inconveniences. Whether you ride twice a year or every day, grab a helmet and coast on in for treats and coffee on Friday. The forecast looks good.

• Scott Burton is a care provider for people with abilities and disabilities, writer, musician, art salesperson, naturalist, and bicycle lover.

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