Fuel for change

High gas prices push Juneau commuters onto their bikes

Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2005

Juneau isn't every biker's paradise.

It rains an average of 223 days a year. It snows for a third of the time that it isn't raining.

But with rising fuel prices and now longer, sometimes sunny days, more Juneau residents are biking to work.

"Gas is not going to get any cheaper," said Aaron Logan, a 23-year-old draftsman at an architecture firm downtown. He started biking to work in April, when regular gasoline prices hit $2.51 a gallon. This weekend Juneau motorists paid an average of $2.56 a gallon.

To celebrate National Bike to Work Day on Friday, the Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club invited bikers to meet at the Bonnie Brae neighborhood, Douglas library or Super Bear Supermarket for a group ride.

About 125 bikers joined the event. The incentives included free breakfast at Silverbow Bagels and Super Bear and free showers at JRC The Alaska Club.

The organization estimates that about 100 Juneau residents bike to work regularly.

Cyclists said biking to work brings more benefits than just saving money.

"You are not burning fossil fuel. You get to see the flowers. And you don't need to fight traffic," said Diane Kenski, who bikes from her Crowhill condo to her office on Hospital Drive.

Logan said biking allows him to "blow past suckers on Douglas Bridge during rush hours."

Joe Buck, public works director of the city, said he shed 10 pounds last summer by riding 5 miles every morning from his home near the Juneau-Douglas High School to his office next to the Alaskan Brewing Co. "It's good for your body," Buck said.

He started biking to work because to get more exercise. "I like hiking but I cannot fit hiking in my schedule every day."

Buck gained the 10 pounds back in the winter, when he drove to work.

Despite the benefits of biking to work, many things have deterred residents from getting on their saddles.

"Safety is a big thing," said Cheryl Levitt, who bikes daily from her house in north Douglas to her office at KTOO-FM and TV. "Not all cars know how to share the roads with bikers."

And not all roads in Juneau have shoulders for bikes. Even those that do are ridden with gravel, glass and dirt, said Frankie Pillifant, a land and natural resources consultant who bikes to meetings around town.

Pillifant said she would like the city to improve the road conditions and install more bike racks.

Levitt said the lack of shower rooms in most offices prevents people from biking to work. Some people don't like the inconvenience of carrying working suits and changing clothes.

And Juneau's capricious weather can be hostile to bikers. "People like to use their cars for umbrellas," Pillifant said.

But hardy bikers like Rorie Watt seldom let the weather bother them.

Watt, chief capital improvement project engineer for the city, bikes to work even when the road is icy.

"You just have to be careful," Watt said. "The trick is to take your weight from your front tire and sit back a little bit."

Juneau Freewheelers is expanding this year's program to hold its first Bike to School Day on Tuesday. High school students who bike to school can get free breakfast.

The club will have bike valet parking on May 28 at the University of Alaska Southeast from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for people who attend the Juneau Jazz and Classics concerts.

"Biking is my major mechanism to stay in shape," Levitt said. "Everybody can do it regardless of age and fitness level."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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