A year and a half ago, I began commuting to work on a bike, and I’ve never looked back. You heard me — I am one of the few, the proud, some might say crazy, people who prefer two wheels to four.
What at first began as a simple effort to lead by example by practicing what I preach as an urban planner and advocate for alternative transportation quickly became a transformative lifestyle change. Much to my surprise, I began to enjoy and actually prefer riding my bike to work, so much so that half-way into the year, I got rid of my car for good.
On some days, I ride all 10 miles directly to Downtown Miami from my home west of Coral Gables. On others, I ride four miles to the nearest Metrorail Station, and take the train in the rest of the way. Either way is preferable to stewing in traffic in a single occupancy vehicle.
And the benefits have been enormous. I’m saving a ton of money — upwards of $600/month — on transportation expenses; I’m in the best shape of my adult life, my stress levels are down significantly, I feel more in tune with the world around me, and I can take pride in knowing that I am doing my part for the environment.
But as those reading this might guess, commuting to work by bike is not without its challenges. Yes, you often sweat, especially during the summer months (although it’s not as bad as you might think); yes, it sometimes rains (although it’s not as often as you might think); yes, it’s not ideal for attending meetings away from the office (although it’s not as limiting as you might think), and yes, it’s not particularly safe (although not as scary as you might think). But on balance, all of these challenges are far outweighed by all of the benefits, and in any case, can be easily overcome.
Worried about sweat? Well, my office building has a gym with a shower, so I keep all of my dress clothes at work, and shower and change when I get in. No shower in your building — find a gym nearby!
Worried about rain? I keep rain gear with me at all times, and slip it on when there’s a light rain. During Miami’s famous tropical downpours, I opt for transit or hail a ride-share, like Uber, Lyft or Freebee.
Worried about meetings? Once again, the advent of ride-share, like Uber, Lyft or Freebee, allow you to easily and affordably travel to any destination that you can’t reach by bike or transit when you need to.
Worried about safety? Okay, you have a point. Miami really does suffer from poor bicycle infrastructure, which poses a significant danger to cyclists. At the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (the organization charged with oversight over the half-penny sales tax for transportation), we have taken recent steps to encourage and support the implementation of a countywide bike network, which would help to serve as first/last mile(s) feeders to our transit system, and provide direct connectivity to major employment centers and schools.
Many other agencies and organizations are attempting the same. But progress has been slow, funding is inadequate to the task, and antiquated engineering manuals and ways of thinking are holding back progress. Simply put, we can do better; we should do better; we must do better.
But that aside, I strongly encourage those who can (recognizing that it’s more difficult for some than others) to give biking to work or school a try. Your wallet, body, mind and soul — not to mention the planet and future generations — will all thank you for it. So saddle up, Miami —you can do it.
Javier A. Betancourt is executive director of the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT).