November 10, 2011  10:11 AM

My car made me do it: A commuter's tale


Andy Williams and co-commutersA fuel leak frees up a Milwaukie man to become a bike commuter

Andy Williams lives in Milwaukie and works on Portland's Swan Island. Thanks to his car, he commutes 25 miles a day … by bike.

A couple of years ago, this 39-year-old had been pondering parking his automobile and using his bike to get to and from work, but it seemed like a daunting jump. He talked with some full-time bike commuters and it planted the seed. "If they can do it, why can't I?" Less than a month after that conversation, Andy's car gave him the final push he needed when it developed a fuel leak. Andy decided to ride his bike to work until he could get around to fixing the car.

Andy has two main routes to his job at Daimler Trucks, North America: the safer route and the shorter one. The safer route takes him on the Springwater Corridor Trail to the Eastbank Promenade and then onto surface streets. The shorter route is all surface streets, and one he avoids when it is too rainy or dark because it puts him too close to automobile traffic. Either way, it takes Andy between 45 minutes to an hour to get between work and home. That's often times faster than a rush hour drive along Highway 99E.

Once Andy started pedaling to work, he couldn't stop. Now Andy bikes everywhere: for recreation, for errands, to explore neighborhoods and for trips with his family. His wife, Donna, now bikes more than she ever has. Their 12-year-old daughter Madeline pedals along and 2-year-old son Max gets a ride in a bike trailer.

More than anything, Andy enjoys the freedom he's found on his bike. No longer stuck sitting in rush hour traffic, Andy goes wherever he wants to, whenever he wants. He loves:

  • venturing down different streets when the urge to wander hits
  • experiencing the air, the trees and scenery in a way you don't when whizzing by in a car
  • parking anywhere … for free!
  • not being tied down by the price at the pump.

Since Andy's a data guy, he calculates he saves about $1,200 dollars a year in gas. Add about $1,000 for insurance and miscellaneous costs for parking and car care, and the savings total more than $2,500 a year.

Andy invested some of that money in rain gear. He admits his first winter biking in the rain was a bit tough to deal with. His jacket and pants were only somewhat waterproof and that left him a bit damp at work. But nowadays, Andy's prepared with better quality rain clothes and fenders on his bike.

What does Andy say to those contemplating bike commuting? Just get on your bike and go, and don't psyche yourself out thinking you have to bike to work every day. Andy advised people at his workplace to try bike commuting just one day, and then take it from there.

He says the actual experience of doing it talks in ways words cannot. For Andy, riding has been more rewarding than he ever imagined and physically, he's in better shape than he has ever been – without even trying.

The car? Well, he'll get around to fixing it one of these days.

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