I No Longer Like “Commuting”

You can’t help learning stuff writing a weblog.

I’ve learned quite a bit about using a bicycle as basic transportation since beginning Carbon Trace. I expect to learn a lot more.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned to dislike: the gerund “commuting.”

When I started writing this blog I used “commuting” differently compared to traffic experts. I started with the dictionary definition: “to travel regularly over some distance, as from a suburb into a city and back.” Following from this, I also used it to mean any travel at all from point A to point B. So “bicycle commuting” to me was getting around on a bicycle for basic transportation.

I’ve since learned that traffic experts tend to use it to mean traveling regularly over some distance, as from a suburb into a city and back, to a place of employment or other purposeful location. I was using “bicycle commuting” to mean “utility bicycling” — the former one aspect of the latter.

A funny thing happened: I started disliking “commuting,” or, rather, the emphasis I’ve seen placed on commuting in bicycle advocacy. I certainly commute to work by bicycle, and I recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. But there is general cultural block that makes riding a bicycle to work seem terribly difficult — especially for women. How to dress. Fear of sweating. Time pressure. Social pressure. Traffic fear. All of these and more play a role in the perception that bicycle commuting is difficult.

I now think emphasizing bicycle commuting as a part of bicycle advocacy is a bad idea. It just throws up too many culturally-bound barriers and fears.

This is why I like the 1-mile Solution better, and it is why I used it as the focus of the Drive Less, Live More booklet our local advocacy committee published with the help of Ozark Greenways and the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Riding a bicycle near home just doesn’t present as many culturally-bound problems as commuting to work.

If we can get people on bicycles for routine travel near home, they will figure it out on their own that bicycle commuting isn’t all that difficult — assuming positive individual perceptions of proximity and safety that the 1-MS can address.

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Comments 9

  1. John B. wrote:

    Andy,
    This causes me to do a bit of thinking–especially because I’ve recently been giving serious thought to a project whose primary audience is bike-commuters (to-and-from-work riders).

    I have more navel-gazing to do, but I’m sure you won’t mind if I do it over at my own place . . . In all seriousness, though, thanks for posting this.

    Posted 13 Jun 2009 at 10:29 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    John… I’m a big fan of navel gazing :-) I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

    Posted 13 Jun 2009 at 12:57 pm
  3. Keri wrote:

    Andy, I agree! In the year I’ve been doing this, I’d had the same feelings about “commuting.” And it’s in the friggin’ name of my website ;-)

    Especially here, people have (sometimes real) barriers to using a bike to get to work. Some need a car for work, some absolutely need a shower, some have huge distances…

    But when we emphasize bike commuting, people who can’t just discard the notion and it doesn’t occur to them that they could ride to the store or the local farmer’s market, ride to get ice cream with the family, etc.

    CO author, Rodney, does a great job with the guys he works with, encouraging them to run errands on their bikes. Most of them live too far away to commute to work by bike.

    Posted 13 Jun 2009 at 3:18 pm
  4. Kevin Love wrote:

    I find commuting to be useful in bike advocacy. Governments tend to be resistant to spending tens of millions of dollars for recreational cycling. “Go have fun with your own money” tends to be the response.

    But getting to work is something that can be, and has been, successful at prying open the coffers of the treasury.

    Posted 13 Jun 2009 at 6:45 pm
  5. Rodney wrote:

    My ultimate goal is to have as many of my co-workers “commute” by bike as possible. As Keri mentioned, some are quite the distance from work. So I discovered a compromise was in order. Encourage them to trade 1 or more short car trips in for bicycle trips.

    Utility cycling, has become my style of riding. I have the Grocery Getter trailer that I use to haul two weeks worth of groceries home 2x per month. (9-10 of the reusable shopping bags)

    We have been to the pet food store, recycling center, and visited the local bike co-op to donate a bicycle and various parts and shop needs.

    My son likes riding in his kiddo trailer and gets his helmet every time he sees me doing something with my bike.

    Utility cycling/commuting has opened my eyes to a whole new world!

    Posted 14 Jun 2009 at 6:42 am
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Kevin… Good point re: funding. But I’m not talking recreational bicycling, as I think you understand. I think we need to stress utility (that includes commuting) in order to expand how the powers that be think about what bicycling is.

    Posted 14 Jun 2009 at 10:42 am
  7. MamaVee wrote:

    I completely agree. I mean- I wouldn’t say to not promote commuting per se. But I agree about the 1 mile deal. I live in a suburb. I have two kids. During the week I tend to travel within 1-2 mile jags. I often don’t leave my town.

    I am trying to go as much as possible by my cargo bike within town. I’ve been telling all who ask that my goal is to make most of my trips 2 miles and under by bike. ( sometimes I don’t do well on this but I’m human) I think ppl around town see this as actually doable and see me as someone *like* them and not some radical. Even though I wouldn’t call myself mainstream if that makes any sense. I’m just me doing my thing…

    Posted 14 Jun 2009 at 11:28 am
  8. Kevin Love wrote:

    Andy… Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that local utility trips are recreational cycling.

    Upon further thought, there is an informal heirarchy of “goodness” of cycle trips. Here in Ontario, the remnants of the Protestant work ethic mean that cycle commuting is the ne plus ultra “sacred” Philosophers Stone in bike advocacy.

    Posted 15 Jun 2009 at 6:46 am
  9. Andy Cline wrote:

    Kevin… That’s interesting. Sometimes I think the reason we emphasize it in the U.S. is that we can’t think much beyond sport cycling.

    Posted 15 Jun 2009 at 10:02 am