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Local bike commuting gets national attention
Even without students, numbers impress

Did you hear the news? List magazine has listed Savannah on its top 10 list of cities most likely to be listed on a list.

I'm kidding, of course, but Savannah does wind up on a lot of lists these days. It can be confusing. For instance, Thrillist ranked Savannah seventh on its list of "America's Most Hipster Cities." Meanwhile our city is No. 13 on Travel + Leisure's list of "America's Best Cities for Hipsters."

Well, get ready for more lists. Savannah was recently ranked No. 4 on the top 10 list of rainiest cities where bicycle commuters "brave the elements." How is such a thing determined? By combining data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey with annual average precipitation totals.

This list is contained within "Where We Ride: Analysis of Bicycling in American Cities," a report published Nov. 18 by the League of American Bicyclists.

Using census data, it tracks bicycle commuting trends throughout the nation. It places Savannah at No. 12 on its "Top 20 Bike Cities" in the South and No. 31 on its nationwide "Top Commute Share" list among cities with populations of 100,000-200,000.

The percentage of commuters who get to work by bike in Savannah is 1.3 percent, according to ACS data. That may not seem high, but consider that it is more than double the national average. Atlanta's, by comparison, is at .6 percent. Davis, CA, tops the nationwide list with 19.1 percent of its citizens traveling to work by bike.

And these numbers are conservative. The report's authors point out the ACS "does not count commuters as bicyclists if they rode only part of the week, or rode their bicycle to transit and the transit portion was longer, etc." Locally, the census data almost certainly undercounts college students who ride bikes to class or part-time jobs.

Savannah Bicycle Campaign board member Ben Allen is probably typical of many Savannah bicycle commuters. He's a creative professional who rides from his home in the Parkside neighborhood to his office near Forsyth Park. His reasons for commuting clearly frame the benefits of going by bike.

"I ride my bike to work for exercise, increased energy, fun, relaxation and because I don't have to think about parking once I arrive," he says. "Saving gas money is a bonus."

Stephen and Kelly Dmetruk are bicycle commuters and self-described "desk jockeys at an office on Chatham Parkway." That's right, Chatham Parkway. Not exactly a bicycle-friendly area.

They ride from their home near the Habersham Village Shopping Center, using a route and timing designed to avoid peak periods of automobile and tractor trailer traffic. They also wear reflective vests and use "extremely bright" head and tail lights on their 16-mile round trip.

The Dmetruk's commute, despite its epic length, is of a type that is not captured in ACS data because they do not ride every workday, further underscoring the underreporting of bicycle commuting.

Their motivation is similar to Allen's.

"I had a bike and I wanted to ride it more, but was often pretty tired after I got home from work and didn't want to do anything," Stephen says. "Biking to and from work has been a great way of getting to go on bike rides on weekdays."

Kelly agrees. "I like commuting by bike because I love being outdoors, especially after being cooped up inside all day at work," she says. "I am increasingly lazy about exercising just for the sake of exercising, so biking to work is the perfect way for me to be active and get some fresh air."

There are downsides to bicycle commuting, according to Allen, but they aren't necessarily bicycle-specific.

"The major obstacles I face on my bike are the same ones I face when I drive my car: Motorists speeding past stop signs and lurching to a semi-stop in intersections, and motorists distracted by their phones," he says.

Along with their efforts to be as visible as possible, the Dmetruks take additional steps to reduce risk.

"We are pretty cautious about biking on Chatham Parkway, especially where it crosses Ogeechee Road, as there have been a lot of car/bicycle accidents there and even a few fatalities," they explain.

The Dmetruks are likely atypical of bicycle commuters usually seen at that intersection in that they ride by choice, not by necessity. Those who depend on their bicycles as their main mode of transportation are often the most vulnerable users of our streets. Let's hope the safety in numbers effect engendered by a rise in elective bicycle commuting benefits those who have no choice but to ride.