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EARTHWATCH

On a Roll : Bicycling is on its way to becoming a means to ease the commuting crunch.

July 11, 1991|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I am writing for the silent majority today. Bicycle riders. Yup. It's become California's favorite outdoor activity, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. Outpacing golf, tennis and skiing.

According to a Louis Harris poll, 21 million more Americans biked last year than voted in the presidential election.

It's not kid stuff anymore, either--54% of American adults biked sometime last year. And, of interest to readers of this column, it's emerging as an environmental issue for two reasons. One is Proposition 116, the recently passed Clean Air and Transportation Improvement Act that promotes alternatives to automobile commuting. The other is Ventura County's clean air law, known as Rule 210, which mandates single-driver trip reductions to and from the workplace.

Then there are some other new state and federal clean air and transportation measures that have just been introduced. Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), for example, has introduced a "bike bill" to promote commuting by bike.

This month in Ventura County, local environmental and transit officials will meet to figure out a way that county residents who bike to work--or want to bike to work--can get their cut of the $20 million set aside for that purpose by Proposition 116. I am assured by the officials involved that these funds are not endangered despite local and state budget squeezes.

Already nearly 5,000 county residents bike to work at least once a week, according to the California Transportation Commission, the body in charge of divvying up the state money. That's only 2% of our commuters, but the commission's survey and the Louis Harris poll both indicate that bike commuting would soar if safe bike paths, employer-funded incentives and workplace bike parking and shower facilities were made available.

Local firms such as Procter & Gamble, First Interstate's credit card department, Farmers Insurance and Rocketdyne are already offering the at-work amenities, while Proposition 116 is supposed to provide bike lanes between home and work.

"We want a bridge over Beardsley Wash and safer bike access between Ventura and Oxnard," says Eudace Young, president of the Oxnard-Ventura Bicycle Club. The club offers a "survival course" on weekends for folks like you and me who want to resume biking--didn't we all know how once upon a time?--whether for commuting or pleasure.

Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn recently started biking again. "I was impressed by a remark John Avery (a local bike merchant) made at the recent Bike to Work Day held at County Center: It's time-efficient. It gets you out of your car and gives you exercise instead of going to the gym and being away from your family. And it's great for the stomach muscles."

This family angle was echoed by Procter & Gamble bike commuter Joe Reets, who says: "When I take the extra 15 minutes each way to commute by bike, it's as good as an hour at the gym that day. This is time I can now spend with my family."

Procter & Gamble provides shower facilities. But they're not necessary in all cases. Scott Fowser of Rocketdyne lives close enough to work that he can put on his suit and tie at home, bike to work and "arrive refreshed but still dry." He's representative of the 50% of all American commuters who live within five miles of work--and could easily bike-commute.

* FYI

* For information on how to fund local bike-use projects via Proposition 116, write your county supervisor or call Ginger Gherardi at the Ventura County Transportation Commission, 654-2888.

* Employers subject to Rule 210 and interested in consultations or promoting employee bicycle commuting may contact: Commuter Computer, 656-RIDE; the Oxnard-Ventura Bicycle Club, 983-3412; or the California Transportation Commission bicycle coordinator, (916) 445-1690.

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