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Slow Lane Suits Bike Commuters

More workers pedal in Ventura County than elsewhere in the region. The climate and civic cooperation may be why. Nice views too.

September 27, 2004|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Like many commuters, sales rep Bruce Schofield rises in the dark each morning to get to work on time. He brushes his teeth, throws on his clothes and hops onto his bike.

He is among the rarest breed of commuters in car-dependent Southern California -- the bicyclist.

"It's one less car on the road," said Schofield, who hits the streets at 5:45 a.m. three or four days a week to make the 31-mile trip from Ventura to Newbury Park.

Although the number of people in a five-county region of the Southland who bike to work is minuscule compared with drivers, their numbers are highest in Ventura County.

A combination of favorable climate, cooperative employers and a bike-friendly bus system makes the experience easier in Ventura County, said Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the county Transportation Commission.

"A lot of people say it's because the weather's so good," Gherardi said.

Although data on bicycle commuters are scarce, a 1999 survey by the Southern California Assn. of Governments found that 1% of commuters in Ventura, Orange and San Bernardino counties rode bikes to work. Of the 525 people queried in each county, six in Ventura, five in Orange and four in San Bernardino counties said they cycled.

In Los Angeles and Riverside counties, the percentage of those who biked to work was almost zero.

The 2000 census reported that 1.7% of commuters in Ventura and Orange counties biked or used a means other than walking, mass transit or a car to get to work, compared with 1.6% in Los Angeles County, 1.8% in Riverside County and 1.4% in San Bernardino County.

Still, only 49 of 30,000 employees working for Ventura County's largest companies said they regularly commute by bicycle, said Alan Holmes, manager of the county rideshare program, which conducts its own survey.

Bicycle commuters in Ventura County say riding to work along the majestic coast, past resplendent fields and aromatic citrus groves can be exhilarating -- despite the bumpy roads, rude drivers and dangerous intersections.

"Deep down, I hate driving," said Josh Haggmark, 29, of Ventura, an engineer with the city of Santa Barbara.

"It grinds me down. If I can combine a way to get to work with needed exercise -- because all I do is sit all day -- then that's a great benefit. I'm an adrenaline junkie, and it feels good to get the heart pumping."

Haggmark rides his bicycle home from work two or three days a week, a 35-mile trek that takes an hour and a half pedaling or half an hour by car. He rides the VISTA Coastal Express commuter bus to Santa Barbara in the mornings, putting his bike in the cargo area below the bus.

"It takes a lot of planning for it to happen," Haggmark said. "But when I get home, I feel awesome."

Haggmark said he was trying to organize a group of Ventura residents who work in Santa Barbara to ride bikes home together on summer evenings. They could avoid traffic jams on the Ventura Freeway while taking turns riding in each other's draft as they cruised along the coast.

"It's fun to ride with someone," he said. "You can break the wind resistance for a minute or two and rest. It makes a huge difference."

For 44-year-old Schofield, the ride from his home in a west Ventura trailer park to Newbury Park is a challenging, dangerous and ultimately rewarding experience that saves money, helps the environment and keeps him in top physical condition. As an inside sales representative for Giant Bicycles, he sits behind a desk much of the day.

His nearly two-hour trip takes him over surface streets and bike paths, across the Santa Clara River Bridge and up narrow, winding Potrero Road, which traverses the steepest hill in the county.

Since taking a spill in June and injuring his calf, he has slowed down a bit, pedaling only as far as Oxnard or Camarillo, where he hops a VISTA bus for the remainder of his commute. But he plans to resume his routine when his leg heals.

"I'm committed to doing this as long as possible," Schofield said.

He carries a change of clothes and shoes in a small pack attached to his seat. His company installed a shower for him and a few other employees who bike to work semiregularly.

Schofield and other cyclists acknowledge that cleaning up can be one of the biggest deterrents to bicycle commuting.

"It's a matter of getting people out of their commitment to the car lifestyle and to see the benefit," he said.

Kate and Bill Faulkner realized the benefits 14 years ago, when they moved to Ventura to take jobs with Channel Islands National Park.

Although real estate agents tried to steer them to newer homes in east Ventura, they settled on one in Midtown, five miles from park offices at the Ventura Harbor.

"People always say how lucky we are that we have such a convenient route to go to work," said Bill Faulkner, president of the Channel Islands Bike Club. "But it wasn't luck at all. Kate and I made a choice to make cycling part of our transportation options."

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