John Taylor of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance demonstrates how to use the bike rack found on an Advance Transit bus.
L to R: Charlotte Jeffreys, Bethany Fleishman, Sharon Racusin, Marcia Cassidy, Martha McDaniel, Scot Drysdale, and Hilde Ojibway. Photo: Aaron Brown
A chilly autumn morning greeted 5 volunteers and 3 Vital Communities staff members who met in front of Dan and Whit’s to test an interesting question: Is it fastest to get from Norwich to Hanover during rush hour by taking the bus, riding a bike, or driving alone and finding parking? It was October 21, a normal Tuesday workday, and traffic was thick while the competitors waited for the bus to arrive. Three cyclists with varying levels of equipment were there. Scot sported a recumbent bicycle, which are exceptionally efficient converters of pedal power to speed. On the opposite spectrum was Hilde’s used purple Schwinn, an unassuming but serviceable machine.
Vital Communities Transportation Program Manager Aaron Brown had cyclists and drivers sign a pledge to follow all traffic laws while participating – no speeding cars, no bikes running red lights or stop signs, etc. This would be a fair and legal race. Then the familiar sight of a white and blue Advance Transit bus turned right at the Norwich Inn at little after 8 am.
Valley News reporter James Patterson joined Aaron, Bethany, and Charlotte on the Advance Transit Brown Route bus. The race began when they boarded. The two drivers – Martha and Marcia – headed off in pursuit of the lots where they normally park for work – one at Dewey and the other at Thompson Arena. Riding on the bus, it was hard to keep track of the two cars due to the steady stream of other vehicles in the left lane. The cyclists, however, were easy to spot. Scot blazed ahead with his safety flag flying several feet above his bike.
The bus and bikes traded the lead a few times going down Route 5. But, right after the I-91 northbound exit ramp, the bus hit traffic. It was clear early on that the bikes would win. The bus riders continued to look for the cars but couldn’t see them.
The bus riders arrived at the finish line at the Hopkins Center about 11.5 minutes after boarding at Dan and Whit’s. Scot, Hilde, and the third cyclist, Sharon, were all waiting for them. Scot had arrived there first. His ride took little more than 9 minutes. Hilde barely beat the bus, but she made sure to “keep the results neat and clean” by keeping all cyclists in the winner category.
The group waited for the drivers to arrive. And waited. And waited. Finally, after the 20-minute mark, Marcia emerged from the side of the Hopkins Center, where she had walked from Thompson. The group enjoyed coffee and pastries and waited for Martha to arrive. It took her more than 30 minutes to join the group!
We had guessed that the bikes or bus would win, but we didn’t think the differences would be so drastic. Thanks to good bus service, a separated bike lane, and no need to find parking, biking and taking the bus are the fastest, most convenient ways to get into Hanover at rush hour. Plus, Zipcars are available on Dartmouth’s campus, which means one can enjoy a shorter commute and still have access to a car during the day for meetings or errands.
Resource Systems Group’s Eric Talbot rides his bike to work approximately 4 out of 5 days a week over the year. In the winter, when the weather is too harsh, Eric walks to work or rides the Green line on Advance Transit to White River Junction. Eric lives about a mile and a half from his office. His main motivations for riding his bike to work are that cars are expensive to own and maintain and he gets great exercise, especially going up a challenging hill on the way home.
Eric finds that most drivers are polite and accommodating to him on his commute. Even on roads without much shoulder, he has not had any problems. Eric mentioned a couple of benefits to working at RSG that help him commute to work on his bike: availability of shower on site and the ability to adjust his hours when the days get short to ride to work and home in the daylight
Smart Commute participants Sally McEwen and Anne D’Avenni of Mascoma Savings Bank both walk to work in Lebanon. Anne walks two or three times a week and it is about a mile round trip for her. Sally has been walking to work since she joined the bank in 1969. She has about a mile and half round trip. Both Sally and Anne supplement their morning walk with a brisk lunch time walk on the rail trail or around town. Mascoma Savings Bank joined the Smart Commute Project to encourage other employees to choose a healthy, affordable commute. The bank continues to encourage healthy lifestyles and going green with the development of a wellness committee. There has been a shift from driving alone to walking. Many employees share fitness classes and walk on breaks and lunches.
Hugh rides his bike to work three to four times a week. He catches a ride to the Norwich Park & Ride from his home in Thetford and rides his bike in to his office year round. That’s right. All year round. During the snowy season, he puts “snow tires” on his bike. The tires are knobby mountain bike tires with studs. Hugh knows there are other year round riders out there too; he sees their tracks.
Most important to biking to work, any time of year, is to make yourself visible to drivers. Hugh recommends a bright headlight in the front, and a flashing red light in the back. Reflective jackets are essential too. Hugh even got a helmet liner; it is not only bright orange, but it keeps the cold air out of those holes in the helmet. For Hugh, the benefits of riding his bike to work include “not putting more CO2 in the air.” And he describes himself as some one who needs to move, and riding his bike the 6 1/2 miles each way provides him with exercise for his body and spirit!