I'm a Davis County resident who has been bike commuting for two years. Tuesday's I-15 incident resulting in arguably the worst traffic congestion in Utah's commuting history was one of those payoff days. Whizzing past gridlock, counting the idling cars that sat burning valuable fuel was extremely gratifying. The benefits that have come from making the 27-mile round-trip commute by bike presents a compelling argument for anyone wishing to ditch his car: a smaller carbon footprint, weight loss, improved health and financial savings.
Wait, financial savings? Even with gas topping $4 a gallon, driving my car is much cheaper than biking. Let me explain.
When I initially tell people I've parked my MDX in exchange for an MPV (man-powered vehicle), the first inquiry is typically "How long does it take you?" The second is "You must save a fortune in gas, don't you?" Yes, I spend much less in gas, but I'm not saving any money, even if I drive our Honda Civic. According to my heart rate monitor, I burn approximately 1,600 calories a day. When I initially started biking last year, I relied on my fat stores for fuel. With a pound of fat equaling roughly 1,750 calories, the pounds melted off. However, after two months and shedding 25 pounds of fuel reserves, I found myself consuming an extra meal or two a day just to keep up with the caloric demands. Not only was I spending money on bike tires, tune-ups, repairs and chain oil, I was spending an extra $4 a day in food.
To put things in perspective, a Big Mac extra value meal will run you almost $5 and only provide you with 1,250 calories. A gallon of gasoline on the other hand provides more than 30,000 calories. Give me 30,000 calories and put me on my bike, and I could ride all the way to Las Vegas and still have enough energy to cruise the strip a dozen times.
What most people fail to recognize when calculating the cost savings for transportation alternatives is that energy is energy, it just comes in different forms: gas, electricity or between two sesame seed buns. We've experienced this firsthand during the last year with an edict to produce more corn ethanol for a fuel alternative. Environmental issues aside, our search for alternative energy is just a cat and mouse game. During my last two years of bike commuting which I now augment with UTA I've learned that there are only a few transportation alternatives that are financially sustainable: public transit and telecommuting. If I were capable of installing a large sail to my bike or solar cells on my car, I might also include those in the list.
For people who attest that I'll spend less money on health care throughout my life, I'll argue that my chances of getting hit or injured while on my bike far outweigh the potential health savings. I very nearly experienced this when a passenger stuck in Tuesday's traffic jam decided to stretch his legs and opened his car door, completely obstructing the bike lane while I was cruising along at 25 mph.
Oh, and "how long does it take me to ride home from work?"
Well, Tuesday it took me 40 minutes.
Joshua Paulsen is a marketing analyst at the University of Utah and a resident of Bountiful. He has been bike commuting since spring 2007.