Biking to work not only on Earth Day or in May: Two cyclists go the distance for sustainable commuting

I have the shortest, quickest, cleanest work commute: from the bed to the desk. I work from home, and it’s wonderful. To attend an event or meet with a client here in Denton, Texas, I always try to ride my bike.

My Midwestern parents raised us to bike anywhere you needed to go, unless it’s snowing, sleeting, or hailing. My professor father wheels through slushy streets, and the neighboring college kids drive past yelling, “See you in class!” A wee bit competive, he pedals faster to holler back “I’ll be waiting for you!”

So I wasn’t surprised when my brother entered in a bike race in sunnier South Carolina. The city of Greenville held a commuting competition today to celebrate Earth Day 2017 by pitting car vs. bus vs. bike. My brother, Tim Hibbard, started the company EnGraph to make transportation routes more efficient through GPS. Of course Tim knew the fastest, smartest, cheapest way to get to the City Hall: on bike. And he didn’t have to cut any corners (or even wear spandex) to win the race fair and square. A win for the Earth, and for commuting cyclists everywhere.

My husband, Daniel Cifuentes, comes from “The City of Eternal Spring”, where weather is never an excuse not to bike. Even towering Andes mountains are no obstacle. Here in flat Texas, he hadn’t reckoned on the force of prairie winds whipping across open ranches, nor the whoosh of extra-wide trucks roaring down the highway. He took them on in full force smack in the middle of March winds for his inaugral bike commute of over twenty miles to the coffee roasting company Farmer Brothers. Daniel helps farmers sustainably grow coffee, and in the name of sustainability he pedal-powered himself to work on March 17, 2017.

I interviewed Tim Hibbard and Daniel Cifuentes on biking to work for Earth Day. Could it be done every day?

Tinto Tinta Translations (TTT): Where do you live, where do you work, and what’s the distance between them?

Tim Hibbard (TH): I live in downtown Greenville and I work in a neighborhood called the village of West Greenville in an old textile mill that’s been converted into a coworking space. That is about 3.5 miles each way.

Today’s race was from a Walgreens in a neighborhood called Silverbrook to City Hall in downtown, and that ended up being about 3.3 miles.

Daniel Cifuentes (DC): I live in Denton, which is in the north of Texas, within the DFW area. I work in Farmer Brothers, which is located in Northlake. It’s halfway between Denton and Ft. Worth on I-35W. Between my work and my home there are 22-23 miles.

TTT: How do you normally commute to work?

TH: I always go on bike. We only have one car. So I bike.

DC: I drive my own car to work most of the time. I have a coworker that lives in the same city and sometimes we carpool together. I just tried once to bike to my work.

TTT: Are there any other options available, like mass transit or carpooling?

TH: Yep, there a couple of bus stops close by to where I live, and I’ll take those sometimes if it’s really raining, but I have to transfer and so that takes a while. If it’s raining I’ll typically just wait and work from home for a little bit, because I have that as an option. I pretty much always bike.

DC: There is a new route that the Ft. Worth transportation company started October last year. It’s called the Express North route, number 64, that goes from downtown Ft. Worth to downtown Denton. But the price is a little bit expensive, and it stops at the Alliance airport, which is around 3 miles from my office. So I would need to walk or bike those 3 miles, but the road is on Interstate 35 and it’s not safe.

TTT: Why did you choose to bike to work that day? Had you biked there before or was this the first time? 

TH: I bike there every day.

DC: That was my first time. I wanted to know if I could do it more often. I wanted to test the route and the tolerance of Texas drivers. To see how easy it was, how long it would take me to get there, to see if it’s a viable option for my commute. It’s something I can do maybe once per month. It’s not a viable option to do on a daily basis.

TTT: Were you able to ride in bike lanes or sidewalks, or did you share the road?

TH: Race: This particular route started out on a 4-lane arterial route, but it was only that way for a block or two. Then it went to a 2-lane road with a sharrow, but as we got closer to downtown the last 2 miles was all bike lane.

Normal commute: I have an option of bike lanes 100% of the way. I usually go a way that is a little bit faster but without bike lanes.

DC: I took an alternative route 377, that goes parallel to I-35. I was sharing the road with cars, but the road had a big shoulder so I felt safe riding that way.

TTT: How did the motorized commuters treat you? Did they give you wide berth? Did they heckle you? How do you feel sharing the road with drivers?

TH: For the most part the drivers are respectful. I make sure that they see me, that I have my lights on, that I’m visible. I try not to surprise drivers. You’re always going to have the few that don’t like bikers and are going to honk, that don’t like you being there. For the most part the drivers are pretty good.

DC: I felt safe. A couple of cars waved at me and kind of encouraged me to keep going. But there are some big trucks that threatened me a little bit, not because they were driving close to me, but just because they’re big and they were driving fast. If one of them is distracted, like texting, then maybe because of the size of the car it could hit me, so that was a little scary.

TTT: Was there ever any moment when you feared for your life? You’re wearing a helmet, but other drivers have steel and more protective elements. How exposed do you feel?

TH: I feel safe because I pay really close attention, but I’ve been suprised before so I just try to remain very diligent. Yes I do feel safe when I’m biking. There’s a lot more that we can do and that we should be doing, because most people would not feel safe. There are options, like protected bike lanes. There are easy things cities can do, as far as moving how cars park along the street to create protected bike lanes without actually doing anything but repaint parking strips. Cities need to be paying attention to those things and doing those things so more bicyclists feel safe biking down the road.

DC: No. I’ve been biking all my life, and I feel safe when I do so. The drivers were not aggressive, but maybe are more so on I-35. This road has stoplights and the speed limit is less, so maybe they drive a little more cautiously.

TTT: What were the road conditions? Any challenges with obstructions, like parked cars, low tree branches, or broken glass?

TH: In the downtown area Greenville does a really good job of keeping the streets clean. A lot of time road debris ends up in the bike lanes, but Greenville does a good job of keeping those bike lanes clean. There’s never an issue with junk in the bike lanes.

DC: No, the condition of the road was very good. The only hard condition that I had to face was the wind. It slowed me down a lot.

TTT: How could your commuting route be made make more bike-friendly?

TH: The number one thing is protected bike lanes. All cities should be looking at that. Another thing that they could do that is easy is looking at how lights are timed, especially on routes that are uphill. I have one uphill climb in particular in the downtown core, and I’ll hit every red light. I have a way that’s 100% bike lane, but I choose to go another way because on that road the lights are timed slower. I’d rather share with cars and hit green lights then have my own bike lane and go slower stopping at every single red light (and be going uphill at the same time). Cities have computers that can run models to determine effects of traffic lights and what would happen to congestion if they changed the designed speed of that road in order to make it more friendly for bicyclists.

DC: I feel there’s enough space in the road to mark the shoulders with bike signs or put some signs on the road so that the cars know they’re sharing the road, so they’re more aware of us bikers. That would improve the road.

TTT: How could fellow commuters make it less intimidating to be out on the road on a bike?

TH: The onus is really on the bicyclists. There are a lot of bicyclists that do things that make drivers upset. They run stop lights, they run stop signs, they cut in and out, they ride three-people deep, they block people. One bad bike rider will really spoil the bunch. A lot of drivers don’t like bicyclists because they can be jerks and act entitled. We need to be respectful. Just as we want our space on the road, we need to give vehicles their space on the road, and we can both be happy. I really think it’s on the bicyclists to be good examples. And then the drivers will be more likely to be more respectul to us.

DC: If they are more aware of the bikers because there are signs and there are spaces where bikes have a priority, maybe they will drive a little more carefully, knowing they’re sharing the road with someone with less protection.

TTT: How could your work space make it more inviting to arrive on bike? More secure bike racks? Financial incentives similar to bus passes given to other commuters?

TH: They do a great job. As far as a bus pass, my company pays for public transit. The actual facility has indoor bike parking with locks, showers, lockers. They’re very bike-friendly. I could not be happier with where I bike to.

DC: I think it’s hard for my workplace to do so because we’re located on the side of an interstate road. I don’t see it as very feasible for my workplace to do activities that promote biking to work. We’re in front of the Texas Motor Speedway and it’s only used 4 to 5 times a year, so maybe they can encourage us to bike some loops around the speedway.

TTT: Are sweaty shirts and helmet hair a factor? How can you arrive to work on bike while keeping a professional appearance? 

TH: Nope, we have showers. Yeah, you don’t want to be that guy.

DC: No, because we have showers at my workplace. I can change my clothes.

TTT: What would you say to your coworkers who live close enough to ride but haven’t considered it an option yet?

TH: Yes, there are those people, but they are becoming less and less because more and more people are biking to work; it’s great. There are probably 10 of us that bike pretty much every day, out of the 70 people who work in the coworking facility; that’s a really good number. So, many people are biking to work. To the people who aren’t: give it a try once. If you hate it, then at least you tried.

DC: I would say that the people who live close can talk about it with others and form a group of 4-5 people. So if they’re afraid of the road and that a car can hit them, they’ll be in a group and more visible.

TTT: Do you plan to commute to work again?

TH: Yes ma’am, every day.

DC: Yes, I want to do it at least once a month.

TTT: Will you do anything differently next time?

TH: No, I’m happy with the route. The weather’s nice. I really like it.

DC: I think the only thing that was hard was the wind, and that’s something that’s beyond my control. Next time I will take the same route. Besides the wind, there’s nothing else I would change.

TTT: How do you think the city should interpret the results from today’s race, the fact that you won as a biker?

TH: I think in most situations the bike’s going to win, just because there are so many ways it’s more convenient. Today’s results show that we’re off to a good start. With continued investment in biking infrastructure, especially with protected lanes, we can make it even easier for more people to bike to work every day.

***

May is National Bike Month. May 19 is National Bike to Work Day. We can make biking not just an annual event, but a regular part of our lifestyle and work culture. Tim is committed to biking every day, and Daniel every month.

They are aware of their role in making cycling more prevalent. What can you do?

Bikers: Be visible, be alert, and have increased awareness that you’re sharing the road.

Drivers: Become accustomed to seeing cyclists respectfully following traffic laws, and reciprocate the respect.

Cities: Provide better signage and designated spaces to ride and park bicycles.

Workplaces: Provide safe places to park bikes and shower facilities.

Join Tim and Daniel in creating a healthy workforce that actively reduces our environmental impact on Earth Day and everyday.

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Lil’ D limericks

If the Irish get kisses for wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, what would happen if everyone acted green the rest of the year? The earth will kiss us back and provide a home to sustain us for more years to come.

In celebration of sustainability, and in honor of the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” (I won’t, ’til the end) I have created my reader’s challenge of limericks for Denton, Texas on this St. Patrick’s Day.

May the Irish luck be with ye.

 

Even in Ireland they can hear Big Ben,

Tick-tick stick to schedule in London.

But this town’s downtown tower

doesn’t show the correct hour,

for life moves at a southern pace in ________.

 

Folks here are creative, always inventin’.

Raise backyard chickens, just keep ’em penned in.

Get your craft on at SCRAP.

Stand up, sing, dance, or rap.

Be original, stay ___________.

 

Two universities bring in the brains,

Metroplex growth with construction cranes.

A pity, given the proximity,

bad public transit to the city;

Yet at all hour we hear loud honking ________.

 

On second-hand loving Denton is keen.

Recycled gives books another chance to be seen.

Twice As Nice is a fab thrift store.

Habitat has paint, wood, and more.

Not just the Irish are proud to be _________.

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If you too love just about everything about living in Lil’ D, especially its freethinkin’ folks, but wish there were even more environmental initiatives, then send in your limerick answers* and sustainable suggestions in the comment box below.

Or submit your own limericks in homage to your hometown or adapted city!

To get thoughts rolling before pitching Big Ideas for Denton at Stoke next Monday, here’s a short list of my ideas for a greener Denton:

Alternative transportation

  • More commuter trains (A-train on weeknights, connection to Ft. Worth) and less frightfully noisy freight trains (plant more trees along the tracks as a sound barrier?)
  • Bicycle racks in front of stores. Some places (SCRAP, Ravelin Bakery) have let us bring our bikes inside, apologizing that the city doesn’t allow bikes to be parked outside.
  • Bike-awareness as a component of driver’s education and driver’s license renewal. Some drivers act openly aggressive toward cyclists, some only look for other cars before turning, and others are too busy on their phone to notice a bike until it’s too late.

Waste reduction

  • Weight sensors on the garbage trucks to charge each household by the amount of trash they generate each week. Water, electricity, and natural gas are based on consumption. It seems unfair to charge a flat rate to two houses, when one has an overflowing oversized garbage bin every week and another puts out a small bin every two weeks.
  • Biodegradable, green-tinted bags for yard waste to be composted, not landfilled. Neighborhood composters looking for leaves don’t know if the curbside stack of black garbage bags contains future soil or plastic trash.
  • Ban on leafblowers. Texas is windy, y’all. After an hour blowing the leaves to the other side of the street, the wind blows them right back. It’s pointless, loud, and wasteful. A rake does the job silently, efficiently, and using human power.

Food production

  • Farmers’ markets in northern and southern neighborhoods, just like banks have branches distributed across the city.
  • Incentives for homesteading similar to the programs in Kansas, to encourage organic farmers unable to afford the higher prices for smaller acreages.
  • Combat invasive weeds like Johnson grass with ground cover like clover (my white clover patch had perfect timing flowering today). Shamrocks for the win! ♣

Share your ideas, and we might all be lucky enough to have the city implement them.

*Are you one of those people who scatter Cheerios all over the breakfast table trying to look at the upside down answers to the word scramble on the back of the cereal box?

Please don’t spill my blog.

uǝǝɹƃ ‘suᴉɐɹʇ ‘ʇuǝpuǝdǝpuᴉ ‘uoʇuǝp :sɹǝʍsu∀

Cycle to Recycle

To celebrate America Recycles Day, last Saturday the 12th I participated in the Bicycle to Recycle bike tour of Denton’s recycling center.

The good folks at the community bike shop Qerencia gave us tune-ups before hitting the rail trail. They need a new rental space, and I apparently need a new back tire.

Coffee sacks and baby grands

Trash-turned-into-treasure was on display, like this Rwandan coffee bag repurposed into a rustic dress.

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Among other “how could they have thrown that out?!” objects, the environmental educator had seen a baby grand piano crushed into smithereens. It saddens me to see so many tossed belongings that didn’t get sufficient curb alert. I proposed having an alert sent out to thrift stores like the philanthropic Ruth’s Room before it goes into the trash compactor.

Another idea is a neighborhood collection site for unopened food and usable clothing, akin to the Little Library movement. Perhaps old kitchen cabinets or an entertainment center (go ahead and toss that TV at the e-waste site and grab a book) could be salvaged for this purpose. What have you seen in your communities to repurpose perfectly usable goods that people just trash on move-out day?

Our 20-odd group of adult cyclists gathered on the scale at the solid waste compound and clocked in at around 3,000 pounds, about half that of a single SUV Hummer, a monumental waste.

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Greased bike chains and Rusty Tacos 

Feeling good about our individual weight and invigorated by the exercise on the ride back to downtown, we scarfed shrimp and brisket tacos by Rusty Tacos, which were fortunately neither rusty nor recycled, as in regurgitated (100% post-consumer…ingredients?). For a truly Tex-Mex feel, we had our picnic lunch on Mexican blankets spread over the square’s lawn.

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On the courthouse steps, a group of musicians provided folk and bluegrass tunes, as they do every Saturday. Denton vibrates music, down to the musical note bike stands that dot the downtown square.

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Daily ways to reduce our trash impact

The latest innovation in my home was to get a recycling canister twice as large as the trash bin. It works! Have you tried a visual trick to promote reuse and reduce garbage?

Here’s a quick ABC of my small actions for food-related waste:

A: Avoid plastic bags. Wash out produce bags and bring cloth tote bags to the grocery store

B: Bring Tupperware to restaurants or group meals where there’ll be leftovers instead of a Styrofoam (not recyclable) take-out box

C: Compost kitchen scraps. Meet your neighbors or ask on a local gardening forum for nearby composters.

Specifically for coffee:

A: Avoid disposable cups. Bring your own ceramic mug or to-go thermos.

B: Buy beans in bulk and a reusable coffee filter for Keurig-type machines, instead of disposable capsules.

C: Compost coffee grounds. Meet your neighbors or ask on a local gardening forum for nearby composters.

What will you keep out of the landfill tomorrow (and every day!) on America Recycles Day?

Denton Caffeine Crawl for National Coffee Day

 

In honor of National Coffee Day, this morning Tinto Tinta Translations hosted a caffeine crawl around downtown Denton, Texas.

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The objectives were to support local coffee shops, build community, and promote biking in Denton. Fellow entrepreneurs in the Denton Area Small Businesses group, neighbors on Nextdoor, local hosts on Couchsurfing, and cyclists in the Denton Bicycle Coalition were invited.

I rode to each coffee shop on my bike.

Drunk driving = bad. Caffeinated bike riding = good (to a certain extent).

First stop on the Caffeine Crawl Agenda, bright and early at 6:30 am, was Upper Park Cafe at 222 W. Hickory.

Daniel and I ordered an Americano. Tori, the waitress who swaps shifts at Upper Park with another night job in between wrapping up her senior year at UNT, clearly runs on caffeine (how else?) and gave us a sample of their popular pecan coffee, which supposedly has extra caffeine. Grinding coffee beans with pecan nuts would smell divine, but the flavor was a little too strong and seemed syrupy.

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Café de Antioquia: el mejor café del mundo (Coffee from Antiouqia: the best coffee in the world)

The second stop had a double purpose. Cultivar Coffee Bar shares shop at 235 W. Hickory with Hypnotic Donuts, making for a no-brainer breakfast. At 7:00 am there were already a couple of bikes chained to the patio fence adorned with UNT pendants, and a handful of students inside the cozy space.

Bacon strips top two of the favorite donut flavors, Canadian Healthcare (with maple icing) and Evil Elvis (with peanut butter and banana), but I guess I’m not southern enough yet. Instead, I ordered the third most popular, Express Yo’ Self: a chocolate donut spread with coffee icing and sprinkled with coffee grounds. What else?

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Sunk into ‘70s sofas set up family-style in a living room, eerily watched over by a chicken-headed Hindu deity with a donut in multiple hands, we could barely see petite Krysten efficiently running Cultivar behind a mammoth La Marzocco coffee machine. The sleek Italian machinery paired well with the retro bar seats, just as their house coffee paired well with Hypnotic’s donuts.

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At 7:30 am on the opposite side of the square, (114) West Oak Coffee Bar was serving up heartier protein-packed breakfasts alongside fall-flavored beverages. Their seasonal barista specialties of campfire cortado (a s’more in a mug: handmade walnut syrup, chocolate milk, and marshmallows) and yam and taro lattes (one-upping pumpkin in nutrition and uniqueness) sounded cozy, and the warm visual palette of brick-exposed walls and worn wooden tables was fitting. Jim, the assistant roaster, said that when they’re roasting coffee downstairs it smells like bread baking. Oh my, sensory overload of yumminess. I’ll have to check back when it finally feels like fall. When does that happen in Texas?

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Caroline, the media manager, described her field visit to their direct trade program in Colombia and the goal of offering growers equal wages. Jeremy, the head roaster, and Matt, the owner, came upstairs and the whole West Oak Coffee Bar staff melded behind the bar like one big, creative, friendly, coffee-loving family.

So far there had been only a handful of hipsters, students, and business folks headed to work at each coffee shop. At 106 N. Locust, Jupiter House was nearly a full house by 8:00 am. The line was long, the signs were small (and lacked prices), and the place felt like your typical coffee shop. I found the most atypical group underneath the sign Murderers Row.

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It was a small sampling of the large eclectic group that forms every Saturday morning, comprised of professors, lawyers, artists, a county commissioner, and the former mayor. One lady greeted a judge up for election heading out with coffee-to-go, then said she’s friends with the other candidate. The group’s mix of political persuasions makes for interesting conversation. How better to create community?

They came to Jupiter out of convenience and in search of camaraderie, but none came for the coffee. It was a meeting place; the thermos was brought from home as an accessory. This was the only place where I stayed dry on coffee, but I got my fill of conversation.

The last stop on my tour was Shift Coffee, straight down the street at 519 S. Locust. Oscar and I sat outside, soaking up the morning sun and discussing healthy sports habits among children. At this point I was hardly feeling healthy: I had only had a donut to eat, and much too much coffee to drink already. And the coffee shops were clustered together around Denton’s downtown square, limiting my pedaling. I’d have a long bike ride home and would be fueled to the brim by then. My other car runs on caffeine.

Shift has simplistic, contemporary-stylized menus on mini clipboards and a repurposed window, but their coffee is complex. Barista Kat gave me an adorable full sensory description of my Ethiopian pour over with apricot and black currant notes, a light acidity, and the sense that fall is right around the corner (I chose it over the Panama honey because I remember my sweltering days in Panama as an eternal summer, and I’m about ready for that to end here in Texas).

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Barista Ramen shifted his attention between me and another customer, giving both of us a full education on our coffee. He pays meticulous attention to quality control, tasting everything from their rotating supply of roasters. But of course their favorite is Spyhouse Coffee Roasting from Minneapolis, as I was wearing my Green Party Minnesota shirt, and I met a fellow Midwesterner at the bar who works across the street at Bullseye Bike Shop. Biking and coffee, on target.

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I settled into a parlor chair by a bookshelf stocked with classic literature and chatted with a white-bearded, gnome-nosed man (it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!) about population growth in Denton, the final frontier of the metroplex. Fort Worth used to be where the West began, and Denton is now where the wild expansion butts heads with long-horned ranches.

With thoughts of farms and families ruminating in my head, and too much coffee churning through my bloodstream, I left the knowledgeable staff and hipster haven of Shift and headed home.

Barhopping starts out running and slows to a pub crawl. This caffeine crawl started out barely awake and revved up to 90 RPMs. I shifted to low gear on my bike ride back and wondered how long it would take for over 500 mg of caffeine to filter through my system.

After the splurge comes the purge. Tomorrow is International Translation Day. I think I’ll celebrate starting now with several glasses of water/agua.