Alternative Commuting

March 19, 2011

There is no sense trying to anticipate what gas prices will be tomorrow – they seem to be rising so rapidly that no one can keep up with them. Some economists are speculating that, by the end of the year, most households will have spent 25% more than they did last year, simply due to the cost of gasoline for their cars. Unfortunately, their income will not have risen by that amount, so American debt is poised to rise again.
We are fortunate to live in a part of the country with relatively good weather, and in a community that is not known for heavy traffic. While we don’t have much in the way of public transportation, especially out to the other communities, a person in reasonably good health can avoid using a car most days in Sweetwater.
Walking takes a little time, but our doctors are telling all of us to exercise more. Going to the gym to work out takes time as well; why not use some of it getting there, and save the gas? The rules for walking are simple – stay on the sidewalk unless there is not one. If a pedestrian must walk on the road, the law requires that they walk on the left, facing traffic. Presumably no one will come up from behind you, as they would be driving on the wrong side, and cars coming toward you should see you – and you them. When you must cross a street, do so at a corner, not meandering through the road in the middle of a block. Ideally, cross where there is a traffic control device such as stop signs or traffic lights.
Riding a bike is something most of us learned to do as children. Bikes today are as simple or complex as you wish, light enough for racing or heavy enough for riding in rough terrain. A midweight bike works well for commuting – a brief case or garment bag can be thrown over the back and lights added for morning or night riding. The provide as good a work out as walking the same distance (especially when the wind blows!), and tend to be somewhat faster as well as enabling the rider to carry a heavier load.
The rules for bikers are simple as well, because they are the same rules by which drivers of cars are bound. Ride on the right, signal for turns (remember the old traffic signals from drivers ed? Use them!), and obey ALL traffic control devices. Do not wander about using the width of the road, and try, as much as is safe, to stay well to the right, using the extreme right lane if there are two unless making a left turn
Choose your route carefully. Streets with a large number of loose dogs (who can not only cause you to fall, but also distract your attention), those with heavy traffic and those with minimal space are not good ones on which to ride. At times, it may be necessary to select a less than optimal road; in that case, be very aware of the dangers and protect yourself. Under no circumstances does a bicycle belong on the sidewalk; these are for pedestrians.
There are advantages to being on a bicycle. You have a better view of the road, and, unless foolish enough to have on headphones, can hear what is going on around you. A bike is more maneuverable than a car, so in most cases, the best chance to avoid an accident will be yours. You also need to be aware that you are less visible than a car, and take steps to be seen.
There are disadvantages, as well. Bikers are certainly less visible than a vehicle, and need to take steps to be noticed. Texas law requires that bikes being operated in hours that are not full daylight have a white (clear) front light and red tail light. It is to your advantage to wear bright or reflective gear, as well. Speaking of attire, obviously loose clothing is a danger. Most commuters wear biking attire, and either carry their work clothing with them or keep some at the office. A pair of glasses with changeable lenses are very helpful. Persons who wear contacts or are sensitive to dust in their eyes find the clear lenses quite helpful, even when sunglasses aren’t needed. The darker lenses, naturally, are helpful in bright sun.
Some biking or walking commuters will drive to the office once a week, or on alternate days, to take appropriate work clothes in so that they can change there. Some take advantage of the saddle bags, garment bags and baskets that are made for commuter bikes and can carry even the most expensive suit safely. A washcloth, soap, and towel kept at the office and a few moments in the restroom are normally adequate to remove the grime of the road before changing.
There is no way to predict when – if ever – fuel prices will drop. All of us complain that we don’t have “time” for the things we want to do – so try combining the daily commute with the fitness regimen – save gas and be healthy!

Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com.

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