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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Alabama: Bicycle commute starts with a drive

From (Birmingham, AL):

Two wheels, no motor, no problem for local commuter!
Everything Elisa Munoz brings to work must fit in a small backpack. "Makeup, notebook, Ipod,'s very heavy actually," said Munoz. She is one of a few local commuters who brave rush hour traffic on two wheels with no motor and no roof. "You know I just chance it in case it rains. Hopefully it won't!" said Munoz.

Her seven mile bicycle commute from Birmingham to Irondale begins in a car because the first stretch is so dangerous. "I have to come up over the mountain and there are no shoulders and there's no sidewalks which are illegal to ride on anyway," said Munoz.

She parks about a mile away from her home and pedals the rest of the 20 minute trip. Munoz says she's been chased by dogs and even run off the road, but mostly she just runs into attitude. "I get a lot of looks. I get honks. I get occasional yells to get on the sidewalk even when there is no sidewalk and to get off the road a lot," said Elisa Munoz.

To promote cooperation between bicycle commuters and drivers the Birmingham Regional Planning Commission is organizing a bike to workday (sic) in May. "It's an awareness raising thing...It's a way to get cyclists to see that just because they are biking doesn't mean that they own the road," said Sean Saffle.

Elisa Munoz says bike paths would be amazing, but at this point she would settle for just an awareness that there are cyclists out there. "So I could ride without being yelled at," said Munoz. "There's just nothing like the feeling of riding your bike. I love it." (Read more, includes video.)
OK, I grew up in New England, now live in California, and have never been in Alabama. So I may be accused of Northern bias. But from what I've read, it seems Alabama is truly deserving of its #48 ranking of bicycle-friendly states in the U.S. That's third from the worst. It just doesn't seem a very hospitable state for bicyclists. Any insights from 'Bama bikers?

This article itself is very suggestive. It's news that a person bikes at all! She drives the first mile! The SmartCommute guy says Bike to Work Day is about disciplining cyclists!?! I'd been hopeful of progress when the Birmingham News introduced an intriguing bicycling columnist. For sure California has some hostile roads, but this report is just scary. Any perspectives? How can we make it better?

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Federally-funded program pays cyclists for pedaling to work, Birmingham News
Visit: Alabama: Lonely bike-commuting parent, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
For the record, this Northerner absolutely fell in love with Savannah on my first visit in November.


Adam said...

Never been to Alabama, but that sounds familiar from growing up in running and cycling rural Ohio.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Alabama, and lived in Birmingham for 7 years through college and med school. I never owned a bike when I was in Birmingham.

I visited some friends in Gainesville, FL in 1998, and was amazed by the bike lanes. I had never seen such a thing.

I do remember there was a one mile stretch of road that had a bike lane put in around 2004. I never saw anyone use it.

Elisa M said...

We have 2 bike lanes on roads in the city...and they both are about 2 feet away from Parallel parking spots. Directly in the 'dooring zone. They also end abruptly, so are not of much help. Many roads have no shoulders and the sidewalks are illegal. All in all, it is not for the faint of heart. I know of about 4 of us who commute by bike and the entire city seems pretty angry at us at times. It is funny because we have a large road bike community. somehow, riding in spandex for recreation on the weekends is ok, but in a skirt for work is not.
We are trying to get the word out and encourage drivers to share the road.

coastdownhills said...

I also grew up in Alabama, went to Med School in Birmingham in the 60's and did some cycling from downtown to Mountain Brook. Traffic was not so bad back then but driver attitude as the same. I've ridden in three BAMA's (Bicycle Ride Across Magnificent Alabama) and are some good roads but you've got to know the area. B'ham and most larger cities are awful. Alabama deserves the ranking and most Alabamians are proud of it. I now live in Tennessee and love it.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Georgia (rural south Georgia then Atlanta) all my life. And I know that cycling here, with a lack of bike lanes and unfriendly drivers, can be really scary. But I am taken aback by the thought that a bike to work day is meant to teach the cyclists a lesson... not the drivers. I plan on writing to Sean Saffle to express my displeasure, and if anyone else would like to do so his email is (from the Regional Planning Commission's website).

mb123 said...

I live in Birmingham and have attempted to bike to work a few times. The route is 6-7 miles depending on which roads I chose. The last time I attempted this, I was buzzed by the BJCTA (Birmingham - Jefferson County Transit Authority) bus on a street that has four lanes (two in each direction). I'd like to note, though, that the bus also tries to run me off the road when I am driving a car.

Motorists here are becoming a little more tolerant of cyclists, in my opinion, but only in certain areas where cyclists use the roads for fitness riding and not commuting.

Anonymous said...

I live in Birmingham and have been commuting on my bike for a couple of years now, sixteen miles round trip from the Irondale/Crestline area to downtown. Sure there are drivers that hate cyclists, but that is any city you go to. There are also courteous drivers. People that say there are only a couple of bike commuters in Birmingham are mistaken. I see quite a few people in my daily commute riding, and they are not the lycra clad roadies. Stop your bitching, grow some balls, and ride defensively!

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Birmingham for the past four years and have bike commuted to work 99% of the time. I am originally from Boise, Idaho, a more friendly biking environment. Driver's in Birmingham are absolutely the worst ever when it comes to their tolerance for bikers. I get honked at or almost hit by drivers on a daily basis. Can't wait to leave this place!