Bike to Work Day encourages commuters to go green

For three years, Christine O’Meara hadn’t taken out her bike. But when GHSU hosted Bike to Work Day May 18, she joined the cycling commute to campus for the first time.

“It was great. Occasionally I walk to work and because of this jumpstart, I will definitely be biking to work more often. It’s invigorating and enjoyable,” said O’Meara, Program Development Coordinator for the Center for Patient- and Family- Centered Care and Co-leader of the Education and Awareness Work Group for the Enterprise-wide Sustainability
Green Team. The group is charged with developing, promoting and implementing environmentally friendly practices at GHSU.

The Green Team organized three starting locations for bike commuters: the top of the Greeneway in North Augusta, Savannah Rapids Pavilion in Evans and Daniel Village in Summerville. Experienced riders led the team members, including GHSU President Ricardo Azziz, who biked the Summerville route down McDowell Street.

“We’re very happy that President Azziz joined us. It was a great example that bicycle commuting is for everyone,” said Dr. Alan Saul, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, and frequent bicycle commuter.

Saul has biked to GHSU from his home almost every workday for eight years. He preaches the gospel of the gears.

“Once you do it for a little while, it’s perfectly normal,” he said, and cited other cities where cycling is the norm, not the exception, like Portland, Ore., Minneapolis, Minn., and Austin, Texas.

Dr. Miriam Cortez-Cooper, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy, is another daily pedal-pusher.

“When we were looking for a place to live, being able to bike to work was a prerequisite. So we choose where we live with that in mind,” Cortez-Cooper said. Her commute from North Augusta is just under 10 miles – a daunting distance for many. But
Cortez-Cooper won’t give it up. She enjoys passing the same community of joggers, walkers and cyclists each morning and seeing wildlife along the Greeneway.

“It’s fun. I’ll be coming in and see rabbits, deer and box turtles. The ride over the bridge with the sun coming up is just gorgeous,” she said.

Like any commute, it is not without its challenges. She said biking is a trade-off. She gives up some conveniences for another: the ability to combine her commute and workout.

“You just figure out the logistics of it all,” she said. She has a wardrobe of wrinkle-free clothes, a stash of shoes in her office and an over-the-door clothes hanger to store extras.

For GHSU’s regular bicycle commuters, the benefits of cycling far outweigh any inconveniences. The expense and environmental impact of driving, along with the health benefits of daily exercise, make the riders passionate about the pedal
pool.

The Green Team wanted to highlight those benefits when they organized the ride, according to Michael Konomos, a Medical Illustrator for the Department of Cardiology and Green Team member. Konomos, who helped to lead the group leaving from Daniel Village, is also an experienced cyclist.

“Especially from the Hill area, it’s a pretty easy ride into work,” he said.

The event allowed these like-minded commuters to commiserate.

“It allowed us to see other bike commuters converging onto campus and it gave us a glimmer of hope for what could be,” Cortez-Cooper said. She and Saul hope to see more people, like O’Meara, enjoying their bicycle commute regularly and they would like to see more bike-friendly policies both on campus and off.

“So many places around the world have engineered for bike access – more bike lanes and traffic engineering,” Saul said. “Safety is a concern. I think showers and changing facilities, and the feeling that their bikes will be secure would encourage more people to bike to work,” Cortez-Cooper said.

Through the Green Team, GHSU is partnering with the Atlanta-based national Clean Air Campaign to develop a ‘GHSU Clean Commute’ program that encourages employees to regularly bicycle, car pool or van pool to work. Besides the sustaining health and environmental benefits, GHSU clean commuters will be eligible for prizes and incentives when they log their commutes.

Saul thinks it’s only a matter of time before organizations see how much of their resources go toward vehicle access and begin to plan for and encourage alternate means of transportation.

“Just think: 50 years ago, a smoking ban was unthinkable,” he said.

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