The Power of the Bicycle

I think the more you ride, the more you realize the power of the bicycle…it can change you, change your family, change your community and really where does it end?

Quote from a blog post I’ve been following, “You Ain’t Got Jack”- about a young mother discovering bicycling with her young son. Check it out here .

April Brings Heavy Load

Almost overdid it!

April’s here and the Bicycle Diet is still going strong.   The first couple of months were so easy and so much fun that I found myself making too many trips to the grocery stores.   So many that my pantry was soon way overstocked.  Some of my excess was out of enthusiasm for this “alternative transportation” challenge.  Some, I think, was simply out of habit.  When items are advertised as “5 for $5″ and since I was always driving a big ol’ car to take it all home in, why not get all 5?  Even if I only needed 1 or 2 for the week.  Made sense at the time.

For a few weeks in early March, I intentionally curbed the frequency of my market trips and got that pantry back to manageable.  Since my little community garden plot  was needing some spring attention, I just redirected some of my bicycling trips to that endeavor.  Doesn’t matter where I’m traveling to, bicycling there is so much more enjoyable than taking the car.

Now that it’s April, I’m refocusing some of my bicycling energies.  I’ve pledged to do “30 Days of Biking” with 3000+ fellow cyclists.  We’ve all committed to bicycling somewhere each day for 30 days.  My “Day 4″ was, of course, a trip to the grocery store.  I admit, as you can see in the photo above, I almost over did it.  I let the kids make the shopping list and threw in a case of Diet Coke for myself (yes, bungeed tight, there on the back).  After packing both baskets full, I still had a loaf of bread to be carefully stashed.  I ended up carrying it over my shoulder in the green sack pictured hanging on the bike seat.  This wasn’t the most expensive Bicycle Diet run to the store, but it was certainly the heaviest so far.   It was a little adventure and still much more fun than a trip in the car.

Bicycle Racks and a Civil Society

Hubby joins the Bicycle Diet and shows off the new bike rack at Winn Dixie

Very exciting news to report today.  Especially for bicycle dieters and commuters in Fairhope.  After a chilly group ride with some fellow slow bicyclists, the hubby and I made a beeline for the nearby grocery store to pick up a few essentials for Sunday night dinner.  I was delighted as I rolled up to the local Winn Dixie .   Delighted to see that they had installed a new bicycle rack.  Positioned on the sidewalk, just west of the inviting produce display out front, this fantastic amenity will benefit customers who, like myself, grocery shop by bicycle.  I hope it will also encourage other shoppers in the community to give two wheeling a try.

Back at the beginning of the year, when the bicycle diet had just begun, I wrote a letter to this local store and emailed the corporate office via their website, asking if they would consider adding a bicycle rack.  Within two weeks I received a telephone message from the local manager stating that a rack had been ordered and would be installed soon.  Well, I’m so very please to announce that it’s now in place and has served this bicyclist already.

Winn Dixie is the second grocery store in Fairhope to offer a bicycle rack to its customer.  I dare say, from my experience, its bike rack is one of only a half-dozen or so in town at all.  Perhaps other retailers in town will take a cue from WD and offer parking and other infrastructure for bicyclists.  Not just as a goodwill gesture, but because it makes economic sense.  Multiple studies indicate that it’s good for business to encourage bicycle riding consumers.  Madison, Wisconsin found that after “strategically [placing] bike racks outside … businesses in the downtown area … [they] saw a 3% overall increase in sales tax revenues in the areas where they deployed the new bike racks.” {1}   Another study “found that whilst bicycle-based consumers spend less per transaction, they make more visits and spend the most collectively.” {2}   That sounds right to me.  I can’t carry as much per trip on my bike as I can in my van, but I do visit more often.  I’d have to check the bank statement to say whether I spend more individually.

Anyway, the increased revenue is not just for retailers who invest in bicycle racks.  After Fort Worth, Texas installed bicycle parking in one of its popular districts, restaurants saw a “nearly 200 percent increase in business.” {3}   Just take a look at this photo from Flickr that compares the number of bicycle riding customers that can occupy the same physical space as a single automobile.

While it’s not for everyone, bicycle commuting and bicycle shopping does offer options for consumers and communities.  In the introduction to Bikenomics, Elly Blue notes that the bicycle not only “allows us to bow out of some of the economic constraints” of an automobile-centric life,” this simple two-wheeled machine is a transportation alternative that “allows us…the ability to reshape our…lives, health, and work, and to rebuild our communities and reclaim our civil society.” {3}

This bicycle dieter agrees.  Thank you, Winn Dixie, for your generous gesture of customer service.  It was a civic act that most certainly will pay economic and societal dividends to our little community by the bay.

References:

1.  “Economic Benefits of Bicycling in Urban Environments”.  Marin County (CA) Bicycle Coalition.  http://www.marinbike.org/Resources/EconomicBenefitsOfBicycling.pdf

2.  Schmitt, Angie.  “More Evidence That Bike Facilities Are Good for Local Businesses”.  StreetsBlogNetwork.

3. Blue, Elly.  Bikenomics:  How bicycling will save the economy (if we let it).   Zine first published on Grist.org.  2011.  Available in print from Takingthelane.com.

4.   “Bikenomics – Car Parking Versus Bike Parking.” Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyseven/6109880111/

Nick Saban and the Produce Club

Football Fan with his Celebrity Autographs

MONDAY:  I thought this was going to be the day.  The day I couldn’t do it.  The day I’d be forced to cheat on my Bicycle Diet.  I could see it all crushing in, the collision of events and circumstances that would produce the first smudge on my yearlong challenge to use alternative transportation for grocery shopping.

My 12-year-old son greeted me after school with an excited and hopeful, “Can we go to the Senior Bowl Practice this afternoon?”  “Sure,” I responded, soaking in the “you’re-the-best-mom-ever” gushes from this 7th grade football fanatic.  After a brief stop at home to drop off the not-so-fanatic daughter and to grab a few supplies, we were off to watch the celebrated college football players who annually practice for one afternoon at the local municipal stadium.  Personally, I think this sport is over emphasized, over indulged, and certainly over financed in this state.  Despite my best efforts at dissuading him, he has become one of the pigskin pack.

He quickly changed into his University of Alabama jersey and his new SEC ball cap. As one of the assimilated, ya’ gotta dress the part.  Hoping to snag a player’s autograph, he was careful to take along a black Sharpie marker as well as his book, The Crimson Tide, autographed by author Winston Groom (of Forrest Gump fame).  As the dark skies were threatening rain and since this excursion would probably last at least an hour, I brought along the important stuff: an umbrella, a yellow rain slicker, and a Diet Coke.

“We can only stay for an hour,” I warned as we parked and headed to the stadium entrance.  On Monday I only have a two hour window, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m., to pick up my Produce Club groceries at our downtown market.   Of course, I could pick them up the next day, but since they’re fresh from the farm, many items harvested that day, I try to make the special effort to pick them up on Monday.  Waiting until Tuesday would mean waiting until after work and missing the just-picked freshness of the greens and not having some new surprise ingredients for my Meatless Monday dinner.  I calculated that if we could leave the football event by 4:30, I could get home in time to grab my grocery bags, pedal over to the market, and gather my groceries before five o’clock.  And if the thunderstorms would just hold off.  I’ve not tried the alternative transportation-in-the-rain dance yet and didn’t know how much that would delay my commute.

After 30 minutes in the bleachers watching the players’ light practice, the NFL scouting game, and the media hoopla, the 12-year-old headed down to the chain-link fence surrounding the field.  He was positioning himself to snag an autograph from one of the Alabama players  Not many of the players, however, were playing the fan game.  Buses to load.  Schedules to keep.  But positioning, preparation, and patience paid off for the young fan.  As he waited and waited, and as my window for bicycle pick up of the Monday groceries was closing, the celebrity coach, Nick Saban, made his way past my son’s spot on the fence.  He stopped and granted an autograph to my little football fella.   Oh, the excitement of the 12-year-old.  “Tickled to death,” as my Granny would say, to get this National Championship winning coach’s autograph.   And me too.  I forgot all about the clock. Forgot all about the groceries.  We enjoyed excited chatter as we drove home and, of course, took pictures to send to all the family.

Oh… and the Bicycle Diet was not a bust.  The rain held, and because the Produce Club pickup is just a 5 minute bicycle ride from my house, I got to the market just under the 2 minute warning.  I loaded my bike baskets with lots of great goods and cycled home still wearing my bright yellow rain slicker.

Dinner fare, in honor of our afternoon celebrity encounter,  included:

Roasted “Crimson Red” Beets on a Saban Salad

“Turf Greens” with Pine Nuts

and a

Rustic “Roll Tide” Loaf with Farmer’s Cheese