Hassle Factor: Biking vs. Driving

I’m pretty much a 100% bike commuter till it’s too slippery-scary in winter, then I switch to Spokane Transit. I didn’t get here overnight—the transition took place over a couple of years or so.
Dressed for the commute: Periwinkle blue dress, bike, Po Campo bags.

Dressed for the zero-hassle commute: Periwinkle blue dress, heels, bike, Po Campo bags.

I regularly talk to people who sound incredulous that I manage all the “hassles” of bike commuting. In biking as in life, hassles are what you make them.

When I drove most of the time and commuted occasionally, the change back and forth between systems of organizing and carrying things created hassles. Being 100% bike eliminates barriers to biking and raises barriers to driving. I’m not anti-driving–I just don’t like hassles.

Sidebar first: If you have small kids and you’re hauling them from school to Scouts to ballet, my sympathies and you can skip the rest of the post or we can talk bike carts and serious workouts.

I’ll put in one plug for raising free-range kids with less complicated schedules, suggest that you bike to school with them a few times so they know the way and get them a bus pass when they’re older, and leave you to your duties as Mom or Dad Taxi Driver.

My daughters (20 and 17 as of this writing) no longer need my assistance to get to school—and I put them on the city bus a long time ago for all those trips you “have” to drive them for, such as trips to the mall to hang out with friends.

Bike Day
  • Fill panniers with my stuff (laptop, lunch, phone, etc.; some rain gear if the forecast is ominous).
  • Bike to work, usually in regular work clothes and shoes (2.5 miles/approximately 9 minutes, mostly downhill with some traffic sprints).
  • Lock bike to rack, remove panniers, go into office.
  • If it’s cold or wet: Remove outerwear.

Total elapsed time: 12-15 minutes. Slightly longer if I take the bike into our indoor sheltered bike parking due to weather conditions, because I have to get through the locked door and put the bike on a wall rack; add five minutes if I do a full clothing change but that gets more and more rare all the time as I figure out how to shop; “forgetfulness time” (“I forgot I need that file!”) applies no matter what form of transportation I choose.

Car Day
  • Fill panniers with my stuff. Because I now have beautiful Po Campo bags I no longer have to do as much switching as I did back when I had the Black Uglies so this step got faster unless I’m making a fashion choice to use a different purse, in which case I’ll have to spend time deciding.
  • Remember that I need a parking pass for the day. If I don’t have one on hand, I’ll have to factor in time to go to the campus parking office to purchase one. Add 5 minutes to hunt for the pass, another 10 if I didn’t find one.
  • Drive to work. This may include extra wait time because I don’t have a dedicated lane that lets me bypass left-turning vehicles. On my bike I can keep going past the lefties because my route has a bike lane for about half its length.
  • Park somewhere in the lot, which involves circling to find a spot. If the lot is full I will have a longer walk.
  • Walk to building (guaranteed to be a longer walk than bike rack, since that’s right next to the building entrance).
  • Remove outerwear if it’s cold (might include a footwear change).

Total elapsed time: 20 minutes, plus up to another 15 to address the parking permit question. I no longer purchase a year-round parking pass because I don’t need one. This saves me $288.06 per year at current prices. Cha-ching.

Bike Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
  • Hang pannier on bike with my stuff for meeting.
  • If I wear pants, use binder clip or rubber band to contain right pant leg so it won’t catch in the chain.
  • Put on helmet.
  • Ride to meeting 1/2 mile away (my pedals are clip-in one side, regular on the other, so I don’t have to change shoes).
  • Lock bike to rack or sign pole in front of destination; drop helmet into my Donkey Boxx.
  • Remove pannier (purse), although I often use my Po Campo Loop Pannier as a messenger bag and just sling it over my back for a five-minute ride.
  • Arrive at meeting.

Total elapsed time: Approximately seven minutes.

Car Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
  • Remember where I parked my car in the lot.
  • Walk to car.
  • Drive to meeting 1/2 mile away.
  • Circle until I find a parking spot—and Spokane has lots of one-way streets in the downtown core, so a circle can be up to eight blocks.
  • Realize I don’t usually carry parking meter change because I don’t need it on my bike.
  • Sprint into meeting destination, beg change from others in the meeting, sprint back to car.
  • Plug meter.
  • Walk at brisk pace back to meeting, avoiding sprint because I now need to cool down. Yes, it’s possible to get sweatier using a car than using a bike and one of the reasons I bike is because I’m lazy.

Total elapsed time: Completely variable depending on location of parking spot and availability of spare change (which I admittedly do try to carry in the car, but I use it so seldom there’s no guarantee). ALWAYS, always longer than 7 minutes.

Additional variable cost: $15 parking ticket donation to street maintenance fund.

Hassles? I’ll take my bike, thank you very much.

Caffeine molecule with caption, "You say caffeine, I say elixir of life."

I didn’t even mention that the price of a gallon of gas currently comes in at about the price of a 16-oz. latte with flavoring. I’d rather be fueled by caffeine than by fossil fuel, and I like my “calories per mile” equation.

Oh, and my transit alternative? My employer subsidizes the pass because that’s cheaper than paving more parking lots; there’s a stop on the street that goes past my building; and the central transit plaza is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from one of my main destinations for meetings. Seven minutes start to finish—same as the bike and no parking ticket.

Latte, anyone?

This post inspired by Design Impact blog post in which someone else did a similar comparison.
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20 Comments to "Hassle Factor: Biking vs. Driving"

  1. Bravo, Barb — you’re my hero! I wish I had a job and grown up kids so could bike to work. I have neither, but I do have a husband who takes my kids to school to and from school on his way to and from work (if only he drove a Civic instead of a Tundra). I just signed up to help with SpokeFest and my kids are excited about going!

  2. plus, errands on bikes are fun; errands in cars are exhausting.

  3. Rachel says:

    Your reasons for riding a bike sound similar to mine.

    Back when I worked 5 miles from home and the parking was ample and free, I had a more difficult time sticking to bike commuting because I’d always be running late in the morning. Now that I work 2 miles away and parking costs money _and_ means I have to find a spot and then walk to work from it, it’s easy-peasy to ride my bike every day. It’s _faster_ to ride my bike every day.
    Plus there’s that lovely part where I get to ride through riverfront park twice each day and look at that beautiful roaring river, and then that other part about how I always _feel_ better (more energy, better spirit).

    The biggest things that kept me on the bike were time and cost. On those mornings I’d be running late (which with me, is quite frequently), I knew that I would actually be even later if I drove the car, so I’d still pull out the bike.
    Then there’s the savings $5/day parking. That’s _more_ than a latte there… but since I do need to save, I only get the latte once or twice a month.

    Between time and money, I ended up getting into a habit of riding my bike. I really started to enjoy it. Now I find myself more likely to pull out my bike and make that 5 mile ride to a place with ample free parking. Why? Because riding my bike is fun, it feels great, and I really do get to take in the sights more.

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  14. […] right. He’ll walk to the parking lot, drive his SUV, park it somewhere, and have to walk to the meeting. I’ll ride point to point and hitch to the rack or a sign outside whatever building we’re […]

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