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Biking Shorts - November 12, 2012

 

By Barbara Schmid

Mike Cornell was in a quandary.

He wanted to bike to work, but riding his single-speed Kona for 30 miles round trip, especially in inclement weather, seemed daunting. So he hatched a plan. He would “combo up” and ride the bus for part of his commute.

Cornell pored over GGRBC’s Bike GR map, strategized a route, and checked out The Rapid bus schedule. It seemed simple enough. He would take The Rapid from his home in East Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo Avenue and 44th Street and then finish his commute to Caledonia High School on his bicycle.

But simple plans sometimes get complicated.

Although energized by the concept of going car-less, Cornell had come up against an unexpected hurdle: Buses have space for only two bicycles. Many times Cornell’s bus arrived with the bike rack already full.

Then an idea flickered in his brain. If he used a folding bicycle, he mused, maybe The Rapid would allow him to carry it on board. Before he invested in one, he needed clarity about The Rapid’s policy on folding bikes.

When his queries came back with mixed messages, Cornell decided to see if GGRBC could help. As it turned out, we could.

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We contacted The Rapid’s Public Outreach Coordinator Bill Kirk, whom we had partnered with for Active Commute Week. He was eager to get an answer and soon gave us the good news: Folding bikes are allowed on The Rapid buses. Kirk subsequently issued a memo to bus drivers about the policy to avoid any communications snags.

Cornell was thrilled with the news. He purchased a Dahon Uno Shadow folding bike and started using it this fall.

“The only way you can add a bus section to a commute is with a folding bike, because the racks are full more and more every day.” Cornell, a GGRBC member, said.  “And there’s no Plan B. If I didn’t have a folding bike and the rack was full, I’d have to go back home.”

That wouldn’t work so well when a classroom full of students is waiting for their teacher to show up. Cornell is the art department chair at Caledonia High School. His students, he said, are intrigued that he now rides his bike to work.

“My kids are so excited,” Cornell said of his students. “It’s all 55 mph roads out there with no shoulders on the roads. When I bring my bike in they get really excited. The kids are not really sold on the car. They’re open to other modes of transportation.”

On nice weather days, the 38-year-old may ride the entire commute on his Kona hybrid bike. Half of his commute is on the road and half is on the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail. When it’s cold or rainy, he prefers catching the bus for part of his commute, carrying his folding bike on board.

“The bus service has been great and I love the bus culture,” Cornell said. “I listen to podcasts and read. It’s fantastic downtime.”

Cornell’s inspiration to commute by bike came from his brother, who bike commutes in Chicago. But riding on the road wasn’t something Cornell was comfortable with in the beginning. To gain more confidence, he took a bicycle education class. He attended the first GGRBC Bike Summit. And he became a friend of the Paul Henry Thornapple Trail in an effort to get more of it paved.

“Once I got into it, it was interesting to see how many people are working together,” he said. “At the Summit, it was great to see the whole bike culture emerge. It seems like a winning battle. Every year things are getting better. It’s very encouraging.

“I get so excited every time I see bike lanes. We need more of those, especially on Kalamazoo. It would be such a great corridor for a road diet. In general, all the road diets where they’ve added and actually marked the bike lane, it feels really good to have a tiny chunk of pavement for bikes.”

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