Friday, November 16, 2018
Health

A safe, pleasurable commute by bike is possible with planning

Each school day morning, Brianne Northcutt dons her cycling clothes, throws a leg over her Surly Cross-Check and bikes from her Kenwood home in St. Petersburg about 3 miles to Maximo Elementary School, where she teaches. Her route is simple and relaxing as she rides along quiet residential streets.

"That's why I took this job," Northcutt said. "I wanted a route that was safe and convenient."

Doug Bentley doesn't have that luxury. The IT worker lives near the Cove Cay Golf Course in Clearwater and bikes to a job near East Bay Drive and Belcher Road. His 3-mile commute is usually via Belleair, U.S. 19, East Bay or Belcher, all major roads.

"It's difficult knowing that I could die at any minute, even more so than when I rode a motorcycle," Bentley said. "The ironic incident was when a car passed very close — and had a bicycle on a trunk rack!"

The two experiences illustrate the best and worst of commuting by bike.

Northcutt finds that it "brightens her day," and, despite his location, Bentley takes up to five trips a day on his bike and soon plans to sell his car. Northcutt already has.

What seems to make bicycle commuting so enjoyable is the route. That's why your first step should be to grab a map and consider your alternatives. There aren't always a lot of options, especially for people who live in Clearwater or other communities built during an era when cul-de-sacs were considered optimal residential planning. Sometimes the only route for many trips is via major roads. In St. Petersburg, however, the grid street system provides many paths. Once Northcutt navigates south of Interstate 275, if her usual route down 31st Street seems too busy, she can go down 28th Street or any number of other north-south residential streets.

A quiet, less traveled road, even if it's a couple of miles longer, makes the commute that much more fun. You can experiment with alternatives during the weekend, when roads may be less crowded.

Biologist Peter Hood, 58, rides his recumbent bike from his home in the Pink Streets south of Pinellas Point Drive to the NOAA Fisheries at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He said one of his biggest issues is the heat. Fortunately, he has a shower at work. He carries with him a shirt and keeps a couple of pairs of trousers at work. Some bicycle commuters make do with baby wipes. Bentley said that for hot days he makes sure he has a change of underwear and socks. Northcutt also changes at work. Sometimes health clubs have shower-only memberships.

Your bike — road, hybrid, mountain or cruiser — should be equipped for commuting. That means it should have front and rear lights. Fenders, which help keep your legs dry in the rain, are good too.

When it comes to hauling stuff, many commuters use racks to hold a briefcase. Some use panniers, soft bags that are slung over the front or back wheel and can carry quite a bit. Placing them at the front of the bike affects its handling, so try them out with substantial weight in them before you try to ride in traffic.

A reflective vest can be handy when the days are short or wet. Riders I've talked to will ride in the rain — to a point. Downpours make riding treacherous and render bikes almost invisible to motorists. Use common sense. Hood has staked out spots along his route where he can take shelter if he gets caught in one of our typical Florida thunderstorms. At the first sign of lightning, seek cover. Even on a carbon bike, you probably have enough metal under you to be a convenient lightning rod.

The League of American Bicyclists reminds commuters that wet roads can be slick in the first few minutes of even a light shower as oils on streets are released by the rain. Your stopping distance will be greater, as the first few revolutions after applying the brakes simply wipe rain off your wheel rims. Corner slowly and avoid metal grates and lane lines, which are dangerous when wet. Avoid puddles, which can hide deep potholes.

You also shouldn't carry your lock and chain or cable on your handlebars. It hinders steering.

For commuters, indeed all cyclists, the greatest challenge is always traffic. Riding along Fourth Street S in St. Petersburg, Hood wishes there were signs stating that "Bicycles may use the full lane," and "sharrows," those stencil markings on the road that depict a bicycle. "Share the road," he said, conveys the wrong message. Cars and bikes can't share a lane unless it's 14 feet wide, according to Florida Department of Transportation guidelines. Ride toward the middle of the right-hand lane, forcing cars to use the passing lane as they would when passing any other slow-moving vehicle. The same is true for any narrow lane.

Despite the obstacles cyclists face, Hood rides every day he can, saving gas and hoping to stay healthy.

"People say to me, 'I wish I could [bike to work],' " he said. "Stop wishing and give it a try."

Bob Griendling is president of the St. Petersburg Bicycle Club and a member of the Mayor's Bicycling and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Contact him at [email protected]

Comments
‘I believe you’: The culture around sexual assault is changing.

‘I believe you’: The culture around sexual assault is changing.

It has been a year of upheaval over sexual harassment and assault - from the #MeToo movement, to the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, more women are speaking out.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Good news for kids with peanut allergies: A new drug could ease symptoms

Good news for kids with peanut allergies: A new drug could ease symptoms

USF participated in a successful clinical drug trial that showed positive results for children with life-threatening peanut allergies.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Inside the newsroom: Tampa Bay Times project team takes a deep dive inside a notorious Florida death penalty case

Inside the newsroom: Tampa Bay Times project team takes a deep dive inside a notorious Florida death penalty case

A project team at the Tampa Bay Times explores the death penalty in Florida through a notorious 1975 murder case.
Updated: 7 hours ago
FDA plan would ban menthol cigarettes, crack down on flavored cigars and vapes

FDA plan would ban menthol cigarettes, crack down on flavored cigars and vapes

A top U.S. health official is pledging to try to ban menthol from regular cigarettes, outlaw flavors in all cigars and tighten rules regarding the sale of most flavored versions of e-cigarettes.
Published: 11/15/18
Tampa General Hospital resumes normal surgery schedule after issue with instruments

Tampa General Hospital resumes normal surgery schedule after issue with instruments

After rescheduling some surgeries last week due to an issue with surgical instruments, Tampa General Hospital has returned to a normal schedule.Hospital staff discovered a slight discoloration on the cleaned and sterilized surgical tools last week du...
Published: 11/12/18
Some red states just voted to expand Medicaid. Could Florida be next?

Some red states just voted to expand Medicaid. Could Florida be next?

Medicaid — which has been a political football between Washington and state capitols during the past decade — scored big in Tuesday’s election.Following the vote, nearly 500,000 uninsured adults in five states are poised to gain Medicaid coverage und...
Published: 11/09/18
Why are we suddenly hearing about hepatitis A outbreaks? Experts blame the opioid crisis.

Why are we suddenly hearing about hepatitis A outbreaks? Experts blame the opioid crisis.

In just the last two weeks, one restaurant in Tampa Bay has shut down and another closed temporarily after outbreaks of hepatitis A. Health officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties say reports of the virus are way up, and they worry that more ...
Published: 11/08/18
Updated: 11/09/18
Issue with surgical instruments prompts Tampa General Hospital to cancel procedures

Issue with surgical instruments prompts Tampa General Hospital to cancel procedures

Tampa General Hospital is rescheduling a number of elective surgeries this week over an issue that caused some discoloration in surgical instruments. The problem surfaced during routine quality checks of surgical instruments performed prior to surger...
Published: 11/07/18
Updated: 11/08/18
Florida surgeon removes healthy kidney he thought was tumor

Florida surgeon removes healthy kidney he thought was tumor

The Palm Beach Post reported last week that Maureen Pacheco has sued Ramon Vazquez and two other surgeons for malpractice.
Published: 11/07/18
Hamburger Mary’s in Ybor City to close in wake of worker testing positive for hepatitis A

Hamburger Mary’s in Ybor City to close in wake of worker testing positive for hepatitis A

TAMPA — After nine years in Ybor City, Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grill is closing, owner Kurt King said Tuesday evening.King and co-owner Brian DeChane had announced on Facebook that Tuesday would be the last night the Ybor City restaurant would be op...
Published: 11/06/18
Updated: 11/07/18