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Pioneers Commute By Bike

February 27, 2007
By RICK GREEN, Courant Staff Writer

Piles of frozen snow stick out into Franklin Avenue like deadly icebergs, but Kevin Sullivan pedals on. He's got to get to work.

Sullivan is one of a handful who have said to hell with his car in favor of year-round biking to the office - and part of a national movement proving this is actually possible.

Pioneers must make sacrifices, though, so I'm wearing enough long underwear and fleece to fend off the February chill as I accompany Sullivan from Wethersfield into Hartford just after 7 a.m. Sullivan does have a face mask on, but what if he's on to something? Could a bicycle or some combination of bike and city bus replace my Camry?

Even stodgy Hartford is now adding bike lanes when it repaves streets. Soon distinctive red bike racks will be installed downtown. Republican City Councilman Robert Painter says there's a plan for a bike path along the Park River and talk of another under the elevated I-84 that snakes through the city.

Giving up the car can save thousands of dollars, they tell me. But like the rest of you sheep, I climb in my car alone nearly every morning. According to the U.S. Census, there are 340,000 of us in Hartford County. Only 12,500 take public transportation. Just 1,200 bike to work.

It doesn't have to be this way, said Connecticut native Chris Balish, author of "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car."

"If you are willing to make some very mild lifestyle re-engineering changes, practically anyone can live car-free," said Balish.

On a whim, Balish abruptly sold his Toyota Sequoia three years ago. Before long he realized he was saving $800 a month on car payments, gas and maintenance.

"The most common reaction I get is `I wish I could do that but I just can't,"' said Balish, who survives Los Angeles using his bicycle and mass transit and renting a car when he really needs one.

Balish argues that automobile companies spend millions of dollars "to convince every American that cars are a symbol of freedom, that your self-worth and self-image are tied to a car. That's all hogwash. You are so much more free when you are not tied to a car payment."

Honestly, I'm not sure how liberated I'd feel if I didn't have a car and was losing my mind figuring out how the kids were going to get to soccer, Little League, swim or play practice.

Painter, a physician-turned-city- council member, counseled me that it's more about creating options beyond the car. That's also the mission of the Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance, www.wecyclect.o rg, which is promoting a bike-to-work week in May.

"If you could get more people onto their bikes, then we would decrease the number of people commuting by car," Painter said. "It's a very bikeable city."

As we pedal up Franklin Avenue, Sullivan tells me he started biking to work 15 years ago and, except for snowstorms, makes the trip to his office at the Department of Environmental Protection in about 20 minutes.

"It was an interest in the environment at the time. Now it's become more of an interest in personal health," says Sullivan, whose college-age son now uses his car.

"Once you get used to the more extreme parts of the weather, I find it enjoyable. But you probably have to have a certain kind of puritanical mindset."

He's right. As we glide past the frosty windows and fragrant smells of the South End Bakery and Pastry and bear down on the South Green, it is undeniably puritanically cold.

But there's something else too. It beats sitting in traffic.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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