Low-Carbon Commuting

January 21, 2015

By Uwe Bergk

I've been riding my bike to work every day since 1997, not long after moving here from Germany. It takes me about 35-40 minutes to cover the nine miles between my home in North Seattle and SRG's office downtown. Rain or shine, it's not only the fresh air and exercise, waterfront and mountain views, saving money or my strong environmental principles that keep me going. It's the efficiency! There's no waiting for the bus, no looking for parking, no traffic hassles. Commuting by bike takes less time than driving plus you get all the other benefits.

My wife and I actually tested the theory that I could get home faster by bike than she could by public transportation during rush hour. I arrived five minutes before her and without any of the aggravation of waiting in traffic and at numerous stops. Also, in the mornings and evenings, I have to chuckle when I'm peddling past a 24-Hour Fitness and see people lined up, heads down and pouring their energy into stationary bikes. They could get the same effect, reduce their impact on the environment and have a lot more fun if they just hit the road instead.

With all this in mind, I recently began thinking of ways to reinvigorate SRG's cyclists and other low-carbon commuters. When I joined SRG in 2007, I was already dedicated to propelling Seattle as a biking city and helped start our own Bike to Work team in Seattle and then in Portland. Adding in a little friendly competition, together we could rack-up 2,000 miles in one month. But our numbers had begun to decline over the years. Regular cyclists started families and had other obligations that interfered with a daily commuting routine.

Over the holidays, I was thinking out loud and roped my son into a conversation. Gero is an avid cyclist, studying Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington, and happened to be taking a class in website design. I gave him the challenge to design a low-carbon commuting website for SRG, making it really simple with just three clicks to record miles for biking and walking. He liked the idea and the cause and the chance to use his new skills. We kept talking, he kept tweaking and a couple of weeks later he presented me with a completed site that measures miles per office, carbon reduction, mileage by month and year, and commute rates per person.

Already 25 people have signed up and committed to making this lifestyle change. We can't yet record the whole range of low-carbon options, such as carpooling and mass transit, but it's really fun to see and understand the difference we can make and are making firm-wide by not driving to work.

An immediate goal is to help reduce SRG's carbon footprint. We've been recording our low-carbon commuter miles since 2008. Collectively, we have reached 15,000-20,000 miles on an annual basis, helping in a small way and unique way to reduce CO2 and its impact on the climate.

Here's my challenge to you in 2015. Low-carbon commuting is about preparation, planning and making choices. You don't have to be ready for the Tour de France, but can still beat local transit by ten minutes. Traveling 10 to 15 miles by bike to your destination is an effective distance, but between 2 and 10 miles is magic. The same is true for walking within a two mile radius. The key is to overcome complacency and get organized. Start small to find your way and plan your trip-maybe just once a month in the beginning. Take the time you'd spend at the gym and get walking and biking. It's a chance to meditate rather than feel your blood boil in a traffic jam. And you don't have to pay for gym membership!

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Uwe Bergk

AIA, IIDA, LEED AP

Senior Associate