Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not reflect the opinion or position of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center, New Jersey Department of Transportation, or Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Welcome to another addition of NJ Commuter Spotlight! This series highlights New Jersey residents who travel to work car-free.
In this issue, the spotlight is on Keith Miller. Keith is a transportation planner at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for northern and central New Jersey. Keith has worked at the NJTPA since 2001, utilizing data-driven techniques to analyze the current and future needs of transportation systems users. Keith commutes from his home in North Plainfield to the NJTPA’s office in Newark either by bicycle or train.
In 2007, after learning about Bike to Work Week, it occurred to Keith that he should try to ride his bicycle to work. Bike to Work Week encourages the public to try out active modes of transportation to get to and from work or school at least one day that week. He didn’t end up riding his bicycle to work during Bike to Work Week but about a month later in June 2007, after careful route planning, he rode his bicycle from his home to his office for the first time. His route is almost 20 miles and takes him about an hour and a half to complete.
Before embarking on his first bicycle commute, Keith planned his route to follow the rail line between North Plainfield and Newark to ensure a commute with minimal hills. Keith has changed parts of his route over time due to safety issues; he tries to avoid riding on busy main roads and state highways. One of the reasons Keith avoids major roads is that he found that he travels about the same speed as a bus making stops, which means that if he passes a bus when it’s picking up passengers, it will then pass him between stops, and so on. Keith uses MapMyRide to plan his route. This website gives him specific details regarding distance and elevation of the route, and allows him to customize routes and log his rides. He has an alternate commuting route that provides some nice hills for those days when he wants more exercise riding home from work.
Keith only rides his bicycle during good weather and in the summer when the days are longer, allowing him to depart and arrive home in the daylight. There are no showers at his office so he does not ride on extremely hot days or in poor weather conditions. He also avoids riding on ozone action days. During the summer he tries to ride his bicycle at least once a week. While it is faster for Keith to take the train to work, he enjoys commuting by bicycle. The exercise is great and makes him feel better throughout the day. While biking to work requires him to wake up earlier, Keith finds himself looking forward to it every time. Although he is a very enthusiastic cyclist, Keith does admit that sometimes biking home can be a drag (especially after a tough day at work).
Keith realized that riding his bicycle to work had unexpected additional benefits. Since he only works from his office four days a week during the summer, he realized riding his bicycle to work one of those days would save him purchasing a monthly train pass. This meant that riding his bicycle one day a week would save him money on his commute.
In addition to commuting by bicycle, Keith enjoys recreational bicycling. He loves riding on rail trails. In addition to riding most of the rail trails in northern and central New Jersey, he has biked the Delaware and Raritan Canal trail from end to end (70 miles from New Brunswick to Frenchtown). During this ride, he made the mistake of starting the route too late in the morning and forgetting his bicycle lights at home. So when the sun set, he had to ride through the pitch-dark (not recommended!).
His most memorable bicycling experience was when he biked down Pikes Peak in Colorado. A van took Keith and other bicycle adventurers to the top of Pikes Peak, where they rode down from 14,000 feet to 7,400 feet in 20 miles. Keith explained that there were parts of the trail where there were drop-offs on both sides of the road, which made the ride his most exhilarating.
Keith rides a mountain bicycle when commuting. He chose a mountain bicycle because it is more durable and comfortable than other bicycles. While he admits that it is not as fast as some other types of bikes, he explains that he likes it because it means not having to worry about sticks, potholes, or even curbs; and besides, it provides more exercise.
Keith always checks the weather before biking to work to prepare for the ride. He also keeps a towel and a change of clothes at his office so that he is fresh and clean for his day at work.
Keith’s must-have equipment for commuting by bicycle include:
- Rearview Mirror: this allows him to watch for cars that are coming from behind
- Trunk Rack: this allows him to bring whatever it is he needs for work, along with a first aid kit and bike tools
- Tube and Pump: to fix flat tires
- Hydration Pack: allows him to stay hydrated without stopping
- Cellphone: in case of an emergency (he had to call his husband to be picked up once due to a mixture of a flat tire and bad weather)
Keith’s advice for folks interested in bicycling as a mode of transportation but who may be intimidated is, “Just do it!” He admits that he was hesitant at first; either the weather wasn’t good or he was just not feeling up to it. Finally, he realized that it might be hard but that he knew he could do it. In his first year of commuting by bicycle he only did it once but gradually he became more and more comfortable and began riding his bicycle to work more and more.
It is important to note that the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has been working with municipalities to provide residents with opportunities to use alternative modes of transportation. One way they’ve done this is through technical assistance to municipalities in the form of bicycle and pedestrian planning. Additionally, New Jersey’s eight Transportation Management Associations’ (TMA’s) provide a great deal of assistance to cyclists. By providing bicycle racks at transit stops, or assisting riders in identifying the most suitable roads for commuting to work or school on a bike, the TMA’s serve as a valuable resource for a budding cyclist looking to make “the switch.”
Stay Tuned and Nominate Car-Free Commuters!
Stay tuned for another entry of NJ Commuter Spotlight ! If you would like to nominate a car-free commuter for this series, please contact us at the email below: