Biking to Work – Why Do It? 

May 8, 2024 in ,
By Justin Fuhrmann

In recent years many people experienced what life without a commute looked and felt like at some time. While this newfound flexibility has persisted for some, many working Americans now find themselves commuting, at least a few times a week, to offices and meetings. There is evidence that having a commute is beneficial. Commuting provides structure in our daily behaviors, a transitional period between work and home, a shared experience with others, and a space to reflect on the purpose of our work and to mentally check our preparation for the day. 

If most of us are going to spend time commuting, how can we make the most of it? For many, minimizing the time we spend commuting is the default goal, so commuting by a personal motor vehicle is assumed to be the preferred method to travel between home and work. This is especially true in the United States and Canada where huge sums of money have been spent on infrastructure that values cars over other transportation options. Yet, commuting via biking, walking, public transit, or using other micromobility options has numerous benefits. For starters, it helps people stay in better shape. A study in the United Kingdom found that men and women who commute by active modes, or public transportation, have significantly lower body mass index and percentage of body fat compared to their counterparts who used a personal motor vehicle. A U.S.-based study found that driving more than 10 miles to and from work is associated with higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol.  

Beyond health reasons, there are environmental reasons to consider commuting outside of a personal vehicle. In the United States, 75% of all carbon monoxide pollution comes from motor vehicles. Transportation accounts for the largest portion of the total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions at 27%. Light duty vehicles account for 57% of those emissions with medium and heavy trucks at another 26% (combining to account for 83% of the transportation emissions). By comparison, planes produce 8% of the transportation emissions and rail produces 2%. While the growing adoption of electric vehicles will offset some of these emissions, this innovation alone is not enough to result in the United States reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.  

In some cases, commuting by car may be the only viable option since many American neighborhoods are not designed in a way that makes other commute options accessible (e.g., mass transit, bike lanes or bike-friendly roads). However you choose to commute to work, to complete errands, or to get around, I recommend considering advocating for more inclusive infrastructure in your community. Inclusive infrastructure is the idea that if roads and trails are designed to be safer for all users and ages, it benefits everyone. Personal motor vehicle drivers benefit because they have less traffic to contend with (because fewer people will need to drive everywhere if they feel safe to travel without the use of their car) and clearer boundaries between different road users make everyone safer and create more reliable connections between communities. Utilizing inclusive infrastructure effectively is why the famously bike-friendly Netherlands regularly ranks first in the world in car driver satisfaction. Safety is a concern for all road users; it’s estimated 42,514 people were killed, and another 2.38 million people injured in motor vehicle crashes during 2022 in the United States alone. On average, 116 people are killed every day on America’s roads. Imagine if 116 people died every day on planes or public transit, it would be a national scandal.  

In addition to the health and environmental reasons that favor a commute by walking, biking, or scootering, you may be surprised by how differently you interact with your own neighborhood and neighbors you pass on your commute when you choose an alternative to driving. I have met more of my neighbors since I personally started to commute to work by bike, and I have found parks, restaurants, and pathways that I didn’t know existed until I stepped out of my car and experienced my commute from an entirely new perspective. I purchased a cargo bike so my three daughters and I can go to and from school and work altogether outside of a car. It has been a positive change for all of us. Talking or waving to others on my commute, or as I complete errands, may seem like a minor thing, but it is these small human interactions that give us a better sense of community and may even help to build our own network and relationships. After getting to know my neighbors better we now regularly meet for drinks, dinner, or fireside smores and I was selected to be the President of my local civic association, a neighborhood association where residents work together to propose County improvement projects and events. I’m not sure any of this would have happened if I was driving past in my car and didn’t have the opportunity to meet more of my community. 

Are you considering making a change to your own commuting habits? Are you already commuting to work without a personal motor vehicle? Are you interested in using your car less frequently or spending more time outdoors? It’s not always sunny and 70 degrees outside, but that doesn’t mean you have to hop in your car! Next week, in anticipation of the DC area’s Bike To Work Day on May 17, 2024, I will share in another blog some of the tips and tricks I have learned during the past year as I have biked to work through every season, and most types of weather. Share your thoughts about commuting to work and what habits you have found to be helpful with us on LinkedIn

Justin Fuhrmann
Justin Fuhrmann

Justin Fuhrmann joined FMP in April 2015 and works with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency on policy analysis and formulation, employee benefits, benchmarking and interviewing. Justin is from Bergen County, NJ and now lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and three daughters. Outside of work you can find him skiing, hiking, or exploring the DC monuments.