It was the summer of 2004 when Connie Sadler, an IT security officer at Brown, got an e-mail from a colleague who was starting a group for bicycle commuters. “When I first read the e-mail,” says Sadler, “my bike was strung up in my garage — had been there for years.” She had been having trouble finding time to go to the gym, and finding parking on the East Side was always a nightmare.
A few months later, Sadler started biking to Brown from her home on the Riverside-Barrington border. She only did it a few days a week at first, but she soon found that the 35- to 40-minute commute was faster by bike, since she didn’t have to circle for parking. Plus, she says, “By the time I get to work in the morning, I already feel that I’ve accomplished something.”
As gas prices continue to give drivers apoplexy, with no sign of relief, Sadler’s story may become more common. At least that’s the hope among organizers of the 5th Annual Bike to Work Day, scheduled for Friday, May 19 at the Bank of America Skating Center in downtown Providence. Bike Downtown, an initiative to encourage alternatives to cars in the capital city’s increasingly congested core, is sponsoring the event; Bike Downtown (www.bikedowntown.org) is a collaboration between the nonprofit Groundwork Providence, the City of Providence, and the Providence Foundation.
Event organizer Jack Madden, owner of the Hub, a Brook Street bike shop, says his goal is not to convert everyone into a diehard daily bike commuter (“I’m a realist,” he says), but rather to spread the word that bicycling is one in a wide range of commuting options. Some days, you drive. Other days, especially with the warm weather setting in, “If it’s a nice day and you don’t want to sit in your car,” says Madden, “you have the option take your bike out and ride it.”
The Skating Center event, which runs from 7 through 10 am, will offer free breakfast and giveaways of T-shirts and water bottles. There will be comments by public officials. Dan Baudouin, executive director of the Providence Foundation, says the event is not just for cyclists. “It’s important for drivers to see that bikes have a right to be on the road,” he says. His advice to potential bike commuters? “Get some information and give it a try.” (And of course, “Wear a helmet.”)
Additional bike lanes, bike-friendly signage, and bike racks throughout the city could make Providence more bike-friendly. The status of such stuff seems to be top-secret, though, as the state Department of Transportation bounced me back and forth, from bike program staff to various PR people, without revealing any scoop.