Hassle factor: Bike days vs. car days

I'm pretty much a 100% bike commuter till it's too slippery-scary in winter, then I switch to Spokane Transit. I didn’t get here overnight—the transition took place over a couple of years or so.

I regularly talk to people who sound incredulous that I manage all the “hassles” of bike commuting. Hassles are what you make them. When I drove most of the time and commuted occasionally, the change back and forth between systems of organizing and carrying things created hassles. Being 100% bike eliminates barriers to biking and raises barriers to driving.

Sidebar first: If you have small kids and you’re hauling them from school to Scouts to ballet, my sympathies and you can skip the rest of the post. 

I’ll put in one plug for raising free-range kids with less complicated schedules, suggest that you bike to school with them a few times so they know the way and get them a bus pass, and leave you to your duties as Mom or Dad Taxi Driver.

My kids (19 and nearly 16 as of this writing) no longer need my assistance to get to school—and I put them on the city bus a long time ago for all those trips you “have” to drive them for, such as trips to the mall to hang out with friends.

Bike Day

  • Fill panniers with my stuff (clothing changes if I’m not biking in work clothes, lunch, phone etc.).
  • Bike to work (2.5 miles/approximately 9 minutes, mostly downhill with some traffic sprints).
  • Lock bike to rack, remove panniers, go into office.
  • If it’s cold or wet: Remove outerwear, change into work shoes (or change all clothing if I really dressed from the skin out for the cold—that’s a judgment call because 2.5 miles isn’t long enough to really warm up or freeze).
Total elapsed time approx 15 minutes (slightly longer if I take the bike into our indoor sheltered bike parking due to weather conditions, because I have to get through the locked door and put the bike on a wall rack; add five minutes if I do a full clothing change)

Car Day
  • Round up personal items and find purse to put them into, because usually I leave some things in my pannier ready to go. Oh, wait—first spend time figuring out which purse, because a fashion choice introduces color considerations not in play with panniers. They’re black.
  • Remember that I need a parking pass for the day. If I don’t have one on hand, I’ll have to factor in time to go to the campus parking office to purchase one. Add 10 minutes to hunt for the pass, another 10 if I didn’t find one.
  • Drive to work. This may include extra wait time because I don't have a dedicated lane that lets me bypass left-turning vehicles. On my bike I can keep going past because my route has a bike lane for most of its length.
  • Park somewhere in the lot, which involves circling to find a spot. If the lot is full I will have a longer walk.
  • Walk to building (guaranteed to be a longer walk than bike rack, since that's right next to the building entrance).
  • Remove outerwear if it’s cold (might include a footwear change).

Total elapsed time: 20 minutes, plus up to another 20 to address the parking permit question. (I no longer purchase a year-round parking pass because I don't need one. This saves me $288.06 per year at current prices. Cha-ching.)

Bike Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
  • Hang pannier on bike with my stuff for meeting.
  • Use binder clip or rubber band to contain right pant leg so it won’t catch in the chain.
  • Ride to meeting 1/2 mile away (my pedals are clip-in one side, regular on the other, so I don't have to change shoes).
  • Lock bike to rack or sign pole in front of destination.
  • Arrive at meeting.

Total elapsed time: Approximately seven minutes.

Car Day: Additional effort to go to meetings in downtown core
  • Remember where I parked my car in the lot.
  • Walk to car.
  • Drive to meeting 1/2 mile away.
  • Circle until I find a parking spot—and Spokane has lots of one-way streets in the downtown core, so a typical circle can be eight blocks.
  • Realize I don't usually carry parking meter change because I don't need it on my bike.
  • Sprint into meeting destination, beg change from others in the meeting, sprint back to car.
  • Plug meter.
  • Walk at brisk pace back to meeting—avoiding sprint because I now need to cool down—yes, it's possible to get sweatier using a car than using a bike.

Total elapsed time: Completely variable depending on location of parking spot and availability of spare change (which I admittedly do try to carry in the car, but I use it so seldom there's no guarantee). ALWAYS, always longer than 7 minutes.

Additional variable cost: $15 parking ticket.

Hassles? I'll take my bike, thank you very much.

I didn’t even mention that the price of a gallon of gas currently comes in at about the price of a latte. I’d rather be fueled by caffeine than by fossil fuel, and I like my "calories per mile" equation.

Oh, and my transit alternative? There's a stop on the road that goes past my building, and the central transit plaza is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from one of my main destinations for meetings. Seven minutes start to finish—same as the bike and no parking ticket.

This post inspired by Design Impact blog post in which someone else did a similar comparison.


  1. Comment on Facebook from a friend:
    Fantastic blog post, Barb! Now tell em about your commute back home (up the hill) because, hate to admit it, but I that's what scares me off the bike commute, and I suspect most other folks as well. And for me that commute more than likely takes place in late morning or early afternoon, trying to get back to my home office after a downtown meeting during the working day. Still, I am resolved to try to get to GU by bike more often this year.

  2. Comment on Facebook from another friend:
    love it, Barb. I am just grateful for the bus-option with my bike. that extra couple of miles of straight up hill is just a bit too much some days. but the bus--delightful!


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