July 5, 2014

More Wichitans are commuting to work by bicycle

When he leaves his house in the morning, Steve Dunn, director of the education department at Newman University, is decked out in his cycling gear.

When he leaves his house in the morning, Steve Dunn, director of the education department at Newman University, is decked out in his cycling gear.

After a four-mile bike ride – and a little perspiration – he is in his dress clothes, ready for the day.

Dunn, who said he rides his bicycle to the school about 90 percent of the time, is among a growing population of Wichita cyclists who are choosing to ride their bikes to work instead of driving.

“It’s cheaper for me to not drive my car,” Dunn said. “You don’t have to buy gas or tires and put the miles on. You’re able to economize, and for me that’s a good thing.”

However, Dunn said, making the transition to bicycling to work may not be as easy as it sounds. Cycling, especially on busier streets, requires a “hyper-awareness” of one’s surroundings, Dunn said.

He said he has seen too many cyclists die on the roads to be anything less than extremely cautious when he rides.

“I’ve had people swerve just because they’re irritated and get really close to me,” Dunn said. “You have absolutely no chance in a fight with a car. You’re at their mercy.”

The key, Dunn said, is to find side streets that are more biker-friendly than major roadways like Rock Road or 13th Street. He said he occasionally rides on the sidewalk but mostly stays in the street.

“I stay mainly in the streets and I just pull over to the gutters and ride mainly there,” Dunn said. “Most cars are pretty good.”

Jerry Bogle, a partner at Young, Bogle, McCausland, Wells and Blanchard law firm, has not been as lucky.

Bogle said that in the time he has ridden his bike to work – about 30 years – he has been in two accidents. Neither directly involved being struck by a car while biking; he said he hasn’t been hit by a car since he was 20 years old, “but that’s another story.”

About six years ago, he was waiting at the light at Douglas and Hydraulic when two cars collided and in the process struck him. He sustained “a couple of fractured vertebrae and separated ribs,” he said.

“From my perspective it wasn’t a biking accident,” Bogle said. “You could have been standing on that corner and been hit.”

Bogle has not been able to ride his bike lately due to an accident on the morning of April 26. He was riding west on Douglas downtown, and when he got to the railroad overpass near Naftzger Park, he ran into the extension joint and tore a rotator cuff, also breaking his arm in three places. He’s been in a sling since then, he said.

“This is the longest spell in 30 years I haven’t been able to ride,” Bogle said. “I can’t wait to get back on the bike.”

As an attorney, showing up to work covered in sweat would be simply out of line. Bogle said he is fortunate that his firm’s landlord, Intrust Bank, has provided him with a shower and a closet in his office for “most of that 30 years.”

“You can’t do it otherwise,” Bogle said. “You can’t ride to work and not perspire and get all wet.”

Dunn said cleaning up after biking to work usually takes about 15 minutes. Since he showers the night before, he said it’s not a smelly sweat – just perspiration.

“No one has ever said to me, ‘Steve, you stink,’ because I put on clean clothes,” Dunn said. “I don’t think I’ve offended anybody yet.”

The city has recently been making headway on bicycle path projects, and more are in the works, said Barry Carroll, who heads the Bike-Walk Alliance of Wichita.

Wichita does have a few on-street bike lanes – most noticeably on First and Second streets, between Edgemoor and I-135 – and the city is considering adding more.

On an online survey for Wichita’s Bicycle Master Plan, more on-street bike lane options are presented – lanes on Mount Vernon from Broadway to Woodlawn, and lanes on Edgemoor from Mount Vernon to 13th Street, for example. People can vote on which of the 13 on-street options they believe are the highest priority for the city, in addition to off-street projects.

“The more bicycles on the street, the safer it is in our community,” Carroll said. “Sometimes that’s kind of contraindicated but statistically, the more public they are, the more motorists actually start to look and expect cyclists.”

Carroll said he envisions a Wichita that supports a healthy population of two-wheeled commuters rolling to and from work, and for him, it’s not a too-distant future.

“I think we are at a tipping point where more and more people, just average citizens with different skills and abilities, are getting on bicycles and getting out,” Carroll said. “In my mind it’s really a win-win thing for our city.”

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