Gear Prudence: SafeTrack is starting and it’s really going to screw things up for the next year. A lot of my colleagues ride Metro downtown from the suburbs and they’re totally freaking out about what they’re going to do. I’m a huge bike booster, and I think that riding to work could be a great solution for them. What’s the most effective way to persuade someone to try to bike commute? —Try Riding, Annoyed Colleagues! Keen Worker Offers Rolling Knowledge
Dear TRACKWORK: The latest and most dramatic attempt to finally (maybe?) fix the flailing transit system will be massively disruptive to the commutes of thousands. At the same time, you’re thinking “never let a good crisis go to waste”—maybe this clusterfuck will finally be the thing that births scads of new bike commuters, so at least some good will come from it. But how do you convince them Vienna isn’t that far from D.C. or that Rockville is basically right around the corner? You don’t.
Even GP, a most ardent advocate, thinks that it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to commute more than 10 miles by bike. That’s just too far. Sure, lots of people happily do it, and many more traverse distances much farther than that daily and with a smile. They’ll tell you that it’s the best part of their day, how much weight they’ve lost, how happy they are, and how it was easy to get used to doing. For these people, it’s great. But there’s something special about them and their circumstances that allowed them to make this choice. To suggest anyone do the same or to even think there’s a persuasive argument that might conceivably compel someone to do this is misguided. It’s way too big an ask, even for the most positive proselytizer.
Five miles is really the uppermost limit in the “this could be reasonable for most people in some circumstances” zone. Even this presupposes tolerable terrain and mostly hospitable roads. If you have suburban colleagues who can get to a bus or bypass single-tracking with a ride of a few miles, ask them if they’ve ever considered biking. The key is to ask, not to tell. Maybe they’ve thought about it and dismissed it, or maybe it’s never occurred to them. You’re just putting it out there as an option and that’s about the most you can (and should) do. If they rebuke you, don’t sulk. It’s not your commute. If they have questions, answer honestly. Biking is far too great to “trick” someone into doing it. You gain nothing from that. SafeTrack or not, people can make their own choices. —GP