A bike month tale: Two commuters, one IT department

While few people commute to work by bike on a year-round basis, even fewer will routinely stop to pick up litter along the way, as College of Charleston IT analyst Richard Moss does. Buy this photo

It all started with the construction of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and a safe bike lane, combined with the proverbial carrot of saving money, about $750 on an annual parking permit in downtown Charleston and other car-related expenses.

Events

Thursday: Green Heart Project's fourth annual Harvest Dinner. 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Mitchell Elementary School, 2 Perry St., downtown Charleston $20. Participants are strongly urged to bike and join in a post-event "bike cruise" to Taco Boy.

May 7: National Bike to School Day. For local participating schools, see www.walkbiketoschool .org/go/whos-biking /2014/SC.

May 12-16: National Bike to Work Week. http://bikeleague.org

May 13: Historic Charleston Foundation's Peninsula Mobility Forum. 7 p.m. Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St.

May 16: National Bike to Work Day. Events TBA for East Cooper and West Ashley. http://charleston moves.org/

May 21: 11th annual Ride of Silence. 7 p.m. Police-escorted ride begins and ends at Hampton Park. Post-event activities at Granville's, 730 Rutledge Ave.

Tuesdays and Saturdays: Charleston Moves will be at the farmers markets in Mount Pleasant and Charleston, respectively on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the month of May, with representatives of local bike shops to talk about maintenance, repairs, accessories and other bicycling issues.

Eight years ago, Richard Moss started biking to work and he hasn't stopped.

Riding tips

Always wear a helmet.

Use a flashing head light and tail light.

Identify potential problem areas and create over-safe habits there (examples: West Coleman Boulevard at Patriots Point Boulevard; Moss calls King Street and John Street the "virtual Bermuda Triangle of inexplicable behavior).

Get some good rain gear.

Obey the rules of the road and ride predictably and assertively.

Be nice to the nice folks at the bike shop.

Richard Moss and Nancy Whirley

As Charleston prepares for National Bike Month, he and a colleague serve as quiet, steady examples of how a commute can be even more than time wasted sitting in traffic.

Making it a habit

Moss, who is now 60, also shows that a change of habit can come in middle age and that the reasons for it don't have to be purely about personal health and protecting the environment.

"Parking had become expensive at the College (of Charleston)," explains the Mount Pleasant resident, "so I had parked in the Aquarium Garage for a few years, usually walking from there to St. Philip Street.

"When they opened the new bridge, thanks to the work of bike path advocates, I tried biking and soon found that it didn't take much longer than driving in to the garage and walking. At the end of that semester, I dropped my parking arrangements and began biking full time."

Granted, Moss' trek is relatively short. One way, it's six miles from his house, which is near Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, to his job as a senior applications analyst for the information technology department at the College of Charleston. But the 2.5 miles on the bridge can be a challenge in rain, high winds and, as most of us recall, ice.

"I occasionally work from home, typically one day every month or two, so on a few of those freezing rain days this winter, I took advantage of that possibility," says Moss, adding that over the years he has acquired gear to keep him warm and dry.

But he admits, "Effective shoe covers are still a challenge in the worst rain.

Litter pick-up breaks

Moss not only gets his only "exercise" via his commute, but performs a community service on most days: picking up litter, particularly on the bridge and along the East Bay Street bike and pedestrian path next to the State Ports Authority.

The litter pick-up is a habit that he started years ago while working at Greenville Tech and has continued as a bike commuter for the past eight years. But because litter is omnipresent, he does have his limits.

"If I'm in a hurry, or meet up with a friend along the way, I leave the trash for the next trip. I also try to confine my trash pickup to (East Bay and the bridge)," says Moss.

"I don't go out into the road unless there is some debris that might cause someone a flat tire or other damage."

Moss had not been recycling the cans and bottles until a friend asked him to do so. Now he hangs onto them until he gets to the bins on the Mount Pleasant side of the bridge or at work.

Commuting colleague

He's not alone in the college's IT department when it comes to going to work by bike.

Nancy Whirley, a senior server administrator, started commuting via bike from her West Ashley home to the college in May 2010. But she is a different breed of commuter from Moss.

"I relocated from North Charleston to West Ashley so that I would be able to ride to work," says Whirley, who is 51 and a grandmother of two.

Unlike Moss, Whirley is an avid cyclist. Often she'll add a loop, the Ravenel bridge, on her regular 7-mile morning commute "to get my exercising done for the day."

To get from West Ashley, she has used both the Legare Bridge and James Island Connector, but adds that she only feels "safe" on the latter.

Bicycling is more than commuting and exercise for her. It's also about recreation and social interaction. She also likes to do organized recreational rides, such as the recent After the Bridge Run Ride in the Francis Marion National Forest and the Assault on the Carolinas, which started in Brevard, N.C.

She and her husband, Phillip Whirley, recent returned from a trip to San Francisco, where they rode over the Golden Gate Bridge to Muir Woods and back. They also often ride bikes for errands, such as going to the grocery store.

Bike commuting

Tom Bradford, the interim director of Charleston Moves, says that more people should follow the examples of Moss and Whirley.

"We're now entering an important and exciting time in the history of our city," says Bradford. "Everybody is beginning to understand that we can't rely on the car for transportation any more. Our burgeoning population growth can't continue to mean that for every newcomer, there's another car on the road."

Bradford says that's why it's critically important to continue to add safe connections, such as the "West Ashley crossing," to the bike and pedestrian grid in Charleston.

For Bradford and other local and national cycling advocates, May is their month to pitch bike commuting - with Bike to Work Day, National Bike Week and Bike to School Day - as a mode of transportation that is healthy, inexpensive and good for the community.

Bike Month kickoff

The kickoff for Bike Month starts promptly at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with the fourth annual Green Hearts Project Harvest Dinner at Mitchell Elementary School. The dinner, which incorporates food grown at the garden, cost $20.

Green Hearts, which helps Mitchell grow its urban garden, holds the dinner and requests that people ride their bikes, especially because of limited parking at the school. Last year's event drew 500 people. Charleston Moves volunteers will provide a bike valet.

After the event is over at 7:30 p.m., adults will be invited to participate in a bike cruise to Taco Boy, via Hampton Park, for a celebration featuring a two-for-one margarita drink special.



David Quick covers health, fitness and outdoor lifestyle activities. Reach him at 937-5516.

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