California Community Promotes Biking to Work

Marin County, Calif., is one of four communities to win a $20-million federal grant to promote commuting by bike. The goal is to combat climate change, cut traffic congestion and promote fitness. Still, it's a hard sell.

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In many cities across the nation, this is bike to work week. Thousands of people have been leaving their cars at home and pedaling to their jobs. California's Marin County is trying to get more people to do that, but as Marjorie Sun reports, the county is pedaling uphill.

MARJORIE SUN: If more people in Marin shared the sentiments of Jamie McMillan(ph), there would be a lot less traffic congestion in the county. He often cycles seven miles from the town of Fairfax to the Larkspur Ferry, which he catches to get to his office in San Francisco.

On a recent, brilliant, sunny morning McMillan stands next to his bike amid a crowd of hundreds of other commuters. Most of them have battled horrible congestion to get here, but not McMillan.

Mr. JAMIE MCMILLAN: Today, I beat most of the cars here from Fairfax, and I would have been sitting in that traffic. So that's enjoyable, because I get to work out here and I get to kind of just breathe, you know, instead of stress.

SUN: Reducing stress and beating the traffic aren't the only benefits of biking. Not driving cuts carbon emission. But even in scenic Marin, where people love to bike and hike for recreation, it's a tough sell to get them to cycle or walk to work or do errands rather than jump in the car, says Marin County official Craig Tackaberry.

Mr. CRAIG TACKABERRY (Marin County Congestion Management Agency): The car is so convenient, you kind of get into the habit: I need to go somewhere, where are the keys, I'm going to go.

SUN: And roads today are more dangerous than ever, says Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists. Traffic is heavy and drivers are distracted.

Mr. ANDY CLARKE (Executive Director, League of American Bicyclists): There are cell phones and text messages and make-up and people reading newspapers and people changing CDs and playing with the radio. And all of those distractions are a real worry for people as they ride.

SUN: So to make the road safer for cyclists and pedestrians, Marin County has embarked on a major project. It's one of four pilot programs selected by the federal government to show how it targeted investment in walking and bicycling can get people out of their cars and on to their feet and bicycles.

The county will construct new bike lanes and pedestrian paths, for example, and will also create education programs to promote cycling and walking. Deb Hubsmith of the Marin County Bike Coalition says:

Ms. DEB HUBSMITH (Marin Bike Coalition): Even if you change your behavior for one trip a week, you'd be making a difference in your personal health and in the health of this planet.

SUN: Still, it's hard for people to change. Lisa Szeronandia(ph) has just driven her two young kids to school. They live on one of Marin's many hills. Cycling to school or to the grocery store would be a challenge, she says.

Ms. LISA SZERONANDIA(ph): I mean, there are people that do it. Personally, I'm going to have to do a lot of exercising before I can do that.

SUN: For NPR News, I'm Marjorie Sun.

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