Milwaukee biking advocates nurture bike commuting resulting in reduced carbon emissions
Rather than driving or riding a bus to work, some people are providing their own power for their commute.
Michel Mikulay is one of those people. He just arrived home from his 8 ½ mile trek from work.
He didn’t have to be cajoled into commuting by bike. He’s loved cycling since he learned how to ride at age 5. As a teen, he began riding to work.
“I lived in Cudahy and I had a job in South Milwaukee and I started riding my bike then, I was 16 years old. So then I’ve been riding pretty much the entire time,” Mikulay says.
Mikulay bikes lightly; no special biking gear for him. He wears a durable fluorescent yellow windbreaker, with extra reflective striping, that he can zip or unzip depending on conditions. Of course, a helmet — and mittens, if it's cold.
If winter weather turns nasty, Mikulay simply hops on a bus, and loads his bike on the bus’s rack.
“I go to work and then usually the roads are cleared, and if they’re not, I take my bike home on the bus again,” he explains.
Mikulay has several bikes, including his winter bike. "It has fenders, a basket in the front, saddle bags in the back. I took the studded tires off a couple of weeks ago. And it has a generator hub, so I have lights all the time,” he says.
And Mikulay says, he always takes a lock.
He’s happy to give advice about biking, and encourages others to take it up.
“I’ve gotten a lot of people on bikes. I talk about it at work all the time. People at work ask ‘did you ride into work TODAY?' I say ‘yes I did,'" Mikulay says.
More bike commuting means fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s something I think about,” Mikulay says, “ but I would say really if I didn’t like riding a bike, I wouldn’t do it.”
He’s not sure how to get more people to ride for the sake of the planet.
“What is the tipping point to get people to commute? I’m stumped,” Mikulay says simply.
Vanessa Thomas has similar sentiments.
“For me, I just love biking. That’s what got me into it. So it wasn’t due to Earth Week or (to) save gas, it was just to cycle,” Thomas says.
She’s been commuting 26 miles round trip for nine years.
And Thomas is a strong advocate for encouraging more women of color to join the commuter mix.
“When I started riding I looked out and there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me,” Thomas recalls.
Now Thomas helps lead the Milwaukee chapter of the group Black Girls Do Bike.
It’s all about cultivating a community of women of color with a shared passion for cycling, by introducing the joy of biking and advocating for safety measures.
Thomas is a strong supporter of more trail connects and bike infrastructure.
“What we really could use more now is bike lanes that are really blocked. I like the ones where they’ve got the planters, so the bike lane is really protected,” Thomas says.
Thomas, who took a nasty tumble when biking, says commuting in traffic can be scary. That’s something Black Girls Do Bike addresses.
“We do teach young ladies how to ride in the street, try to get them over that fear. You have to be careful and watchful, just like you are in your car,” Thomas says.
Another pedaling advocate, Jake Newborn, says just one scare could cause a novice to give up on commuting.
He stresses no matter how experienced cyclists are, it’s important to be as visible and predictable as possible.
"I've been bike commuting for probably 20 plus years. This morning I was biking down Howell and a guy opened is car door and I had to swerve around him. So it’s still happens. Not everyone is respectful of the other road user," Newborn says.
Newborn is assistant director of the Wisconsin Bike Fed. It’s dedicated to building a more bike-friendly Wisconsin. That includes cultivating partnerships with businesses and lawmakers.
“We’re pushing continually for the city to put protected bike infrastructure in there, separate that bike infrastructure, build more trails that connect residential and business districts and have safer places,” Newborn says.
The Bike Fed’s mission is to get everyone -– from age eight to 80 -– biking.
If someone’s tiptoeing into commuting, Newborn suggests a bike with a little wider tire.
“Skinny ones are hard with potholes. Straight upright handlebars. There are such advances in hybrids and such. Any bike shop should have a variety that works,” Newborn says.
Newborn says test your route to work when you have time to spare, "on a day you don’t have to be on time, on the weekend when you’re not rushed. Have a plan ready to avoid busy roads and intersections,” he says.
The Bike Fed has lots of other suggestions for novice riders or first-time commuters. The group offers classes on bicycling laws and essential gear, and tips for planning your route or riding in traffic.
The Bike Fed and the Milwaukee commuters hope their passion catches on.
And while they do it for the love of cycling, it just happens to be very environmentally friendly.