We are very fortunate to live in an area with a safe bicycle commuting route for so many of our commuters who live in Lansing and Leavenworth and who work at the fort. There are a lot of people who are in that category of daily workers. I started bicycle commuting from Lansing when we first moved here in 1978 and I had to use Fourth Street.
Fourth Street is the most direct route, but it is way too narrow to be used as a safe bicycle commuting route. I did it anyway for the 14-mile round trip every day. It also helped me to stay in great physical condition for my job as a forester at the fort.
Eventually, we got 20th Street as a gift for bicycle commuters and things really improved, especially for safety, but also for the pure enjoyment of a great daily commute.
I would leave my house and take Eisenhower every morning all the way to 20th Street. Eisenhower is a very wide, four-lane road and most vehicle drivers are actually going east in the morning. So I had a relatively easy uphill ride to warm up with very few cars to worry about. They had plenty of room to go around me anyway. The car traffic changes in the afternoon so the ride home is equally safe.
That narrow strip of Eisenhower just before you get to 20th Street could have been a problem, but I rode it for many years and never had a problem. It will be fixed in a few years anyway and made wider.
The 3.1 miles of 20th Street is a dream road for bicycle riders. It has plenty of room for cars and bicyclists, just like Eisenhower, and has some really delicious hills, especially for the return trip home in the evening. I don’t know the maximum slope on 20th Street, but I know that it took me at least 12 to 15 minutes to climb that one mile from Spruce to the top of the hill every afternoon on the way home.
At least one time there was a young girl running on the sidewalk who was going faster than I was going on the bike on the roadway. I did not say that I was ever a fast bicyclist, but I always enjoyed the challenge of going south on 20th Street. The good news is that they have also improved the roadway near the gutters as there were some serious erosion problems in the gutter that required me to ride further out into the roadway. Still, the road was plenty wide enough for me and any vehicles.
Going north on 20th Street in the mornings was exciting because I could easily coast at 45-50 mph, which is not too smart for a bicyclist under any conditions, especially since you have to cross Spruce at a traffic light at the bottom of the hill where the road dips. Needless to say, slow down to at least the speed limit when you are going in that direction.
The ride on Metropolitan is on another wide, four-lane road which is very safe for bicyclists. I always took it all the way to the Fourth Street entrance to the fort and finished my ride near the old DB. That is an easy bicycle commute for any bicyclist using a modern bike, although in the early years, I did it on an old clunker.
I loved bicycle commuting when we lived in Germany because there were so many bicycle and pedestrian routes totally separated from the vehicles, but having very wide, four-lane roads right here is almost as good for safety and the commute is relatively short. I did it throughout the entire year.
It was warmer on my bike in the winter and cooler in the summer because my car was an old Volvo with no working air conditioner and no working fan for the heater. Even if you have a properly working car, though, you should be bicycle commuting every day. You will be healthier for it and save money.
Matt Nowak is a retired natural resources specialist and lives in Lansing.