Bike to work in Johnson County? These riders say it can be done
In an area with a reputation for shunning other forms of transportation, a handful of Johnson County commuters have a message for colleagues, friends and other potential cyclists: It’s not so hard to quit being a driver.
Cars may still be king of the suburbs, but some in Johnson County are no longer bowing down.
In an area with a reputation for shunning other forms of transportation, a handful of commuters have a message for colleagues, friends and other potential riders: it’s not so hard to quit being a driver.
And beyond that, they say, biking to work can be fulfilling, enriching and even fun.
'The best part of the day'
The annual metro-wide Green Commute Challenge sponsored by RideshareKC challenges residents to commit to six weeks of “sustainable transportation.” That could be biking but also walking, riding a public bus or carpooling.
Ride ShareKC lists several potential benefits of green commuting, including saving money, improving the city’s air quality and connecting with others concerned about the environment.
But for some Johnson Countians who took up the challenge to log the most green miles, those weren’t necessarily the top reasons.
After six weeks of biking to work, they cited other benefits: namely joy, well-being, a quiet time for transitioning into and out of work and, in some cases, a connection with a new set of friends.
In a world of free bus fares and the low cost of bike ridership, none of them could put an exact number on the amount of money they saved.
Kathi Limbocker, who rides an e-bike from her home in Overland Park to her job at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, puts it this way: “You would think that commuting by bike would be hard, but it’s the best part of the day,” she said.
She credits the ride with improving her mental and physical health because it allows her to put aside the irritations of the work day.
“You get on the trail and see turkeys and deer,” she said. “I followed a coyote in [one day.] He was on the trail ahead of me and he saw me and he stayed on the trail. How cool is that?”
Nick Ward-Bopp, who rides from his home in Kansas City, Missouri, to the Central Resource Library in Overland Park, said his feelings about the ride vary day by day.
“But I’ll tell you that almost no matter how I feel when I start, halfway through I’m really happy that I decided to ride a bike,” he said.
That’s not to say green commuting in Johnson County is problem-free.
Everyone had at least some small suggestion for making it easier, from simply sweeping glass and debris away from the area where cyclists ride to raising public awareness of the bus service.
Those irritations, however, were outweighed by the benefits they saw from spending less time alone in their automobiles.
Limbocker and 78 others from Johnson County were among the 301 who participated in the Green Commute Challenge this year.
The challenge encourages employer-based teams to log their miles using green transportation options like bikes, scooters, mass transit and carpooling, with prizes awarded at the end.
Here’s what 4 bike riders had to say:
Limbocker has participated in the Green Commute Challenge the past two years. Before that, she wasn’t a bike rider.
“I rode a bike in college and that was the last time I regularly rode a bike,” she said.
Limbocker, 61, got the green commute bug after discovering e-bikes, which give battery-powered assistance to her pedaling. She now rarely misses a chance to ride the four miles from her Overland Park home to her work at the farmstead.
Even though she walks 10,000 steps a day as education supervisor at Deanna Rose, she says she didn’t feel she was getting her heart rate up enough. Biking to work is convenient because she doesn’t have to make separate time for a gym, she said.
Limbocker considers herself lucky because all but one mile of her commute is along the Tomahawk Creek trail, and the mile of street riding has a bike lane. The trail is a good place to decompress and say hello to other regulars, she said. And it has helped her physically stay in shape.
She has a heated vest, gloves and lights for her bike and helmet, and a place inside at work to store her bike, but Limbocker says she usually won’t ride on wet or icy days.
How could it be better:
Limbocker praised the trails and said even a stripe on the road is helpful, but bike lanes protected by some kind of barrier might also be helpful to guard against distracted drivers, she said.
Miguel, 62, was the overall winner of this year’s challenge.
From Shawnee, Miguel races with a bicycle club and is on the city’s bicycle advisory committee.
In past years Miguel sometimes carpooled into downtown Kansas City with his wife, biking the last bit from her office to his at HNTB Corporation.
This year, he began riding a road bike and then a gravel bike the whole 13 miles from his home along city streets and Turkey Creek Trail, working himself up to being able to ride up Summit Street in Kansas City.
The commute is another way of getting exercise and staying in shape for the bike club events, he said.
“I am pretty particular about keeping the mileage low on the car,” he said of his five-year-old Honda Civic with 12,000 miles. Lack of a car downtown also gave him a chance to walk to nearby coffee shops he’d never visited before.
Miguel said carrying his laptop on the bike was a big issue, and he ended up carrying a 16-pound backpack with it and work clothes inside. But luckily his employer has a place for a shower and bike storage.
How could it be better:
Bike lanes are helpful, but there aren’t any on the Johnson County portion of his ride, Miguel said. Sweeping the bicycle area free of glass and debris would also be an improvement, he said.
Sisk, 42, rides about 35 minutes from her home near 143rd Street in Olathe to her job in the office that supports international students at Johnson County Community College.
She has lived overseas most of her adult life including in the Netherlands, which has an extensive bicycle culture.
“The green aspects of it are nice and I definitely care about carbon emissions,” she said. “But I mostly do it because it’s fun and I enjoy it.”
The ride is a pleasant part of the day, and a lot of it can be done on Indian Creek Trail. But the longer distances between places in the suburbs make alternative commuting more challenging, she said.
At the same time, Sisk likes having more space than she was used to in some other countries.
How could it be better:
She’d like to see more options for getting from place to place, like more bus routes or more frequent buses: “At the same time, I understand that there’s just not a demand for it here,” she said, adding that it comes back to “cultural norms” that would normalize other forms of transportation.
Ward-Bopp, 36, rides a road or commuter bike roughly 13 miles from his home in Kansas City’s Hyde Park neighborhood to Overland Park two or three days a week.
For now, his commuting depends on child care arrangements, but he’s hoping for a more regular schedule as his one- and three-year-old children begin preschool.
Having one car and keeping the family’s carbon footprint low is an intentional choice for the family, Ward-Bopp said. But he also likes that more active commuting can result in lower health insurance costs.
On days that they can walk the kids to daycare and school, the commute provides more time to spend together, he said. They have a bike trailer for the kids but do not use it on busy streets.
Ward-Bopp said he generally feels safe and enjoys his ride, but windy days can be hard.
How could it be better:
Striped lanes and multi-use trails are all helpful. The main thing is that there is enough space, he said. He also mentioned protective bollards to separate bikes from traffic.
This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.