Monday, November 24, 2008
Commuter Profile - Abhishek “Shek” Mukherjee
Bike Jax has done quite a few commuter profiles with some of those fine folks that live the car life. But they have all lived within the urban core of Downtown, Riverside and Springfield. Where as the song says, "the living is easy." Could you Imagine yourself living car free in the suburban sprawl hell known as Baymeadows, Southside, and Tinseltown?
Meet Abhishek “Shek” Mukherjee, an India born Logistics Engineer and his adopted greyhound, Laya, living the easy life his way. Proving that even in suburbia the car free life can be prosperous and fulfilling. He gets by with two bikes (one Vintage Dutch and one Xtracycle), and a bike trailer.
The slide show below includes pictures of not only Abhishek and his dog Laya. But images of his bike setup and and the roads he has to travel on daily basis.
What do you use your bike for?
I use my bike for everyday life. I go to work, grocery stores, DVD rentals, dry cleaners, restaurants, disappointing MPO meetings, visit friends etc on my bike. I also spend a considerable amount of time waiting for traffic lights to turn green.
How often do you ride?
I ride my bike every day
How long have you been commuting by bicycle?
Bike to work day in Jax was one of the final catalysts that made me start riding to work. I have been thinking about it since February when I moved close to work. I have been riding since 29 May 2008.
What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?
I would pitch the feeling of independence that one gets by commuting by bicycle. There is a greater sense of not being dependent on your car anymore and connect with your surroundings when you ride your bike. It is cheap, it is easy, it is therapeutic, it improves your health and it is fun.
If the above excellent reasons don’t work, then I’d target personal finances and expenditures. The gas savings alone are easy to convince. Bicycle commuting and using public transit can even reduce a car ownership in a two car family which is about $4000 to $8000 annual savings in payments, insurance, maintenance and gas.
What could the City do to make biking better?
Long distance rides like 10 to 12 mile rides are really not that hard to make. One can easily work up to it. The flat and spread out nature of jacksonville dictates the need for urban bicycle trails or bicycle highways. Such urban trails that begin from a point of residence (cluster of sub-divisions) and go to a destination like the beach or the mall will provide a goal to commute by bike while making it very safe. I know it is the journey, not the destination, but it is the presence of a destination that defines a journey. Urban trails will encourage people to ride their bikes, save money, get healthy, meet neighbors and create a sense of community. I would like to see some urban trails that go along Southside, Beach Blvd., Atlantic Blvd. and something along JTB to make commuting easier. It is guaranteed to make more people get out and try bicycling as a viable option. Think about what it will do to bicycle sales! Even the bike shops can profit from this. Small local businesses, coffee shops etc can be built on these trails. People will once more afford Starbucks because they didn't buy that $4.00 gas in the last three weeks...you get the picture. Infact, I would like to see coffee shops among other businesses to start giving discounts if you rode your bicycle to it.
What reaction do you get from co-workers?
They thought I was crazy when I started riding to work. Most didn't think I would last over a week. They gave me stories about bicycle crashes, motorist negligence and failed bicycle commuting attempts of other people and pretty much every play in the book to dissuade me. I even got a lot of resistance towards riding on the roads as opposed to sidewalks. Some still think that I impede traffic. They got a lot more supportive when I continued after the first two weeks of riding. I keep getting offered rides. Even the VP of my department has commended me for it. Motivated by my gas savings, a good friend and coworker got himself a bike and started commuting 3.5 miles one way. He has stopped for a while due to the uncertain rains and storms as he carries a laptop.
Now that I am car-free, I get a lot of criticism. Friends and coworkers do not think that is possible. They ask me if I am going to start hunting for my own food too! I can do anything I need to by car-pooling, xtra-cycling or hiring a taxi.
What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?
The strongest reason for me to start commuting by bicycle was to live a more physically active life so I can get healthy and lose weight. I am not a fan of working out at the gym. After riding for a while, the best thing that propels me is the sheer independence. We think we are living independently but we really are extremely dependent on our cars. That is an oxymoron to be independent through dependence! It is the first feeling to hit me when I was in the third week of riding my bike and had not driven more than 2 times in those three weeks.
Moreover, the money savings are very motivating. I divert a part of my gas savings towards my savings account and the remaining towards eating out and travel. It is like giving yourself a small raise. Once I sold the car, it felt like giving myself a huge raise!
Can you give a brief description of your route?
My route starts off on a lazy two lane road outside my apartment complex. The lanes are very wide and are separated by a very wide and tree lined median. A short hill later, I enter the service road which is two narrow lanes with no shoulder and no median. The service road ends outside a church where I jump on a short stretch of sidewalk. It is the easiest and safest way to get to the Southside and the AC Skinner/Deerwood intersection. I wait in line with the other cars at the intersection. The signal does not actuate if I am standing alone. Sometimes, I wait for over two cycles till another vehicle comes by to actuate it. Aah, the good times! After crossing Southside Blvd, I ride along Deerwood towards Gate Parkway along well manicured lawns and tree lined roads. Riding along the eye-pleasing road makes up for the absence of any bike lane whatsoever. This stretch of road is lined by office buildings and I get to be on the road with a lot of frustrated Monday morning drivers. Life is good. The tree lined section ends after a few minutes of being on Deerwood almost as suddenly as the road turns into a two lane with no median and no shoulder. The sidewalks are also intermittent and a pain to use. I maintain 3 feet from the curb and control the lane when a large vehicle approaches with no room to overtake. With all this action at 7:55 am, life just keeps getting better. Once I cross Gate Parkway, it is a short half mile cruise to the bike rack at my building. The total distance is 2 miles one way.
Where are your favorite places to bike in Jacksonville? Least favorite?
My favorite place to ride is along AC Skinner Parkway between Southside Blvd and Belfort Road. It is a very quiet ride with minimal traffic and only one eyesore of a condo complex along the way. Lesser number of Eyesore Sprawls = More Pleasure to Ride.
The least favorite would be anywhere along strip-mall-infested roads which is pretty much every where in the First Coast. Particularly along St. Johns Town Center (strip) Mall. That place needs some trees to cut the wind down. It is a pain to ride in such a head wind looking at drab strip malls. Riding along San Jose between Baymeadows and the South Mandarin Library is a pain too. That road is Strip Mall Central! It has tons of driveways entering the road and no bike lanes. Actually, even bike lanes are just as dangerous on that road. We need dedicated protected bike paths, something like NYC's ..between 9th Avenue in Chelsea.
What do you like about biking in Jacksonville? And dislike?
There is nothing I like about bicycling in Jacksonville. It sounds blunt but the fact is that my patience has peaked. I see a lot of effort on a local level to promote bicycles for commuting like Bikejax, especially with the phenomenal turn out at The Night Ride. That gives hope. I have also seen few city bikes make it to the bike stores. That would be a good sight to see other than only road bikes, mountain bikes and beach cruisers. I think economics will push every city to embrace bicycle commuting on some level.
Have you ever combined transit and biking or used a bus bike rack?
I have never attempted a multi modal transit. Mostly because none of my destinations are on easy bus routes. Moreover, I would hate to miss a bus and wait an hour for the next. Buses are not really an effective source of Plan B for a commuter in most parts of this city and there are no other modes.
Do you commute in cycling or street clothing? And if cycling clothing, how to handle the change to street?
I am a slightly portly guy and I don’t think anyone would like to see me in bike shorts and lycra! I ride to work in business clothes on my opafiet (dutch bike). I don’t wear a helmet when I ride the city bike. I wear shorts and a t-shirt on my longer rides. Longer rides are on my Specialized MTB Xtracycle. Sometimes, I carry an extra t-shirt if the distance is too long and I want to be a little presentable. I have a pair of Ponderosa shorts that look like regular cargo shorts but they have a padded lining inside. Those shorts keep me comfortable on my 10 mile one way rides and I can look like a normal human being at the end of it and not a triathlete on a mission! I do own a few fast wicking training t-shirts that keep me dry on the longer rides. I usually change into a cotton t-shirt at the end of my ride.
Any bike gadget/gear cyclists should not go out without?
I always carry a spare tube, tire removing levers, an air pump, an adjustable wrench and a tool-set. Blinkie lights are helpful and so is a decently powerful head light. Mine is a three AA battery powered unit that has a wide beam and all motorists can see me in the dark. Also comfortable pedals and shoes are important.
Are you a member of any cycling organizations/clubs? If so, which ones?
There are no bicycle commuting organizations in Jacksonville that I know of. I am not particularly interested in recreational riding. I would like to go touring on my bicycle some day, so I read a few blogs about it.
Favorite or Funny bike stories?
The Night Ride turned into a Somewhat-Critical-Somewhat-Considerate-Mass. I was a part of it and it was the most exhilarating experience to be a part of one in a city like Jacksonville. The memories of Chevy Suburbans stranded among an ocean of unhurried bicyclists will always be remembered. This ride is going to be raved about till Night Ride 2.0
Scary bike stories?
A JTA bus passed by me very closely on the 2 lane part of Deerwood with oncoming traffic. Too close for comfort. I did not have my mirrors then. Now, I watch for large vehicles in my new mirror, control the lane and signal them to stay behind me till it is safe.
Anything else you would like to add?
I recommend everyone to read the book "Divorce your Car" by Katie Alvord. It is a fantastic history lesson explaining America's dependency on oil and cars and suggests a lot of methods for living car-free or car-lite. I would like to persuade the city to make roads more bike commuter friendly. It will go a long way in improving the city's local economy.