Edmonds man bikes, buses over 10,000 miles in 2014
The following article is the fifth in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on transportation in Snohomish County. The series focuses on the issues surrounding travel by plane, ferry, bus and cars or other means, as well as the local and state efforts to fix them. –Ed.
It’s hard to imagine on days when the temperature is pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit that Robert “Bob” Stiles’ hands have been so cold from commuting by bike and bus that he could hardly hold the keys to unlock his front door.
“I’ve also been roasted,” Stiles said, “medium rare.”
His work commute is somewhat out of the ordinary. Many might know someone who bikes to work, but Stiles, 66, is a hardcore alternative transportation commuter – logging over 10,000 commuter miles in sun, rain and snow – five days a week, 52 weeks a year – in 2014 by bike and transit buses.
He’s tracked that number online through Community Transit’s “Curb the Congestion” program, which is a partnership between CT and Snohomish County to reduce traffic and encourage “healthy” travel alternatives through congested corridors.
CT keeps track, too, and Stiles was honored in April as the “Curb the Congestion Champion of the Year.” He was awarded for the miles, and for saving about 244 gallons of gas, 1,213 drive-alone trips and $1,797 in fuel costs.
“Robert is very dedicated to using a smart transportation alternative,” Curb the Congestion Specialist Debbie Anderson said. “He’s been taking his bicycle and the bus to and from Seattle for 22 years – rain or shine.”
Stiles’ commute begins at 5 a.m. with a two-mile bike ride to a local bus stop. From there, he heads to either the Lynnwood Park & Ride or the Swamp Creek Park & Ride, locks up his bike, and boards the bus to downtown – arriving at work by 6:30 a.m.
He has a two-bike system that he’s used for years. One bike is used to get from home to a local bus stop. The other, is locked up at the other end of the commute in downtown Seattle, and Stiles uses it to get from the transit center to the Federal Building, where he’s worked for 47 years as an engineer for the U.S. Coast Guard.
While his system has been in place for years, many bikes have come and gone. Stiles said he’s had an “infinite number of bike tire flats,” and he’s had wheels, bike seats and entire bikes stolen.
“Try riding a few miles with no bike seat,” he said, “Better yet, try it with no front axle. I didn’t know the quick release was missing until the wheel started wobbling.”
Once he used a U-bolt lock to secure his bike to a “Stop” sign. When he returned, he said the bike was gone.
“It’s a shock,” he said. The thief had bent the sign, and lifted the bike, lock and all, up and off of the 10-foot sign pole.
He tells the stories with a smile and a slight chuckle, amused it seems – after the fact – at the thieves’ ingenuity.
And, there are days when he doesn’t feel like biking, mostly the “breezy and cold ones,” but he does it anyway. So, after all this, what motivates Stiles to continue for over 20 years?
The benefits, he said.
When Stiles first began biking years ago from the transit center in downtown to the Federal Building, he said he noticed a “tremendous health benefit.” Years later, when a bus line near his home was decommissioned, he added the bike route from his house to a neighborhood stop.
He rounded out his arms in front of him, gestured to his stomach, and said he used to be overweight.
“When you lose weight, you don’t want to get it back,” Stiles said. Biking keeps him in “great health.”
He also saves money on car insurance and wear and tear on his 2000 Ford Ranger. He puts about 20 miles per week on it, or 1,000 miles annually, through weekend use only, he said. Free from driving, Stiles has time during the bus commute to read books, as well as articles on politics and health issues that his wife gives to him.
Stiles is one of about 2,300 participants in the “Curb the Congestion” program, Anderson said, and he is a “great example of how active transportation and public transportation can work together.”
The program began in 2008 along the 164th Street corridor, and has grown to include six corridors in Southwest Snohomish County – 128th Street (between Everett and Mill Creek), 164th Street SW/SE (between Lynnwood and Mill Creek), 196th Street (between Edmonds and I-5), Bothell-Everett Highway (between 128th Street and downtown Bothell), I-405 (between I-5 and Hwy. 522) and Hwy 522 (between Monroe and I-405).
As the “Curb the Congestion” specialist, Anderson provides those who are interested in participating with assistance on planning commutes and options for taking the bus, carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling and walking, which are all alternative modes that qualify for the program.
She said about 36 percent of program participants take the bus, 34 percent carpool, 19 percent vanpool, 6 percent bike, 2 percent walk and the additional 3 percent telework or have a compressed work week.
The program provides incentives, for those who are eligible and try alternatives to driving alone, like $50 monthly rewards – vouchers for fares, or gift cards for gas or to REI – to help with commute expenses.
After three months of logging trips, eligible participants also are also entered into a monthly drawing for a $150 prepaid MasterCard gift card.
Stiles said he’s never won the monthly drawing, but he did receive a $250 gift card to REI with the award. More than likely, he will use it for bike parts if something breaks, he said, although they have some “nice clothes there.”
On the subject of outfitting for the commute, Stiles said he has a bright yellow reflective jacket, a stainless steel band that keeps the cuff of his pants out of the bike chain, and above all, a helmet.
His advice is to focus on safety – wear a helmet, have a bike mirror, reflective clothes, and front and rear lights.
“I’m a defensive biker,” Stiles said, “No one finger salutes. I’m very laid back.
“If someone cuts me off, I don’t yell at them, or say bad words. I ride very defensively.”
He is happy, although “a little embarrassed,” to have won the Champion of the Year award. Stiles is humble about his achievement, but he said it does come with “some amount of pride to it.”
For more information or to participate in the “Curb the Congestion” program, visit www.commtrans.org/curbit.