For me, the summers are very easy. Throw work clothes and lunch in a bag, put on shorts and a t-shirt, ride to the office, shower, reverse direction 8 hours later to come home. There's some traffic to contend with, and sometimes it rains a little, but that's about it. If I didn't have the shower and lockers available at work, that would be a significant barrier, but I'd probably still ride.
Now, it's nearly winter. The clothing equation is much more complicated. It takes longer to get dressed in the morning, and all of that stuff needs to be hung up to dry for the day once I get to the office. It is completely dark out when I get on the bike to ride home, but it is still rush hour, so the traffic is the same as in the summer, only drivers are less aware of their surroundings. Lit up as I am, I sometimes still feel invisible, sometimes still wonder where else I might need to add another light. Riding in darkness also means you trip the common sense threshold for another population of drivers: those who can see why someone might ride a bike to and from work in the daytime- but at night? That's crazy. I'd also call this the "deserves to get hit" threshold. So you've got to be on your guard.
Despite all of those things, I have had a couple great weeks of riding. But I've had a cough the last couple of days, and the thought of gulping down cold morning air makes my throat close up. Which puts me in the car, which makes me cranky, stiff, and itchy. I miss being on the bike, I hope to be back on it soon.
But that brings me back to my point: Getting to work by bike is at best a partial solution. We'd all love to be like Copenhagen, but when people point to Copenhagen's amazing bike infrastructure and imply that if we just did that, we could be Copenhagen, I have to disagree. Copenhagen is flat, the climate is mild, and the city is dense. People can ride comfortable dutch-style bikes in their street clothes. The bike lanes and other infrastructure make it even more pleasant, and if you ever don't feel like biking, there's an incredible bus and train system you can take advantage of. Here in the Burlington area, we have good-size hills everywhere that simply cannot be ascended without sweating. 40 pound dutch bikes, with all of their glamor and comfortable riding positions, would be boat anchors on those hills. We also have a climate that is hotter in the summer and colder in the winter than Copenhagen's. Real snow, and the fact that it is often plowed into the minimal road shoulders we have available to ride on, makes winter commuting a dicey proposition, especially as you are trying to get up and down one of those aforementioned hills.
So, when bike commuting is not an option, what's the backup? Public transit? Hmm. Maybe. Transit in Burlington is available, but ridership is low and schedules are a challenge. I could make it work, but I'd have to adjust my schedule at the office and I'd end up spending significantly more time in transit than when I'm biking or driving. The reason transit is an incomplete solution is that you need the ridership to justify mailing the buses run more often and to more places. Ridership is not going to increase unless there is greater residential density in the areas the bus services, and that seems to be where the real bugaboo is.
People are afraid of density. Vermonters don't come here for city life, and by and large when they have enough resources to do so, they move out into the country, where a car for every working adult becomes a necessity. The old neighborhoods, for all of their locational advantage, wither.
Or not. People seem like they might be starting to get it. Planner that I am, I watch my neighborhood with great interest. We're on a bus line, close to lots of stuff (heck, downtown Burlington is within easy biking distance, its the hill and miserable I-89-US2 cloverleaf meat grinder that makes it such a challenge), in a relatively dense neighborhood (small single-family homes on lots smaller than a quarter of an acre). Along with Kate and I, two of the three houses adjacent to us are two-adult, one car households. One neighbor is able to walk to work, another takes the bus. In our case, I ride my bike a lot and Kate does too, in the summer. Our small houses, with their single bathrooms and utter lack of "bonus rooms" or garages, seem to be holding their value, and in the short time we have been in the neighborhood, we've seen people invest in things like new siding, new windows, new landscaping. Nobody has just checked out of the neighborhood, leaving behind an ill-maintained rental property. (It's not the "renters" who ruin a neighborhood, by the way, it's the landlords.)
I'm hoping for a trend. I'm hoping that people begin to see the real value of living in close, and that infrastructure continues to improve so more households can go "car-lite" even if "car free" isn't an option. I hope allowable densities and lot coverages are increased in neighborhoods like mine, so more people can live in closer, so more people will park on my street, making it effectively narrower and thus slowing traffic. I hope that increase in people will increase demand for bus service, demand for the urban environment to be a livable one instead of an unpleasant one that we pass through each day on our way to something better. And yes, I hope all of that makes building some bike infrastructure more palatable, especially to connect downtown Burlington with South Burlington and to make Williston Road a pleasant place to be whether you are in a car, on a bike, or on foot.
As for me, I just want this stupid cough to go away so I can get back on my bike. I can wait for the bike lanes and the better bus system and all of that, I can wait for the higher-density neighborhood and the neighborhood coffee shops and the vibrant street scape that ought to be within a 10-minute walk of this place. I can continue to ride my bike to work because it is what I like to do and I can continue to be part of a one-car household because it is financially necessary right now (we are about to own a second car called "day care.") But I can't do any of that if it makes me sicker.