Cool way to commute

Local incentives create enthusiasm for bicycling to work

WHAT TRAFFIC?<br>Wyatt West avoids the hassles of driving by riding his bike to his job at City Hall each day.

Wyatt West avoids the hassles of driving by riding his bike to his job at City Hall each day.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Bike buzz:
The Chico Velo Cycling Club is a great source for information on all sorts of biking-related topics and activities. Check out the club’s Web site at

Brian Michelson does not have to search for a parking space when he arrives at work. He does not toil with morning traffic and hardly ever has to worry about running five minutes late because he has to fill up his gas tank. This is because, rather than driving his car to work, he pedals his mountain bike.

Michelson, a traffic engineer with the city of Chico, has been biking to City Hall one to three days a week since 2002. While he says he started biking for “good exercise, to save money and to help the environment,” he also enjoys incentives from the city for making the commitment to bike to work. Between 40 and 50 of his co-workers do the same.

The city’s biking incentives arose from increased parking demands when City Hall moved downtown in 1995. Though the program has been in existence for more than 10 years, City Manager Greg Jones said in a phone interview, the city “dusted off” the program about a year ago to revitalize it and reduce the number of employees who drive daily into downtown.

In order to revive the program, the city campaigned internally, Jones said, offering each individual who made the commitment to bike to work at least once a week for three years a $50 gift certificate redeemable at various local bike shops. Last year, 24 gift certificates were awarded, the highest amount since 1995.

The program is self-monitoring, said Vice Mayor Ann Schwab, with employees simply signing a commitment form and remaining accountable to themselves. Schwab has been an active force in the Chico sustainability movement and is currently the chairwoman of the city’s Sustainability Task Force.

In addition to the financial rewards, the bikers also are able to use the city’s bike lockers situated between the City Council Chambers and the City Municipal Building. Michelson says he uses the lockers, which fit his entire bike and possessions securely.

The city is not the only local entity offering incentives to employees who bike to work. At the recent “Bike Chico! Week” event, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and North Rim Adventure Sports were recognized for implementing bike-to-work incentive programs for employees.

John Alden, co-owner of North Rim Adventure Sports, said his company has been offering incentives for eight months. “Most of our employees live less than five miles away from work,” he said, “so why not bike?”

Each of Alden’s employees receives $1 for every day he or she bikes to work. (On rainy days, the amount increases to $2.) It comes in the form of a gift certificate given with their paycheck at the end of the month. The gift certificates are tailored to the employee’s desires, Alden said, with some receiving certificates for Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Jamba Juice, and Upper Crust, among other places.

“It keeps our parking lot clear and gets our employees out of their cars,” he said.

CONVENIENT PARKING<b>The bike lockers between City Hall and the Chico Municipal Building serve bike commuters.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Alden said 10 out of the 12 employees at North Rim participate in the program, including he himself—he bikes to work four to five days a week. When asked why he decided to implement the program, Alden said he thought it would be something out of the ordinary that would give his employees something to look forward to.

“We want to have fun at work, and for a business that tries to promote cycling, it’s a great idea,” he said.

The program costs the business approximately $80 to $90 a month, but Alden said that it is “certainly worth it.”

Not only are more of his employees biking to work, but Alden is witnessing more of the Chico community biking to work, too.

“I’m seeing a lot more people buying bikes simply to commute to work. That’s nice to see,” he said.

Sierra Nevada agrees, which is one of the reasons the company implemented a bike-to-work incentive program, appropriately named “The Green Machine.”

Cherie Chastain, sustainability coordinator at Sierra Nevada, said the program currently involves 62 employees who have either made a pledge to bike to work four times a month, bike 20 miles a month for fun, or run four errands a month on a bike. Chastain said Sierra Nevada wanted to make the goal very attainable, and many employees go well above their pledge.

The Green Machine kicked off April 1, as a “push to get people to use alternative sources of transportation,” said Chastain, along with helping to get more employees to exercise and get in better health. Chastain, who rides upward of 30 miles a month, praises the health benefits of biking. (A global organization agrees—see UnCommon Sense on page 21.)

The overall response to the program has been overwhelming, she said, with the only drawback being crowded bike racks. Chastain said employees have generated enthusiasm for the program, particularly because of the involvement of higher-level staff within the company.

“It really helps that upper management participates and supports the program,” she said.

Each employee who participates receives a T-shirt and one of several items related to biking, including a bike light or bike lock. Then, every quarter, each gets entered into a drawing for a larger reward.

Programs like these, Schwab said, are helping Chico’s efforts to make less of an impact on the environment.

“Sustainability is really a community effort,” she said, “and biking more regularly is just one way to achieve that.”