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How to overcome your employer bicycle commuting objections

Advocacy for when your boss says you can’t ride to work

About four years ago my boss tried to tell me that I couldn’t ride my bike to work. Actually, it’s illegal to tell people what they can do on their off time, but in this case I rode my bike on the clock between two different work locations. Luckily, they made this banishment during Bike to Work Week and I did lots of networking and prepared the following information for them about how to overcome employer bicycle commuting objections.  You can download the original KC Work Cycling Information document here as a word file, or I’ve posted the information below with updated links and images.

Bicycles are traffic - and fixing flats only takes 10 minutes

Bicycles are traffic - and fixing flats only takes 10 minutes

As in all advocacy situations, with employer bicycle commuting objections it’s important to stay calm, gather as many facts as possible, and connect to organizations who can help you fight for your rights. In Kansas City, I work with Bike Walk KC, the Greater Kansas City Bike Club, Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation, and KanBikeWalk. I also pay dues to these people and come to their meetings because they give away good swag plus it’s easier to work with people you already know. At one point I was thinking about splitting my business between mental health advocacy and bicycle pedestrian advocacy, but decided to focus in one direction.  These people really helped me gather this data, especially Brent Hugh, Laurie Chipman, Eric Rogers, and Richard Gordon.

The end result was that my boss appealed to the vice president who appealed to the CEO who appealed all the way to the board. The board decided to let me bicycle commute on the clock, and then reimbursed me for bicycle mileage. I’ll post another time about how to calculate bicycle mileage reimbursement needs. The agency required me to cover my  bike on my renter’s insurance (it already was). The staff meeting where the announcement was made was full of jokes about what mechanized, but non-motorized transportation meant, but in the end, it worked out well. They started paying for longer trips, too, like riding to the Recovery Conference in Wichita and the national Alternatives conference in Omaha.

List of possible employer bicycle commuting objections:

Introduction: What cycling means to me

Before I started cycling in Kansas City, I weighed almost 200 pounds. I had high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. I didn’t have a lot of friends or other social outlets. By riding my bicycle to work, I combined my exercise and my commuting. I got in touch with a larger community and build social supports outside the mental health system. Cycling (and exercise in general) is in Pat Deegan’s term, my personal medicine. It is both why I want to stay well and what I do in order to stay well. I ride for the environment, for the exercise, and as well to be with my cycling friends and live the lifestyle. Cycling connects me to the community because I can interact with the city. I chose to ride my bicycle because interesting things happen on a bike and riding is always an adventure.

 

Employer Bicycle Commuting Objection 1: This may have to be policy for all cyclists in the future who work for at our organization

Asking for a reasonable accommodation allows this to be considered on a case by case basis. However, there are many benefits to a policy of allowing or encouraging employees to use bicycles for business trips. These include:

  • Positive benefits for the environment
  • Efficiency – some cycling trips are faster and more productive than some automobile trips. Cycling is significantly faster than taking the bus. See flyer distribution spreadsheet in #7 below.
  • Modeling healthy stress management strategies and concern for physical health as a component of mental health.
  • Cost – If the mileage reimbursement rate is going to be lower, it will save the agency money to reimburse for a cheaper form of travel
  • Parking – car trips require two spaces, one at each end. Eight bicycles can be parked in one car parking space. Bicycle parking is free whereas car parking can cost up to $10 a day in Kansas City (at Kemper Arena or the Sprint Center).
  • It’s safe – over short distances responsible cycling is not significantly more dangerous than driving (2008 United Kingdom Spokes National Health Service Bicycle Mileage Survey).
  • It’s the future – Kansas City released a statement on May 14, 2008 that it intends to become a platinum level bicycle friendly city by 2020. An agency with a strong bicycle policy may attract more proactive employees just as a city with positive recreation and transportation choices will attract a better workforce.

Employer bicycle commuting objection 2: We have a different work environment because we are a non-profit and the work site is a homeless shelter.

Seven companies in the Kansas City area are members of Bridging the Gap’s Clean Commute program, where company owned bicycled are provided for employee’s commuting and errand use. These companies are: The Unified Government of Wyandotte County, The City of Mission, Ferrelgas, GE, Child Health Corp., URS Corp., and NovatTech. One of them, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, has provided for on the clock use of bicycles for business trips taken from City Hall to the EPA or BPU. These trips are faster by bicycle than by car since the bicycle avoids the high security parking lots. It is reasonable to assume that the Board of Public Utilities has quite a few disgruntled clients, as well as potentially city hall. Furthermore, all three of these agencies are in an urban setting with a crime rate similar to the Kansas City, Missouri downtown area. (www.areaconnect.com/crime)

Four employees of the KCMO city hall, which is seven blocks from the homeless shelter in question, regularly commute by bicycle. Many people are disgruntled at city hall, as evidenced by the shooting in St. Louis a few months ago. That incident happened regardless of how those people arrived at work and did not reduce the bicycle commuting rate in Kansas City. The city has supported the cyclists by providing bike racks as well as covered, secured bike parking for its employees. One of these employees, Michelle Davis,who used to work  in the Capital Improvements Managements Office, regularly rides her bicycle on the clock while inspecting various off site work locations.

The Brick, a bar in the downtown area, used two cyclists to provide food delivery on the clock. Jason Wingate, an independent courier in the Kansas City area, provides about fifteen deliveries a day by bicycle. The pedicabs that service the downtown and Westport areas are powered by bicycle yet owned by a corporation, so these riders are on the clock.

A company called Garmin in Olathe makes GPS units for bicycles as well as cars and their employees test the units by riding their bikes on the clock. The cyclists are required to wear helmets and have reflectors on their bicycles.

Employer bicycle commuting objection 2: A car can stop a bullet better than cycling clothes.

Cars are made of thin steel and glass and do not offer significant protection against a bullet.  See this ballistic test from AccuTec USA They compared the stopping power of nothing, heaving clothing, and two layers of steel such as a car door, and found only small differences. In all cases the bullet penetrated past the minimum of 12 inches required to penetrate a vital organ.

 

Employer bicycle commuting objection 4: Cyclists are more vulnerable to mugging.

There is not much statistical data to either support or refute this statement. Rick Osborn is the Executive Director of Safe Streets Safe City, a Kansas City based crime reduction program. I asked if he knew these statistics of cyclist vs. pedestrian vs. motorist crime, and his response is:

“Typically, most crime data is not disaggregated at the level that is needed to answer your question.  Second, there is the question of reporting/classification.  For example, a motorist that injures or hits a bicyclist may not be charged with a crime.  Studies suggest that motorists are not held as accountable as bicycles when it comes to incidents that may have criminal implications (e.g., manslaughter). (See http://bicycleaustin.info/justice/)

“There is also the problem of normalization.  Comparing the crimes of vehicles vs. pedestrians vs, cyclists requires a per capita measure to assess level of danger (and compare apples to apples).  The miles traveled by cyclists or pedestrians would have to be estimated to assess crimes per mile and the level of danger of each transportation mode.  (Miles traveled for vehicles is more easily quantified through various sources.)

“Safe Streets has taken a “Take It To Zero” or zero tolerance attitude towards crime that is a little less dependent on the means.  Crime is a failure of a number of institutions and societal problems that need to be fixed.  Failure of the criminal justice system, for example, is one area that is thoroughly explored on our web page at SafeStreetsKC.org.”

The Department of Justice at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict_v.htm has these statistics on carjacking:

  • Men were more likely than women to be the victim of a carjacking (2 men and 1 women per 10,000 persons).
  • Blacks were more likely than whites to be victimized by a carjacking (3 versus 1 per 10,000 respectively) 1993-2002.

I do not have similar statistics on armed bicycle robbery. However, my car is perceived as more valuable than my bicycle and would not remove the risk of armed robbery. Generally cyclists move faster than pedestrians and can outmaneuver motorists. Pedestrians have very little opportunity to initiate violence against a cyclist because the traveling rate is so different. However, if I were to take the bus, my bus stop would be three blocks away and I would become a pedestrian for three blocks, increasing my vulnerability to other pedestrians. Although I don’t have statistical data to support this experiential report, every cyclist I know has echoed the sentiment that they feel safe overall, that they feel safer than a pedestrian, and in some cases they feel safer in those same neighbors by bike than by car. As my subjective mental health recovery experience in indispensible in performing my job, my subjective cyclist experience, which matches with many other Kansas City cyclists, should at least have a small consideration in this decision.

Employer bicycle commuting objection 5: Cyclists are more likely to get involved in a vehicular collision.

This data is from a website on cycling safety: http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm

Survivability in A Traffic Collision

It seems both intuitive and logical that while a cyclist might more easily avoid a collision than a motorist, surviving such a collision would be more difficult. It’s pretty obvious that a head-on collision at 50 mph is more survivable within a steel frame and protected by seat belts and air bags. However, bicyclists rarely have these kinds of collisions. For a real-world comparison, that is, a comparison based on the actual collisions which cyclists have, we can use the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) FARS (Fatality Data Reporting System) and GES (General Estimates System which estimates injuries) to calculate the ratios between injury and death to find out what the actual odds are. These figures show that the odds of surviving a collision with a motor vehicle on a bike are similar to the odds of surviving a motor vehicle collision in an SUV (sports utility vehicle):

 

Odds of Death vs. Injury in Crashes by Vehicle

Vehicle

Deaths

Injuries

Odds

Bus

17

17,000

1 in 1000

Car, Station Wagon

21,969

2,378,000

1 in 108

Pickup, SUV, Van

10,224

768,000

1 in 75

Bicycle

813

58,000

1 in 71

Large Truck

717

31,000

1 in 43

Motorcycle, Motorbike

2,106

54,000

1 in 26

On Foot

5,307

77,000

1 in 15

Data From NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 1997

 

 

Fatality Rate Per Population

Motor Vehicle Travel

Bicycle Travel

267.6 million (total US pop.) 67 million bicycle riders
42,000 killed 890 killed (1989 data)
156.8 fatalities per million 13.3 fatalities per million
1 in 6,371 killed 1 in 75,281 killed

Traffic Safety Facts 1997

CPSC 1994

 

Employer bicycle commuting objection 6: Cycling is dangerous.

Another safety concern is that I could become involved in an accident in my car where I myself killed another motorist, a cyclist, or a pedestrian. The odds of this on my bicycle are miniscule. Cycling is an important health maintenance tool and prevents many of the leading causes of death. When looking at all causes of death, cyclists are much less likely to die than motorists.

 

The Top Ten Causes of Death for 1995

Cause No. of deaths How to avoid (cycling-related methods only)
Heart Disease

737,563

Exercise Diet Stress Management
Cancer

538,455

       
Strokes

157,991

Exercise   Stress Management
Lung Disease

102,899

Exercise    
Adverse effects

93,320

       
Pneumonia, flu

82,920

       
Diabetes

59,254

Exercise Diet Weight Management
AIDS

43,115

       
Suicide

31,284

Exercise    
Liver Disease

25,222

       

National Center for Health Statistics

 

 Employer bicycle commuting objection 7: Cycling takes longer

My ride time to the homeless shelter is typically 21 minutes. My coworker says it takes him about 15 minutes to drive, which is also the time estimate by Mapquest. I don’t have to deal with traffic. The route I take has less lights and is shorter than his route from 7th Street to Southwest Boulevard (which is also the route recommended by Mapquest). Many of the volunteers and staff of members of our organization have anxieties towards highway driving, and my ride time is very comparable to non highway driving routes to the other site. I ride across a bicycle pedestrian bridge which is not accessible to motorists. Google maps estimates a 45 minutes travel time to take a bus for this same route. Riding a bicycle is a significant time savings over taking the bus or walking. In addition, when I have made more lengthy work trips by bicycle, I have adjusted my work hours to reflect usually only one way of the travel time.

In some circumstances bicycle use is more efficient than vehicle use. Check out the following table when a coworker and I were distributing marketing flyers to businesses around town:

 

COST OF FLYER DISTRIBUTION

Car

Bicycle

Units

Time

3:30

6:30

hours:min

Mileage

38

28

miles

Total Stops

16

38

stops

Successful stops

13

20

stops

Minutes per stop

13.13

10.26

minutes

Fuel Cost per stop

$1.14

$0.35*

dollars

Cost of wages per stop

$2.19

$1.71

dollars

Total cost per stop

$3.33

$2.06

dollars

*At $.48 per mile; this may be lower if bicycle reimbursement rates are lower

 

Employer bicycle commuting objection 9: Buses are public transportation and this would reduce the liability.

Only one bus goes in front of the work site, the 30 Northeast, which doesn’t come or go anywhere I need to be. The other routes stop three blocks away or further. Riding a bus would mean I was a pedestrian for at least three blocks, which would increase my time and exposure to potential assailants. Furthermore, I would have to wait at a bus stop for an undetermined amount of time, which would also increase my exposure.

Liability is unfortunately, one aspect of personal transportation of employees. Driving my car would not eliminate the liability. I have provided documentation otherwise that cycling travel is not significantly riskier than driving. Buses also have a lower rate of motor vehicle accident rate than driving personal vehicles, yet people traveling to Topeka and Jefferson City for meetings are not required to take a bus. I have also documented on another page the wide range of companies in the Kansas City area who allow employees to use bicycles for transportation on the clock. Michelle Davis who used to work at City Hall is not required to drive one of the city cars and instead uses her personal bicycle for off site work.

Employer bicycle commuting objection 10: I would leave the homeless shelter work site faster in a car.

On my bicycle I go out the front door which has a camera and where only the upstairs residents are allowed. I get on my bike and accelerate down the hill. I reach 17 mph in a few seconds and am at the stoplight on the next corner in about six seconds. If I took the bus I would have to stand around and wait at the bus stop and increase my exposure to potential assailants. It would take at least two minutes to walk to the nearest MAX stop downtown.

If I drove I would have to go out the back door and walk through the line to the overnight emergency shelter. Then I would have to drive out, take a left on one street, a right on another, a right on another, then two more turns before I’d get to the corner I’d passed in six seconds on my bicycle.

Employer bicycle commuting objection 11: The work site is in a bad neighborhood.

The last day of riding to Omaha, NE on the clock after answering employer bicycle commuting objections

The last day of riding to Omaha, NE on the clock after answering employer bicycle commuting objections

The downtown area is one of the most common destinations for people cycling to work, according to Kansas City’s 2008 Car Free Commuter Challenge (www.kcbike.info). Many people both come and go by bicycle from that exact neighborhood.

2007 Kansas City Commuter Challenge Stats:

Work zip codes with number of people

  • 64105: 84 (west Downtown)
  • 64106: 65 (east Downtown)
  • 64108: 53 (Crossroads)
  • 66101: 19 (Downtown KCK)

Home zip codes

  • 64106: 21
  • 64108: 19
  • 64105: 12
  • 66101: 4

Crime rates for the KCMO area are similar to those in Kansas City, Kansas. (www.areaconnect.com/crime)

The neighborhood has changed significantly in the last few years with the addition of the Sprint Center, the Power and Light District, and the downtown Community Improvement District with its many security guards. Furthermore, the shelter is four blocks from the Heart of America Bridge and has been on my route home for the last four years. I have ridden past it three or four times a week for the last four years without a single incident. My bike shop, favorite bar, disc golf shop, auto mechanic, poetry contests, art community, and friends are all in this neighborhood and I am there quite regularly without a mishap.

Employer bicycle commuting objection 12: A Workman’s Comp claim might not be paid if the agency didn’t take steps to protect me.

Steps might include:

  •  Changing my work hours to daytime hours.
  • Requiring me to document self defense or violence prevention classes.
  • Requiring me to call someone at certain points during my shift.
  • Documenting bicycle maintainance procedures.
  • Covering my bicycle on my renters insurance to decrease replacement cost in case of theft or robbery.
  •  Requiring me to because a League of American Bicyclists Certified Rider. The next course is August 16, 2008. The effect of vehicular cycling can be seen in the following statistics from John Forester’s Bicycle Transportation (2nd ed, 1994, pg 41):

 

 

Accidents per Million Miles

Child Cyclists

720

College-associated Adults

500

League of American Bicyclists

113

Cyclists’ Touring Club of England

66

 

Employer bicycle commuting ojection 13: Taking the bus would be modeling the behavior expected of clients.

So would taking a bicycle. About a third of the residents of the homeless shelter have bicycles in their rooms. This means it is one of their most valued possessions, as many of them have very little other possessions with them. Last week I rode by City Union Mission and five bicycles were chained up out front. Quite a few homeless people ride bicycles and it is one of the ways I have been able to connect with the residents. Because riding a bicycle is cheaper and faster than taking the bus, it increases the resident’s chance of finding work or being able to make other appointments. Cycling has the same health benefits for homeless people as it does for the middle class, and much greater health benefits than taking the bus.

Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to look through this information. I hope that you have come to realize that many people in the Kansas City area use bicycles as transportation and that the practice has a good safety history and many other benefits as well. Cycling increases my ability to relate to clients and enhances my ability to do my job, as well as being a big part of my life and important in my personal recovery experience.

6 comments to How to overcome your employer bicycle commuting objections

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