Compass: Bicycling commuting works in more ways than one

On Monday, the League of American Bicyclists named Anchorage a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community. The Bicycle Friendly Communities program highlights communities that are actively supporting bicycling and is recognition that Anchorage is on the right track.

Anchorage has done much over the last several years to become more bicycle-friendly, making it a little easier and safer to go by bike. Yes, much more needs to be done, but the city is on the right path towards making it possible for anyone to go by bike. We should applaud the city for its efforts and encourage it to continue to make our streets safer for everyone by doing simple things like including more bike lanes throughout the city.

Friday is National Bike to Work Day and thousands of people throughout the municipality will be getting to work by bike. There are many great reasons to go by bike: it's a great way to stay or get healthy; it's less stressful than being tied up in rush-hour traffic, even on a rainy day; it can save you hundreds of dollars each year; and you arrive at work focused and energized. It also will bring a smile to your face. When was the last time you smiled as you drove to work because you were simply enjoying the ride?

But the benefits of bicycling aren't limited to bicyclists. More bicyclists mean cleaner air, less traffic congestion, more parking spots, and a stronger local economy. According to a recent report from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, bicyclists save $700 a month compared to those who drive. That's money that can go right back into our economy. Bicycling creates jobs. The Alliance report also found that bicycling and walking projects create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent, compared to just 7 jobs created for the same amount on highway projects. With more and more construction in Anchorage including bicycle infrastructure, we will see more jobs and a safer city for bicyclists and motorists.

Bicycling is also great for businesses and we aren't just talking about bike shops. For good reason, this year's National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, was themed "Bicycling Means Business." Businesses across the country now know that the presence of bike lanes and bike parking near their stores increases customer traffic and spending. And many mayors, both liberal and conservative, now understand that good bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is essential to attract new business, as well as attract and retain the types of educated and skilled residents that most modern companies seek.

Anchorage can successfully compete for new businesses, head-to-head, with other cities across the U.S. if we continue to make Anchorage a more bikeable and walkable city.

These are all reasons why Anchorage is on the right path - one that leads to a future that includes bicycles as a real and practical means of transportation. And these are all reasons why you should consider getting on your bike for Bike to Work Day. If you don't have a bike consider supporting one of the many great local bike shops, all of whom would be happy to help you and get you going by bike. You just might find that there really is no better way to get to work.

And for those who can't bike, we hope you celebrate Bike to Work Day and support Anchorage becoming a more bicycle-friendly city because more people biking means a cleaner, healthier, vibrant city that will attract new workers and workplaces and help fuel our local economy.

So when you pass a bicyclist, remember that it is a good thing for all of us. Bicyclists want to get to work and home safely. They want to see their children and loved ones at the end of the day just like you. So give them a little space, slow down when passing and give a wave. And as you pass you will see someone with a smile thanking you.

Brian Litmans is President of Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage, a non-profit group working to make Anchorage more bicycle-friendly.