A shift supervisor at Starbucks in Lawrenceville. A teacher at Hopewell Elementary School. A vice president at Bristol Myers-Squibb.
Three people with very different careers, but they all have one thing in common: They get to and from their jobs by bike on the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT).
As bicycle commuters, they are not alone. Ian Green, Janet Mills, and Sabine Maier are three of the scores of people who use the LHT to commute—and are three of the more that 12,000 New Jersey residents who bicycle to and from their place of employment, according to the League of American Bicyclists (LAB).
Nationwide, an estimated 860,000 people in the U.S. commute by bike. Many more will give it a try in mid-May, during National Bike to Work Week (May 13-19) and Bike to Work Day (Friday, May 17). Sponsored by LAB, these events showcase bicycling as a feasible, healthy, economic, and environmentally sound way to get to work. And it’s becoming more popular—according to LAB, the number of bicycle commuters in the U.S. grew by more than 62 percent from 2000 to 2013.
Part of the mission of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail is to increase the desirability of our region as a place to live and work. Mission accomplished, says Ian Green.
Coffee and Community
“I bike to work at least once a week if not twice, if the weather is nice enough,” say Starbucks Shift Supervisor Green, who lives in Pennington on Pennington Lawrenceville Road. “I started biking to the job because I could. It’s a viable option, and I use the LHT to get here.”
Green points out that the bike ride helps him get ready for the day. “I have my headphones in and I can prep for work. It makes me more relaxed. I have a different state of mind from when I drive here.”
Part of the reason that Green finds the ride calming is the view. “There are farms, wildlife, nice scenery. I love it.”
And on one ride, Green saw something that he’ll never forget. “One day I was coming here and looked up and saw this blur, 20 to 30 feet away,” says Green. “It landed and I saw that it was a bald eagle. That was, by far, one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen.”
The community-minded Green also volunteers for the Pennington Fire Company on Broemel Place. How does he get there? Often, by bike.
Music and Messaging
Janet Mills is an instrumental music teacher at Hopewell Elementary School in Hopewell. A Pennington resident, Mills feels strongly about both the example that biking to work sets for others, and its sustainability.
“Riding a bike puts me in a good mood—and it’s good for kids and parents to see it,” says Mills, who has taught at all elementary schools in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District in her career. “I feel that it’s important to not put pollution in the air from internal combustion engines. The fewer cars on the road, the better.”
Mills uses the section of the LHT that parallels Pennington Rocky Hill Road, as well as the Pennington Connection, which provides bicycle and pedestrian access to the LHT from downtown Pennington. Her total ride is 7 ½ miles.
Because there is no off-road connection to the LHT from Hopewell Borough (one is in the planning stages), Mills has some long, steep climbs to navigate between home and work. How does she do it?
“I bought an electric assist bike,” says Mills. “When I go uphill, I still have to pedal, but can arrive at school not hot and sweaty.”
Mills, who has been teaching in the district since 1985 and began commuting by bike four years later, uses the bike for more than just commuting. “I try to do most of my local errands by bike,” she says. “I ride to Pennington Market to do my shopping.”
Biopharmaceuticals and Beauty
Sabine Maier is vice president, development lead in the oncology department at Bristol Myers-Squibb (BMS) on Princeton Pike. She oversees efforts to develop new compounds for treating lung cancer. “It is very exciting and rewarding,” says Maier, who has been biking to the Princeton Pike campus since it opened two years ago.
“In spring, summer, and fall, I try to ride as often as can, says Maier. “When it’s not raining, I’ll use the bike three to four days a week.”
Maier lives in Lawrenceville, off of Main Street (Route 206). Because of the LHT, she says she can very easily get from her home to the Princeton Pike location without being on a main road. Her route is not very long—”a mile and half or two miles,” she says—but the ride itself is rewarding, professionally and personally.
“I ride past all the beautiful trees at The Lawrenceville School, and it’s stimulating,” says Maier. “I can think more when I’m on the bike then when I’m in a car and have to pay attention to traffic. I find it much more energizing. In the evening it really feels like having a little vacation. It’s relaxing.”
Maier says that the ride is also a nice way of getting some exercise every day, even if she does nothing else. But she also points out that the bike commute is rewarding on a larger scale. “I feel that I’m doing something for the environment, sustainability. I’m doing something for a green planet.”
Insights from Bike Commuters
Many people in our region commute by bike. We spoke to eight of them in all, and asked for their tips and observations for anyone who wants to give bike commuting a try:
- “You’ve got to try it…you don’t know what it feels like until you try it. Not for day but for a week, see what it does for you. The vast majority of the time, people will feel different—viscerally different.” Todd Paige, Head of Middle School, Teacher of Mathematics, The Pennington School
- “I always try to encourage people. I tell them that I think there’s a good cycling route that you could take. For many people, riding a bike to work instead of driving a car wouldn’t even add much time to their commute.”—Rob Forsell, Systems Engineer, Educational Testing Service
- “Sometimes it takes a little bit of getting over the hump to say ok, I’m going to do this. It takes some planning. But try it out and see how it works—there are so many benefits.”—Sabine Maier
- “I have two young kids at home. I don’t want to go to the gym after work, and bicycling home instead means I have more time with my family.”—Mike Laudati, Enterprise architect, Educational Testing Service
- “You’re doing your body a favor. You’re keeping exhaust from being pumped into the air. It sets an example.”—Peter Chase, Teacher of German, The Pennington School
- “If it’s far away, you may have to work up to it. And bring water!”—Ian Green
- “I do a lot of thinking when I’m cycling. I’m thinking about things at work, and start putting together a to-do list in my head. That’s the best time—your mind is clear. I’ll finish my ride and stop and write things down that I thought of.”—Andy Castro, Senior Architect, Educational Testing Service
- “Get a pair of Gore-Tex rain pants. I love mine! I frequently wear them over my regular pants because the extra layer keeps me warm, and they block the wind very nicely. I don’t tend to commute in the rain, but when I’m caught in a rainstorm they are amazing!”—Janet Mills
Commuting Destinations on the LHT
The LHT makes bike commuting safe and feasible for many people because it connects both communities and destinations. The trail and its connections lead to and through these neighborhoods, business hubs, and public spaces:
Bristol Myers-Squib Route 206
Bristol Myers-Squib Princeton Pike
Educational Testing Service
Mercer County Equestrian Center
The Watershed Institute
Mt. Rose Preserve
Carson Road Woods
Both BMS and ETS have shower rooms, which bike commuters at both locations take advantage of after long rides. BMS provides a bike room for employees to store bicycles indoors.
The LHT also connects to the D&R Canal Trail, which has three segments totaling 77 miles that reach to New Brunswick and Trenton.
Additionally, the LHT is part of the Circuit Trails——a collaboration of nonprofit organizations, foundations, and government agencies that strives to knit together existing trails and trail projects to form one giant 800-mile network of trails around us. When the network is achieved, users will be able to travel to southeast Pennsylvania to New Brunswick to the Appalachian Trail to the Pine Barrens, on foot or by bike.