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From Beginner to Bike Ambassador

Elizabeth lives in Rogers Park and bikes to the Quigley Center - a distance of 10 miles one-way mostly along the lakefront bike path. Her goal is to ride 3-5 days/week, year-round. The bike is her go-to form of transportation ​and she integrates it into daily side trips, whether meeting friends for dinner or going to a doctor's appointment. On many days the route varies significantly and she has the opportunity to explore different neighborhoods.

Why Bike to Work?

What would make a mid-career executive at the Archdiocese of Chicago bike to work every day throughout the year? Meet Elizabeth Moriarty, a self-assured, articulate professional who bikes 20 miles a day to her job as Operations Manager for the Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia and COO, Archdiocese of Chicago.

She is a great example of an individual making an ambitious daily ride and developing her own commuting style to fit the situation - all without the benefit of a background in biking, Elizabeth recently shared her perspective and lessons learned on the journey from novice bike commuter to experienced rider. Today, she describes herself as a bike ambassador wanting to help and encourage other riders.

Parking the bike at Quigley Center is a quasi-religious experience given its architectural beauty.

She likes bike commuting for several reasons. It saves gas money and time since she;s getting in a workout while commuting instead of going to the gym, in doing so Elizabeth also realized that she was seeing neighborhoods up-close. She notes that riding on the bike causes her to interact with her surroundings differently than she would with a car or a bus.

Her most important reason for riding however, is more inner-directed. In her own words, "there's something about getting on a bike that makes me feel good." To Elizabeth, riding along the lakefront has a meditative quality. However, even on the city streets she rides with a fresher mind and arrives at work more awake, energized and ready to go. She relates a story about telling her boss that the ride is a great stress-reliever and then caught herself mid-sentence realizing the audience and instead focused on the energizing aspects of riding.

The Nitty-Gritty of the Daily Commute

Elizabeth builds on nine years of bike commuting experience in Chicago, New York and South Bend, IN. While she wasn't always willing to undertake a 20 mile ride, she has developed her own style for getting to work. It's an effective, low cost way to make the commute despite the lack of amenities at the office.

Instead of quick-release, the wheels are bolted on to deter theft.

She rides a Bianchi Bravo which she originally purchased for touring and charity event rides. She hopes to get a better bike at some point but has made due with her current set of wheels. She currently uses a backpack to carry her clothes, although she has a rack on the bike and would like to buy saddlebags. It will help to keep her stuff dryer and better support year-round riding.

Since she doesn't have access to a shower at work, she rides slower in the morning. She brings a daily change of clothes and a make-up bag, and does everything she would normally do if she were riding on the bus or driving. 

At the office, she has advocated for a changing room, a bike rack for indoor parking and access to a shower/gym. Her suggestions fit well with the organization's mission and especially into the philosophical framework espoused by the Pope to be good stewards of the environment. 

Managing Safety Concerns Surrounding Bike Commuting

When asked about safety concerns with bike commuting, Elizabeth sees her role as coexisting, not competing, with cars. She stresses the importance of riding predictably. As an experienced commuter she calls out the need to anticipate what might happen and not assume that drivers will act in the way you expect.

In her own development, she recalls the items that helped her to become a more confident rider. These steps helped to make the safety issues of bike commuting more manageable and far less stressful.

  1. Educating herself on the bike lanes and less traveled areas, and obeying traffic laws.

  2. Identifying and participating in group recreational rides in the city such as Bike the Drive.

  3. Starting with shorter rides to the grocery store which removed the need for carrying clothes or worrying about getting to the office for a meeting.

Bike Commuting in Chicago Compared to New York

After riding in NYC, she acquired a reinforced chain to lock her bike.

She has noticed differences in bike commuting in Chicago compared to New York. In the later, she rode through all five boroughs regularly. She points out that one can exist in Chicago without a car, but for many it's still an option. Not so in New York where the cost of car ownership is prohibitive for many people. This situation underpins a different dynamic with bike commuting between the two cities. She sees New York as having a more European feel with regards to layout and bike infrastructure. And believes the cosmopolitan nature of the city sets a different cultural expectation for support of biking and bike commuting. ​

Looking to the future, Elizabeth would like to see more protected bike lanes in Chicago, even ones with plastic posts to visibly indicate separation of bikes and cars. She's noticed that more branded parking racks are popping up in front of shops and bars, which is a great way to share the costs and improve the infrastructure. She advocates better education on using the bike racks on CTA buses and more bike commuting classes and group rides to help beginners get started.

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