CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2019 BIKE COMMUTERS OF THE YEAR!

Alameda County: Carol Lahti

Carol Lahti has been commuting in the Bay Area for 23 years — first from Hercules and now from Albany — but she’s been riding since childhood. Recently, she pulled an old folding bicycle — with a wide seat and tall handlebars — out from the back of her garage.

“This is the perfect pregnancy bike,” she says. “When we lived in Los Angeles and I was pregnant, (husband) Dean would meet me at the bus stop in the evening and push me on the bike up the hill to get the rest of the way home” she recalled with a laugh.

Carol started bike commuting as a student at the University of Minnesota, traveling eight miles to campus and eight miles home. When she and Dean (also an avid bike commuter) moved to Los Angeles, they doubled down on the habit — never once owning a car during their nine years there.

These days, her commute is an early morning ride on a sleek road bike. She rides to the ferry, which takes her to work at Genentech in South San Francisco. Carol says loves the feeling of being outside and getting somewhere on her own power.

Her commute time is practically the same as any other means of getting to work, she said. “I can’t help but feel just a little bit smug when I ride over the bicycle-pedestrian bridge in Berkeley and see traffic on 580 backed up in both directions,” Carol said.

Ana Castaneda, a longtime friend, nominated Carol. “Rain or shine she is on her bike. I was a non-rider myself and now I look forward to getting on my bike because of Carol,” Castaneda wrote. “She showed me that is possible to ride to so many places. Her wise words are: if you can ride one mile, you can ride five, and if you can ride five, you can ride 10. She is my hero.”

Interested in bike commuting? Carol recommends asking around at your place of work first. “Friends who commute by bike might be closer than you think,” she adds.

Contra Costa County: John Cunningham

John Cunningham is a longtime cyclist and principal planner for Contra Costa County’s Transportation Planning Division, helping make infrastructure improvements for cyclists and pedestrians throughout the county.

He cycles daily from his home in Lamorinda to his office in Martinez. “In the dry months my commute gets me out in nature,” John said. “My preferred route takes me through Briones Regional Park.” But he’s not a fair-weather rider; John cycles to work in the wind and rain, in the cold and dark days of winter, and even during the East Bay’s sometimes brutal summer heat.

His coworkers find his bike routine impressive. “He has increased our department’s awareness of the need for new infrastructure for cycling, and he’s shown his commitment to combating climate change and reducing air pollution,” colleague Anna Battagello said. “In fact, the pictures on his office wall of cycling efforts have increased his coworkers’ interest in taking up the hobby.”

John said there are other benefits as well. “By riding my bike to work I save money, stay healthy, and reduce my stress levels at the same time!” he said.

Marin County: Brian Lehman

Brian Lehman has been bike commuting to work for 15 years. He rides from his home in Santa Venetia to his job as publications manager for the California Film Institute in downtown San Rafael almost every day.

“I manage to get in many detours and average about 15 miles a day over the course of the year,” he said. “I ride a steel frame, hardtail 29er that I have ‘Frankensteined’ into a commute machine and to meet my particular idiosyncrasies.”

Bicycling is a passion for Brian. In his nomination, one person wrote, “he is, “passionate about the welfare of the environment. He’s also nuts about bikes – the bike literally never leaves his side.”

“My number one reason for cycling is environmental impact,” Brian said. “I have not used a car to commute since late 2004 and have not owned a car since 2013.” He will rent a car for special occasions but does all his shopping and errands by bike. In 2018, Brian rode his bike 6,500 miles, while tallying 460 miles in cars, he said.

Brian sees cycling as an integral piece of local, regional, and national transit options. “If we are ever to make real impact in reversing global warming and our march toward an environment that is uninhabitable for humans, we have to develop a dramatically different transit model, one in which bicycles can play a pivotal and integrated role in moving toward a system that encourages alternatives such as trains, ferries, buses, car share and incentives to encourage living-near-work situations.”

Napa County: Aileen Carroll and Dave Kearney Brown (co-winners!)

When Aileen Carroll moved to San Luis Obispo for college, she started riding a bicycle for transportation. It was the easiest way to get around town and she quickly fell in love with the rush of riding on the road alongside people driving cars or sitting in traffic.

Today, Aileen and her fiancé purposely choose to live within biking distance of their respective jobs. “My 2-mile (12-minute) commute to Van Winden’s Garden Center is often the best part of my morning, and always a good way to unwind after the workday,” she said. She avoids arterial roads with fast car traffic and instead rides side streets that she often has all to herself in both directions.

And Aileen is not a fair-weather commuter. “I ride to work every day, rain or shine, and love to take the bike path to the Napa Farmers Market on Saturdays,” she said.

A Napa native (known as a Napkin to locals), Dave Kearney Brown has ridden a bike as his main form of transportation off and on all his life. This latest stretch, though, dates back about six years and is a direct result of his desire to lower his contributions to greenhouse pollutants.

He commutes from his home in Napa pretty much every day to his job as a third-grade teacher at Napa Valley Language Academy. And while he does have a car, it gets used very infrequently. In fact, recently, he went 2.5 weeks without driving, and 3 months without filling up the 10-gallon tank.

In addition to commuting to work, most of Dave’s miles are to do the weekly shopping, but he does venture out on longer rides when he has meetings to attend in other locations. For example, he recently rode to from Napa to American Canyon for a Napa Climate Now commitment.

Said Dave, “I want to get a T-shirt that says: ‘The ultimate multitasking: Exercise-Check!, Getting stuff done-Check!, Saving money-Check!, Having Fun-Check!, Saving the Planet-Check!’ ”

San Francisco County: Ricky Ramos

Ever since Ricky Ramos moved to San Francisco in 2011 as a San Francisco State University student, he has been biking all over the Bay Area. “I think I’ve fallen in love with biking twice, once as a kid, and then again as an adult in San Francisco,” he said.

When he was young, riding his bike meant freedom, adventure and an avenue for friendship. Now, using his bicycle for everyday transportation has brought those feelings of happiness and community back into Ricky’s life. “The joy of riding in the terrain of our city and feeling like I am a part of a growing and prominent culture was more than enough to make me fall in love,” he said.

Many of Ricky’s ’ friends and coworkers nominated him as Bike Commuter of the Year because he has welcomed them into his biking community. He spends his days working in Oakland as the East Bay program manager for Street Soccer USA. When not working, Ricky loves to pedal his way up Twin Peaks from the Sunset, and is looking forward to one day being able to bike all the way from San Francisco to Oakland on the Bay Bridge.

Ricky said anyone can pedal to work. “You don’t have to be an avid biker to start cycling to work – the joy of riding on two wheels starts with just one day.”

San Mateo County: Avana Andrade

Avana Andrade lives in North Fair Oaks and bikes to work every day at the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability in Redwood City. Frosty or melting hot, traffic or no traffic, you can find her riding with her burlap carriers.

“Some of my earliest memories are riding in my mother’s Burley trailer or on a child’s seat on my father’s bicycle,” she said. “And I love riding my bike because it gives me that simple sense of joy I had as a kid.”

Avana says that commuting by bike also helps her pay attention to what’s going on in her community and get to know people in her neighborhood. That compliments her work on San Mateo County’s Climate Action Plan, which has given her a keen awareness that transportation is one of the county’s largest sources of emissions.

But she doesn’t stop with just her own biking. Avana has helped coworkers start pedaling to work by offering advice and teaching them things like how to fix a flat tire. She also likes to challenge herself to see how many groceries she can carry home on her bike.

Santa Clara County: Marc Graci

Marc Graci is a middle-school math teacher who lives in Campbell and works at Discovery Charter School in San Jose. Last summer, he set himself the goal of biking the eight miles round trip to school every day. “I just wondered if it would be something I could possibly do — bike every day for an entire school year,” he said.

While biking to work was challenging in the rainy months of 2019, Marc stuck to his plan and has never missed a day. “I’ve got a streak going and I think I’m going to be able to make it through the entire year,” he continued. “I really like how riding on a bike allows me to interact with my environment more. When I am in a car, I tend to just focus on the destination and I don’t observe my surroundings at all. But on a bike I feel like I have learned a lot more about what’s going on in my community.”

As a teacher, Marc has even used biking to bring math to life, asking students to calculate rates of speed or looking at different bike paths to compare and contrast different ways of getting to the same place.

And while he thinks that Silicon Valley already is pretty bike-friendly, he sees room for growth. “I think if there’s an improvement to be had, it just might be in how people treat others who are riding on bikes, because there’s a lot of really distracted drivers out there,” Marc adds. “But once you get into it, it becomes very enjoyable.”

Solano County: Paul Meltzer

Fairfield resident Paul Meltzer realized he was wasting a lot of time and money sitting in traffic while commuting by car to his job at the Shell Oil Refinery in Martinez. So in 2018, he purchased a Cannondale Synapse bicycle — and the car has sat in his  garage ever since.

Paul has perfected the multi-modal commute: biking from home to the Suisun City Amtrak station, taking the train to Martinez, pedaling to his office and then doing it in reverse at the end of the day. That’s a 44-mile round trip!

According to Paul, biking is the best part of his commute. “Biking to work is a great way to get exercise,” he said. “I’ve even persuaded some of my colleagues to give it a try!”

Sonoma County: Sgt. Dave Thompson

Sgt. Dave Thompson is a 27-year veteran of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2014, he’s been making the 16-mile round-trip commute from his Windsor home to the Sheriff’s Office in Santa Rosa part of his regular day. “Having a semi-regular 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule made it possible to get in the habit,” he said. “While coworkers may arrive in the office grumbling that they need coffee to get going, I just rode eight miles in the fresh air – that’s my coffee!”

Sgt. Spencer Crum said Sgt. Thompson’s bike commute vtakes commitment and dedication. “Sgt. Thompson can’t just lock up his bike, come in and sit at his desk. He is a hard-working field supervisor who must put on a ballistic vest, uniform, boots and gun belt every day,” he said. “It definitely would be easy for Sgt. Thompson to drive to work, but instead, he has found a way to meld his dedication and love for the sport with his dedication to serving his community.”

And Sgt. Thompson’s commitment to biking doesn’t stop with his daily commute. He gives back to the cycling community as a volunteer with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition’s Safe Routes to School program.

Before his current assignment in the Sheriff’s Office, he served on bike patrol in the towns of Windsor and Sonoma. It was there that he met Safe Routes staff and began volunteering at school bike rodeos. Now, he helps out both in the classroom and out on the course. “He hangs out with staff all day and even helps set up and pack up the truck! The staff, kids, and school administrators all love him,” said Mic Nikolayew, Safe Routes’ education manager.

“Deputy Dave,” as he is called by the students, became certified as an instructor by the League of American Bicyclists in 2012. He has also acted as a liaison between cycling safety instructors and the traffic court, and taught Smart Cycling classes for law enforcement agencies.

Sgt. Thompson will be retiring from the Sheriff’s Office this summer and embarking on a cross-country road trip with his family. And yes, his beloved bike will definitely be coming along for the ride.

Need even more inspiration? Check out past winners here!