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Big Green and the revelations of commuting

Big Green and the revelations of commuting
Big Green, a Trek Townie Go, Tracy Salcedo’s e-Bike. Salcedo commutes on Big Green daily from her home in Glen Ellen to Dunbar Elementary School, where she is the school librarian.Photo by Melissa Dowling


By Tracy Salcedo

On Henno Road in the mornings, everything in nature is sharp and sparkles. Kicking my new electric bike into gear with a stroke of the pedal and a flick of my thumb, I hit the road before the dew and the chill evaporate. I share brief greetings with the people I pass on my commute to Dunbar School; the lady walker with her shaggy dog, the gentleman walker in his bright reflective vest. It’s uphill all the way, but Big Green makes the climbing easy. It’s the perfect way to start the day.

Big Green is a revelation, and I’m lucky to have her. Big Green is an excellent commute vehicle. She doesn’t look the part, but she’s built for speed. I don’t look the part either, but I love speed. Without cruise control, on the freeway I am a ticket waiting to happen; an inevitable gravity draws the pedal to the metal, and when I finally glance at my speedometer, I’m always shocked that the hamsters in the Little Hottie can spin the wheels that quickly. Windows down, wind in my hair, open road ahead … zoom, zoom.

So when Big Green took off with me on that first day behind the bike shop in downtown Santa Rosa — an unexpected, pedal-assisted, boosterrocket acceleration — it was love at first spin.

That said, unlike the Little Hottie with her four cylinders and five speeds, Big Green is a cruiser: fat downtubes and fat tires, big-bottomed seat, a tinkling bell on handlebars, and a pink basket for carrying whatever doesn’t fit in my backpack. I’m a mountain biker by inclination and long tradition, but knobby tires aren’t necessary for the short ride to and from Dunbar School. Big Green is the perfect fit.

Aside from reintroducting me to the beauty of bicycling and of Henno Road, Big Green also has provoked a couple of calls to action.

First, let me tell you about the program that enabled me to purchase her. Electric bikes are expensive — it’s tough to touch one for less than $2,000. But I got a letter from Sonoma Clean Power last summer notifying me (and other customers) the company was promoting electric bikes as a way to cut carbon emissions, and was offering $1,000 toward a purchase for folks who qualified for PG& E’s financial assistance programs. I qualified. I applied. And though Big Green’s delivery was delayed by months due to pandemic-induced supply chain issues, she was delivered to Dunbar just after the new year.

She’s been my passion ever since. She’s brought emotional therapy, more exercise, and a dollop of environmental stewardship into my everyday. With the Little Hottie parked in the driveway for days on end, I’ve only had to fill the tank once or twice since Big Green’s debut. Given the rise in gas prices, the savings have accumulated rapidly. If only the pounds would drop off as quickly.

But the Sonoma Clean Power electric bike purchase assistance program no longer exists. I am asked by my coworkers and the kiddos at Dunbar about Big Green a lot, but when I share her story I can’t share the means by which they too can reap the benefits. While a thousand commuters like me doing their small part to save the planet because of the program, there could be thousands more if it were revived or a similar program initiated.

Big Green’s second lesson: Glen Ellen needs to formalize bike routes.

No designated bike lane links any part of Glen Ellen to Dunbar School — or links Glen Ellen to anywhere, for that matter — which means cyclists, whether recreating or commuting, must share narrow country roads with two-ton rolling death machines.

Thankfully, Glen Ellen is sleepy when I pedal to work in the mornings and home in the afternoons. On the only stretch where I regularly jockey with cars — from the base of London Ranch Road, over the bridge on Arnold Drive to the Warm Springs intersection, and for a smidge of Warm Springs — I am a road hog. Big Green has a wide wing span and she’s speedy, so I pedal boldly down the middle of the lane. Most motorists stay patiently behind until I make the turn onto Henno, and Henno is blissfully quiet. It’s generally all good.

That said, there comes a moment in every afternoon commute where I fear for my life. The intersection of Warm Springs Road with Henno and O’Donnell Lane is a crapshoot, with limited visibility and the speed of travel. I’m grateful for Big Green’s turbo when I make that move, but even so, I’ve almost been a sail-cyclist on several occasions.

I’m delighted that the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Committee plans to take up transportation, including bike routes, as part of its mission. Chair Arthur Dawson’s proposed bike route, which would link south-side Glen Ellen with the village, is an excellent start. The Sonoma Valley Trail, which would link the city of Sonoma with Santa Rosa along Highway 12, is another excellent idea. But both routes will require political will, time, and money before they are realized.

Short-term solutions, in the meantime, might include increased signage about sharing the road, and painting lane markers on roadways as reminders to motorists that cyclists may be present. In Fairfax,

where I cut my cycling teeth, bike lanes are marked with

patches of bright green paint.

And, personally, I’d love to see a crosswalk with embedded flashing lights at the Henno/Warm Springs/ O’Donnell intersection. Just an awareness that people — on foot, on bikes, and in cars — cross the road at the point might slow down drivers on Warm Springs Road and save a life.

But for the most part, the ride home along Henno Road is a blissful exhalation after busy days at work. The countryside is warmer, softer, settling toward evening. I’m usually alone on the road, feathering the brakes to slow the descent, coasting past vineyards, fields of newly mown grass, oaks newly leafed out and silvering after fire. On the final push up London Ranch Road, I shift down and pedal hard; even with Big Green’s motor running, getting up the hill takes effort. When I turn into the driveway I am breathless and calm. It’s the perfect way to end the day.

Tracy Salcedo is an award winning author and the Kenwood Press’s editor at large.