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Sam Geckler rides his bicycle Jan. 11, 2013, on McKinley Avenue past the Cummins Technical Center. Geckler commutes to work by bike year-round and is looking forward to the city's efforts to make the city more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Sam Geckler was sitting on his bicycle on McKinley Avenue, trying to turn right onto State Street, but cars blocked his path.
It was about 5 p.m., and the red light at Central Avenue and State Street had backed up westbound rush-hour traffic on State Street past McKinley, making it nearly impossible for Geckler to find an opening.
So Geckler, who had just come off work from nearby Cummins Tech Center, turned the wheel of his bike onto a small dirt path next to the street, headed a few yards north and then rode on the small sidewalk next to State Street. He managed to get through the intersection during the next green light and quickly was out of sight, leaving motorists stuck in traffic on the bridge.
His experience illustrates some of the frustrations and flexibility of local bicyclists as they compete for road space with much bigger cars and trucks.
About three days a week, Geckler bicycles from his home in northern Columbus to the Cummins Tech Center. His mode of transportation depends on how many off-site meetings he has.
He’s been at it for about four years. The trip takes just over 20 minutes one way, about 10 minutes more than by car.
“It’s a super-easy commute,” he said recently on an overcast day as he sat in the cafeteria of the Cummins Tech Center.
About 20 percent of his commute is on public roads. He primarily uses sidewalks, the People Trails and side paths.
Geckler said he commutes by bike because he gets exercise and saves fuel and because it sets a good example for his children. He said he wants his children to understand that the bike is an important means of transportation that is used all over the world.
He said he also enjoys the ride, as long as he doesn’t get stuck behind a vehicle and become enveloped in its exhaust fumes.
As a cyclist, Geckler said, he can avoid hunting for a parking spot in the often-overcrowded tech center parking lot. Instead, he can lock up his bike right in front of the entrance.
Geckler said he dislikes riding during rain and in the summer heat, saying he would prefer riding on a zero-degree day than one when the temperature hits 90.
With multiple layers, a hat, mittens and flannel-lined dress pants, riding in freezing weather can provide more comfort than driving a car, he said. A car takes a while to warm up — sometimes so long that it’s warm just about when you arrive at work — whereas on a bike, the physical exercise warms up the body quickly.
“If you’re dressed properly, you can manage it quite nicely,” he said.
Geckler also knows very well that cycling can expose him to real danger.
His daughter Mackenzie, while riding her bike to Parkside Elementary School in December 2011, was struck by a car and thrown onto the hood and windshield. She escaped unharmed, and Geckler said he was pleased with the response from city officials, including Columbus Police Department.
Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Metropolitan Planning Organization, and City Engineer Dave Hayward came to the neighborhood and followed Mackenzie to school.
They got a chance, as Geckler put it, to “see the craziness” of morning traffic.
Safety remains a concern, Geckler said, and cyclists need to be visible and smart.
But he said motorists, too, need to pay more attention, and the city could take further steps to become more bike friendly.
Geckler said he favors side paths, which physically separate the bike and pedestrian paths from the street, although he said he realizes that may not be an option everywhere.
Geckler said the State Street update, for example, was designed exclusively with cars in mind and to the detriment of cyclists and pedestrians.
“We’ve still got work to do,” he said.
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