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Bicycle Commuting to Cut Traffic at High-Tech Complex : Irvine Co. Promoting Pedal Power

Times Urban Affairs Writer

Faced with a mandatory 20% reduction in anticipated traffic volume from its new Irvine Spectrum high-tech business complex, the Irvine Co. is turning to a low-tech solution: bicycles.

The cut in traffic was a condition for approval of the Spectrum development by the Irvine City Council two years ago.

“If only half of what is on the drawing boards occurs,” states a recent Orange County Transportation Commission document, “the Irvine Spectrum at the confluence of the Santa Ana (I-5) and San Diego (I-405) freeways in east Irvine is going to be big. With office-retail, biomedical, technology and industrial components, expectations are for creation of 50,000 to 75,000 jobs by the turn of the century. That means a lot of additional automobile traffic.”

Spectrumotion, a traffic management organization created by the Irvine Co., has mounted a public relations campaign aimed at persuading current and prospective employees in the Spectrum area to car-pool, van-pool or use public transit. What’s more, companies locating in the complex are required to join Spectrumotion.

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Bicycle Fair

But until this week, two-wheel transit has been a little-known element in Spectrumotion’s strategy to reduce traffic. To promote the idea of bicycle commuting, the organization is sponsoring a “bicycle fair” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 31 Technology Drive, Irvine, just east of the Alton Parkway exit on the Santa Ana Freeway.

Both the Irvine Co. and several bicycle vendors are participating in the fair to establish good will--and to do some serious marketing. But they also hope to sign up dozens, if not hundreds, of workers as members of the Spectrumotion Wheelers, a club for bicycle commuters.

Among the guest speakers scheduled will be Pete Penseyres of Fallbrook, winner of the 1986 “Race Across America” and a 160-mile-a-day bicycle commuter, and Patti Johnson of San Clemente, leader of the 1985 TransAmerica Classic All Women’s Cycling Team.

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They will be joined by Orange County cycling enthusiasts whose primary motivation is not participation in sports competition. People like Norm Bigelow, a research and development employee of Kawasaki Motors Corp., who found that he could reduce stress and avoid bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic by bicycling the 12 miles between his Irvine Spectrum office and his Mission Viejo home for the past 2 1/2 years.

‘I Felt Really Good’

Encouraged by the 15 members of Kawasaki’s motorcycle racing team, who also bicycle a lot, Bigelow said: “After I tried it, I felt really good. I arrive at work feeling better, too. It’s better than having a cup of coffee when you first get in.”

Another local enthusiast, Jim Freibert of Sunset Beach, recently discovered that he could make the trip between his home and office in Huntington Beach more quickly on a bicycle than on a bus traveling the same route down Pacific Coast Highway.

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But Freibert was not really surprised, having worked for several years at Two Wheel Transit Authority of Huntington Beach, which at 9,000 square feet and 40 employees is one of the largest bicycle sales and repair facilities in the United States.

Many of the store’s employees cycle to work, says Freibert, not because of their jobs but because they like it.

In the Spectrum area, so far, between 10 and 20 employees each at Kawasaki, Mazda, Parker-Hannifin and Burroughs Corp. already bicycle to work, as do several at smaller companies such as Bally Fitness Products.

‘Good Public Relations’

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Freibert and some of his co-workers will be staffing two booths at Saturday’s fair.

“I’m sure this is good public relations for us and the Irvine Co.,” Freibert said. “But the truth is, without a major effort to encourage car-pooling and bicycling, there’s the potential for one huge traffic mess down there (at the Spectrum).”

Freibert cites figures supplied by the Washington-based Bicycle Federation to show that cycling has become the most popular outdoor participatory sport. (Swimming is ranked higher overall because it is also an indoor sport.)

According to the group’s surveys, 1.8 million of the 78 million of adult Americans who were bicycling in 1985 used their two-wheelers to commute to work. Only about 100,000 engaged in serious competition.

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Meanwhile, sales of bicycles, accessories and maintenance have tripled since 1975, to more than $2 billion annually, according to the federation.

John Dowlin, director of the Philadelphia-based Bicycle Network, a national organization, says many cities--and countries--are encouraging or even subsidizing bicycle transit. For example, he said, Palo Alto now requires businesses to include bicycle racks in their parking plans. And the Netherlands actually pays workers a thousand guilders (about $429) to commute by bicycle instead of by car.

Soft-Sell Approach

But in Irvine, Spectrumotion is relying mostly on the soft-sell approach, appealing to workers’ and employers’ common sense.

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For instance, Michael Hairston of Orange, a physical therapist, will be one of several speakers at Saturday’s bicycle fair who will talk about the benefits of cycling, not only in relieving traffic congestion but also to improve relations between employers and workers, and specifically the usefulness of bicycling for such benefits as physical rehabilitation after a job-related injury.

Hairston says that bicycling to work reduces job-related stress, injuries and illness. “It’s been proven for a long time that when you arrive at work physically fit, you suffer fewer injuries and get sick less often. Of course, that makes employers happy.”

Still, Hairston says, some companies are resistant. “You tell them that they need to install a shower for employees who bicycle, lockers for clothes changes, a secure place to lock the bicycles, and they think you’re crazy. With few exceptions, those companies are not at the top in terms of employee morale. Not because of the bicycling issue per se, but because that is symptomatic of a certain management style. Often in places like that, the employees are not getting the pat on the back that they deserve, or they don’t have a voice being listened to by management.”

“Employers who encourage things like bicycling,” says Hairston, “generally are the types who do other things for their employees. They tend to have higher morale and productivity from their workers. It’s the attitude that the company conveys. It’s often a sign that employees are receiving other positive strokes as well.”

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