Bike commuters-Heather Szabo

Former Woodland Heights resident Heather Szabo, a Chevron employee, rides her bicycle along the White Oak Bayou Trail on the way to her downtown office. She is among the local residents who regularly commute by bike, with many of them working for the energy company. (Photo by Joy Roth)

Joy Roth is a self-described cheerleader for commuting by bicycle, having recruited several of her fellow Chevron employees to pedal to work instead of pressing the gas pedal in an automobile. She readily ticks off the benefits of riding to their downtown office building on a bike, such as improving fitness, lowering transportation costs, decreasing stress and reducing one’s carbon footprint.

But Roth admits that it’s not for everyone – not even in her own household.

She and her husband both work for Chevron and make daily 3-mile treks from their home in Woodland Heights to the energy company’s office building at 1400 Smith St. Roth rides her bike while her husband drives, sometimes more slowly.

“Getting out of downtown at the end of the day, from my office I can see traffic backed up two blocks around the corner,” Roth said. “If I’m riding, I don’t even deal with that. I just cut past everything.”

Roth is one of more than 100 Chevron employees who regularly commute by bike, according to her and fellow employee Mayank Malik, a Heights resident. They said roughly 40 of those employees live in the Greater Heights, Rice Military area or along the Washington Avenue corridor.

They are part of a citywide movement in which residents are relying more on walking and riding bikes and less on driving cars and trucks – for environmental, economic and personal health reasons – as Houston’s elected officials push for more multimodal transportation options and increased connectivity within the city’s sidewalk and trail networks.

“I think Houston’s bought in,” said Heights resident Matt Rossini, another Chevron employee. “I think people in the Heights like it, and it’s why people move into the Heights. It’s easy access and a closer location to get to, so you don’t have to drive everywhere. The more safe and convenient things that are in place, the more people will take advantage of it.”

Rossini is not a bike commuter – at least not yet – having tried it for the first time on May 26, when Chevron held a “Bike to Work Day” as part of a month-long series of bike-related events. Roth said there were logistics Q&A sessions, facility tours, a bike buddy and caravan program and a bike fair that highlighted resources such as Houston BCycle stations, city bike trail maps and a demonstration by METRO on how to use the bike racks on its buses.

Multiple Chevron employees said the company supports and encourages commuting by bike, such as by offering free bike storage for employees and providing shower, fitness center and locker access for a total cost of less than $20 per month. Chevron received a Bicycle Friendly Business award in 2020 from The League of American Bicyclists.

Chevron said in a statement that it “places the highest priority on the health and safety of its workforce and protection of our assets and the environment,” adding that cycling is “one of the many alternative green benefits to the environment.”

Bike commuters

Heights-area residents and Chevron employees, from left to right, Matt Bennett, Alex Turner, Joy Roth, Mayank Malik, Heather Szabo and Jonathan Bowman gather for a photo after riding their bikes downtown for work. (Photo by Matt Bennett)

“We asked around, and there’s really no other company that has such a nice structured (cycling) community that we have at Chevron,” Malik said. “People often bike to downtown, but really don’t have the support system.”

Pros and cons

Chevron employees are not the only local residents riding their bikes to work, and not all the local bike commuters are riding downtown. Woodland Heights resident Brad Snead said he’s been riding to and from his law firm in the Galleria area for the last six years, also utilizing public transit and taxi services such as Uber and Lyft.

Snead said commuting by bike requires additional planning and preparation, such as scouting routes, arranging meals and packing extra clothes, along with access to a shower at or near the office. But it also comes with benefits, he said, such as feeling more connected to his community as well as significant cost savings.

Snead said he tracked his transportation costs on a spreadsheet while making the transition from driving his hybrid electric car to his bike. Factoring in expenses such as a car payment, insurance and gas, along with money he spent on occasional car and bus rides after switching primarily to his bike, he said he saved about $6,500 during the first year and estimates he’s saved up to $40,000 overall.

There also was a noticeable change in his at-work demeanor, Snead said. One day a few years ago, when he drove his wife’s mid-size SUV to the office, a co-worker expressed concern about him.

“I had dropped off my kid and after driving for 45 minutes, I finally got to the office,” Snead said. “I showed up, got off the elevator and somebody said, ‘Brad, what’s wrong? Usually you show up happy and full of energy, and today you’re doom and gloom.’ ”

Malik, who began biking to work last summer after his car broke down, said his 35-minute ride and subsequent shower gets him feeling energized, refreshed and ready for the work day. Roth described her ride home at the end of the day as a de-stressor, saying it “feels like recess.”

Rossini said he’s intrigued by the idea of regularly riding to work, both because he wants to be more active and also for environmentally conscious reasons, and has set a goal of doing so once per week. The biggest obstacle is logistical challenges, he said, and ensuring he’ll have enough time for his family and other activities, such as coaching youth basketball.

Another Heights resident who works for Chevron, Oscar Yepes, said he’s been cycling to work for about six weeks and is in the midst of a “summer test” to see if he can keep it up during the year’s hottest months. He rides his own bike for recreation but commutes by using Houston BCycle – a ride-sharing program in which bikes can be rented for single uses and dropped off at different stations – because those bikes have cargo space and there are multiple stations near his home.

Yepes said it’s been a good experience so far, but added that Houston’s bike infrastructure is not as developed or connected as he would like.

“It’s a little bit of a safety issue if you decide not to go on the bike paths,” he said. “Not all the bike paths are dedicated bike lanes. There’s some that are shared (lanes with automobiles). So it’s still a little bit of a risk in some of the streets. You have to be careful.”

Bike commuters-Roth Christianson

Joy Roth, left, and Keith Christianson, who both live in the Heights area and work for Chevron, ride bikes together along the White Oak Bayou Trail while commuting from downtown. (Photo by Matt Bennett)

Multiple routes can get a cyclist to downtown and back from the Greater Heights, with Malik saying he prefers to ride along the city’s bayou trails whereas Roth likes to ride into the Sawyer Yards area before weaving her way downtown. Snead, while traveling to the Galleria area, takes advantage of the MKT and Memorial Park trails along with the Cohn Street Bridge that crosses Interstate 10 from the Cottage Grove area.

Roth said she likens commuting by bike to a secret she’s discovered and wants to share with others, similar to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with great food or an enthralling movie that hardly anyone has seen. That’s why she tries to recruit others to bike to work, both at Chevron and elsewhere.

Roth said she does it because it’s enjoyable and relaxing and her primary form of exercise. But she understands that other Houston residents, such as her husband, might prefer to drive to work and have their own reasons for doing so.

“My husband goes to the same place and he drives every day,” she said. “So I completely understand. It is not for everybody. But for me, personally, it is something that I wanted to make a priority for myself.”

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