Did you know that Central Oregonians have been participating in an annual commute options challenge for 20 years? The 20th Annual Commute Options Week, taking place from June 21 to 27 this year, began as Bike Commute Week in 1991. Since then, Commute Options has helped businesses to find a variety of ways to get employees to work without driving alone.
The first commuter challenge week was spearheaded by Biking for a Better Community (BBC), a citizens’ group promoting bicycling as transportation – for fun, fitness, clean air, and reduced traffic. The group was started by John Schubert, who had such a good time exploring Bend on his bike he decided to encourage other people to do the same. The first Bike Commute Week featured information on bike safety and the benefits (personal and environmental) of biking.
In the years that followed, BBC began to collaborate with other entities – including the Oregon Office of Energy and the ODOT – to include other types of commute options, like walking, carpool matching, and telecommuting, into the movement. With new state funding and local corporate sponsorships, the organization began to gather momentum. In 1996, it acquired the name it has today, Commute Options for Central Oregon, and defined its mission: promoting choices that reduce the impacts of driving alone.
Since the 1990s, participants in the commuter challenge have been finding creative and fun ways to commute. In the early years of Commute Options Week, a Deschutes County employee who lived on a farm even rode his horse to work. A “Mule Pool” was created one year, in which commuters rode in a cart behind a mule. Commuters in favor of self-propelled transportation have walked, biked and even paddled the Deschutes River to work.
“People who don’t regularly use commute options gravitate towards the Commute Options Week because it’s a fun competition,” says Jeff Monson, executive director of Commute Options since 1996. “But it’s not that difficult to use a commute option – at least once a week – throughout the year.”
Commute Options collaborates with local, regional and state entities to create a number of programs like carpool matching, vanpools and employer incentives to open up options for people who live too far from their workplaces for regular walk or bike commuting. The long-awaited arrival of regular bus routes through Bend Area Transit (BAT) and Cascades East Transit (CET) has created yet another accessible way to commuters to get to work.
Schubert, who envisioned a bike-friendly Bend in the early 1990s, says the city has been challenged by its overwhelmingly rapid growth. “I imagined that we could transform Bend more swiftly into a bike commuting community,” says Schubert. But with a more than doubled population in less than 20 years, he says, “Some things that we may have wished for get elbowed out by traffic growth.”
Working towards a fully balanced transportation system and usage by citizens is still the goal of Commute Options today. And Commute Options Week is the annual event that gets employers (and individuals – this year’s event includes a first-ever individual commuter challenge) to explore all of the transportation options for commuters.
“Anything except driving to work by yourself is a commute option,” says Monson. He encourages everyone to look into a new method of commuting during Commute Options Week, and if they have not tried it yet, to ride the bus on Monday, June 21st when rides will be free.