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Why bike in Bellingham?

Bellingham bicyclists share their motivations and experiences in choosing car-alternative modes of transportation

The Granary Cycletrack features its own bicycle signal in Bellingham, Wash. in February 2021. Bicycle signals promote safety and operational mobility for bicyclists. // Photo courtesy of Walk and Roll Bellingham

For many in Bellingham, driving a car to get where we need to go feels like an everyday necessity. However, there are many who choose biking as an alternative. But why bike? Is it only out of necessity?

Leif Vaneyll is a Whatcom Community College student living near Fairhaven who counts on his bicycle. Vaneyll usually bikes to school, his job downtown and to the gym at Western Washington University, but will use public transit when the weather is too cold or rainy to bike.

Vaneyll’s preference is based on biking’s directness and speed compared to using public transportation to travel to school from home. 

“It takes me like 30 minutes on my bike, takes me 10 minutes by car and it takes me like an hour and a half by bus to go to Whatcom,” Vaneyll said. 

Biking is more cost efficient to many people, he said. In considering the cost of car insurance, maintenance, gas and parking, he says he opts to bike while he lives in Bellingham. 

The average annual cost of owning and maintaining a car in Washington is $10,728, or $894 per month, according to AAA’s Your Driving Costs annual study in 2022. 

“It's honestly significantly cheaper for me to bike,” Vaneyll said. “Especially working downtown, like having to pay for parking down there.” 

Though she owns a car, Sonja Max, chooses alternative transportation methods as frequently as possible. 

Max is a board member of Walk and Roll Bellingham, an organization of volunteers who educate and mobilize Bellingham neighborhoods for safe streets. 

The board works with the City of Bellingham on updating the 2012 Pedestrian Master Plan and 2014 Bicycle Master Plan. Max also serves on the Whatcom County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the Whatcom County Parks Commission. 

“I often choose to bike or walk because the exercise and fresh air feels good, it's more fun,” Max said. “I don't have to look for or pay for parking and I feel like I'm making a reduction in my carbon emission.”

Aside from personal costs of car upkeep, communities with higher rates of walking, biking and busing spend less on health care as well as save taxpayers money by reducing wear on streets. 

“If someone ditched their car for one out of every five trips, that would be 20% fewer car trips made in our city,” Max said. “Additionally, choosing a car-free alternative leaves parking spaces available to those who really need to drive, and of course the carbon emissions are reduced.”

If we all left our cars parked and chose to walk or bike for trips under a one-mile radius, $575 million in fuel costs and about 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year could be saved, equating to taking about 400,000 cars off the road each year, according to the EPA

Fellow Walk and Roll Bellingham board member Robin Thomas rides her bike or walks to run errands and get around town. For Thomas, choosing to walk or bike creates opportunities to have fun and be active while going about her day. 

“It makes a trip to the store both enjoyable and an adventure of sorts,” Thomas said. 

Thomas’ choice to walk and bike is also motivated by factors that benefit the community.

“Dealing with traffic even when it's light is a drag,” Thomas said. “All our exhaust contributes to noise and asthma, and makes our city less pleasant.”

Eleanor Peterson

Eleanor Peterson (she/her) is excited to be working as a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is in her senior year at Western majoring in communication studies and minoring in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. Eleanor enjoys going for scenic walks, drinking iced lattes and creating music playlists in her free time. You can contact Eleanor at

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