Judy Swann’s love of biking developed during her childhood and college years in Iowa. Now, she relies exclusively on active transportation — walking and biking — to get around Ithaca. The only difference, she said, are Ithaca’s hills, which a small motor on her bike helps her tackle.
“I am not into suffering,” she said. “But I am into saving the planet!”
Judy uses a Copenhagen wheel to help her get up Ithaca’s hills. A red disk in her back wheel contains a motor which connects to her phone via bluetooth. She said she rarely tries to get up the hills without the motor.
“Let's just say I can get up the hill,” she said. “I try and do it a couple of times a year. But why should I suffer?”
Judy works at an energy efficiency firm which runs programs for states and utilities. In her free time, she is also a published author and has a passion for learning other languages — she is currently working on Swedish! Before she worked in energy efficiency, she worked as an academic librarian for 18 years. Giving up her car entirely, she said, was a gradual process.
From engines to pedals
Throughout college, Judy said she had a car and a bike.
“I've always been a biker,” she said. “I grew up in Iowa — not a lot of hills!”
She is also a single mom. When her son was a senior in high school, she gave him her car, which he took with him to Allegheny College. Now, he is a graduate student at the University of Denver where he studies the impact of successive hurricanes and fires on tropical montane forests.
“I would wait for him to come home to do the big shopping,” she said. “Now, the car is in Denver — it’s his car.
She was also inspired to a adopt a biking lifestyle from her nephew who lives in Sweden, where biking is ingrained in the country’s culture. His dedication to biking was another inspiration for making the switch. It was this inspiration, and her son, that helped her transition entirely to biking and walking as a means of getting around.
Judy also said she is a member of Ithaca Car Share and said that there are times when she needs to use a vehicle for items she needs that are too large to carry by bike.
Ithaca Car Share is a membership-based service which allows 24/7 access to vehicles with the aim of increasing community access to transportation while reducing the negative impacts of car use.
“If I have big shopping to do, if I need mulch for the garden or whatever, then I get it all together and that weekend I go and I do the six things that I need to do,” Judy said.
Benefits and challenges
She said there are numerous benefits to walking and biking, including feeling more connected to nature and the outdoors.
“It makes me feel more, not just part of the community, but also part of nature, you know? That I'm just another animal here on the planet, experiencing this rain or smelling these flowers,” she said. “I love that.”
Sometimes, when it’s too cold or raining too hard to bike, Judy said she will walk to work, and has noticed the way that biking and walking can build community.
“If you're walking, you actually talk to people in your neighborhood,” she said. “Most people don't. You know, they jump in the car, and they're off to their place and those are their two poles. But I find you know, when I'm walking, … I see the dog walkers. I see the little kids. I love that. I will never give that up. … You build a sense of community.”
She has also faced certain challenges that come with getting around by bike. Road safety, she said, is one of the biggest challenges she has encountered. She said she has gotten in an accident or two since she started biking everywhere.
“Well, it was scary,” she said. “I was following all the right things. I was in my lane. I had the light, and this poor man was just in a big hurry to get to Wegmans.”
She said infrastructure like the bike boulevards and the path that goes over the bridge near West Hill are good additions to make biking more accessible. She said she would like to see Ithaca adapt more bike-friendly structures but that getting everyone on board can be a challenge.
“If it happens in a vacuum, something's wrong,” she said. “Community’s important.”
Housing can be another challenge to any kind of alternative transportation because of how expensive living in Ithaca can be. Judy said her commute to work is five minutes by bike but that this is not the case for people who live out of town.
“There's more accessibility [out of town],” she said. “You can buy a house outside of town for less money than you can in town.”
She also said other challenges she and others have experienced with pursuing an active lifestyle are the different kinds of biking gear needed with Ithaca’s shifting weather. She also said that some workplaces are stricter in terms of attire, and this can present challenges for those who commute by bike.
Overall, reducing her carbon footprint and environmental impact was her biggest motivator to switch to an active lifestyle, she said.
“I have my own son, who all I can think about is that these next generations that are coming in, we can't hand over a planet where we've used up all this stuff,” she said. “So, I want to be part of that solution. Right? It matters to me. You people are so young.”
Article by Communications Intern Maggie McAden