Enjoying a car-free commute

Vincent Serrani's 15-minute, 2.5-mile commute never ceases to delight and entertain him.

Retired folks wave from porches. Students playing outside give him a shout out. It’s all part of the community connection and environmental awareness he says he wouldn’t experience if he was driving a car. 

As a fifth grade teacher at Weisser Park Elementary School, Serrani has biked to school almost every day for the past five years, logging more than 3,000 miles annually, including recreation. In fact, he uses a bicycle for 90 percent of his transportation year-round. Serrani bikes to work at Weisser Park Elementary School almost every day.

And while some might consider it a hassle in the cold Fort Wayne winter, he sees biking for transportation as the best route to a more positive lifestyle.

“It saves my family a massive amount of money. It's great exercise, promotes better mental health, and makes me more aware of my community and the surroundings," Serrani says.

An added benefit is that the exercise helps control his Type I diabetes.

Although Serrani, 38, and his wife, Rachel, own a car, the family cycles together as often as possible on family outings. She rides a bicycle while he seats Francesca, 5, and Giorgio, 2, on his recently purchased cargo bike. And while their roadside caravan might be a rare sight in northeast Indiana, they’re part of a growing trend nationwide. 

Biking as a mode of transportation has been picking up popularity as an eco-friendly, healthy alternative to driving or a more convenient alternative to public transportation schedules. According to U.S. Census data, the number of people who commuted to work by bicycle between 2008-2012 increased by about 60 percent from the year 2000.

Even so, bicyclists still account for fewer than 1 percent of all commuters nationwide, and in mid-size Midwestern cities like Fort Wayne, cyclists face the added challenges of harsh weather and underdeveloped biking infrastructure.

"During winter months, folks most often ask me how I manage, stating the need for extra clothing,” Serrani says. “But I tell them they have to wear extra clothing in winter also. It just takes me a bit more time to prepare. I control the climate with my gear; they do it with their car. I'd say there are no drawbacks."

Serrani takes his daughter Francesca, 5, for a ride in the family's cargo bike.

Serrani adapts to the winter weather by switching to tires suited for snow. He says that as Fort Wayne has developed the last several years, the city's government and motorists have adapted to cyclists, too. 

Back in 2006 when he first started biking around town, he remembers motorists yelling at him to get out of the way or ride on the sidewalk. But additions like bike lanes and safety regulations have helped the community learn to share the road.

In fact, Fort Wayne was designated as a Bike Friendly city by the League of American Bicyclists in 2012, and again in 2016. It joins nine other Indiana communities to receive this designation. And while cyclists like Serrani see this as a step in the right direction, the work to make northeast Indiana more bicycle friendly is far from over.

So far, the only Indiana community to receive a Gold level designation from the the League of American Bicyclists is Bloomington. All other Indiana cities are Bronze level, so Serrani and other local cyclists are trying to help Fort Wayne advance its standing, and in a report they received from the League of American Bicyclists, they were told one of the first steps is starting an active bicycle advocacy group. 

This year, Seranni Even biked to pick up his Christmas tree.

More than five years ago, Serrani partnered with several local cyclists to start a group called Bicycle Friendly Fort Wayne, as a way to unite and support regional cyclists of all types, from casual riders to daily commuters.

The group has participated in local events, offering bike valets and increasing awareness about the benefits of cycling, or how bicycling infrastructure makes communities vibrant and active. They also host Fort Wayne's Ride of Silence every May as part of a global event to memorialize cyclists who have been injured or killed in traffic. 

"We're kind of developing our role in the community, but what we want to do is give a voice to cyclists of all kinds, and reflect citizens' demands that we have a bicycle-friendly city," Serrani says.

He's encouraged that as the city grows, cyclists will start to see biking as more than an outing on the trails or an alternative to driving, and celebrate the pure joy of it.

"How often do you look at your car and think about how great it is, how happy it makes you? Cars don't make me smile," he says. "My bike does."

Read more articles by CJ Woodring.

CJ Woodring is an award-winning nonfiction features writer, a journalist, and published author living in Fort Wayne.
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