Car-Free after three years?

We check back with those who made an effort to drive less

Mary Lynn Pulscher biked to work for years during the good weather months, April through October. In June, she parked her bike and started driving again.

Blame Dixie, the German shorthair pointer. Pulscher has to drive home at lunch to let her new puppy outside.

"As soon as she is potty-trained, as soon as her bladder is big enough … I will be back doing my bicycle commuting," said Pulscher, environmental education coordinator for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

Three years ago, the Southwest Journal profiled Pulscher and seven other people who had made a conscious effort to walk and/or bike more and either reduce or eliminate their driving. The Journal recently spoke to Pulscher and several others to see how things had changed in the intervening years.

Pulscher said she could tell she isn't biking as much this summer because she has gained weight. (She even drives to the Lake of the Isles dog park because Dixie is too young to run next to the bike.) Pulscher also is getting some good-natured ribbing at work from her bike-commuting colleagues.

For other car resisters, little has changed. Some profiled said they have struggled, compromised or simply quit a job trying to balance their desire to drive less and have a sane life with the realities of a car-based landscape and fast-paced schedules.

Eric Hansen: A safer rider

Erik Hansen's life has changed considerably in three years but not his bike commuting.

Three years ago, then-CARAG-resident Hansen biked to school and to several part-time jobs with neighborhood groups and Minnesota House Research. Today, he is married, owns a home in the Victory neighborhood and works for the Minneapolis department of Community Planning and Economic Development.

In 2001, he said he biked to save money and reduce stress. Now he said he doesn't think about it that way. It's just how he gets to work, he said.

He and his wife have one car, a Ford Focus wagon. She uses it to get to work in Eden Prairie and they use it for vacations, camping and to haul wood chips. He bikes less, perhaps now only 70 miles a week, but only because he is more of a homebody.

Hansen said the new job has elevated his dress code. He keeps dress shoes and sports coats at the office. He has learned the art of packing work clothes into panniers.

Three years ago, Hansen said he had been in a half-dozen biking accidents and had "flown over a few hoods." Today, he said he has more at stake and describes his current biking style as "more sensible."

"When I went off the hood of the car, I was like 21 and kind of brash -- I was invincible," he said. "Now I stop for stoplights. I stop for stop signs. I obey the traffic laws. I am not as wild and reckless as I once was."

His worries have changed.

"I do have a fear, when I have children, I will have to succumb and have at least something [motorized] available," he said. "I will go kicking and screaming."

Doug Shidell and Vicky Vogels: Driving more

Doug Shidell and Vicky Vogels of Kingfield advocate bike commuting and have written a book on bike vacations. However, Shidell said he and his wife are biking less these days.

Their reasons are varied.

"I am getting less and less enthusiastic about riding in the middle of the winter," he said. "It is a little bit too hard for me. As I get older, that becomes more of a problem."

His bike-related projects also interfere with his bike commuting, he said. Shidell works at Quality Bikes in Bloomington. In his free time, he researches routes for his metro bike trails map, a project he started in 1984. (An updated map is expected this spring.)

Some days, instead of biking to work, he drives and takes his bicycle with him. After work, he bikes the western Hennepin County trails as part of his map research, he said.

"It is one of the ironies of my job: I am driving more because of trying to promote bicycling," Shidell said.

Three years ago, his wife was biking twice a week to her part-time job at the State Horticultural Society in St. Paul. Today, she is working more and biking less -- perhaps once a week, he said.

Her schedule is a little less flexible, and she has early-morning and late-night meetings, Shidell said. For instance, if she has a late night meeting with community gardeners, she does not want to bike home at 9 p.m.

Shidell estimates he drove 8,000 to 10,000 miles in the past year. He bikes perhaps 3,000 miles, for recreation, commuting and bike trail research.

"I don't put on big [car] miles; it feels like a lot to me," he said.

Tim and Lara Norkus Crampton: A tale of two commuters

East Calhoun's Lara Norkus Crampton recently quit her Bloomington nursing job and the Twin Cities Gospel Choir, a group with which she sang for 14 years, she said. Driving was, well, driving her crazy.

"I have been trying to simplify things," she said. "One of my priorities for my next job is going to be something closer to home -- that I could bike more and I am not in a car for a half hour, 45 minutes at a pop."

Her husband Tim still bikes year-round to his nursing job at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Lara said. In fact, the new Midtown Greenway bike trail has made his commute easier. (Tim is also a board member of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.)

In 2001, Tim and Lara had a 1995 Ford Contour. Lara drove to work in Eden Prairie. She later got a job with Health Partners in Bloomington, a long and dicey bike commute, she said. She again drove, this time in a 1998 Camry.

She drove to work then drove across town to sing, she said. Her group was touring and promoting a CD. She would head home late in the evening and decide to stop for some food along the way.

"And before you know it you have been in the car all day," she said. "I can't think of a more depressing way to live."

Kathleen and Craig Shankwitz: Biking more

Now that the Shankwitz kids are older, (Amelia, 9 and Meredith, 7) the family bikes more, said their mother, Kathleen Shankwitz of East Calhoun.

"They can go a lot farther," she said. "I am not pulling them."

The family still has the two Volvos it had in 2001, but they get used less than 5,000 miles a year and both could sit idle for a week at a time.

They bike to the City of Lakes Waldorf School at 24th & Nicollet, Kathleen said. They bike to the orthodontist in St. Louis Park, a seven-mile roundtrip from home.

Amelia, who has a 21-speed Gary Fisher with balloon tires, said after school on Wednesdays and Fridays, they ride their bikes downtown to the MacPhail Center for the Arts, where her sister takes violin lessons and she learns piano. On Fridays, they bike to the Uptown YWCA to go swimming.

The only times she wishes the family would drive is sometimes on school days when it rains or snows, Amelia said.

"We try not to ride [our bikes] on those days because it is very frustrating when you fall every four feet," she said. "Sometimes they don't plow the greenway as soon as we get out there. Usually halfway through, we see a snow plow."

Kathleen still works part-time at American Express and still bike commutes, she said. Her husband still bike commutes to his job at the University of Minnesota.

In 2001, the family drove the kids to Eden Prairie for gymnastics. Now, Kathleen said they pick activities closer to home.

"It was too much of a time commitment to commute out there," she said. "It was always during a really busy traffic time. Since I don't do it often, the one or two times I would do it would just drive me crazy."

Allan Brookins-Brown: Still biking after all these years

Allan Brookins-Brown of Loring Park, 79, finally wore out his three-speed Kabuki after 15 years and got a new $400 "retro bike," with white sidewalls and back-pedal brakes.

"The turning is not as responsive, but it is a much more comfortable ride because it has balloon tires," he said. "Being bright yellow, it gets a lot of attention. It is a handsome bike. That strokes my vanity."

Nearly two decades ago, Brookins-Brown parked his VW Super Beetle near an Uptown theater. He enjoyed a matinee and left to find a drunk driver had smashed his car, he said. He got a $2,000 insurance settlement and never replaced it.

He said he misses a car once or twice a year, when he has to go to the garden store for something bigger than he can get home with a bike, but then friends help him out.

He still bikes from his home to Lake Harriet (13.5 miles round-trip) once a week and a couple of times around Lake Calhoun, he said. He will bike to the post office, to doctor's appointments, to Uptown theaters, to the University of Minnesota's Weisman Museum, to his favorite breakfast place:, French Meadow Bakery, 2610 Lyndale Ave. S., or to Bobino's Caf/, 222 Hennepin Ave. E., for an early dinner.

He shops at the downtown Target store, walking if the purchase is light or biking if he has something heavy to carry, such as a 20-pound bag of cat litter.

He's only had one bike accident in the past three years, he said. He hit a small patch of ice near the portico of 1200 on the Mall.

It was "rather stupid," he said. "I was attempting to turn, the bike went out from under me. I banged up my knee pretty bad. The helmet makes me very secure."

It is still his preferred form of transportation.

"To me, biking is more natural than walking," he said.