BikeLane.jpgBay Area commuters got into gear Thursday morning for the 18th annual Bike to Work Day.

Thousands of cyclists traversed city streets to make it to the office this morning, including several East Bay and San Francisco city officials who highlighted the alternative transit method.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates was one of the thousands of commuters pedaling to work. As part of a group he biked about 4 miles through his city.

“While bicycling it feels like you have a lot of freedom,” the 74-year-old mayor said. “You are able to take in the smells and sounds of the city.”

The mayor is an avid walker who racks up 10,000 steps–or roughly 4.5 miles–per day on his pedometer, but enjoyed the alternate mode of transportation this morning.

“I sold my car so I need to walk, bike or take the bus,” Bates explained.

He noted Berkeley is working on bicycling improvement projects including a bike path on University Avenue. The mayor mentioned reauthorization of the Alameda County Transportation Sales Tax, or Measure B, on the November ballot that would direct more money toward bicycling infrastructure.

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin clocked in a few miles today from the Richmond Annex over the Greenway and then made her way to the Civic Center.

She stopped at two Richmond energizer stations, which according to the mayor were busy handing out tote bags, bike information and refreshments for thirsty cyclists. She saw hundreds of fellow bikers on her commute to work this morning, she said through her office spokesman.

The East Bay Coalition has reported more than 17,000 riders who stopped by the region’s 143 energizer stations this morning–marking an uptick in cycling from last year’s biggest bicycling day.

Across the Bay, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency counted 1,031 bicycles cross Van Ness Avenue and Market Street today. Bicycles were 73 percent of the total vehicles traveling in the eastbound direction today, according to the SFMTA.

San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said an initial overview of the morning indicates many people made it onto the streets and stopped through the 27 energizer stations sprinkled throughout city bicycle routes.

At stations cyclists picked up reusable tote bags filled with bicycle information and supplies. Food and drinks were also available for riders.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and many supervisors made it to City Hall this morning by bicycle and spoke at a news conference where bicycle-friendly businesses were recognized by the city.

Shahum said six San Francisco businesses were highlighted including clothing company Levi Strauss, online rental business Airbnb and social gaming network Zynga for their efforts to get employees biking.

Levi’s showcased a line of jeans made for commuting by bicycle while Zynga declared May “Zynga Loves Bikes” month. At Airbnb a reportedly 50 percent of employees bike to work daily, which has prompted the startup to provide showers, bike parking and a visiting mechanic at the office, according to Shahum.

A particularly busy bicycling zone this morning was along the Embarcadero with crowds coming in from the ferry and other parts of the city.

The Embarcadero is a spot the coalition is working to improve for bicyclists and pedestrians who currently share the space.

Shahum added an increasing number of tourists are choosing to visit the city by bike, adding to the number of wheels on bike routes.

Dr. Todd Weitzenberg, a sports medicine specialist at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, was at an energizer station on the Marin County side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“This is one of the most beautiful commutes in Northern California,” Weitzenberg said, himself an avid cyclist.

He spoke to bicyclists throughout the morning and noted all types of riders were biking on the bridge including hardcore commuters who bike everyday–rain or shine; others who bike occasionally; and some people commuting on their bikes for the first time.

Weitzenberg emphasized the health benefits of biking to work, including increased energy and an improved mood.

He said 30 minutes of exercise five days a week is recommended and a daily bike ride to and from the office usually gets that cardiovascular exercise into commuters’ often busy schedules.

Bicycling can be a beneficial exercise method in addition to a cheaper, efficient mode of transportation. For those with joint issues the sport is low-impact, Weitzenberg said.

Further into the North Bay an energizer station at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market near the Silverado Trail and en route to downtown Napa drew as many as 70 cyclists this morning.

Riders received Bike to Work Day gift bags, granola and juice and a couple of flat tires were fixed at the repair station, organizer Amy Popplewell said.

In Oakland, Mayor Jean Quan made her way to City Hall this morning by bicycle with riding buddy Renee Rivera, executive director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.

The mayor rode from Oakland’s Eastmont Mall in East Oakland to City Hall, covering 6.5 miles, according to mayoral spokeswoman Kristine Shaff.

“(Quan) is an avid fan of Bike to Work Day and alternative commuting,” Shaff said.

There are about 100 miles of bikeways in the city and the mayor is always pushing to improve bicycling in Oakland. She “embraces the notion of being green and getting exercise,” Shaff said.

City council members biked from their districts and converged at a Bike to Work Day rally at City Hall this morning, according to Shaff.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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