An Inspiring Bike Commuter's Tale

For the past four years, Kam Shahid has been safely and efficiently cycling to work in New Haven and now is hoping to motivate other Guilford residents to give this commuting alternative a try and enjoy benefits that range from an increase in personal health and wellbeing to helping reduce local and global air pollution and gas consumption.
For the past four years, Kam Shahid has been safely and efficiently cycling to work in New Haven and now is hoping to motivate other Guilford residents to give this commuting alternative a try and enjoy benefits that range from an increase in personal health and wellbeing to helping reduce local and global air pollution and gas consumption.

If we're not doing it ourselves, most of us have a friend or neighbor who commutes to New Haven. But Guilford resident Kameron "Kam" Shahid's daily commute is a bit different, and he's hoping more will follow his lead, for many good reasons.

For the past four years, be it summer or spring, fall or winter, "I've been commuting on bike almost every day," says Kam, who is just finishing his radiology residency at Yale.

When daylight savings brings dark mornings and early nightfall, Kam's headlight and taillight go to work and he keeps riding. In winter, he bundles up and rides, unless the mercury dips below about 20 degrees Fahrenheit or there's too much snow on the ground.

So if you've been commuting to New Haven along secondary roads, you may have seen Kam, dressed in bike gear and riding a bike equipped with practical road safety and visibility equipment. Because he is able to avoid traffic snarls resulting from rush hour, accidents, or other traffic-stoppers, Kam can reliably leave his door on Dunk Rock Road and be at work 18 miles away within 55 minutes.

But making it to work on time every day is just one of many benefits of bike commuting, and Kam is eager to share them with his neighbors.

"There are a huge number of benefits, both personal and environmental [and] global," says Kam.

On a personal note, he uses the approximate 40 miles per day as part of his Ironman training and also to keep him fit for another athletic endeavor he enjoys, running marathons.

"I'm trying to run a marathon in every state, so 50 marathons plus [Washington], D.C. I'm halfway there-I just did Colorado and Montana," says Kam. "So that's why biking, for me, works personally-for training. I think in the last four years, conservatively, I've ridden at least 20,000 miles just in commuting."

This week, he's shifted gears back to Ironman contests and is undertaking a "full distance" Ironman endurance race in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. But Kam says you don't have to be an avid athlete to undertake bike commuting as a new way of life.

"There are more people who are seeing the benefits. There are a number of people here at Yale that commute on bike, but most of them are from within New Haven," says Kam. "I preach bike commuting to my colleagues, but I would love for a broader audience to consider that this is a safe and feasible alternative to car commuting for longer distances. Over my four years I don't see many people out there on the road, but I would say I see a couple more now than I did before. There's a couple from North Madison who ride all the way into Yale."

Kam says that couple's commute is a good example of how cycling to work can work for others who'd like to give it a try.

"What they usually do is the wife will ride in and take the train with her bike to come home, and the husband will train to work with a bike and ride home. The shoreline trains are super bike-friendly, as are the buses," Kam says.

The Bigger Picture

While it may be hard to imagine masses of people giving up cars in favor of bike commuting, the idea is taking hold in other parts of the world, he adds.

"I was just looking at a YouTube [video] showing rush hour in Copenhagen, [Denmark]. There are thousands of bikers streaming by and just the occasional car or train passing. That's so far from reality here," he says.

But, Kam says, imagine the impact of such green commuting on the planet. Let's start in New Haven, which he points out was listed in the top 10 of Forbes's "20 Dirtiest U.S. Cities List" (2012). On the list, New Haven was pegged as seventh dirtiest, and Bridgeport was at number four.

"So that's two of our cities with the most air pollution in the nation," says Kam. "I also feel like this topic is timely given the oil and natural gas issues which seem to dominate our news. Just one person trying to make a difference can spark a conversation and bring further awareness-and just maybe, draw a few more people into our cause. I think about my young kids every day and the kind of world that will be left for them when they are adults and parents, too. At least I know that they see me ride up the driveway every day and are growing up knowing that we don't need cars and gas to get places in our lives!"

Kam and his wife, Charlotte, moved to Guilford four years ago and are raising two young sons, Kameron, Jr., and Tristan. The couple found its dream home on Dunk Rock Road, also namesake of Guilford's "Dunk Rock Roadies" distance cycling group. One of the first people Kam met was his neighbor and fellow Dunk Rock Roadie Paul Rogan.

"When I arrived on the street, one of first days I was there, Paul was there," says Kam. "I think he kind of sized me up-he'd heard the guy moving in was a cyclist!"

Kam passed a six-month "probation" riding period with flying colors and enjoys joining up with the Roadies and others for organized local rides, usually on weekend days and generally stretching for 50 or 60 miles.

Of course, Kam often encourages those he rides with to consider bike commuting.

"One of my selling points to people is that I tell them if it takes an hour each way from Guilford, the same commute in a car in rush hour could take 45 minutes," and on a bike, the rider is getting a workout at the same time.

"So when you get home, you can fully integrate into family life, instead of, say, putting on your running shoes and going for a run for another 45 minutes," says Kam. "I have two kids, four and two years old, and coming from the hospital, where your mind's working at a high level, to switch to toddler speak and 'important' things that happened during the day are a little hard for me. My time on the bike helps me clear my mind, switch from the hospital to dad mode, and come home and be home. It's so cool to have all of that."

The family also enjoys outings in nearby Westwoods Trails and stewards a trail not too far from its home.

"It's our small contribution," says Kam, adding that whether he's out in the woods or out riding his bike, "We're surrounded by so much beauty. To be in a car with the windows up is a shame. I'm out there in it and I feel so blessed."

On recent ride, he stopped to chat with a birdwatcher and while the two were enjoying the spectacle of species sharing a marsh, it put Kam in mind of his friend, a molecular geneticist at Harvard. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last carrier pigeon (the species was hunted down within one decade to feed early 20th century squab demand), Kam's friend has left his work to set off on bike for a year and blog about every bird species he locates. The blog, "Biking for Birds" (at www.blogspot.com), has a huge following.

"He's creating an incredible resource and an important conversation. There are hundreds of thousands of people following his blog. Birders call this kind of trip a 'big year,' but you could call this his 'green big year' because he's doing it by bike," says Kam.

In addition to taking in this area's natural beauty as part of his daily commute, Kam's also enjoying a notable savings in gas costs while adding to a drop in gas consumption and fuel emissions.

"I get so much pleasure out of leaving my car in the garage all week long," says Kam. "I only have to fill up my gas tank maybe once a month. I'm saving fossil fuels and also saving money for the family and I'm taking one more car off the road. So for those people in traffic, there's a tiny little decrease in traffic because my car isn't there every day."

For those concerned about their safety as a bike commuter, biking is "very safe" if you are alert and properly equipped, says Kam. He relies on proper gear and cycle support from the experts at Zane's Cycles of Branford, many of who bike commute.

"If you have the right gear and ride with your head up, without headphones in both ears, and just assume no one sees you-but you can see ahead and see behind while going at a reasonable speed-you can anticipate and be comfortable riding," he says.

Kam says he feels very safe riding to work, but does want to say that he is concerned about the potential risk of sharing the road with someone who is texting and driving.

"That literally is the scariest thing on the road," says Kam, "and almost everyone is doing it."

He'd like to add his voice to those asking drivers not to text and drive (it's also against Connecticut state law).

"I am respectful as a rider and aware of the drivers around me. I would hope that they have the same courtesy to me and other bikers who share the road."

But what Kam hopes most of all is that by sharing his story, someone else might be inspired to become a bike commuter.

"I think initially, most of my motivation was my personal health and the benefits to my family, but then the environmental and even global aspect of it kind of grew with me. I preach all the time to my co-workers who are totally tired of hearing about it. I talk about it in casual group rides on weekends. I tell everyone I can. Every now and then, a few of my colleagues come around to it. To me, it makes all the sense in the world."

To discuss bike commuting questions or strategies or any of the issues Kam Shahid is bringing to light, he's happy to be contacted via email at
kameron.shahid@gmail.com.

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