By Turner C. Bitton — Dr. Peter Clemens is a board-certified physician serving patients and the community in Ogden, Utah. He is also a retired Captain of the United States Army Reserves. Peter earned his B.A. degree from Brigham Young University in 1980, after serving a two-year religious service mission in West Germany. In 1986, he graduated from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and completed his residency in 1989 at the Truman Medical Center at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Peter and his wife Tammy are avid hikers and cyclists who cherish their time enjoying the beauty of Northern Utah's outdoors.
Peter has been a near-daily bicycle commuter for over a decade and his commute has been widely documented by the Standard Examiner. Peter is running for Congress in Utah’s first congressional district. We caught up with Peter to talk about his experience as a commuter and his run for Congress.
You have a reputation for commuting to work by bicycle each day across Weber County. How long is your commute, what route do you take, and what is your motivation for commuting by bicycle?
I feel very strongly about encouraging the public to participate in the creation of alternative means of transportation for them in their daily commute. I’ve been riding my bike, even during the campaign when my schedule will allow it, from my home in North Ogden to my workplace on the campus of Ogden Regional Medical Center where I have worked for the past decade. Surprisingly even though my commute is roughly 30 miles round-trip the time I spend in my commute across town is only 20-30 minutes longer than when I drive my car. In the morning I travel Washington Boulevard south in part because people are frankly more courteous in the early morning than in the evening and I feel safer. In the evening my route is a bit less direct so that I can cycle through more neighborhoods. I have been hit twice in the last 10+ years, which may or may not be the universal experience of most cycling commuters, and therefore I welcome the Mayor Mike Caldwell and Ogden City’s Bicycle Master Plan which will make cycling safer by increasing the number of bike lanes and corridors for commuters and recreational cyclists alike.
You’re running for Congress in Utah’s first district. What is your motivation and how do bicycle issues factor into your agenda and campaign?
I would say that my motivation to ride to work rather than drive comes from three factors, likely the same ones that would be mentioned by most cycling commuters as their reasons as well. I commute for several reasons, the first is the exercise I get while commuting means that I don't have to take leave of my family in order to build exercise into my schedule. I also commute to reduce congestion on our roads. Each time I commute by bike I’m eliminating a vehicle from the road and reducing air pollution, which is vital to reduce air pollution along the Wasatch Front. Finally, there is the issue of reducing my personal carbon footprint which is a core value for me personally. It also helps that I’m lucky enough to have a shower at work!
As it relates to the campaign I believe that leaders have the responsibility and opportunity to demonstrate leadership in their personal lives. I believe that commuting by bicycle is beneficial to our air quality and as a physician I understand the importance of clean air to our citizenry. Cycling is my way of proving that I’m willing to do my part, not just talk about it.
I’ve wanted to cycle to work with my colleagues for years because it is more fun riding with someone than alone so I’m really looking forward to being in Washington, DC and being able to ride to work with people like Rep. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon who chairs the Congressional Bike Caucus.
Do you plan on joining the Congressional Bike Caucus? Do you plan on sponsoring any legislation specifically related to bicycles if you are elected?
When I am elected I plan on joining the Bike Caucus. Just as importantly I’m trying to support Ogden’s leaders, in particular Mayor Mike Caldwell in all of his cycling initiatives. In addition to joining the Bike Caucus I will push for repairing our country’s aging infrastructure which will certainly help those who commute by cycle immensely. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that in 2016 we as a country are $1.44T behind in investing in our country’s infrastructure. Roads, bridges, airports, power grid, and other critical infrastructure are in need of repair and if we don’t act now the gap will grow to a near insurmountable $3.5T or more by 2050. This is of course not a partisan issue and Democrats and Republicans need to act to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. The same infrastructure improvements that motorists depend on is vital to cyclists as well. I look forward to working with anyone in Congress, regardless of party affiliation to resolve this issue, once I’m elected.
One other thing, I doubt that we’re going to be able to afford what we need to do to repair our infrastructure without cutting our healthcare spending. Other industrialized countries in the world spend significantly less than we do but get much better healthcare outcomes. As a physician I am ready to contribute to resolving healthcare and other spending issues.
One of the key areas of interest to cyclists are the so-called “Bicycle Networks” that are included in the 2015-2040 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). Do you believe that as a Congressional representative you can aid the Wasatch Front Regional Council and local governments in implementing the goals of the RTP? How so?
While much in the RTP is local and state driven, I will absolutely fight for the federal funds necessary to help communities across Utah implement smart transportation initiatives and plans. I’m really excited about what Utah is planning and the tremendous positive impact these plans will have on our air and our economy. As our Mayor Caldwell is fond of saying, “when people get out of their cars they spend more money in our community and have a greater sense of belonging and well-being.”
Do you feel that your background as a commuter cyclist provides a unique perspective and benefit to voters in your district? Speaking specifically of voters concerned about cycling issues, what do you feel distinguishes you as a candidate?
For those reading this, I think it’s quite unique for them to have a candidate that they can support that lives and breathes what they are experiencing in their daily commute, in my case it’s on a bike! I’d love to get the vote of each and every cyclist in the district. I hope that those who can’t cast a vote for me will help in other ways to get me elected to Congress this November and assure you’ll have a strong ally in Washington, DC. For those mountain bikers out there, I am a big supporter of our trails and open spaces in our communities. As they say in cycling, I’m bilingual, that means I ride a mountain bike also. In fact, I’d better wrap this up as I need to hit the trail. See you out there on your bike!
Turner C. Bitton is an avid cyclist and serves on the Board of Directors of several organizations and in many volunteer leadership capacities. He lives in Ogden with his husband Chase and their two dogs Charley and Moose.