By Turner C. Bitton — Erik Lopez is the Chairman of the Poplar Grove Community Council. Poplar Grove is one of six neighborhoods on Salt Lake City’s West Side. In addition to a variety of leadership positions, Erik is a passionate commuter cyclist.
Cycling Utah had a chance to speak with Erik about his experience as a commuter cyclist.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Are you from Utah? What brought you here?
I have lived in Utah on and off for about 10 years and have enjoyed every minute of living in Salt Lake. Originally, I was born in Torrance, California and moved around until college, where I went to the University of Utah. I have tried, yet failed, to leave Utah permanently; every time I leave, in a few years’ time, I return. That sent a signal to me that where I really belong is in Salt Lake and not some other city. When I am not riding my bike, I enjoy beer, books, brine shrimp, bread, and beds.
I understand that you commute by bicycle. What got you into commuter cycling?
When I was in college, I was too poor to afford a car. I was, however, in shape and enjoyed pushing some pedals. From there, I realized that driving a car really didn’t save any significant time and my whole world view of the city changed when riding a bike. The same pitch shift can be said when walking as well – mainly, that the streets, buildings, and passersby become more in focus when going slower and the relief of the city becomes more acute when traveling with your own locomotion. As I started to get the rhythm of the city, I became more enamored with bicycle riding – the ease of use, the affordability, and the near-same time savings as driving. Obviously if you needed to pick up furniture or big boxes, you needed a vehicle, but outside of that, nothing really beat the wind whipping through your hair.
What is your favorite bicycle ride in Salt Lake City?
Currently, nothing beats the JRPT – the Jordan River Parkway Trail. I really love living on the West Side and, for those contemplating a move to the West Side, my understanding is that no house is more than half a mile from the JRPT. Not only is it really accessible, it is a pleasant ride, North and South, through the city and beyond. It is a real gem of Utah to have such a great bike trail that brings through various locales, cities, etc. and is really close by! Of course, there are your City Creek, Millcreek, and Emigration Canyon rides that are a real pleasure for the mountain scenery. Regardless, there is always a special place in my heart and the joy it brings for the JRPT.
You are the Chair of the Poplar Grove Community Council and Salt Lake City recently closed Emery Street to make space for more cycling and pedestrian access. Can you share how your community is responding to that closure? Have you taken advantage of the closure?
If it is any indication, I haven’t heard hide nor hair of anyone complaining about the road closures; now surely this is because those that complain don’t go for the small packing peanuts but go straight to the top to voice their concern over road closures, their freedoms, etc. With that being said, it has been absolutely AWESOME to ride the streets as the primary traffic on a road – zipping down lanes, taking it slow, enjoying the cruising altitude of my bike on city streets. I have also had the pleasure of going down 500 North as well; both Emery and 500 North provide yet another way to experience the city in a way you might not have been able to experience before. In my experience, vehicular traffic has been, for the most part, respectful of the road closures. If you haven’t already, please take advantage of the major road closures and the primacy of place they give you as a cycle rider. It is a great way to reconnect with the city, get exercise, and understand your neighborhood better. I love it and highly recommend it!
What have you learned in your time as a bicycle commuter? What advice would you give to others who are looking into bicycle commuting?
I tend to gloss over my early commuter cycling as a college student where, unfortunately, I was a bit more aggressive than I care to admit. With that being said, I think there are a few things that I would love to pass on to other cyclists (in no particular order):
- Ride with, not against, traffic. I know it seems more appealing to see cars coming at you and that you may feel “safer” doing so but you are NOT. Absolutely not. If you can imagine that a car is used to looking at traffic in front of them and not, in terms of flow, riding against them, it is to your disadvantage to ride against traffic. It is a car’s responsibility, and their natural inclination in terms of learning to drive, to consider those driving in their lane of flow i.e. going with traffic. Don’t ride against traffic.
- Be respectful and aware. It is appealing to ride with earbuds on, but I find that to be less safe than to ride without. Listen, be cautious, and understand your surroundings. Give other riders, and cars, the benefit of the doubt and don’t become hot headed. I know this from first-hand experience and a fractured hip!
- Experiment with routes! There is more than one way to get to a destination and most destinations in the city are +- 10 minutes by car vs bike. The city has many great offerings both in terms of scenic roads but in terms of layout, pitstops, etc.
- Bike riding is a great way to learn about the various neighborhoods and communities that make up Salt Lake. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention to the East Siders reading this that going over the train tracks will show you a whole side of the vast city we reside in – from Paper Lane where Waterpocket Distillery resides, to Kiitos (for those that drink), to the Peace Gardens, Redwood Road (which has its own surprises!) to the many parks that make up the Westside!
- There are many places to get a bicycle and the Bicycle Collective is a great way to find a used bike, at fair prices, for getting around our city. We are lucky to have many bicycle shops like Saturday Cycles to get new bikes, get repairs, etc. Check them out for sure!
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 fiancé Chase and their two dogs Charley and Moose.