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Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

Bike-to-Work Profile: Prof. William Purcell


William-PurcellDespite two bad knees and difficulty walking long distances, Bill Purcell still makes a regular 9-mile bike commute. Up a steep hill no less!

Professor William Purcell, the Chair of Communication and Journalism, has taught at Seattle Pacific University since 1995. He has been a regular bike commuter for 6-7 of those years. Now, Purcell leads the Bike Profs team in SPU’s Commute Challenge.

Purcell advocates that biking is easy enough once you take the leap to start.

Before coming to SPU, Purcell said that he had biked regularly in high school and throughout his adult life until he had children. Though he enjoyed biking, time and transportation constraints prevented him from regular bike rides for a few years, but he picked it right back up when he was ready.

Through biking to work about ten days every month, Purcell now knows the best residential streets to take; those with light traffic and a gradual slope. And with the arrival of spring, he hopes to bike more often.

Purcell said that it took him a few years to try commuting to SPU from his current house. But once he tried, he made it into a regular trip. Even though biking takes 45 minutes going up a steep hill towards home, he still maintains that the time is still comparable to driving. He also saves money from gas and parking. “I haven’t bought a parking pass in five years,” he said.

Purcell named many more benefits that he enjoys from biking: a reasonable physical challenge, a fellowship with other faculty bikers, and a way to enjoy Seattle. “I like enjoying the city,” he said, listing some of his favorite biking sights: Green Lake, the Ballard ship canal, soccer teams scrimmaging on SPU’s new field.

Beyond these personal benefits, Purcell says that the ecological impact of biking is significant. Every time he bikes instead of drives, he feels like he reduces his carbon footprint that much more. Biking minimizes gas emissions from fossil fuels. He also strongly stands by the notion that the best war to improve the environment is to not drive, and reduce your individual carbon footprint.

To grasp the ecological impact of biking, Purcell pointed out the new bike counter on the Fremont Bridge. Since it’s installation in October, the bridge has counted over 120,000 bicycles that have crossed it. “We’re making a very big impact, but we can do so much more,” Purcell said. He mentioned knowing colleagues who bike 25 miles a day, and those who use a bus-bike combination to get to work if they live a distance away. If they can traverse that far, he said, more people also leave their car at home.

Though Purcell finds the year-round Seattle rain challenging, he claims that it’s more a psychological barrier than a physical one. “Rain dries, and it’s not too bad,” he said. To make biking more enjoyable during rainy days, Purcell said that he plays games and gives himself incentives on rides. He counts how many state license plates he sees,  and tracks his mileage on an online calendar so he can look back and see how much he saved in gas that month.

Purcell advises that new bikers “Do it one day at a time. Don’t try to do too much at once.” He also said that if you start in mid-December, you won’t keep it up. He recommends starting at least in September, so one can get gradually used to the increasing cold winter. And for students especially, Purcell said, “Use it while you can.”

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Author: Sara Kenning

Sustainability Assistant at Seattle Pacific University's Office of Facility and Project Management

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