A Family Adventure

Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

How to make the commute

July 11, 2016
Emilie Phillips

I started a new job, and with the new job comes a new commute. The new job is in Harvard Square, and I live in the NH exurbs, so I knew the commute would be difficult. In particular, the primary form of transportation in the exurbs — car — doesn’t work in Cambridge.

For the first day, I drove in to Alewife and took the T to Harvard. I arrived at Alewife around 10AM and could barely find a parking space, only 50 left. And at least 20 cars right behind me in line to get them. Worse, when I left that evening, the line of cars snaking out was so long it took me 20 minutes to exit the garage. So that wasn’t going to work.

We have an apartment in Bedford, 14 miles from Harvard Square. The minuteman bike trail runs from center of Bedford to Alewife. To bicycle from our apartment to Alewife, I would need to bicycle major roads past Burlington mall and then the rail trail for a total of 12 miles. 12 miles each way seemed a bit long and the major roads seemed too daunting. So I loaded my road bike into the car and parked at the Depot parking lot in Lexington on the rail trail. This parking lot was uncontested. From there, I bicycled to Alewife, locked my bike up in the special bicycle cage, and took the T to Harvard square. On both the ride down and back, the intersection in Arlington center confused me. The other bicyclists were nice and helped me out. 1 hour 30 minutes both ways, 6 miles.

The next day, I parked in Lexington again and rode the rail trail. When I arrived at Alewife I felt like I could bicycle a few more miles, and I was eager to take some minutes off the commute. So I skipped locking my bike up and waiting for the T. Instead I continued bicycling into Harvard Square. I felt a little self conscious with Google directions on my phone loudly announcing every left and right turn. But it worked. 1 hour and 15 minutes in. On the way out, I tried keeping up with another bicyclists and made good time for a while, but then I completely ran out of energy. I should have eaten a snack before leaving work. Still about 1:15, 8 miles.

The next day I was really tired and there was a chance of rain. Tyson drove me over to southern Burlington where I caught the 350 bus to Alewife. The bus runs every 20 minutes. At commute hours it skips the mall, so it’s a reasonable option. After work, I hadn’t researched the bus schedule, so I was pleasantly surprised when the 350 bus was waiting right as I exited the T. 1 hour 30 minutes.

I forget the exact sequence of the next few days. I rode the bus another time, but I ran late and had to wait an extra 20 minutes while it serviced Burlington Mall.

Tyson needed the car on Monday, so I decided to brave the 12 miles from the apartment to Alewife on the bicycle. I set up my phone with turn by turn directions. Middlesex turnpike past the Burlington mall wasn’t so bad. Google found a random paved bike trail that was briefly good but then became bumpy and windy. And finally it turned to dirt. I picked up the Minuteman bike path just east of the Lexington Depot parking lot. At Alewife, I felt OK. Total time including the T, still around 1 hour 15 minutes. On the way back to the apartment, I paced myself so I wouldn’t fatigue too early. I hit my best speeds trying to keep up with traffic on Middlesex turnpike, 28mph. Total time closer to 1 hour 30 minutes, 11.8 miles.

Bicycling to Alewife simplifies the commute, but it didn’t speed it up. So I went bike shopping and bought an electric bicycle — an IZip E3 Dash.

The electric bicycle has a statutory maximum speed of 28 mph. It is really heavy, 45 pounds. There is no boost when you first crank the pedals. Then there is a big step function and the bike takes off. The boost decreases as you press less hard on the pedals. And then at 28mph it cuts off with another step function. The net result is that it’s hard to control at low speeds. For best speed, you have to shift up lower in the gear and pedal at a lower cadence than I prefer. It also has 4 boost settings. Setting 2 is as high as I am comfortable using around pedestrians and bicyclists on the Minuteman bike path for fear of running them over. Boost setting 4 works well on suburban roads where I cruise right at 28mph with the boost cutting in and out.

The first day with the electric bike, I rode the same route as I had with my road bike. 1 hour, 4 minutes going in (including staring at the map and fixing my fender). 55 minutes going out. Since then, I have steadily decreased my usage of the bike path and switched to main roads. Today using Middlesex Turnpike, 2A, and Massachusetts Ave, I made it to work in 45 minutes. However, Mass Ave was a bit terrifying — crowded with cars, bicycles, buses, and parked cars. So I think I’ll take the 5 minute longer route using the bike path through Arlington and back roads through Cambridge.

I think I have a workable solution for now. When it starts snowing, I’ll need a new plan.


Three years later I switched to working from home. Here’s the summary I wrote of how the bicycle commute went for those three years. What I learned from my first three years E-bike commuting


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Comments (2)

  • On the days when the weather looks poor, but you don’t want to drive, you can try driving to West Concord MBTA or Lincoln stations, parking there, and taking the commuter rail.