by Pete Mazzaccaro

If you were in Chestnut Hill last Thursday in the afternoon and into the early evening, you were likely to be stuck in an amazingly vast traffic jam that tied up nearly the entire eastern half of the neighborhood. From Evergreen Avenue all the way to Mermaid Lane, construction on Evergreen and Stenton Avenue had traffic tied up everywhere. The congestion spilled onto Germantown Avenue as nearly anyone heading north out of the city was unable to do so.

It’s remarkable how little it takes to jam traffic in a neighborhood like Chestnut Hill, where a great deal of cars pass through on their way in and out of the city. The Wissahickon makes things even more interesting, with many drivers forced to Bells Mill Road, Willow Grove Avenue and Cresheim Valley Drive.

At times, it’s difficult to understand just what it is that can cause traffic. Sometimes it’s construction. Other times it’s trash day, when city trucks can really back up traffic on the Avenue. But other times, it can look and sound like midtown Manhattan on upper blocks of the Avenue for no reason at all. There’s just a lot of cars.

I’ve written in this space before that I find it interesting that more people don’t commute to work. Particularly given a day like last Thursday, in which I thought very hard about the possibilities of getting rid of my own car altogether. If not for the fact I often have to pick up my two kids and take them places, I might have already done it.

But for others who don’t have to haul kids or freight, a bike – particularly in Chestnut Hill – seems like a good option.

An October 2012 article at collected an impressive list of compelling reasons to commute by bike. Among the most remarkable:

1. Saving money. According to survey data by both AAA and the Sierra Club, commuting by bike would save the average American more than $8,600. A bike costs only $308 annually to maintain while a car averages $8,949.

2. Health. It doesn’t take a personal trainer to figure out that riding a bike for 30 minutes is a lot more healthy than sitting in a car for 15. An average first-time cyclist will lose 13 pounds in his or her first year on a bike. A 200 lb person will use approximately 285 calories every 30 minutes pedaled on a bike. The more you weigh, the greater the health benefits can be.

There are many more personal benefits suggested and some societal, including increased work productivity, reduced pollution and savings in public health. But how would Chestnut Hill realize those benefits. If you work in Chestnut Hill or live here and work nearby, what would you gain from riding a bike?

The most obvious benefit would be the ability to avoid all those traffic jams. In general, one should bike with traffic, but the ability to slide past long lines of cars is a pretty attractive benefit to a bike.

For those in Chestnut Hill, the next big benefit would be parking. Parking can be tough in Chestnut Hill, particularly for those who work here and park on side streets all day.

If I can figure out a way to do it myself, I will. But it’s not easy, and I suspect the same is true for almost everyone else stuck in traffic on Germantown Avenue on a Thursday. For most of us, we just can’t get out of our cars.