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Keith Epstein: Bicycle Commuter Man

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Photo credit: Fred Kosnitsky

Source: Fred Kosnitsky, South Burlington Energy Committee and The Other Paper

Hometown Energy Heroes: as part of the efforts of the South Burlington Energy Committee to generate excitement about energy actions at the local level, committee member Fred Koznitsky began a series of articles in collaboration with our local newspaper, The Other Paper, to highlight actions of hometown energy heroes. 

The Bicycle Commuter Man

I was going to use the title Keith Epstein: Bicycle Whisperer – it sounded more catchy than Bicycle Commuter Man. But then I remembered that this is truth, not fiction, that I am peddling here, so I went with what you see. In any case, I can’t think of anyone better to start off our series on South Burlington Energy Heroes.

An Energy Role Model

Keith could have been chosen for a whole slew of reasons. He has been on the City’s Energy Committee since the Fall of 2008, shortly after he and his family moved to South Burlington. In his backyard is a good sized array of solar panels, which produces half of their electricity and half of their hot water. The Epsteins also have a share in a community solar array, which helps power the two high efficiency heat pumps they use to help heat their home.

“It’s good to know that our two daughters are growing up knowing that we get a lot of our energy from the sun,” commented Epstein. The solar “works flawlessly” and has led to a “drastic reduction” of their use of fossil fuels (they switched a few years ago from oil heat to natural gas, and now the natural gas usage is way down). They also gave up their second car not too long ago, but Keith tempered my admiration when he let me know that in the winter they have the use of his in-laws van when they go south.

A Biking Hero

But even with all this energy role modeling and public service, I want to focus on the fact that our Hero commutes to work almost every day on his bicycle. Keith works at All Earth Renewables in Williston as a mechanical design engineer (he designs, test, and improves the company’s solar tracker systems). It’s 7 miles each way (the bike commute is actually shorter than the car commute because he can use City bike paths and several short-cuts that don’t take cars), and Keith “gives a lot of credit” to South Burlington’s recreational bike path system.

“I am only on Route 2 for a quarter of a mile” and by outfitting his mountain bike with fenders and mudflaps, reflectors and lights, he feels safe on the road. He also wears bright yellow clothing for visibility.

At first a three season commuter, Keith has been biking to work year round for the past five years. How does he do it? Throw on some studded winter tires and wear the right clothes for the cold or wet conditions and there you go. The only two reasons to not use the bike? – “I don’t go out if the snowplows are on the roads or if it’s below 5 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Supported by his Community

Keith also give kudos to his employer. All Earth Renewables is certified as “Silver Level” bicycle friendly by the League of American Bicyclists. There are two showers and a locker room at work to clean up after the morning commute, and there is plenty of secure bike storage room. About 8 fellow employees, out of 35, regularly commute during the non-winter seasons, although a warm dry summer day might see many more coming to work on their bikes. For now, only one other hardy soul bikes in during the winter.

Why don’t more employers offer these bike friendly amenities? Maybe it’s a classic chicken and egg scenario = employers won’t add the amenities until employees demand them and employees won’t think about bike commuting if the amenities aren’t already there. Or may more employers/organizations just need to step up and believe (a la Field of Dreams) that “If we build it, they will come.”

Thanks Keith for helping lead the way.