By Sally Carson
Ken Prola’s daily commute to Thurgood Marshall High School doesn’t end with him locking his bike outside the school. Instead, Ken wheels his bike through the hallways and into the classroom where he teaches AP Calculus, Pre Calculus, and Geometry. He’s discovered that his bicycle is a great prop for teaching math concepts to his students, concepts such as measuring circumference, finding the area of a circle, and explaining radians versus degrees.
Like many folks, Ken used to get around mainly by car, but spending a year in Belize working as an Environmental Awareness volunteer for the Peace Corps allowed him to experience the joys of other transit choices and really changed his worldview.
“When you’re in the Peace Corps, you’re not allowed to have a car, so I was hitch-hiking, taking the bus, or riding a bike everywhere I went.”
What Ken quickly discovered was that living without a car was surprisingly easy. In fact, it was a big improvement in his life.
“I wasn’t so stressed out, and I wasn’t by myself—there’s sense of community, even on the buses. The bus experience in Central America is way different than it is up here. I’ve boarded a bus where there’s a live band in the back, people drumming and playing maracas. And everyone is chatting with each other.”
Ken wanted to integrate this experience into his life back in the States. Back in San Francisco, Ken initially commuted by bus. But he found that the bus experience here was much different than that in Belize. He didn’t find that same sense of community amongst his fellow bus riders.
After a year of getting around by bus and at the urging of a housemate, Ken finally decided to give bicycling a try. Bicycling shaved more than an hour from his daily commute and keeps him healthier, and he enjoys bonding with his fellow riders.
“There’s way more camaraderie among the bikers than the bus riders.”
He also feels a deeper connection to the city itself.
“When you ride the bus, you hop on, you hop off, and you don’t really have a concept of what happened in between. But as a bike rider, you get to experience first hand every street you take.”
Ken quickly learned the best biking routes all over the city as a substitute teacher.
“When I first started bicycling, my biggest challenge was figuring out routes. I was substitute teaching at the time and every morning, I’d get a call, and I’d have to be at the school within half an hour. I usually didn’t know where the school was, so I’d look it up, and then I’d use the SF Bike Map to figure out how to get there. It was a really good way to learn the best bike routes around the city.”
Ken now rides “every day, rain or shine.”
“It’s really good for the environment, it’s better for your health, you save a lot of money, it’s faster, and you don’t have to deal with the stresses of driving.”
Ken has created a lifestyle that reflects his values and goals.
“What I’m working on now for personal and philosophical growth are the intertwined concepts of voluntary simplicity and self-reliance. My goal is to reduce my ecological footprint.”
And Ken demonstrates these values every day to his students by choosing to ride a bicycle.