Your Commute

Intern riding trains and bike across U.S. to learn about transit

Elena Studier, a George Washington University sophomore, finds a moment of levity with an Abraham Lincoln statue last month in Bloomington, Ill.
Elena Studier, a George Washington University sophomore, finds a moment of levity with an Abraham Lincoln statue last month in Bloomington, Ill. Courtesy of National Association of Rail Passengers

America is more bike-friendly and train-friendly than Elena Studier expected.

Studier, a sophomore at George Washington University, is traveling more than 10,000 miles this summer, armed with little more than an Amtrak rail pass, her bicycle (which she has named “Stevie”) and a minimum of provisions. Her trip includes a stop Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.

Studier’s goal is to learn how people across the country make use of transportation options that don’t include a car. Now a little more than halfway through her journey, Studier, 20, has seen cities such as Normal, Ill.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Whitefish, Mont. — and, so far, she is yet to be disappointed.

“My biggest surprise has to do with me underestimating these places,” Studier, whose journey began as an outcrop of her year-long internship at the National Association of Rail Passengers, said this week in a phone interview while visiting Los Angeles.

“The places I have been to have been progressive in so many ways,” Studier said. “I underestimated Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul. I was truly blown away by their transportation infrastructure. For some reason, in my mind Chicago wasn’t a bike-friendly city, but they have 100 miles of bike lanes in their urban core, and that’s amazing. Minneapolis has a ‘greenway’ [walking and cycling trail] with something like 5,000 riders a day. I had heard about it, but I hadn’t fully conceptualized it.”

38 Number of days college intern Elena Studier is touring America by bike and train.

Studier is chronicling her voyage at summerbyrail.com. She also is on Twitter and Instagram.

Viability of rail

The Washington-based association sponsoring Studier’s journey lobbies for federal funding for nationwide passenger rail. But its mission also includes promoting the practical usefulness of rail for Americans as an alternative to cars.

“People often talk about commuting by rail in Europe or Asia, and think they can’t do it in the U.S., but that’s not true,” association President Jim Mathews said in an email. “Elena’s trip will connect her to some of the biggest cities and attractions in the country.”

The places I have been to have been progressive in so many ways. For some reason in my mind Chicago wasn't a bike-friendly city, but they have 100 miles of bike lanes in their urban core, and that's amazing.

Elena Studier, college intern traveling the country by bike and train

Trip details

Studier was scheduled to spend Friday in San Antonio and Austin, before taking the Amtrak Texas Eagle to Fort Worth, said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates. She is scheduled to arrive in Fort Worth just before 2 p.m. Saturday, and then take a brief tour of the Intermodal Transportation Center, followed by a bike tour of the city.

She will also get a look at the new bike-friendly components of the Amtrak Heartland Flyer, which operates daily between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City — although she will not actually depart on that train, LeCody said.

Studier will then take the Trinity Railway Express to Dallas and spend Sunday riding Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail before continuing her national journey.

Origin of ‘Stevie’

Studier, who was born in Japan and raised in Ithaca, N.Y., said she named her bike Stevie in honor of Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks, two of her parents’ favorite musicians.

She is majoring in international affairs and human geography.

The “summer by rail” odyssey includes visits to at least 18 cities in 15 states. The itinerary includes New York, Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Salt Lake City and the Grand Canyon. She will conclude the trip June 20 with a final leg from Raleigh, N.C. to Washington, D.C.

In addition to riding trains and her bike, she will also travel by bus, ferry and other modes.

The idea for the summer project came during conversations between Studier and Mathews during her internship, she said. They got in touch with Amtrak, which in addition to its more common city-to-city fares also offers rail passes for 15, 30 or 45 days.

“My original idea was much smaller,” she said, “but with their help and support it grew and became a much larger and all-encompassing trip.”

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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