AS GAS PRICES top $4 a gallon and pain is increasing at the pump, San Mateo County commuters realize there is relief in sight. On Thursday, you can not only help your hard-hit wallet, but find a way to escape traffic, improve your health and the environment. Do it by pledging to leave the car at home and hop on a bicycle for the Bay Area's 14th annual Bike to Work Day.

In addition to savings on gasoline and other auto expenses, biking offers a healthy alternative to the usual exercise routine. On average, a person weighing 175 pounds burns 1,160 calories pedaling 20 miles at 15 mph. Bike commuting improves cardiovascular health and cyclists arrive at the office feeling healthy and energized. Biking also allows us to make a difference to our environment and reduce our carbon footprint. A short four-mile bike ride prevents 15 pounds of pollutants from entering the air.

As sponsors of Bike to Work Day activities in San Mateo County, the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance makes it easy for you. We'll be staffing 22 Energizer Stations, in cooperation with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, throughout the county. We'll cheer you on, providing food, beverages and appreciation gifts. To find the energizer stations, go to www.commute.org. On the site, you can pre-register to participate and be entered to win a bicycle and Timbuk2 messenger bags.

Mark Leeper, this year's San Mateo County Bike Commuter of the Year, is a wood shop teacher at Menlo Atherton High School. He's been cycling to work from his home in San Carlos for more than 12 years. He estimates that he saves $3,000 to $5,000 per year in gasoline and other car-related costs.

So, let's follow Mark's lead on Thursday and bike to work, to make a difference!

Christine Maley-Grubl is the executive director of the Peninsula Traffic Relief Alliance. The Alliance is located on the Web at www.commute.org. and at (650) 588-8170.