Biking On and Off Campus: More Complicated than Just Pedaling
by Nathan J. Lichtenstein | published Oct. 25th, 2015
RIT is a college campus with a green present and an even greener future.
Over the last few years, the administration has focused on alternative energy and more environmentally sustainable methods of transportation. We have electric vehicle (EV) charging stations across campus and many of our campus-owned cars are hybrids. All of this is fine and dandy, but sustainable transportation goes far beyond machine-powered transportation, and one of the most popular human-powered modes of transportation among RIT students is the good old-fashioned bicycle.
Take a look around campus between classes and you will see a mass migration of RIT students from building to building, scurrying across campus. Among the fluttering feet are bicycles, and lots of them. Officially, bikes are banned from the quarter mile. They are restricted to the roads around campus and the specified bike path. There are no restrictions, however, as to where pedestrians can and cannot walk. It is not an uncommon sight to see a plethora of people on the bike path near the Gene Polisseni Center, given its close proximity to the bus stop. It may be due to poor urban planning, but biking around campus isn't always an easy task — and once you've mastered navigating the mass of pedestrians on the bike paths, there is a whole other world of obstacles to overcome.
Essentially every off-campus resource students need can be found on, or just off of, Jefferson Road. From Men's Wearhouse to Wegmans, our capitalist consumer needs are easily satisfied on good old New York State Route 252. Unfortunately, safe and convenient access to these resources are limited to students who have cars, can bum a ride with someone who has a car or have the time to figure out and utilize the RIT/RTS public transportation system.
While there isn't anything wrong with having to share a ride or take public transit, they are not always the most convenient options. Conventional wisdom says that bikes should provide a happy alternative to the two, providing transportation freedom and a good workout at the same time. Unfortunately, Henrietta is far from being a bike-friendly town. Simply getting off campus is a treacherous experience on a bike. Jefferson Road is virtually devoid of both bike lanes and shoulders with ample room for cyclists. One slip-up on the pedals and getting hit by a car is pretty damn likely.
If you haven't been deterred from the thought of biking in and around RIT, but don't have a bike, RIT Student Government (SG) has you covered. Last year, SG rolled out a fleet of 20 bicycles that are free for students to check out and ride wherever they please. According to Nathan Castle, director of services for SG, the interest and utilization of the fledgling program has remained strong and continues to grow. Since last year, the program has been turned over to the Parking and Transportation Services office (PATS) at RIT and there are plans to expand the fleet of bikes up to 40.
Castle explained that it's atypical for students to ride the loaner bikes far off campus; however, it's much more common for them to be taken "very near off campus." The bikes can often be seen at Park Point and The Province. Castle says a bike was once spotted outside of MacGregors' on Jefferson Road. Castle also explained that if students choose to ride their borrowed bikes on public roads, they are street legal.
"They have lights, bells and reflectors which means you can take them on public roads," Castle said. "There are some restrictions, some things in the policies. If you get in an accident off campus, you are expected to call Public Safety."
"If you get in an accident off campus, you are expected to call Public Safety."
The PATS office at RIT provides some handy guidelines for biking on and off campus on their Bicyclists Rights and Rules of the Road webpage. A few important rules to remember are that it is illegal to ride against traffic and lights must be present on your bike when riding at night. If you manage to ride your bike from RIT all the way into the city, it should be noted that it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk in downtown Rochester.
With all of this in mind, there are some fantastic places to bike in Monroe county where you won't get hit by a car, though getting there requires one. It's a bit counterproductive if you're looking to ride solely for transportation purposes, but if your main objective in riding is to enjoy some scenery and get a good workout, it's well worth the trip. Some of the local favorites for mountain biking are Dryer Road Park in Victor and Irondequoit Bay Park West right by Irondequoit bay. For cross country riding, nothing beats riding along the historic Erie Canal. You can pick it up from a variety of scenic locations.
As our country turns further toward more environmentally sustainable methods for transportation, it is very likely that the bike will increase in popularity. In that same regard, the only way for biking in our community to become easier and safer is to make the need known. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, Henrietta and RIT will make our town safer and friendlier for cyclists.