Biking: Going Green and Staying Lean


Illustration by Lily Gaarnat

<comment>Every day at RIT, countless students, faculty and staff ride bicycles to and around campus. People ride bikes at RIT for a variety of reasons — some enjoy the exercise, others just want a fast way to get from place to place and there are people everywhere in between.

I decided to try adding biking into my daily transportation for a week to see how it improved my day. I rode my bike to get to classes from the dorms, as well as to commute to places off campus, such as the local post office.

On Campus

Overall on campus, biking was very enjoyable. RIT has ample infrastructure to support the biking population, such as bike racks, tools near bike racks for minor repairs and a bike shop in the basement of the SAU for more major repairs. The bikes paths on campus are also relatively well kept. In fact the only complaint I had was that the bike trail that runs next to the quarter mile was not well lit during the evening.

I can understand why some would have difficulty biking, though. I know for me, I often overestimated my schedule which caused me to put off biking for a long time, simply because I thought there was no time for it.

“I think a lot of it is feeling comfortable bicycling. There is a bigger personal challenge with trying to fit it into your schedule,” said Dr. Roger Chen, an assistant professor at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

While I initially put off riding a bike around campus because of schedule concerns, after deciding to ride a bike on campus, I was never in a bad position because of my choice. It allowed me to leave later and still get to class on time. I consistently left seven to ten minutes past my usual departure and was never late.

Another great part of biking on campus was the addition of more physical activity into my daily routine. Like many students, I'd fallen into the loop of getting up in the morning, going to class, coming home to work on homework and then going to sleep, completely skipping any physical activity besides basic walking. Biking added that a bit of exercise into my schedule and made it fun.

I did, however, have trouble getting mother nature to cooperate with my biking desires. Chen had a similar point to make.

“It is a bit challenging [to ride a bike to campus], but I think it is doable and a lot of the barriers are with weather," Chen stated.

Off-Campus Biking

This became abundantly clear when I tried my hand at distance biking.

My one foray with off-campus biking did not go well. I needed to get a passport photo taken, so I decided to ride my bike to the local post office. The post office is located several miles off campus, and the day I decided to travel was extremely cold. I got about a mile off campus before I had to turn around and ask a floor-mate to drive me due to the fact that my hands were completely frozen, and I had run out of any real biking path.

The weather has been the major deterrent for me. It is no secret that Rochester is cold, and unfortunately, the winter lasts a long time. The snow and general irritation that comes from being outside during Rochester winters has forced me to call off biking more than a few times, both on- and off-campus. While proper winter gear can alleviate the discomfort, when the pathways are covered in snow there is not much bikers can do. Second to weather comes safety in terms of deterrence.

It is clear that the area surrounding RIT is far less forgiving for bikers than on campus. A few of the major roads are actually notorious for how dangerous they are. For example, more than a couple of students have been hit by cars walking along Jefferson Road, which lacks lighting and a proper walk way.

“RIT is so isolated that you have to cross many major arterioles ... this is consistently problematic for bikers that have to reach campus because there is a lot of oncoming traffic and there are safety issues there,” Chen remarked.

Putting the few problems I had with biking aside, from an exercise prospective, you cannot beat biking. All you need is a bike and a positive attitude. In addition to the positive aspects regarding exercise, there is a practical use for biking, both from a commuting and sustainability standpoint.

“Any segment of a car trip [which is replaced with] a bicycle mode is definitely saving emissions in terms of what is being generated, and also in terms of emissions required for manufacturing the vehicle,” Chen said. “As areas become more urban, there will be more opportunity for multi-modal trip substitutions, so maybe I drive halfway to campus and take the bike the rest of the way."

Replacing part of many trips to and from RIT definitely sounds more feasible than my original plan to bike everywhere around campus and the surrounding area. On colder days, I can bike short distances around campus, and then ride in a warm car to get to stores and other places that are farther from campus. Not only will this help me get some much-needed exercise, but it will also help the environment. If you get the chance, find yourself a bike and give this two-wheeled method of moving a chance. Both your legs and the environment will thank you.