The Yale College Council launched its new Bike Share Program this semester at a time when biking is growing in popularity in the Elm City.
There has been a “substantial increase” in biking across New Haven in recent years, according to Michael Piscitelli, director of New Haven transportation, traffic and parking. Even Yale staff have been hopping on two wheels in greater numbers, according to Holly Parker, the University’s director of sustainable transportation systems. The percentage of Yale staff biking to campus nearly doubled between 2007 and 2008 with the May 2008 start of the Y-Bike program, which offers bike sharing for Yale employees, Parker said. In 2008, 9 percent of staff biked to campus, compared to 5 percent in 2007.
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But as more Yalies take to their bikes instead of trekking across the campus by foot or bus, is Yale’s campus well suited to biking?
“In the campus itself, there are very few designated bike areas,” admitted Director of Environmental Health and Safety Peter Reinhardt.
Reinhardt said Yale’s campus is less biker-friendly than most American colleges, although it is about average among urban campuses.
While many areas around campus are conducive to biking safely on streets, some bikers ride on the sidewalks — which is illegal — in a few central areas, according to Mark Abraham ’04, who serves on the board of Elm City Cycling, a local nonprofit cycling advocacy group, and the steering committee of the Connecticut Livable Streets Campaign, a statewide organization that advocates safe, livable streets.
“You see a lot of students riding on the sidewalk, mostly around Elm Street and also over by the Yale Medical School,” Abraham, who bikes through Yale almost daily to get to work and run errands, said.
The YCC launched its bike share program in late October. YCC President Jon Wu ’11 said this was a good time to increase biking on campus, which he said will become more necessary as Yale’s campus grows. Currently there are 102 Yalies enrolled in the program, Wu said Monday night. The YCC will also lower the annual participation fee for the Bike Share Program to $5 next semester from the original price of $10, Wu added.
While Abraham said Yale’s current campus design is best-suited for walking, he said he thinks the construction of the two new colleges along Prospect Street will make biking increasingly attractive to Yale students and staff.
“Students supporting bicycling now will help out when the new colleges open,” Abraham said. “The campus will be more integrated and feel like a smaller place.”
Currently, though, the trip along Prospect Street from Central Campus up Science Hill is blocked for bikers because of construction along the Prospect Street bridge. Even as Yale expands, it cannot control street conditions: Reinhardt said that since New Haven owns most of the streets around Yale, the University can advocate for biker friendly changes, but the city and state ultimately get to make decisions about adding bike lanes. There are no bike lanes on the streets comprising central campus, according to a report on biking at Yale by Brian Tang ’12, who is involved in Elm City Cycling.
Piscitelli said addressing biking on Elm Street, for example, is a “priority,” though he declined to go into further detail. Ela Naegele ’13, who hails from Freiburg, Germany, known as “the bike capital of Germany,” said she avoids biking on Elm Street even though she uses her bike to go between her Old Campus dorm and her meals and classes.
While students such as Naegele use bikes to get around within campus, Parker said biking is mainly useful for traveling beyond campus; Yale was primarily designed for walking, she said, but both the University and the city are working to address the benefits and drawbacks of biking in the area.
“The city of New Haven and Yale’s infrastructure are really struggling to keep up [with the increase in biking],” Parker said, adding, “The city of New Haven is working unbelievably hard.”
Beyond Yale’s campus, New Haven is working on making the city more conducive to biking for commuting, shopping and leisure, Piscatelli said. With more Yale students and city residents biking in New Haven, biking is no longer seen as a hobby or a means of transportation for only a fringe group, said Tang, who worked at the Transportation Department this past summer. As someone who uses his bike to get around campus and the city, Tang said he is glad biking is now seen by the city as a mainstream method of transportation, not just a leisure activity.
To address this trend, the city is looking into adding more bike lanes, Piscatelli said. For example, Whitney Avenue is currently being resurfaced with the construction of the Yale Biology Building on Lot 22, and as part of the project, new bike lanes are being added nearby, Parker said. Abraham said that while bike lanes can be useful, even if there are designated lanes, bikers cannot ride comfortably on roads where traffic exceeds 20 mph.
Still, Parker argued that with larger numbers of bikers comes increased safety as motorists become more aware of bikers because there are more of them on the road.
The YCC’s Bike Share Program currently has 25 bikes distributed to students by the master’s offices of four residential colleges.