Letter To The Editor By Ari Kaputkin and Will Raphaelson

A Plea for Sensible Bike Policy
y Ari Kaputkin and Will Raphaelson

SUNY New Paltz’s commitment to the environment is widely recognized. As an official signatory of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment program, we stand at the forefront of collegiate environmental awareness and activism. Our campus sustainability plan, published in 2012, as well as the Climate Action Plan, submitted to the ACUPPC this year, both detail a comprehensive approach toward reducing our carbon footprint, improving energy efficiency, promoting sustainable best practices, and increasing local and regional awareness regarding pressing environmental concerns.

On the sub-institutional level, students, faculty and staff add to the college’s efforts through their own organizations in the form of numerous and varied clubs tackling environmental issues on a local and global scale. It’s no wonder our campus has been featured in national publications such as the Princeton Review’s guide to green colleges.

So why then, as our campus strives towards exemplary environmental stewardship, have we yet to realize the importance of bicycles in this model?

The New Bike policy takes a punitive approach by preventing students from locking their bikes to trees, lampposts, etc. instead of bike racks. In the official release of the policy, the stated purpose is to ensure safety and prevent damage and obstruction to maintenance efforts. However, emails from facilities management cite only the need for beautification of the grounds. Murky motivation notwithstanding, the policy continues by assuring our bikes will be clipped, at our expense, if they are not properly tethered to a bike rack (as well as encouraging the illegal practice of riding on the sidewalk).

In light of all our campus does to promote sustainable initiatives, we are surprised by the draconian nature of the registration and clipping procedure. At a school where more than half its students and its entire staff live off campus, meaningful environmental sustainability is contingent on providing and encouraging alternative forms of transportation. While not as sexy as LEED certified buildings and solar compacting trash cans, the importance of  sustainable transit should not be understated, as a large part of our carbon footprint comes before we even arrive on campus.

Bikes are not only a sustainable form of transportation, but are highly symbolic of our greater commitment to sustainability. So what are the issues with bikes on campus?

First: Too many bikes are locked to trees, railings, benches, and light posts, creating a potential hazard to campus and personal property, obstructing maintenance, and in the opinion of the new policy’s incubators, creating an eyesore for those who come to visit.

And secondly: The environment is in a state of anthropogenic disrepair, as an institution of higher learning and research, we’ve committed to doing something about it. What if we could hit these two birds with one proverbial stone?

Couldn’t we take a stab at both of these issues by simply installing more bike racks or moving underutilized racks to high demand locations? It would alleviate the need to expend bureaucratic energy on the registration and clipping process, while still keeping the campus safe and beautiful; and it would promote and facilitate the sustainable ideals New Paltz so vehemently endorses. And if that’s not reason enough: bike racks at every building were promised in the 2012 campus sustainability plan.

Our neighbor across the river, Vassar,  has bike racks outside of every single campus building and indoor bike parking in each dorm. There is even a campus bike shop for maintenance and repairs. They encourage registration of bikes for anti-theft purposes.

Yale University has fostered a thriving bike culture by positively encouraging cycling to and within campus, providing the infrastructure to boot. Bike racks stand at every building, and where they are needed, a request form can be submitted. A fleet of 50 cruiser bikes are available through a bike-share program for just $20 a year. Several nearby repair shops help with maintenance and host safety classes. There is a once a month bike-to-school breakfast, free for cyclists, building the environmentally conscious community. Yale even goes so far as to provide affordable insurance against bike theft.

We are fully aware at how petty this may sound. “There are more important issues to attend to” you may be saying. We agree. We think that there are way more pressing issues at hand, and that this shouldn’t even be a problem. But we, the authors, refuse to watch this legitimately backwards policy unfold unimpeded, and allow our campus to continue ignoring implementing bicycles into our sustainability agenda.

The campus’ commitment to sustainable transportation, galvanized by detailed commitments to “institute a shared biking program” and “install bike racks at every campus building” are not being met.  A facilities operations official was recently quoted in the Oracle saying, “People need to be patient, but we’ll get them racks.”

But our request is a simple one: scratch this policy, install more bike racks in studied locations, and from there, work with the staff and students to write a well-founded and agreeable bicycle policy to move forward with.

We understand how hard buying a pre-assembled piece of scrap steel can be, especially when the town has surplus racks laying unused in storage.  If we installed the right kind of bike racks to begin with, more cyclists would lock their bikes to them, and the problems that the new policy attempts so poorly to address would cease to exist all together. Why don’t we work with students and faculty in the art department to design bike racks using recycled parts? The black wave racks, currently the campus standard, are not space efficient and do not adequately support bikes. We won’t even address the poor excuse for bike parking that are the temporary aluminum bar racks.

For these reasons, we, the authors of this op-ed, volunteer our valuable time. In fact, Ari has already engaged in extensive research on the ideal locations and manner by which to install new racks, and has experience implementing bicycle friendly initiatives through the New York City Business Improvement District program. Will is a fledgling public policy analyst, and can serve as a liaison to the Joint Town/Village Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, where he is an official village appointee.

Again, on behalf of all earth-loving members of our community, we will be patient. But while we are waiting for the administration work with us and deliver on its promise of supporting sustainable transportation:

Please don’t clip our bikes.

Our campus sustainability coordinator has organized a meeting with all who are interested to discuss the future of bikes on campus. We encourage all who found this op-ed convincing, offensive, or anywhere in between to come out on Tuesday November 19, at 3 PM to SUB 419 to help shape our campus bike policy.