Yale named ‘Bicycle Friendly University’

New Haven is home to the first and only American patent of a pedal-driven bicycle, and it’s now home to the first “Bicycle Friendly University” in Connecticut.

Pictured at the Oct. 24 celebration at the New Haven Museum’s exhibition “Cycle New Haven” are (from left) Sandy Fry, representing the League of American Bicyclists; Holly Parker and Brenda Torres of Yale’s Transportation Options Office; Matthew Feiner, owner of the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop; Karen King of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs; Jim Travers, director of New Haven’s Office of Transportation, Traffic and Parking; and Michael Patten, assistant chief of the Yale Police Department. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The League of American Bicyclists has awarded Yale a spot on its list of Bicycle Friendly Universities. The bronze-level designation extends over four years. Currently, there are 44 universities on the list, including Princeton, Cornell, and Stanford.

The league cited Yale’s “Y-Bike” departmental bike sharing and student bike sharing programs, commuter counseling, and the annual “Bicyclist Appreciation Breakfast at Yale” as especially notable features of the campus. The Bicycle Friendly University program evaluates applicants’ efforts to promote bicycling in five primary areas: engineering, encouragement, education, enforcement, and evaluation. Yale particularly ranked high under enforcement for the increase of police and security bike patrols and traffic safety education.

“Just like many students aspire to an Ivy League education, a growing number of college students want their university to be smart about biking, too,” says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “Young adults want to drive less and ride more — and they’re choosing schools, like Yale and Princeton, that are making bicycling a vibrant part of campus life.”

The work leading to the award resulted from an on-going collaboration between the City of New Haven, cycling advocates of Elm City Cycling, and Yale’s Offices of Facilities, Sustainability, and Transportation Options. Holly Parker, director of sustainable transportation systems, especially credits the city’s work to support the infrastructure needed for a bicycle-friendly campus within an urban framework.

“The city has been incredibly responsive and eager to work collaboratively with Yale and Elm City Cycling,” Parker says. “We are doing well by other northeastern university standards. We don’t have the best year-round climate or the most robust transit infrastructure of some of our peers, so we have to find other transportation options that can work—or provide people with the best combination of options to meet their needs as the seasons change.”

“With Yale’s dedicated leadership in sustainability, creating a safe and attractive environment at Yale for bicyclists and reducing single-occupancy vehicle usage in the city are goals for us and many in our community,” Parker continues. “We’re grateful for the attention this award will draw to the extraordinary success of our combined efforts. Together, we will continue making a difference.”   

Parker also credits Yale Facilities for their efforts to accommodate requests for bicycle parking spaces. Currently on campus, there are almost 2,000 bike parking spaces, 40 Y-bikes for shared use, an undergraduate bikeshare of 22 bikes, and bicycle safety classes. Y-Bike participants collectively logged over 9,000 miles since the program started in 2008. According to the 2011 Transportation Survey, 4% of Yale faculty, staff, and graduate students commute by bike. 

“I saw a study recently that said that 60% of people who don’t currently bike stated that they wouldn’t bike unless there were a physical barrier between them and cars,” remarks Parker. “That kind of infrastructure takes time, money and consensus to build. There is a middle ground, though. The city — with a lot of volunteer help —is working on the kind of smaller infrastructure improvements that will encourage those who are ‘on the fence’ or ‘fair weather’ cyclists to either start biking or bike more.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of cyclists has doubled since Parker arrived at Yale over five years ago, she says. Two of these cyclists are Steve Ongley, client technology technician in Academic Computing, and wife Laurie Ongley, manager of communications for Student and Faculty Administrative Services, who commute regularly from Madison by bike.  

“Driving makes me grouchy, but biking makes me mellow,” says Steve Ongley. “Getting on a bike to commute is almost always difficult. But once on the bike, and for hours afterward, I am happy and content. I never got a ‘runner’s high’ from running, but I always get one when I bike.”

“There are so many advantages [to biking],” Laurie Ongley adds. “Perhaps the biggest advantage for me is including exercise in my daily routine. I don’t have time to go to a gym before or after work, but I don’t need a gym if I bike 19 miles to the office. The more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer each individual cyclist is.

Cyclist Lisa Maloney, communications and project manager for Administration, agrees: “Over the past 16 years I’ve noticed a huge increase of people on bikes spinning around New Haven — most of them commuting. As a cyclist that is heartening and exciting to witness.”

Matt Feiner from the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop has noticed considerable growth in the city’s bicycle community. “Many from out of town are surprised by how broad the bike scene is here in New Haven and how large the community has become — especially those who come to New Haven from other bike-friendly cities,” he says.

A reception to celebrate the award was held Oct. 24 at the New Haven Museum, where the exhibition “Cycle New Haven” is on view through next spring. The reception fell on the eve of the birthday of Pierre Lallement, the French inventor who filed the only American patent of the first pedal bicycle in New Haven in 1866.

To learn about campus biking options or request commuter counseling, visit http://to.yale.edu/.

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