May 19, 2011

By Carol Moran

The grease stains at the bottom of Dean Miller’s corduroy pants are a testament to the trek he makes to campus every morning. Miller, director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook, hops on his maroon Mongoose mountain bike and rings the metal bell mounted on his handlebars to warn pedestrians of his approach, quite often with a bowtie around his neck.

“It’s a lot cheaper,” Miller said. “I think it’s going to cause my insurance to go down because my mileage is nil. It’s environmentally sound, and there is no parking space needed.”

Students and faculty at Stony Brook are shifting gears along with Miller towards the more sustainable and trendy mode of transportation. There are over six miles of bike paths spread across campus, and the more than 100 bike racks are often filled to capacity.

“The culture is changing,” Director of Environmental Stewardship Amy Provenzano said. “I think everyone’s healthy habits are improving, so I think people think more about using a bike instead of a car.”

With gas prices soaring, biking is a cheaper alternative. Whether or not people are attempting to reduce the amount of fossil fuels they burn, Matt Aiello-Lammens, a manager at Freewheel Collective on campus, said people are trying to save money on gas by riding bikes.

Starting within the next week or two, the bike racks at Stony Brook will be home to 25 custom-made, shiny red bikes equipped with bells, lights and big metal baskets, as part of a recently developed bike share program. As a signatory of the American Colleges and Universities President’s Climate Commitment, Stony Brook has promised to be carbon neutral by 2050. The bike share program is meant to reduce vehicle traffic from commuting residents and faculty.

Twenty-five students will be chosen through a lottery system to participate in the program. After a $15 per semester fee and a $15 deposit, they’ll receive a helmet and a key that will unlock any of the 25 bikes that are to be stationed across campus.

“We have close to 100 applicants already so we’re so excited that there seems to be such interest in it,” Provenzano said. “We’re hoping that we get a great core of students to start because we’re looking for what works really great for the program and what are some of the things we can improve on. Our hope is to expand the program.”

But before the bike share program was even in the discussion stages, Freewheel Collective, a non-profit bike shop that offers students the opportunity to rebuild donated and found bicycles, as well as repair their own bikes for free or for a minor cost, was harboring the two-wheeled trend. Biology and evolutionary ecology students started the collective in an off-campus basement before moving it to a community center and then to the farthest corner of the Stony Brook Union basement, just behind the anime club. The noisy, fluorescently lit room is filled with bike parts and the sounds of students pumping up tires or brushing rust off metal bike petals.

“Anybody—students, faculty, community members are welcome,” Manager Jennifer Everhart, said. “We provide the knowledge and a lot of the parts, and in turn, the people come down there and get to learn how to fix up their bicycles—they provide the labor, we provide the knowledge.”

The Graduate Student Organization funds the collective. The money is partially allocated towards safety equipment like helmets and lights, and partially allocated towards bike parts, such as lubricants, chains and wires, according to Aiello-Lammens.

But despite the increase in bikers at Stony Brook and the safety equipment that the collective hands out, biking can be dangerous.

“I think it’s hard to be bike aware as a driver in an area where there aren’t a lot of bicyclists,” Aiello-Lammens said. “You travel a lot faster on the roads here…On 347 you can do 65 miles per hour, so it’s always going to be a little bit more difficult for bicyclists in the suburbs.”

Political Science Professor Helmut Norpoth has been riding his bike to work since he moved to the area in 1979, and he said cars have a blind spot for bicycle riders. “You have to be very observant yourself, and that’s the only thing that counts.”

New York State does not have a helmet law, though there are New York State Vehicle and Traffic laws that apply to bikes. Provenzano says they highly suggest that participants in the bike share program wear a helmet. Participants must also watch a safety video provided by the National Traffic Safety Board.

Everhart has been in two biking accidents since she came to Stony Brook, one of which left her with two broken ribs last semester after a student that was texting while walking knocked her over on the zebra path. That didn’t deter her from biking, though she doesn’t hop onto her green fixed-gear without a helmet.