Bicycles Welcome Here: Campus Culture Adapts to ‘Greener’ Mode of Transportation

Posted: March 17, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Biker on Fairfax Campus
Mason student Ewart de Visser grew up in the Netherlands and brought his biking habits with him when he moved to the United States. “In America it’s hard to be without a car, but it’s definitely not impossible,” he says. “I’ve been biking almost everywhere my whole life.”
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Dave Andrews

Outrageous gas prices and environmental concerns aren’t the only motivation commuters have as they look for transportation alternatives. Many are fed up with traffic. Some may be stressed about work or school. Others simply want a healthier lifestyle.

According to the American Automobile Association, a 10-mile bike ride burns approximately 350 calories. And biking just three hours per week can reduce one’s risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent.

But when calories don’t speak loudly enough, money usually does. Based on gas prices of $3.20 per gallon, the annual cost of owning, operating and driving a passenger car averages approximately $11,000.

Growing Number of Bikers at Mason

Numbers like these are what drive many to ease up on the gas pedal and step onto the bike pedals. To accommodate a growing number of bicyclists, Mason is making a number of changes on and around the Fairfax Campus. The most noticeable changes are more bike racks and new bike lanes.

Mason recently added 70 new bike racks (in addition to the 40 already in place) to meet the higher demand. And whenever road work is done on campus, an effort is made to incorporate bike lanes, according to Mason Facilities Management.

Such lanes are marked on Roanoke River Road and George Mason Boulevard. The new spur road off of Patriot Circle was widened for pedestrians and bikers. The future connector road between Ox Road (Rt. 123) and Patriot Circle will have bike lanes on both sides. And the road to be built between the parking deck under construction (Parking Deck III) and the next phase of student housing (Housing VII C) will also make way for bike lanes.

bicycles in rack
Mason has installed 70 additional bike racks in recent months at the Fairfax Campus in response to increased ridership.
Photo by Nicolas Tan

“Several things come into play as we continue to create a more biker-friendly campus,” says Tom Calhoun, vice president for facilities. “In addition to the focus on environmental issues, Mason is concentrating on the need to reduce traffic congestion on and around campus. The increased residential population, combined with a period of significant construction, provides a good catalyst that allows this to happen.”

Inaugural Bike to Mason Day Events Planned

The additional racks and lanes will surely come in handy, as Bike to Mason Day approaches on Earth Day, April 22. The inaugural “Save the Planet, Bike to Mason” event was created to accommodate students and faculty who might be occupied with finals during the traditional Bike to Work Day on May 16.

To get people ready for Bike to Mason Day, a bicycle “pit stop” will be set up in the North Plaza of the Johnson Center on the Fairfax Campus on Tues., April 1, and Tues., April 8, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Participants can receive a free bike tune-up service.

Bike to Mason Day will feature free food and prizes. Free T-shirts will be given to those who pre-register online or at the designated kiosks in the Johnson Center.

Bicycle donations will also be accepted on campus from now through April 22 by the Bikes for the World program of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The program refurbishes donated bikes and gives them to those in need. Parking Services will reduce parking violation fines from $75 to $35 for those who decide to donate a used bike.

“By providing all of the transportation alternatives and incentives to those who work and study at Mason, and also by educating the campus community, we hope that it will instill a pattern of less congestion,” says Anne Whitley, parking and transportation coordinator at Mason.

Area Becoming More Biker-Friendly

Ewart de Visser, a Mason student working toward a PhD in psychology, learned of the benefits of biking and public transportation at a very young age. He grew up in the Netherlands — a country much less dependant on automobiles than the United States. When he moved to the United States with his family at the age of 18, he brought his biking culture with him.

bike lane at Fairfax Campus
Bike lanes are being added at the Fairfax Campus wherever road work is under way.
Mason Gazette photo

“In America it’s hard to be without a car, but it’s definitely not impossible,” de Visser says. “I’ve been biking almost everywhere my whole life. But occasionally I’ll ask a friend for a ride if it’s too far to bike, or if the weather doesn’t cooperate.”

Many countries like the Netherlands are geared more toward bikers and those who use public transportation. However, on his 20-minute bike commute to the Fairfax Campus, de Visser says he’s noticed the region is making an effort to better serve bikers and pedestrians with improved roadways and wider sidewalks.

Fairfax County officials and bicycle advocates agree that Mason is becoming increasingly accessible to bikers and walkers, primarily because few students are commuting great distances, and the university continues to add more on-campus housing for students, and soon, faculty and staff.

“I think that if people at Mason stopped to really think about it, they could ride their bikes much more than they already do,” says Bruce Wright, chairman of the Fairfax Advocates for Better Biking (FABB). “The culture at Mason is changing. There’s a huge potential for more people to bike, especially when thinking in terms of the environmental impact, the health benefits and the cost effectiveness of using less gas.”

Wrights says the goal of FABB is to help make Fairfax County more biker-friendly and get more people on bikes, especially for short drives. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of all trips in the United States are less than two miles long, and 67 percent are less than five miles.

“Recently, we’ve really started focusing on decreasing these short trips,” says Charlie Strunk, bicycle coordinator for Fairfax County. “That means building more trails and making it safe, comfortable and convenient.”

Bikers along C&O canal
Area jurisdictions are responding to the growing interest in biking by planning more bike lanes and trails.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Fairfax County currently has 10.7 miles of bike lanes. Strunk plans to bring that number to 100 miles within the next five years.

Thus far, Strunk has proposed to the Virginia Department of Transportation approximately 50 different road segments to include bike lanes. Strunk feels confident that about 20 of the proposed segments will eventually come to fruition. The first two — one on Gallows Road running from Tysons Corner down to the Dunn Loring Metro station; the other on Westmoreland Street in McLean — will likely be completed this summer.

“Interest levels have grown consistently over the years, but more so in recent months,” Strunk says. “With the combination of a growing number of bicycle advocates and the possibility of gas prices reaching $4 a gallon this summer, we’re seeing a huge rise in e-mails and phone calls from people wanting to know more about biking.”

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