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UB’s ‘road warriors’ carry on a two-wheeled transportation love affair

By DAVID J. HILL

Published August 9, 2017

“It’s good exercise and it’s good for the environment, so why not?”
Cristanne Miller, UB faculty member and bike commuter

Even at age 64, Cristanne Miller still rides her bicycle to UB a few days a week. Miller’s affinity for the two-wheeled commute began at an early age — and out of necessity — in Des Moines, Iowa, where she grew up.

“We had a large family and just one car, but everybody had a bike. If you wanted to go somewhere, you rode your bicycle,” says Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Edward H. Butler Professor of English and interim chair of the Department of English.

Miller continued riding throughout her undergraduate and graduate school years at the University of Chicago, and pretty much everywhere ever since. She has been making the 10-mile commute to UB from the Elmwood Village, which typically takes about 50 minutes depending on the wind, since arriving in Buffalo 11 years ago.

She’s among what you might call UB’s road warriors, the hearty souls who trek to campus on two wheels instead of four. Ask around and you’ll find a growing list of UB faculty, staff and students who regularly ride to and from campus for reasons ranging from sheer enjoyment to health and wellness.

“It connects you to the whole environment. I see people and smell things I wouldn’t in a vehicle,” says Janice Cochran, a nutritionist with Wellness Education Services who bikes frequently from her home about 3 ½ miles from campus. “It’s an energizer. My mood changes when I get on the bike.”

The best thing about biking to work, according to those who do it, is that you don’t need to be a Tour de France yellow-jersey winner with leg muscles capable of churning up the steepest climbs in the Alps. Nor do you have to be an activist cyclist who goes “bare as you dare” — meaning letting it all hang out — which, incidentally, actually happened last month in Buffalo. (Disclaimer: UBNow neither endorses nor disapproves of such roadway activity. Let each bicyclist follow his or her own conscience.)

What’s more, the region’s weather from May through late September or early October is generally conducive to a smooth ride. Of course, some cyclists are more diehard than others, taking the U.S. Postal Service approach toward bicycle riding: Rain, sleet and snow be damned, they’ll ride through anything.

Sean Brodfuehrer, an architectural planner with UB’s Capital Planning Group, is an avid cyclist who commutes from Buffalo’s North Park neighborhood, about a 6-mile trip that takes him half an hour. Brodfuehrer checks the radar to avoid rain in the morning.

“But on the way home I will ride through whatever Mother Nature sends,” he says. “The worst weather was a torrential downpour. It was so bad I had to pull over for 15 minutes because I couldn’t see very well and, more importantly, I didn’t expect that cars would see me through water-covered windshields.”

Brodfuehrer bikes because it’s better for the environment, and because it beats going to the gym. “There are too many strains on my time and money to make a gym membership feasible, but spending an extra 10 or 15 minutes on my commute allows me to both get exercise and get to work,” he says.

Joe Pautler, a network architect with UBIT, rides from his home in Depew for similar reasons. He began taking his bicycle to work about seven years ago when he was training for his first Ironman race and was looking for creative ways to maximize his training time while balancing work and family obligations.

“Converting my commuting time into biking time was the only way I could manage to get 20 to 25 hours of training time per week,” he says.

Pautler continues to ride — as long as the temperature is above 30 degrees — for financial reasons as well. “It saves me approximately one gallon of gas per day when I commute by bike. And it saves money on oil changes, brakes, tires, vehicle depreciation, etc. Bicycle maintenance and supplies cost money, too, but not nearly as much.”

University Communications staffer Cory Nealon is one of UB's "road warriors." Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

For sustainability’s sake

UB has made strides in recent years to encourage and support bicycling as part of the university’s focus on creating a more sustainability-literate campus community.

It’s a small portion, but bicycling fits snuggly into the “triple bottom line” approach — encompassing social, environmental and financial benefits — UB has taken toward sustainability. The environmental and financial benefits are obvious: Biking translates to fewer vehicles on the road and less money being spent at the gas pump.

“The amount of land that our car culture consumes is staggering. The overall landscape of sprawl that cars enable, and in many ways require, is devastating to our local environment,” says Brodfuehrer.

The United Nations-backed World Happiness Report sheds some light on the social side of bicycling. The happiest (Denmark) and fourth-happiest (Netherlands) countries on the list happen to be nations known for the number of people who bicycle by choice, not out of necessity.

“At UB, we promote bicycling for a number of sustainability goals,” says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer. “When about 20 percent of the university’s carbon footprint is based on transportation, encouraging bicycling is a great way to help cut down on that. But there’s also the wellness angle, that biking is good for your physical and mental health.”

McPherson practices what he preaches. He can often be seen cruising around campus in his fold-up bicycle and, every few weeks, he makes the 30-mile ride to campus from his home in East Aurora. “It takes about 90 minutes if I’m really moving,” he says.

UB Sustainability will continue to work with Parking and Transportation Services and UB Facilities crews to add more amenities for bicycling to both meet demand and the university’s sustainability goals.

“We want to be on par with our higher education peers, but we also want to provide the options that our students are demanding,” McPherson says. “It’s very clear they want bicycle infrastructure. They don’t necessarily want to own a bike, which is why we have Bikeshare, and then there are those who bike straight through winter.”

Bikeshare beckons

As a large public research university, UB attracts students, faculty and staff from all over the globe. Many of UB’s international students arrive on campus with few possessions — especially a car or bicycle — and lots of faculty and staff prefer more environmentally friendly ways to cross campus to teach, meet with students and attend meetings.

That’s where UB Bikeshare becomes a convenient, affordable option, even for people like Wellness Education Services’ Cochran.

“I’m a Bikeshare member because it’s so convenient on the days I don’t ride to work,” she says. “I can hop on a bike at the Student Union and rip over to Ellicott Complex for a meeting there. It’s the fastest way to get around on campus.”

For students, Bikeshare can be a good alternative to crowded shuttles and buses to get from one part of campus to the other.

UB launched a beta version of Bikeshare in 2014 with about 40 members signing up. That shot up to 344 in 2016, and more than 100 people have signed up since March. The annual membership fee is $15, and the first hour is always free. (Learn more here.)

Users can find and unlock a bike online, through the Bikeshare app, or by entering their account information directly into the keypad on the lockbox of the bike. Once the PIN code is entered, the lock is disengaged and the bike is ready to use. At the end of the ride, the user slides the U-bar into the lock, the bike notifies the system that your ride is over and the bike is available to others.

“It’s a great way to get to know the campus. For the amount of money that it costs, the ease of use and the availability, it’s probably one of the best things going on campus for leisure or travel,” says Matthew Reitmeier, outreach and operations manager for Parking and Transportation Services.

Many members of the UB community don’t realize that UB’s Bikeshare system is connected to the same one (via Shared Mobility) the city of Buffalo uses for its program. Riders can use their UB Bikeshare membership to cruise around Canalside, among other city bicycling hot spots.

On the North Campus, the Ellicott Creek Trailway bike path beckons for a leisurely lunchtime ride. Be sure to check out some of the sites — like Amherst Memorial Hill, a grove of oak trees and a monument dedicated to the nearly 3,000 people who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — or stop and take a seat to enjoy the soothing sound of the creek.

While there are all sorts of ways to get to UB’s campuses from Buffalo and its surrounding suburbs, riders agree the key is to just try it.

“I often tell people that it’s really easy to come up with reasons why you can’t ride your bike to work,” says Pautler, “but if you really want to do it, you can find a solution to just about every challenge.”

The English department’s Miller puts it more simply: “It’s good exercise and it’s good for the environment, so why not?”

For many people, navigating through vehicular traffic remains an intimidating obstacle to commuting by bicycle. But Buffalo motorists are, for the most part, respectful and aware of cyclists.

Sure, there are those who feel their super-charged Hemi-powered tank is the only thing that should be on the road. But hey, life isn’t always a leisurely stroll through the delightful daffodil fields of Denmark.