Seeing campus come to life after a year and a half of minimal capacity is surreal. I have heard other students remark that they don’t recall this many students at UConn before the pandemic. Either way, with an almost-fully functioning campus comes a slew of pedestrian, vehicular and cyclical traffic. With astronomical parking pass prices, inconvenient parking spaces and clogged roads in the middle of campus, many students opt to walk, take the bus or bike around Storrs.
Phoebe Mrozinski believes students and community members alike should be comfortable regularly using their bike to commute around densely-populated areas such as college campuses and cities, and she hopes her BOLD project raises awareness of that fact and educates people on bike commuting.
“I want people to feel like they have the knowledge to confidently bike more often,” Mrozinski, a seventh-semester environmental science major, said about the individual project she is working on as part of UConn’s BOLD Women’s Leadership Network. “I would like to normalize biking to get around. I want people to know that bikes have the right to the road, and it’s possible to get around with biking versus driving all the time.”
The final official event for Mrozinski’s project is a bike tour of Mansfield for UConn students tomorrow, Sept. 11, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. The ride is about 9.5 miles, and the group will be meeting at the UConn seal.
“We’re stopping at the Red Barn Creamery first, getting ice cream, and then Shundai farm,” Mrozinski said, explaining how the parents of Sena Wazer, a seventh-semester environmental science major, own the farm. Wazer’s father will provide a tour. “And then we’re going to the Mansfield Farmers Market. I think it’ll be fun, I’ve never biked this tour. It’ll introduce people to fun things in the area … and there are free rentals from Cycle Share if you don’t have your own.”
UConn’s BOLD program is a leadership program for undergraduate women focused on “facilitating opportunities for women’s career development and networking through scholarship funding, programming, and post-graduation fellowships,” according to its website. The program seeks to “empower young college women to become leaders in their life and careers after college.”
“The BOLD program has about nine, maybe 10 people per cohort,” Mrozinski said. “You apply as a sophomore … and in the summer between junior and senior year, you do a BOLD project, which you work on planning and developing during your junior year. For the project, you work for 13 weeks full-time on whatever you want to do.”
Like with most great ideas, Mrozinski’s project almost didn’t come to fruition. Fortunately, she was encouraged by a fellow Phoebe, Professor Phoebe Godfrey of the department of sociology, to apply.
“That was when COVID was just starting, so I was like, ‘I probably won’t do it,’” Mrozinski said. “But then I ended up filling out the application. On the application, you apply with a general project idea. I mean, you’re not held to it, but it’s some idea you want to do. At that point, I was commuting maybe not every day, but wherever I wanted to go. Or I carpooled. I just felt that there was a need for people to be aware of safety measures, like how to drive around bicycles. I think I also just want to decrease car dependence. Cars really aren’t necessary in all this.”
A sustainable transportation and urban planning class expanded upon Mrozinski’s idea.
“I signed up for a class in transportation planning first semester junior year, which was an amazing class with Norman Garrick, and he took everything that I thought in my head and taught it as a class, telling us like what cities are good for … like how cars don’t really have a place in the city,” Mrozinski said, referencing CE 2710: Transportation Engineering and Planning in the department of Civil Engineering with Professor Emeritus Norman Garrick. “Cars are necessary if you live far from places, but in a city, they just don’t fit. So that just made me even more excited about this project.”
Mrozinski discussed the impact of having mentors like Professor Godfrey and Professor Emeritus Garrick, who serve as role models for getting involved beyond academia.
“I think he’s retired, and I think The New York Times wrote an article about him,” Mrozinski said. (They did.) “And then I read it, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I took his class.’”
In her search for fleshing out the details of her project, Mrozinski became involved in and aware of the various bike organizations and infrastructure in the state.
“I found BiCi Co., a community-based organization in Hartford, which is based through the Center for Latino Progress,” Mrozinski said. “And they also have a shop that is fully functional. It’s actually the only bike shop in Hartford, which is really important. If you’re biking to work and your bike breaks, it’s really important they’re open, and they have pretty regular hours.”
Mrozinski described BikeLIFE! hosted by BiCi Co., a yearly bike festival in Hartford for ages seven to 19, and broken into two parts: five two-hour safety courses held throughout the week, followed by the BIKELIFE festival on the last day, according to the webpage. This year’s BikeLIFE! was hosted the week of June 21 to 26. The webpage also mentions how the safety courses are “strategically located around Hartford to reach as many youth as possible,” and that “[i]t’s an awesome opportunity to connect with youth that love bikes and riding.”
“BikeLIFE! is a festival where about 60 people sign up,” Mrozinski said. “Once you sign up, it’s $20 to register and you get a free bike helmet and bike lights. And parents brought their kids who learned about safely getting bikes back out into the community.”
Mrozinski enjoyed the community and interaction gained by volunteering at BiCi Co., as well as learning about the many events and initiatives they work on.
“Every Wednesday, they have time for people who need to come in and either work on their own projects or volunteer for BiCi Co., which takes in old bikes,fixes them and gives them out at events, like BikeLIFE!” Mrozinski said. “Sometimes I organized the shop, other times I worked on fixing bikes. I learned a lot about maintenance. I helped out at safety classes for the bike festival. They also did a camp for six weeks, and it’s $25, so very accessible to everyone there.”
Previous to the Mansfield Bike Tour, Mrozinski hosted other events related to the work she did this summer.
“I developed programs over the summer that would last an hour, and I wanted to teach that lesson to like, maybe three or four camps,” Mrozinski said. “At the beginning of the school year, I tabled at the WOW resource fair for two days, and then hosted the Huskies Bike class at Storrs, which focused on how to take care of your bike, as well as the resources that UConn already offers … such as the Office of Sustainability has a bike website, Mansfield has a map of its bike [trails], and the Adventure Center has a lot of classes.”
As expected of an independent project produced during a pandemic, Mrozinski’s work proved isolating at times.
“Working from home is very challenging,” Mrozinski said. “BOLD is great because you’ll have a lot of people to talk to, but we’re all working from home. Like you know, mid-COVID and doing our own thing means I don’t have any coworkers. And a lot of people say the same thing, which is, all the decisions are up to you, it’s your own project …You can talk to other people for guidance, but it’s kind of a lot to handle, like how do you know what you’re doing is feasible, or if you’re making the right decision.”
Despite these challenges, Mrozinski found channels of support and connection through BOLD.
“[Other BOLD scholars in my cohort and I try] to catch up with each other every once in a while, because we’re all starting in the same place,” Mrozinski said. “A lot of people did different projects or like a documentary, but we have similar struggles.”
Mrozinski similarly used Instagram for self motivation, creating an Instagram account specifically to track her progress on her project.
“I use Instagram as a progress thing, and it’s fun to have other people see what you’re doing without directly talking to them about it all the time,” Mrozinski said. “It’s just a way to look back on how we’re doing, we have weekly check-ins, but this is a way for me to personally see.”
After learning about the resources around her, in the state, in the town of Mansfield and on campus, Mrozinski can offer much expertise on becoming a regular bike commuter yourself.
“If you need to ask for help, don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Mrozinski advised. “The Adventure Center is probably the best spot for that. They have mechanic hours Monday and Wednesday 1 to 4 p.m., and Friday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. They don’t do repairs, but they’re willing to help you and give you the tools to do yours. They also have a repair station outside, which you can use for repairs. They also give recommendations for bike trips to go on.”