Room for improvement in Storrs bicycle infrastructure

illustration by Hiram Chimid

On its main campus in Storrs, it’s clear that the University of Connecticut could be a much friendlier place for bicycles: a cleaner, safer, faster and more affordable alternative to cars. 

Before customarily tearing into the UConn Administration, let’s acknowledge some of the ways cycling is encouraged in Storrs. There are a number of bicycle racks around campus in front of various academic buildings, dorms and even on buses. The Rec Center operates a relatively affordable cycle rental program. Riders can also pursue cycle repairs with the Recreation Center, or with Storrs Center Cycle, in Downtown Storrs.  

Further, the cycling community at UConn is vibrant. As noted on the UConn Transportation Services website’s bicycling page, the Mansfield Bike Commuter Club offers membership-based indoor bike storage options, key card access after hours, showers and lockers and the commuter advocacy group Bike Mansfield partners with the Parks and Recreation department to teach classes and workshops improving cycling literacy and skills. At the policy level, the UConn Bicycle Working Group, a subcommittee under the Transportation Advisory Committee, meets to discuss and plan bicycle initiatives on campus.  

Bicycles are also allowed to traverse many different roads in Storrs. But here, some infrastructural deficiencies are revealed.  

The UConn Office of Sustainability features a Storrs bike map showing the spaces bikes may share with other traffic on campus. The majority of automobile roads on campus are “shared roads” with bicycles, in which there is no separate lane for cyclists and they are expected to obey Connecticut’s usual laws, almost always riding in the right portion of the right lane. Legally, they have access to generous space while being passed by cars from behind. Cyclists also share multi-modal “wide pedestrian paths” including Fairfield way, and a few other roads in the center of campus with many pedestrians and the occasional service or special use vehicle.  

Regarding designated bicycle lanes, South Eagleville Road features a fairly wide yet unprotected lane on each side, spanning from the edge of Downtown Storrs until the intersection with Maple Road. There is another unprotected lane on each side of North Eagleville Road before the Visitors Center, continuing to the right along Discovery Drive until the Mansfield Shopping Center. Further, a small portion of North Eagleville Road from the Visitors Center to Northwood Apartments, as well as Hunting Lodge Road, Separatist Road, Birch Road and small strip on Route 44 include wide sidewalks which the Mansfield Bike Map designates as “multi-modal bike paths.”  

Above is the extent that cyclists are accommodated in Storrs. On most roads, cyclists must drive within feet of cars, with curbs, forest, walls or another unfriendly entity to their right. On the few multi-modal, automobile-exclusive paths on campus, cyclists are made to compete with pedestrians for space. There is not one protected, separate lane on campus reserved specifically for bicycles.  

This environment is one in which cyclists are subjected to unnecessary dangers of collision with cars, pedestrians and the natural environment. This leads far fewer people, particularly unskilled cyclists, to choose bicycles as their method of commuting around campus – a great issue in a suburban state such as Connecticut where many people lack exposure to cycling. Furthermore, those who do choose to cycle end up moving far slower than if they had unique spaces, also slowing the pedestrians and vehicles they interact with. These inefficiencies exist even assuming there are zero collisions between cyclists and other travelers.  

We should also note that the roads within the Mansfield Bike Map only cover one portion of Mansfield. Off-campus, Bike Mansfield identifies a very small number of “town designated bike routes” in the surrounding area, but this does not indicate any quality of bicycle infrastructure. In reality, the entirety of Storrs Road, North and South Eagleville Road, Stafford Road and many other roads in Mansfield service at least hundreds of commuters who decide between driving and cycling on the basis of safety and accessibility. If UConn wishes to become more bike friendly, they’ll need stronger partnerships with the town of Mansfield on this issue. 

Infrastructure placing cyclists in the same spaces as pedestrians and cars creates the feeling that cyclists are inherently competitive with other forms of traffic, and are a presence for non-cyclists to try to limit. But in reality, cycling is extremely important to the health of our transit system, and bicycle-friendly infrastructure in a given area makes living and commuting to work and class a much more pleasurable experience.  

Every person who owns, rents or ideally just borrows – if such a program could be implemented – a bicycle and uses this to commute is one less car. Cars are ten times the size, money and danger of bicycles, and each car on campus is another two tons of weight and dozens of square meters our infrastructure needs to accommodate. This means more repairs to vehicle infrastructure, longer intersection wait times, more dangerous accidents and far more congestion. Reducing the size of the average vehicle-per-commuter on campus would offer innumerable benefits for the community, and bicycle-friendly infrastructure is a fantastic way to accomplish this. 

Cars are direct causes of a large portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to the climate crisis, and much of the world’s yearly preventable death toll through auto accidents. A built environment dominated by cars is one in which access to transportation is determined by one’s ability to afford owning, maintaining and fueling a car, often on a daily basis, making cycle-friendliness a significant question of accessibility. Bicycling infrastructure is a measure of transportation justice and environmental justice in a community. 

In general, the topic of lacking bicycle infrastructure speaks to larger issues UConn has regarding the dominance of cars. If a potential success of transportation infrastructure at a college campus is the limitation of car traffic to the outside of the campus and the priority of alternative transit inside campus, Storrs fails in this category. Four of the most heavily trafficked roads at UConn – Hillside Road, North Eagleville Road, Storrs Road and Mansfield Road – form a rectangular matrix crucial to all campus transportation. The issue is that the most significant roads on the entire campus are these roads, and they give great precedence to auto-traffic over other traffic, especially cyclists. A few central roads, such as these, are often necessary for auto-commuters to reach designated parking lots.  

Existing land uses and road networks already lay a framework for a heavily bicycle and pedestrian campus where there is far less automobile infrastructure, where public transportation is uninhibited and rapid, where cyclists and pedestrians have plenty of space for their own unique roads, where traffic in general is much faster, where the risk of accidents is dramatically lower for all commuters, and where UConn is more accessible and more environmentally friendly. 

But until we realize this ambitious vision, pedestrians must familiarize themselves with the rules and procedures of cycling in Mansfield, for their safety and that of others. Policymakers at UConn need to partner closely with the Town of Mansfield to accommodate many more potential commuter cyclists, with the happy byproduct of improving cycling infrastructure in Mansfield generally. Policymakers should prioritize designated indoor bicycle storage on campus, and the integration of education about bicycles and campus transportation in general to periods such as student orientation and Week of Welcome.  

Perhaps most concretely, much more serious consideration should be given to unique, specific and protected bicycle lanes on all major roads on campus. This will draw many more people towards a healthy, affordable, safe and efficient mode of transit that is better for us and better for our environment.  

This Editorial Was produced with the advice and input of BOLD scholar Phoebe Mrozinski, whose projects have focused on increasing the awareness and accessibility of bicycling among the UConn community and others in Connecticut. More information can be found here in a life feature covering her endeavors.

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