Fair pushes pedaling as campus transportation option


Melanie Carle, 20, a University of Florida junior, rides a Segway for the first time during an alternative transportation fair at UF's Plaza of the Americas on Thursday. The Segway was made available by UF's Transportation and Parking Services department.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 5:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 5:40 p.m.

The biggest draw at Thursday's Alternative Transportation Fair on the Plaza of the Americas looked to be the organization giving away bicycle helmets, reflective lanyards and spoke sliders.

University of Florida students, faculty and staff mobbed the tables set up by the Florida Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Resource Center to get sized and fitted for the helmets, which came courtesy of a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

"I commute by bike," said Angie Stewart, a librarian who rides three miles a day to campus on her bicycle. She had just heard about the helmet giveaway and decided to get fitted for safety reasons. "When you fall you don't want to hit your head."

The annual transportation fair, organized by the UF Office of Sustainability, highlights different ways to get around without jumping into a car and burning fossil fuels. Representatives from RTS, UF's Transportation and Parking Services, Gotcha Ride and Zipcars had tables set up in the plaza along with the PedBike SRC.

"Our goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025," said Laurel Nesbit, program assistant in the Office of Sustainability. "Transportation is 11 percent of that goal."

The fair also kicks off the One Less Car Day campaign, an annual event now in its sixth year which asks students and faculty to pledge to leave their cars at home for one day and ride a bike, walk or take the bus, "anything that is not riding alone in an enclosed vehicle," said Laurel Nesbit, program assistant in the Office of Sustainability.

That day this year is Oct. 23. Around 800-1,000 participate in the event each year, she said.

The Office of Sustainability also works with the city of Gainesville to increase routes to and from UF, and to create and improve bike routes on- and off-campus.

Richard Florida, writing in The Atlantic, reported that Gainesville is the sixth top city in the U.S. for bike commuters. Bicycling Magazine ranked Gainesville as the 37th among the most bike friendly cities in the U.S.

Camille Mekwinski, a third-year environmental engineering major and intern with the Office of Sustainability, works in the Sustainability Hut, a kind of mobile kiosk that moves around campus with interactive games to help educate students about ways to cut down on waste and consumption to help the environment.

"It's so easy for students to make different choices — to ride their bike or take bus, and bond with the community," she said.

Riding bikes and taking the bus also are ways to help ease the perennial parking problem on campus, said Hillary Marshall, a fourth year environmental sciences student. She said she gets mad at student government candidates who promise more parking spaces as a solution.

With so many bikes on campus and on Gainesville's roads, safety is paramount, and it's the reason why PedBike SRC is doing such brisk business handing out helmets.

"We usually do around 300-plus, but it's the end of the grant cycle, when a lot of our funds are maxed out," said Wanda Tison, grants manager for PedBike SRC. Its goal is to give out 51,000 helmets around the state, she said.

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