May 28, 2020
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The Lyft app allows users to request a ride in Miami on June 4, 2014. Regulators across the U.S. and in Europe are struggling with how to control the digital-dispatch services that have upended the transportation business. (Jose A. Iglesias/Miami Herald/MCT)

Students trend toward alternative transportation

You may not see many unicycles or Segways around campus, but more students are looking for ways to get to Fresno State other than the traditional four-wheeled automobile.

At a time when owning a car is the standard and automobiles are becoming more and more accessible, colleges around the nation are actually seeing an increase in students finding alternative means of transportation.

Fresno State is no exception.

This trend isn’t just about students being actively aware of their environment either. Fresno State parking and transportation manager Thomas Gaffery said it’s happening in part because the department is making efforts to bring students to campus in alternative ways.

“When you read about best practices in terms of transit, the best way to get people to adopt those strategies is to make them more convenient than driving your car by itself,” he said.

And that’s exactly what the Traffic Operations department has aimed to do in recent years. After finding that about 10 percent of students live within a mile of campus, Traffic Operations has made an effort to get those students to campus without taking single-passenger trips.

“That’s really a population of students that we try to target, in terms of ways to help them come to campus, so that they don’t make single vehicle trips,” Gaffery said.

One of the ways that Fresno State is trying to do this is with funding it has received to improve Barstow Avenue. The funding is aimed to make bicycle transportation much safer and easier for students to get to campus on two wheels, instead of four. The university has recently received $1.2 million in funding to make the improvements, which will include expanding bike lanes on both sides of the road.

Too Far to Walk

But what about the other 90 percent of the student population? Are they cutting back too?

Some students who live farther than a mile away, yet still within a reasonable distance, also ride their bicycles to school. The Barstow Avenue project will try to help such students by not only improving bike lanes, but also providing off-road trails that will connect the bike trails of both Clovis and Fresno.

Other driving alternatives include carpooling and taking the bus. Fresno State currently offers designated parking spots for students who carpool. However, for many, the city bus may take too long or not be in a convenient location. Of current available buses, the routes suggested to students are the Fresno 9 (Shaw), 28 (Willow to Shaw to Blackstone), 38 (Cedar) and Clovis 10 (Shaw).

“When we hear feedback from our students on why they may not take the bus, or the bus isn’t convenient, it’s often, ‘ell it doesn’t come frequently enough’ or ‘we don’t know when it’s coming,’” Gaffery said.

There is a plan in place to make the bus a more realistic option for many students. In the near future, the city will be working on a Shaw Avenue corridor which will have buses arriving every 10 minutes.

In the long-term general plan for the city, and the master plan for Fresno State, the bus stops along the perimeter of the university will be taken off the roadways and will be converted into a bus transit center on the campus.

Some Students Don’t Need the Push

But even if these efforts weren’t being made, many students say they would prefer to get to school by means other than driving their car.

For some students, convenience is the main factor in their transportation alternatives. There are several apartment complexes well within walking distance. One such complex is Campus Village on Barstow Avenue, almost directly across from Bulldog Stadium. The apartments even have a banner along the street side that reads, “Live close, drive less.”

“Just the quality of the place, and the distance on top of that, made it really easy,” said David Fernandez, a Fresno State student who lives at Campus Village. “It’s real easy to walk to, bike to, skate to… I am definitely not wasting as much gas as I did last semester.”

Even if they’re farther away from campus, some students have decided that a skateboard or bicycle could be faster than taking the time to drive in traffic and find parking.

TJ Howton, an assistant manager at Mainland Skate and Surf at Fashion Fair Mall, said that with a longboard, students may be able to get to school faster than by car from certain distances.

“I would say that’s a huge advantage, to go with the longboard instead, because you can get a considerable sized distance in a good amount of time,” Howton said. “A lot of times, between traffic and trying to get a parking spot and get to your class, it’s probably the same amount of time or even less to do the whole process.”

The Cool Thing to Do

Though the convenience is key for many, there is also a “coolness” factor for students who ride around on boards or bikes. Howton says the board sales for Fresno State students have increased over his three years at Mainland.

“We definitely get a lot of students. That’s probably the majority of our skateboard sales,” Howton said. “It’s always picking up. Everybody who buys a board tells their friend or sees their buddy riding around campus.”

The biggest seller among skateboards for students are the longboards, Howton said. The longboards are preferred for long distance while much smaller penny boards are also popular for shorter distances, such as getting from one classroom to the next.

Fresno State student Tanner McKeand, a bike enthusiast and employee at Steven’s Bicycles located at Willow and Nees avenues, said that students primarily come in seeking to purchase bicycles for transportation or to get their flat tires repaired.

“Mainly when students come in, they’re looking for, obviously, getting their flat tires repaired,” McKeand said. “They’re also coming in to look for bike locks to lock up their bikes. We’ve had a few students that were new to the area that were looking for a quick way to get to and from school. They were looking for basic entry-level bikes.”

Popularity of bicycles has made bike racks a must for local apartment complexes. Students at the Campus Village apartments must be quick to get a spot on one of the many bike racks at the building.

“They get full pretty quick,” Fernandez said. “In the middle of the housing they have two or three per set of stairs. Whenever those get full they use the railings along the stairs to tie them up. A lot of people use them.”

Just this semester three bike barns were built on campus – near University Courtyard, the University Student Union and the Student Recreation Center. These large fenced-in areas provide bike racks with safety precautions so the students using them won’t become victims of theft. The bike barns are in the final steps, which will include a door that is activated by student ID cards.

Near each bike barn is also a DERO fix-it station. The red contraptions serve as a place for students to set up their bike and use the station’s tools to make repairs. The stations will also have a QR code that, when scanned, will send you to how-to videos for any necessary repair.

Other Benefits

There are several other benefits besides convenience and looking cool when leaving the car in park. Exercise, saving money on gas and being environmentally conscious are a few also mentioned by students.

“Driving in a car is so boring and monotonous that riding my bike was an experience, and you get the fresh air and the exercise,” said Nik Brubaker, a Fresno State student who often chooses to ride his bicycle to get to school. “Riding around town is kind of uplifting, like I’m getting around town with my own two feet. It’s more accomplishing when you get to school.”

Brubaker’s ride to school was a distance of three miles, which he said took about 15 to 20 minutes to complete from his home via bicycle. By car, he said, it would take 10 to 15 minutes.

With gas dipping under three dollars, it may take more effort for students to keep the keys out of the ignition, but other motivating factors keep students off the road.

“The biggest motivation at the time was exercise,” Brubaker said. “Helping the climate at a global scale was just the cherry on top.”

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