Mansfield is set on course to become the third designated ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ in Connecticut with the additions of public bike workshops, Sunday morning rides and a complete streets policy. Likewise, the University of Connecticut remains in the planning stages of creating a more welcoming environment for bicycle transportation.
“That’s a 20,000 student university and there is no consideration for bicyclists at all on that campus,” Ron Manizza, a member of the Mansfield Bicycle Advocates, said. “That campus needs to change its attitude toward bicyclists…If you go to any other university of this size you would be embarrassed to see what they do.”
Over the past two years UConn has seen a substantial influx in bicycles on campus according to Dave Lotreck, a buildings and grounds specialist in the facilities management department. However, the university is not yet set up to accommodate this increase. Lotreck’s department estimates that 20 percent of the student body, approximately 4,500 students, are now using bikes and there is only room for a little over 1,000 bicycles with the current facilities.
“We have been encouraging biking but we didn’t think we would have such success,” Lotreck said.
The encouragement of biking as a means of transportation throughout Mansfield and Connecticut is one of the main goals of the Mansfield Bicycle Advocates and they would hope to be prepared for as well as see the success that UConn has.
“The use of bike transportation is in its infancy in this country, and that is not true in other countries,” another member of the Mansfield Bicycle Advocates, Nord Wyakoeff, said. “We are learning how to use bicycles for transportation here, and it’s struggling. There are many things we do wrong, but we are making progress.”
In Connecticut, that progress is evident in the efforts of groups like the Mansfield Bicycle Advocates who have worked on increasing bike sharrows (symbols that indicate that the road is made to be shared by automobile and bicycle traffic) on town roads, as well as bike lanes and paths around the town to make the practice safer for all.
The group has expressed interest in working with UConn on making the entire community more bike friendly, but as chairman of the group Lon Hultgreen said, “UConn is this huge amorphous blob and we can’t use all of our resources trying to work on it, so we need to make sure we concentrate on the town.”
UConn, according to facilities professional Tanya Hulsick, is beginning to make steps toward bicycle change of their own accord.
“We will be looking to providing improvements to pedestrians and making the campus more bike friendly,” Husick said. “The campus master plan has a certain framework in there for bike traffic such as where we can put in bike lanes and bike racks.”
The plan is to make alternatives to driving a real possibility on campus, Husick said – a shared dream of many members of Mansfield Bicycle Advocates.
“We have a real intent and desire to [make the campus bike friendly],” Husick said, “but we are just at the beginning.”
The current goal for Mansfield, according to Hultgren, is for The League of American Bicyclists to come in and certify the town as bicycle friendly. The start of these “bike friendly community” efforts will begin this month with three workshops on maintenance, riding techniques and safety and bicycle equipment.
“What is unique about our situation is that we are a rural environment,” Mansfield bicycle advocate Dave Palmer said. “We are going to be making some stuff up. We don’t know exactly how this can work, and that is part of the excitement.”
The advocates aren’t the only ones excited about the improvements in Mansfield and the possibility for change on the UConn campus. Many students – including those on the cycling team – are behind the changes and pushing for reform.
“I am all for working toward the designation in Mansfield, that’s awes.0ome,” 4th-semester physics major and member of the cycling team, Lily Skou, said. “Everyone if possible should ride bikes instead of drive a car.”
Although encouraged by the changes for Mansfield, Skou is in agreement with the advocates that the university needs to take a more active role.
“Motorists on campus need to be more educated about how to share the road with cyclists,” Skou said. “These are student drivers, I don’t trust them. They need to know the rules and respect bicyclists and bike lanes when they come to campus.”