Over spring break my daughters and I visited three local campuses for college tours: the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. While tour guides showed us classrooms, dorm rooms, libraries and other campus amenities, I was the only person in each group that was whipping out my phone in between these places, snapping photos of transportation infrastructure. (My daughters pretended like they didn’t know me during those particular moments.)

So here are some visitor observations of the campus transit options at these three northern Colorado universities.

University of Northern Colorado

The red line shows the bike path through the UNC campus.

The red line shows the bike path through the UNC campus.

We toured UNC on a sunny, but somewhat chilly Monday. The first thing I noticed as we approached the admissions building was the two way cycle track that was separated from the sidewalk with a green belt (grass and trees). Sweet! This bike trail makes it easy to get from one end of campus to the other. There’s even a diagonal intersection at 20th Street and 10th Avenue that means pedestrians and cyclists don’t have to do a double crossing to get to the rest of campus.

Diagonal crossing at UNC.

Diagonal crossing at UNC.

The University of Northern Colorado is a bronze level Bicycle Friendly University. In addition to the separated bikeway, the campus also has a free campus bike rental program called Blue Cruiser Bikes, complete with a growling bear (the school’s mascot) on the front stem. And if you’d rather use your own bike, registration is required. But for the cost of the $15 registration fee, you get a U-lock to protect your bicycle. There are also five bike repair stand locations along the bike trail.

Despite what seems like a pretty solid bicycle program on campus, I was a little surprised at how empty the bike racks were. Granted, the school was on spring break, but I would think most students would leave their bikes behind when they went home. So they should have all been piled up near the dorms. Unless there were hidden racks somewhere where we didn’t travel, it seems like UNC needs to work on encouraging students to give bicycling a try.

Daughter waits patiently while mom takes picture of boring infrastructure.

Daughter waits patiently while mom takes picture of boring infrastructure.

If you’re not up for biking, there are other transportation options on campus. In addition to walking, there’s also the Boomerang Bus, which appears to only have three stops. One is on the far north end of campus and the other two are at the southern end. The buses run every 10 minutes and the small number of stops mean that you can get from one end of campus to the other in jiffy.

Compact bike parking on campus.

Compact bike parking on campus.

UNC Bears also get free transportation on the Greeley-Evans Transit (GET) buses as long as they have their student ID with them.

I’d never been to UNC before this trip. I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the campus (even the mid-century buildings had a certain appeal), the personableness of the school (In other words, it didn’t feel pretentious at all.), and how comfortable it was to get around.

Colorado State University

This map is from the 2014 CSU Bike Plan.

This map is from the 2014 CSU Bike Plan.

Our next tour was through the CSU campus on a windy Wednesday morning. One thing that distinguishes CSU from both UNC and CU Boulder is its large dismount zone right in the center of campus. This dismount zone is only in effect during the daytime on week days. So cyclists can buzz across the area on weekends and in the evenings or very early mornings.

Cycle track in front of the Rec Center.

Cycle track in front of the Rec Center.

Colorado State University is a platinum level Bicycle Friendly University. There are only four other universities that have reached platinum status — Stanford, UC Davis, University of Minneapolis, and Portland State.

Like UNC, CSU has cycle-tracks that help students get around campus without having to contend with pedestrian traffic. Unlike UNC, there is no University run free bicycle rental. Instead, CSU partners with the City to provide bike rentals through the Bike Library (now called Fort Collins Bike Share). CSU also has fix-it stations in a few places around campus.

I've only seen this mini bus on campus once.

I’ve only seen this mini bus on campus once.

Colorado State boasts that there are 15,000 bicycle parking spaces on campus. And when school’s in session, most of the bike racks are crammed full. So the university is definitely doing something very right to get that kind of turnout.

Bicycle registration costs $10 and in return you get a sticker that you can put on your bike. And as long as that sticker is still legible, you don’t have to renew your registration.

The University has Campus Service Officers, students that help educate others on campus regarding the traffic rules. They’re a part of the Bicycle Enforcement Education Program (or BEEP) and they have the authority to write tickets (though they don’t have any quotas that they have to fill).

There’s also a Campus Bike Advisory Committee which helps to oversee improvements to the on-campus bicycle infrastructure as well as to provide education and host events.

AroundtheHornmap

Around the Horn covers quite a distance.

There’s also an on campus bus system called Around the Horn, which runs every ten minutes from 7 am-6:40 pm during the school year and travels from the Vet School at its southern point to Moby arena on its northern end. This, as well as passage on Transfort, Fort Collins’ bus system, is all free with student (or staff) ID.

I walk through the CSU campus all the time, so I can’t say that there was anything during our tour that surprised me. But I do like how comfortable it feels to bike and walk around the campus. Even between classes when students are heading every which way, it’s still pretty easy to get from one end of campus to the other by bicycle without getting caught up in masses of people.

CU Boulder

Bike routes through CU Boulder as shown in the Boulder city bike map.

Bike routes through CU Boulder as shown in the Boulder city bike map.

We visited Boulder on Friday. … It snowed on Friday. We traveled from Fort Collins to Boulder and not a single street that we traveled on had been plowed. I would have expected at least one lane somewhere, in some city, at some point, to be plowed. But as far as I could tell… nada. So I started out our Boulder tour feeling a bit on the grumpy side. That said, I’ve done this tour twice now. My son and I toured last summer. And this time around really wasn’t as good as the first time. But it had nothing to do with on campus transportation issues. So I won’t say any more about that except to point out that it’s possible my grumpy attitude has colored my view of CU Boulder’s transportation system, since I was on the lookout for transportation related items this time around. You might just want to keep that in mind as you read on.

The CU campus as seen from an upper story of the visual arts building.

The CU campus as seen from an upper story of the visual arts building.

Although the city of Boulder is a platinum level bicycle friendly community, I couldn’t find CU Boulder listed anywhere on the list of Bicycle Friendly Universities. The University of Colorado in Colorado Springs was there. But not the University of Colorado in Boulder. I have to admit that that floored me.

During both the UNC and the CSU tours, bicycles were at least mentioned. UNC talked about bicycle amenities the most, followed by CSU, which pointed out its platinum status. But I don’t remember anything at all during the presentation (which, I’ll admit we arrived late to due to the snowfall) and there was nothing said on the tour either. There was talk about transportation (the Buff bus, the Stampede, and the transit system for the city of Boulder), but no mention of bikes. At all. Even a little bit. … so needless to say, that kind of surprised me as well.

Covered bike parking at CU Boulder.

Covered bike parking at CU Boulder.

A lot of people clearly ride their bikes around CU. There were bikes everywhere. Granted, most were not in use thanks to the weather. But they were there. It appears that in Buff culture, bikes are used but not mentioned.

Despite this weird silence on bikes, bicycle programs on campus seem to be fairly robust. Bicycle registration is required but there is no registration fee. There are free two day bike rentals available through the Buff Bikes program. (There also appears to be semester long rentals available.) Students are eligible for discounted annual or semester passes for the city’s B-cycle bike rental program. There are bike service stations throughout campus that offer basic mechanic assistance. And ebikes are allowed on certain paths (which, given how hilly parts of Boulder are, can be a huge help at times).

I look through that list of bicycle amenities and I’m again flummoxed that CU is not on the Bicycle Friendly University list. What am I missing?!!

Share the way sign over a bike rack.

Share the way sign over a bike rack.

Every campus grows over time and the way buildings are laid out is sometimes due to specific circumstances of the time in which they were built. So every campus bike plan has to take into account the layout and topography that are already there. As far as I could tell, there are no dismount zones at CU. Instead, there seems to be a “share the way” ethic (as shown in the sign on the bike rack shown above) where pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders and sometimes even ebikes are all sharing the exact same travel routes. Since we were there on a tour, we were walking in the midst of a pedestrian herd. Traveling with the group was probably similar, though less chaotic, than traversing campus between class periods. At yet there were some points along our trip where it felt somewhat closed in (due to how close the buildings were and how skinny the travel path was) to have that many different types of transport all sharing the same space. I can only imagine how crazy it would have been if the sun had been out and bicyclists and skateboarders had been on the walkways in greater numbers. (We did see a few cyclists. No skateboarders, though.) It made me wonder how often pedestrians were mowed down on their way to class.

We’ll be doing more college visits this summer including a trip down to CU Denver and another up to the University of Wyoming. It’ll be interesting to compare multi-modal transportation in those locations. Although most of us (meaning me and all of you reading this) are done with college, it’s still worth considering what kinds of experiences students are having as they pedal through our universities. For many, this is the first they’ve used a bicycle or a transit system as their primary means of getting around. In other words, universities are training grounds for the traveler of the future. It’s important that our local university have strong bike and transit programs that are efficient and easy to use. This will not only help students today, but it could help us build sustainable cities tomorrow.

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