Cycling to and from work began as a cost-saving effort for Enrique Banuelos, but the long-term impact on his physical and mental health has been priceless.
“Within just a few weeks (of biking to work) it became clear that the biggest advantage was the physical exercise and the mental reset that it provides,” said Banuelos, architectural technologist in facilities management who started working at Western a year and a half ago.
Banuelos is among a growing number of Western employees and students who have embraced the cycling life, riding to and from campus on two wheels, enabled by Western’s year-round bike-friendly facilities.
Banuelos reflected on being able to “get lost” along his seven-kilometre commute on his bike, letting his mind wander and recharge. Occasionally, he hops out of the saddle to explore when something catches his attention.
Keeping a positive mindset, Banuelos noted that the harshness of winter cycling puts the remainder of the year in perspective. He now finds rain showers in April, which he used to dread, much more appealing.
Towards a cycling-friendly campus
Western has become an inviting destination for cyclists. Along with bike racks, public showers and well-maintained routes in the winter, the university recently made several investments to enhance its active transportation infrastructure.
“We are working with several stakeholders on campus to prioritize active transportation,” said Elizabeth Krische, associate vice-president of facilities management. “Out of those conversations, we have identified opportunities to further develop a cycling-friendly campus.”
Recently, the area around University College, known as Kent Walk, was renovated to enhance active transportation through the core of campus. The project represents the first of many similar enhancements being completed as part of the open space strategy.
Plans are underway to create a more inviting and pedestrian-friendly campus starting this summer with renovations to the landscape around the Music Building and at the base of University College hill over the next few years. The work will feature new outdoor gathering spaces and active transportation routes.
For Chelsea Dorrell, a master’s student in environment and sustainability, riding her bike to campus in the winter is a great way to stay active during the months in which she is normally sedentary.
“I cycle because it’s a fun way to get activity and there’s lots of changes of scenery, so it doesn’t feel like you’re exercising,” said Dorrell.
Maintaining a smaller carbon footprint is also top-of-mind for Dorrell, expressing her concerns about gas-powered vehicle’s contribution to climate change. Along with staggering gas prices, she figures it is as good a time as any to switch to an affordable alternative.
“[Electric vehicles] are great, but not within reach for average consumers,” said Dorrell. “Biking is a great middle-ground to take a break from gas-powered vehicles and minimize our individual carbon footprints.”
By ditching the car, she doesn’t add much time to her commute either, as the nearest student parking lot tacks on a ten-minute walk to most of her classes.
“The bike rack is conveniently located as it is directly outside of the North Campus building and only steps away from the entrance,” said Dorrell.
Necessity to reality
When he traded in his steering wheel for a pair of handlebars 15 years ago, Steve Byers, an employee at Western’s Graphic Services, didn’t realize it would change his life.
Byers’ introduction to bicycle commuting began as a necessity. A labour disruption at the Ministry of Transportation Ontario prevented him from renewing his vehicle sticker, so he dusted off his bike.
Byers initially planned to get back to driving once the work stoppage ended and he could get his vehicle sticker. But he became enamored by the daily adventure and his increased level of fitness, so he ‘went all in’ and gave up his parking permit for good.
“Riding year-round was kind of a natural progression from fair-weather commuting,” said Byers. “Each week it got a little colder, so I added a layer, and before I knew it, it was minus 20 degrees, and I was still sweating by the time I got in to work.”
Byers said Western’s cycling-related amenities are critical, especially as the weather gets colder. He jumped at the chance to rent one of 20 bike lockers when they were first introduced on campus. Each of the individual storage units protects bikes from the harsh weather, such as rain and snow, which can be hard on the bike’s mechanical components.
The most essential service that Byers relies on for his commute is access to a shower, offering the convenience of being able to freshen up after a seven-kilometre bike route through London’s northwest.
“It helps to get out the door into a snowstorm when I know there is a hot shower waiting for me when the ride is over,” said Byers.
Bike racks and showers are available throughout the campus. The Office of Sustainability created a cycling-specific map, which charts the location of covered and uncovered racks, as well as public shower locations.
“Having cycling routes that match the growing demand is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Krische “By encouraging more bikes on campus, we also need to look at more convenient lockups.”
Parking and visitor services recently built a bike shelter in the Alumni Thompson parking lot. The shelter houses 60 bikes and provides a secure, weather-protected enclosure. The shelter sold out within months of opening, prompting an evaluation of future shelter sites elsewhere on campus.
Krische said feedback from the cycling community about the recent enhancements has been positive and the administration will continue to prioritize pedestrian safety and active transportation.