Environmental Almanac: Student moves with help from bike convoy

Environmental Almanac: Student moves with help from bike convoy

A few weeks back, my daughter, Jane, who begins life as a UI student this week, was contemplating her move into Allen Hall on campus. I half-jokingly suggested going by bike, since that's how she's used to getting around town.

"Could you really do that?" she wondered. "Sure," I said, not really sure at all. "Check in with somebody at Champaign County Bikes — they love that sort of thing."

So the next morning when she came upon the table set up by the group at Market at the Square in Urbana, she asked. As it turns out, they really did love the idea.

On the chance you're not familiar with Champaign County Bikes (CCB), it's a group that was founded in 2006 by people who wanted to improve the bicycle friendliness of Champaign County, ultimately to make it "the most bicycle-friendly county in the Midwest."

They go about this by calling attention to the rights of cyclists as roadway users, promoting education about cycling and supporting legislation and infrastructure improvements that benefit cycling.

They also just finished a thoroughly updated map and guide to cycling in Champaign-Urbana and Savoy, which you can pick up at locations all over town, including public libraries, park district facilities or any bike shop. (A complete list of locations with maps is available at the CCB website (http://www.champaigncountybikes.org).

On several past occasions, members of CCB have combined their pedaling power — and bicycle cargo trailers — to move people from one house or apartment to another. But moving Jane from our home in Champaign the 3 miles to Allen Hall would be their first time helping a student move into a university residence hall.

Rick Langlois, co-founder and current vice president, put out the word to a small subset of the organization's list, because he was certain we would easily assemble more moving capacity than a single first-year student would need, and he was right.

Helping out on the morning of the move, we had six volunteers in addition to three family members, and we towed a total of nine cargo trailers — probably two to three times what we really needed.

That was OK, though, since part of the point of this exercise was to demonstrate how much utility you can add to a bike by setting it up with a cargo trailer. For my daughter's move, we used a whole range of them, including a homemade trailer crafted from a jogging stroller with the front wheel removed, a super-utilitarian, painted-gray steel model available for less than $100 on the Web, a few lighter, more nicely engineered models, and a super deluxe flatbed one from the Campus Bike Shop.

More importantly, though, moving our daughter to campus by bike enabled us to turn what could have been an unpleasant chore into a delightful social event. The loading was easy. The 3-mile morning ride from home to dorm was perfect. And when we arrived at our destination, a loud cheer went up as the student guides realized what we were up to.

Langlois connected the pleasure of the bike move to the pleasure of commuting by bike. "At the end of the workday," he said, "I look forward to getting on my bicycle." There was much nodding of heads.

Sarah Hoyle-Katz, a member of CCB's leadership and a UI graduate student in civil engineering who participated in the move, called attention to the independence that bicycling offers a young person. "Using bicycles for the move is a reminder to students that you don't need a car to get around town."

I didn't think to ask my daughter for a final comment for this story — there was too much else to say (and not say) as we hugged her and made our exit so she could settle in. I'm glad we'll be able to look back on her move and envision her pedaling into the future.

Environmental Almanac is a service of the University of Illinois School of Earth, Society and Environment, where Rob Kanter is communications coordinator. Environmental Almanac can be heard on WILL-AM 580 at 4:45 and 6:45 p.m. on Thursdays.

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