How to Start Commuting by Bike

A commuter on their daily route. Image by Luca Rogoff.

Written by Elisa Sturkie

It’s been over two months since most of us have been able to safely head into work, and even longer since we could ride the T without thinking of the threat posed by COVID-19. For some, remote work is coming to an end: with Massachusetts entering into phase one of reopening on May 25th, Tufts researchers will be getting back into their labs, and some offices can resume work at a reduced capacity. Yet, with the Baker-Polito administration admitting that public transportation “unavoidably creates some risk” for COVID-19 transmission, many are still wary of taking the T.   

This is where the Office of Sustainability can help! With spring in full swing, there is no better time to maintain social distancing and start your bike commute. Somerville is ranked fifth nationally in number of biking commuters per capita, and is especially friendly to new bikers–something I know firsthand. Also, Massachusetts is the fifth most bike-friendly state in America, with Boston earning a “Silver” as a Bike Friendly Community. I started biking to work last summer for the first time, and it helped me to be healthier, more sustainable, and to explore new trails and bike paths in my community. I really couldn’t recommend it more. So, how do you get started planning your bike commute?  

1. Get a bike!  

In need of a bike? There are plenty of ways to purchase a bike sustainably in the Boston area–and many of them will also save you a little money! I got my bike used from Facebook Marketplace for a little over $50 in a move-out sale. Craigslist also has used bikes you can buy from neighbors, and until retail reopens, Cambridge Used Bicycles is conducting online bike sales with free delivery options within a five-mile radius of their store.  

Buying something used is of course more sustainable, but if you’d like a new bike, go to your local bike shop or buy from a smaller vendor online rather than from a big box store if you can. Here are the most environmentally conscious bike brands. Also, if your commute is actually pretty far and you have some money to spend, an electric bike will help you get to work fast, without all the sweat. If you’re trying to decide on a road bike, hybrid, or upright, check out this helpful webpage

Be sure to buy a helmet and bike lock! U locks are the most recommended form of lock, as they are much harder to cut through than cable locks, which prevents bike theft. 

Have a bike you need to fix up? Bike Boom in Davis Square is open for tune-ups and bike assembly, and now offers a contactless bike pickup and delivery service. Loads of other Boston-area bike shops are open now too. 

Not sure you want to commit to buying a bike? Join Blue Bikes and take out a shared bike whenever you like, without any of the upkeep! Speaking of upkeep… 

2. Take care of your bike!  

So now you’ve bought a bike. How do you keep it in good shape? It’s as simple as ABC: Air, Brakes, and Chain. Make sure you keep the right amount of air in your bike’s tires. Check the sidewall of your bike’s tires to be sure you know the correct amount of air pressure, and keep a bike pump and patch kit handy in case of a flat. Next, check your front and rear brakes to be sure they engage properly. Finally, keep your bike’s chain lubricated and clean to extend the life of your bike!  REI has some great how-to videos on the bike basics if you’d like a step by step.  

3. Plan and practice your route.  

When biking to work, never underestimate the importance of a practice run. I did and ended up sweaty and astonishingly early to work for most of my first week as a bike commuter. Be sure you know your route and what you need to commute comfortably and safely– even if that means packing a change of clothes. You’ll thank yourself later. Want some help planning your route? Trail map is here to help! You can also use Google Maps (click on the bike image), or if you work on one of Tufts’ Boston campuses, you can sign up for a Ride Amigos account here, and use their platform to plan your trip. 

4. Stay safe on the road!  

Lastly and most importantly, read up on cycling road signs and the rules of road biking. Hand signals are essential! When turning left, stick your left arm out straight; for a right turn, signal with your left arm, but bend your elbow ninety degrees (as if you are about to give someone a high five). It’s also important to be visible to cars, especially if biking at night (bike lights and reflective gear are a must!). Bikes are more vulnerable than cars and learning bike safety is the most important part of biking. Be a cautious rider, always being aware of your surroundings and stopping at red lights. Try to ride on roads with bike lanes and bike trails, or roads with bike sharrows, if there are no bike lanes near you, always ride closer to the right side of the road. Roads are safer for you than sidewalks, trust me! 

Have more questions? The Office of Sustainability has a great webpage about biking at Tufts, and a quick bike guide which might help, and we’re happy to take questions! Now that you have all the basics, hopefully you’ll be able to make the jump to a bike commute with confidence. Soon you’ll be exploring new bike paths, maintaining social distance in the fresh air, and getting to work sustainably! 

Move-Out in the Age of Coronavirus

A rainy day at the Lower Campus Move Out Station at Haskell Hall by Latin Way.

A Sudden Twist: Gearing up for a March Move Out

Each year, the Office of Sustainability (OOS) runs a robust donation collection program throughout the month of May, when students are moving out, finals are done, the air is warm, and folks are gearing up for their summer internships.

Student Move Out this year was anything but normal amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It came as a surprise to everyone when the University announced on the evening of March 10th that all students would have to move entirely out of their on-campus residence halls by 3:00 pm on March 16th.

The OOS’s annual donation program serves to divert good items from the landfill and to instead provide them to students and community members who will use them. Even in light of early Move-Out, we still wanted to maintain our sustainability values and help the Tufts community and its neighbors.

Due to the pandemic, the first step was to consult with a health expert at Tufts about whether it would be safe to collect donations at all and if so, what. There were select items that we could not collect this year because we could not sanitize them or because they are not high demand and there was limited time/capacity.  

Still, our entire office—from staff to recycling interns to communications interns—rallied together and made some magic happen. In the first day after the Move-Out announcement was made, we quickly created a donation station schedule, recruited and hired workers to help, rented vehicles, planned donation rules and two donation collection stations, ordered supplies, and secured a space for donation storage. Facilities quickly requested open top dumpsters to be placed around campus to accommodate the increased trash flow.

Early Move Out In-Action: New and Improved Collaborations

We even tried something new: due to the short notice, we were not able to get the trailers that we normally use to collect textiles. Instead, we collaborated with the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) to provide blue bags to students in residence hall lobbies, which they could use to store their clothing donations and leave them in their rooms, along with mini fridges labeled as donations. We also provided clear and black liners that students could use to take their recycling and trash out to the dumpsters and leave the space clean for the custodians.

Another pleasant surprise was a new collaboration with the Tufts Food Rescue Collaborative (TFRC). The TFRC was working with multicultural offices and Tufts Mutual Aid to create a food pantry available to the Tufts community during this difficult time (and when many store shelves were empty!). We collected almost 1,000 lbs of non-perishable food donations for the pantry.

Over the course of the week, we hired 30 student workers to help during the day and evening. Most were students who lived off-campus, had some free time due to extended spring break, and had discontinued jobs or internships. The donations program would not have been possible without the workers: they were patient, independent, and good-spirited (even in the cold!).

With their help, we were able to not only run the stations for long hours, but also to transport all donations to our storage space and sort them into categories there. Some of them even came with us to retrieve donations from the residence halls on the Health Sciences and SMFA campuses in Boston. We were lucky that we already had enough gloves and other PPE in storage before COVID-19, and that our workers were both social distancing warriors and heavy-lifting champions.

A Job Well Done (and a nap for all!)

A truck on a city street

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Morning time at the Upper Campus Donation Station in the Carmichael Parking Lot.

In the end, we diverted 6.42 tons (12,833 lbs) of donations from the landfills. These donations will be provided to FIRST Resource Center students, the general Tufts student body, and/or to local non-profits/charities.

The quick planning it took to make this happen was not possible without collaboration from our office’s staff and interns, Facilities, TUPD, Auxillary Services, The Office of Residential Life and Learning, the FIRST Resource Center, the Tufts Food Rescue Collaborative, and campus’s hardworking custodial staff.

Early Move Out by the Numbers

We collected 6.42 tons (12,833 lbs), including:

  • 303 lbs of sanitation/health items
  • 3,291 lbs of food and kitchen items/appliances
  • 1,786 lbs of home supplies such as vacuums, mirrors, lamps, and storage bins
  • 5,683 lbs of clothes
  • 881 lbs of furniture
  • 50 lbs of miscellaneous items

Student workers hired: 30

Total student hours worked: 267.5

Total last-minute rentals: 1 U-Haul box-truck, 1 U-Haul van, 2 U-pods

Total last-minute purchases: 1 Facebook ad, 6 rolls of packing tape, and granola bars!

Total acquisitions: We attained 6 sandbags—very handy to put in the donation collection bins on windy/rainy days. (Thanks Facilities!)

Total handy reuse strategies: We can’t forget about the 2 gaylords we had in storage from last year, or the 10 slim jims that we used as donation collection bins at the donation stations (we had attempted to order cardboard boxes for 1-day delivery, but they never arrived). We were also able to reuse donation items to organize our supplies and donations.

Total signs: We used or created 15 types of signs: 9 different signs for each of the donation collection streams, 1 for U-Pods (students could leave donations in there overnight), 1 yard sign for the upper campus donation station, 1 for the lower, 1 yard sign directing folks to dumpsters, 1 banner for recycling dumpsters, and 1 banner for trash dumpsters.

Total social media posts: 1 blog post, 2 Instagram/Twitter/FB posts, an Instagram story takeover, and a Move Out email to students from ORLL.

And finally: 1 wild 70-hour work week from our Recycling Fellow!

A group of people standing in a room

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Specialty Recycling Intern turned Move Out worker collects donations from a student.

Update: May Move Out Day!

Despite Early Move-Out, some juniors and seniors stayed in their off campus apartments to finish off the academic year. As the end of May–and a lease-period–drew near, two of our interns, Serena and Elyssa, became aware of how many items they would have to put into trash dumpsters as they and their housemates moved out, especially with public donation venues closed due to the virus. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t the only upperclassmen struggling to figure out how to part with their belongings.

At their initiative, we were able to organize a one-time May donation collection station for remaining students. The event was organized in just a day and announced online. A few dozen students came, masks and all, to donate their textbooks, fans, toaster ovens, excess cleaning supplies, entire dish-ware sets, storage units, and mini-fridges! In just a 4-hour window, we collected an additional 894 lbs, taking our total to 13,727 lbs and 6.86 tons!

A More Sustainable Barnum Hall

The Jumbo statue in front of Barnum Hall. (Jake Belcher/Tufts University)

Barnum Hall has recently undergone major renovations, making the building one of the most up-to-date on the Tufts’ Campus. Not to mention, the holy trinity of environmentally-focused departments are located within Barnum’s newly upgraded corridors: The Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), the Office of Sustainability (OOS) and the Environmental Studies department. The improved Barnum also houses Tisch College, which focuses on civic and political engagements, and has many programs related to the social aspects and impacts of sustainability. 

Before the renovation, Barnum was a less than environmentally preferable academic building. In April 1975, the tragic Barnum fire took place, burning the former natural history museum to a crisp. Tufts hurriedly rebuilt it in 1976 with little funds. These quick fixes led to problems in the future. The 2018-19 Barnum revamping resolved many of the faulty features. 

According to Trina Jerich, the project manager of the Barnum renovations, her team “Took everything that was amazing about [Barnum’s] history and melded it with modern feels.”  

Here are some of the sustainability features and overall improvements now found in Barnum:  

  • An Energy Recovery Unit (ERU) 
    • This new state-of-the art heating and cooling system is perched atop the building. This unit takes the heat from the air that is leaving the building and transfers it to the air that is entering the building. This maintains Barnum’s heating or cooling, while bringing in fresh air to be circulated throughout the building. This ventilation system is a sustainable way to reduce energy consumption and improve indoor air quality. 
  • Double-paned Windows 
    • The 1976 windows were single-paned and drafty, which made temperature control a nightmare. The new windows are double-paned, trapping a layer of air in between the two panes of glass. This provides insulation, prevents drafts, and keeps the building at the desired temperature.  
  • Occupancy Sensors: Lighting + Heating and Cooling 
    • Barnum’s new lighting and heating and cooling systems are controlled by occupancy sensors. These sensors detect the presence of people in a room. For example, if a room is occupied, heating or cooling is activated and the lights switch on. If that same room is vacant, both systems shut off. This saves energy since neither lights nor heating or cooling are left on. Light occupancy sensors extend the lifecycle of the bulbs, subsequently reducing waste.  
  • Low-flow Faucet Aerators and Metered Faucets 
    • Low-flow faucet aerators dilute water flow with air, which reduces the amount of water coming from the faucet. Metered faucets automatically stop water flow. This saves a significant amount of water, by simply using less!  

Other sustainable features include: low-impact recycled rubber flooring, water bottle-filling stations at every water fountain, and the reuse of the exterior of the existing building, which is made entirely from locally-sourced stone from the Everett-Revere area quarries.  

The Barnum renovators programmed sustainability right into the building, making it easier for every Barnum occupant to reduce their ecological footprints. The project manager, Trina, not only wanted to leave us with a more energy efficient Barnum, but with this: “We have to learn to live in a sustainable world.” In the end, it’s not only the responsibility of project managers to reduce our footprint in the built environment, but also up to the building users to learn to responsibly use resources.  

Move Out Donations, Recycling, and Waste

The Office of Sustainability, in partnership with the FIRST Center and Tufts Food Rescue, is collecting donations of select items to divert from the landfill during Move Out and provide them to Tufts students who need them.* 

There will be two donation stations:  

  1. Downhill (Haskell Hall on Latin Way) 
  2. Uphill (Carmichael Hall Parking Lot)  

Donation stations will be located next to the UPS storage/shipping spots and will have the same hours:  

  • Thursday, March 12 from 2 P.M. – 8 P.M. 
  • Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 15 from 10 A.M. – 6 P.M. (each day) 
  • Monday, March 16 from 9 A.M. – 2 P.M. 

*If someone needs to donate at night when there is no one staffing the donation stations, there will be a U-Box at both stations to place the items in.

Here is a list of items we plan to collect as donations at these stations (please don’t donate anything if sick):  

  • Clothing (winter only) 
  • Sheets 
  • Large hard plastics, including storage containers and fans 
  • Lamps 
  • Mirrors 
  • Dining hall dishes 
  • Books/school supplies 
  • Vacuums 
  • Crutches
  • Unopened food (for Tufts Food Rescue)
  • Misc: laundry detergent, unopened bottles, cleaning supplies, good quality kitchen items, feminine hygiene products 

We will have additional collection bins at these stations for recycling the following:  

  • Plastic film, including grocery bags, air pillows, bubble wrap, and produce bags 
  • Small electronics 
  • Compost 

Students will be allowed to leave two types of donations in their residence hall rooms. Aside from these items, everything else must be removed from the residence halls:   

  • Clothing donations (including belts, shoes, rags), located inside provided blue bags 
  • Personal mini-fridges, labeled as donations 

There will be large open top trash dumpsters placed at the following locations: SoGo, Harleston, Latin Way, Miller, Carm, Hillside, and Bush.  

Black, blue, and clear trash bags will be available to students in the lobbies:  

  • Use the black bags for trash and take them out to the open top dumpsters that have been placed near the dorms.  
  • If needed, use clear bags for recycling and take them out to the adjacent recycling dumpsters (please empty recyclables into recycling dumpsters and put the empty clear bag into the trash) 
  • Use blue bags for clothing donations (excluding winter clothes and sheets), to be left in room 

*NOTE: This plan as well as the list of items we are accepting is subject to change dependent upon the labor and infrastructure that we are able to organize last-second. We will keep students updated with any changes.  

Tufts Boston Campus Community Resilience Building Workshop

By Hanna Carr

In 2016, Tufts University’s president Anthony Monaco signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment, which commited the University to act to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Aside from pledging Tufts to be carbon neutral by 2050, the Commitment includes a stipulation that Tufts lead and complete a “campus-community resilience assessment.” While it is important to reduce emissions in order to mitigate climate change and prevent its worst impacts, it is vital that institutions such as Tufts also develop a plan to adapt to the effects that are already present and are likely to be felt in the near future. These impacts include more frequent and severe hurricanes and nor’easters, higher temperatures, flooding due to sea level rise and precipitation, and an increase in the occurrence of infectious disease, among others.

As a first step in this resilience assessment, Tufts held a Medford/Somerville campus Community Resilience Building (CRB) workshop in May 2018, which helped identify the infrastructural, societal, and environmental strengths and weaknesses of the Medford/Somerville campus, as well as opportunities to strengthen its capacity for resilience. Some top priorities for actions that were identified at that workshop were human welfare (supporting students and employees during an emergency), infrastructure (utilities, stormwater, and continuity planning and upgrades), and food (food supply, distribution, and storage during an emergency). Read more about the Medford/Somerville Community Resilience Building workshop here.

On January 31st, 2020, around 50 participants convened on the Tufts Health Sciences campus to engage in a Boston Campus CRB workshop. There was a diverse group of participants, coming from across Tufts; including Facilities, Sustainability, Capital Programs, Human Resources, Tufts Technology Services, the Friedman School, the Medical School, the Dental School, the SMFA, Tufts Medical Center, HNRCA, Tufts Shared Services, and more. Representatives from Climate Ready Boston, the City of Boston Office of Emergency Management,the Commonwealth of MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the Boston Public Health Commission were also in attendance.

Peyton Jones from Climate Ready Boston addresses CRB Workshop participants on the Tufts Health Sciences campus on January 31st, 2020.

The Core Team that helped organize and lead this workshop included Tina Woolston and Hanna Carr from the Tufts Office of Sustainability, Rich Perito from the Tufts Office of Emergency Management, and Adam Whelchel from the Nature Conservancy, who is the creator of the Community Resilience Building workshop model.

The full-day workshop began with a presentation introducing the participants to the topic of climate resilience and preparing them for the rest of the day’s events. Tufts’ Executive Vice President, Mike Howard, kicked off the workshop by delivering a few words about the importance of accounting for the impacts of climate change in planning for Tufts’ long term success. Rich Perito presented on Tufts’ hazard identification process, and Peyton Jones from Climate Ready Boston spoke about Boston’s approach to climate resilience. Adam Whelchel and Hanna Carr introduced the workshop purpose, structure, and resources, including maps showing the extent of flooding and hurricane inundation on the Health Sciences and SMFA campuses.

Julie Wormser from the Mystic River Watershed Association facilitates a small group discussion.

The participants were then broken up into four small workshop groups, facilitated by experienced volunteers from The Nature Conservancy, Second Nature, and the Mystic River Watershed Association. In these groups, participants labeled maps of the Health Sciences and SMFA campuses and identified features of the campuses that may present strengths and vulnerabilities in the face of four climate-change-related hazards: hurricanes and nor’easters, flooding, extreme temperatures, and infectious disease. The participants also brainstormed actions that Tufts could take to mitigate the vulnerabilities and build on the strengths. After lunch, the participants shared out their respective groups’ top 3 action items. Post-workshop, the Tufts Offices of Sustainability and Emergency Management will work to develop a report based on the findings of the workshop and follow up with the relevant individuals to execute the top action items.

Some common themes among action items for the Boston campus included building a cogeneration plant to increase Tufts’ energy independence; strengthening communication channels among the Tufts community and between Tufts and the City of Boston; working with public transportation entities to support improved public transportation; and coordinating with local communities such as the Chinatown and Fenway neighborhoods to create a people-centered approach to hazard mitigation and resilience.

Participants were encouraged to label base maps in their small groups to indicate key features of the Health Sciences and SMFA campuses that may be vulnerabilities and strengths in a climate change-related hazard event.

Community-based actions towards adapting to the predicted impacts of climate change, such as the CRB workshop model, encourage people-centric planning that meets the specific needs of the community, and its local landscape and infrastructure. In addition, it empowers community members to advocate for and actualize projects to mitigate the severity of the impacts of climate change and improve their community’s ability to withstand a climate change-driven emergency situation. This workshop will help Tufts incorporate climate resilience into its long term capital planning.

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