At 7:30 a.m., Cal Poly student Crystal Matthew leaves her house and hops on her bicycle for the often cold, and sometimes rainy, commute to campus. She dons no special apparel for the outing, just her regular flat tennis shoes and school clothes. And Matthew never wears a helmet.
“I know I should,” Matthew said. “I have these images of the horrible things that could happen to me, but I try to push them out of my mind.”
While many Cal Poly students are still running to campus from the bus or their cars, Matthew, a graphic design junior, is in class, alert and ready to begin her academic filled day. The brisk morning temperatures wakes her and the exercise gets her blood flowing and gives her even more energy.
“I always have a much better day when I start the day with exercise,” she explained. “It’s a mood elevator.”
Matthew rides her bike to school as her preferred method of transportation. During fall quarter, she rode her bike all but two days, because of rain.
With the high cost of fuel and limited parking spaces at Cal Poly, the university has discussed limited commuting options for students for years. Alternative transportation option groups form committees, fill hallways with posters and demand student attention every quarter. Students are encouraged to car pool, take the bus and ride their bikes to get to and from campus.
The future holds no relief as enrollment at Cal Poly is expected to increase by another 400 students next year according to Associated Students Inc.
The Academic Senate published information in October 2005 with enrollment projected to expand by 2.5 percent every year until 2009.
Matthew lives approximately four miles from Cal Poly and needs about 30 minutes to ride her bike to campus. When it rains, she sometimes takes the bus, but the scheduling of her classes does not always allow her this option.
With approximately 7,000 parking spaces for 18,500 students, it would be mathematically impossible for all students to drive to school. Students who choose to drive, face multiple restrictions on campus and an increased financial burden.
For Chelsea Hayes, a kinesiology junior who commutes with Shannan Hillier, a recreation junior, the high price of campus parking permits and gasoline gave them the initiative to start a carpool for winter and spring quarter.
But sharing a car has not stopped all their problems associated with arriving to class.
“We get here at 11:30 for class at 12:10 and are sometimes late to class at 12:10,” Hillier said.
Hayes added, “We’d use other options if we lived close.” She said they live approximately five miles from campus and have never ridden the bus to school.
Commuting problems occur for students in on-campus housing as well. Freshman forestry major Maddy Duffer has received three tickets since September for various parking violations while living in the dorms.
Duffer received the first ticket for parking on Slack Steet without a residential permit before the first week of school. The second ticket charged her for using a “week visitor pass” after the expiration date near the slaughterhouse. The third time she parked next to a staff parking spot, but not in an actual parking spot. Each ticket cost her $20.
“At this point, I could have bought a quarter parking pass for what I’ve spent on tickets,” Duffer said.
Parking citations during 2005 totaled 30,332. Approximately 70 percent of citations are collected, according to Cindy Campbell, associate director of the University Police Department. This number is a reduction from the 31,301 citations issued in 2004.
Duffer keeps her car at an off-campus location and rides her bike or the bus to the car when necessary. She intends on taking the city bus more next quarter to commute to her weekend job off campus.
The bus service in the city of San Luis Obispo runs from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for buses connecting with Cal Poly to downtown. Several student commute routes stop running after 6 p.m.
In the past year, bus usage at Cal Poly has increased. According to San Luis Obispo Transit Manager Austin O’Dell, students account for 53 percent of bus riders in the city. Between 2004 and 2005, Cal Poly ridership within the city limits increased 41 percent.
The number of passengers on city buses increased 36 percent during that same period.
The most noticeable increases in bus ridership correlated with increased restrictions for campus parking, said D. Greg Doyle, a city and regional planning professor and a member of the city’s mass transit committee.
“If you do the math for the time cost and convenience, the bus wins for Cal Poly riders,” Doyle said.
Parking problems will get worse when Cal Poly completes Student Housing North in 2009, Doyle insisted. An additional 2,700 students will be commuting to and from campus every day. Stores and restaurants that were once close enough to walk to will be far enough that students will drive downtown instead of walking or biking.
The city of San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly have a contract rate determining how much money the city receives from the university to pay student fares on city buses. The current contract will expire for 2006-07.
Cal Poly paid the city a sum of $269,000 for students to access public transit with student identification cards during the 2005-06 school year. Doyle speculated that the sum could increase considerably for the 2006-07 school year.
The transit authority and Cal Poly are in current negotiations for a new contract. O’Dell declined to give an estimate on a possible increase.
The university subsidizes bus and automobile transportation to campus. Students with parking permits receive an annual subsidy of $900 per year from the university. Parking citations provide funding for alternate transportation, according to Campbell, accounting for over $300,000 annually for transit subsidies.
Drivers on campus are not the only ones subject to restrictions on campus. Bicycle citations are not a significant problem, but do occur at Cal Poly, said Campbell. UPD issued 28 bicycle citations during the 2005 school year.
Bicycle citations are most commonly given to students riding in the “walk your bike zones” on the inner perimeter of campus. The decision to create a bike- free zone occurred over 10 years ago after a bicycle-pedestrian accident at another CSU campus resulted in a lawsuit.
Cal Poly made the decision to eliminate bikes from the area of campus where there were the most pedestrian-bicycle accidents, said Campbell. Since the creation of the bike-free section of campus, the number of pedestrian-bicycle accidents has reduced dramatically.
For students like Matthew, biking remains the safest and most cost-effective way to get to campus. “For someone like me, it’s really not worth it (to drive to campus),” she said.
Transportation issues for Cal Poly students will continue to be more complicated as enrollment increases at the university and students and faculty continue to move farther from campus, Doyle said.
“If we subsidized the transit system with the money we subsidize parking on campus, we could fund transit at a level for people to use their cars for only out of town driving,” Doyle said.