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The University of Texas at Austin Adventure Activities class with Dr. Tere Ramirez participates in a variety of adventures through out the semester. The class hikes, rock climbs, and goes fishing and kayaking. The class also learns basic bicycle safety and goes on a bike ride with BikeTexas staff.
At the BikeTexas office, Dr. Rameriz presented the College Active Transportation Safety power point to the students. The program goes over the Texas Laws that pertain to riding a bike and gives recommendations of how to safely ride a bike in urban areas. For a tricky left turn on an extremely busy road, the Copenhagen Left Turn was demonstrated too.
Students learned to do an A,B,C, Quick Check on the bicycles every time you get on to ride. This is especially important when your bicycle has been parked in a rack outside of class where others could have tampered with the bike or knocked up against the derailleur or brakes. They practiced shifting, scanning, and communicating in a group ride with hand and verbal signals.
Finally, the group went on a bicycle ride on the Town Lake Trail and back to the BikeTexas office. It was a beautiful day for a ride.
Many students will return to biking and walking for transportation when they start college. One form of active transportation that may be new to students, though, is using the local public transportation system to get around. For students and non-students alike, using a city bus or train for the first time can be an intimidating hurdle. Our communications staffer Susan Wilcox, who rides both a bike and a bus for transportation, wrote a guide a few years ago for people who are new to riding buses. This article is an updated version of that guide.
When you start using a new-to-you transit system, planning is a must. Check out your local transit system's website for routes, maps, and schedules--many systems also have built-in trip planners on their websites. It's often a good idea to have a Plan B just in case things go wrong with your first plan. Make sure to find out how much your fare will be while you're checking the schedule!
Most transit systems in the U.S. have shared their data with Google. If that is the case in your area, go to maps.google.com, put in your starting point and destination, and choose the transit button (see the picture at the right). Google will give you a few options to get where you're going, based on local transit data.
For students, you often will get free or discounted transit rates with your student ID. Check with your college or university's transportation department to find out if your ID is your pass or if you need to get a different one, what services your ID covers, and so on.
At least two systems in Texas-- DART in Dallas and CapMetro in Austin-- have downloadable apps for all your devices to make planning your trip easier. Edit: Since this article was first published, Houston's METRO and San Antonio's Via have also created apps.
Once you arrive at the stop, be sure to look for the bus number above the front windshield before you board-- nothing ruins a transit trip faster than getting on the wrong bus.
Yes, you can combine a bus (or train) and bike trip! We're proud that all train systems in Texas have on-board bicycle accommodation, and most buses have bike racks on the front capable of carrying two or three bikes.
Photo: from our archives, Austin's-- and Texas's!-- first bike rack on a bus, sometime in the mid-'90s.
How to use the bike rack:
What if the bike rack is full? Sorry, you'll have to wait for the next bus. This scenario is one reason you should always have a backup plan or an alternate route in mind so you don't get stuck, especially if you're taking a popular route.
On a train:
Look for the bicycle accommodation space and load your bike there. If the space is full or you're not comfortable using it, you'll have to stand holding your bike. Use good sense and common courtesy when boarding a full train or traveling during peak hours-- there may not be room for your bicycle on board.
Finding out the fare for your journey should be part of your planning stage, but if you forget, the driver will tell you. You will need exact change on the bus (or pay with an app). Basically, it's like a vending machine: bills and coins go in the appropriate slots. If you have a pass, you should swipe it on the farebox before taking your seat. Buying a pass onboard? Don't forget to take it with you when you take your seat.
Please note that most transit systems have rules that prohibit the driver from handling fares, so he or she will not be able to take your money or swipe your card for you. However, they will be able to answer questions if you're having trouble.
Seats near the front of bus or train car are reserved for the elderly, people with disabilities, or people with small children (many transit systems require that children under 6 be seated instead of standing). If you do not fall into one of those categories but choose to sit in one of these priority areas, please be prepared to vacate the seat if someone should need it.
If you stand, be sure you have something to hold on to so you don't fall over on top of your neighbor if the bus should suddenly slow down.
Generally speaking, food and drink are not permitted on board most transit vehicles. Save your sandwich for when you arrive and don't try to bring a fast food cup with you-- the driver will ask you to throw it away before boarding. No one likes a crumby, sticky bus.
Finally, remember that your backpack or grocery bags don't really need a seat, but other humans do-- be courteous with your things.
When you first start riding with a new transit system, be sure to take a few moments once you're on board to look around and find out what the signaler is. It will usually be a cord or a button. A couple of blocks ahead of your stop, pull the cord (or press the button) to signal your stop. Exit through the door nearest you (unless you're getting your bike off the rack-- in that case, use the front door). Be sure to look around as you're getting ready to exit the vehicle to make sure you have all your belongings with you. And thank the driver as you exit-- it makes you feel good and may just brighten their day.
Gather info about the return trip as part of your research-- find out when the bus is expected, where you should catch it, and so on. Repeat all the previous steps again, and then congratulate yourself on a successful transit trip!
Texas boasts a college and university enrollment of nearly 1.5 million students-- that's a lot of learning going on! Many students choose to walk or ride a bike to class for reasons ranging from fun to affordability-- and universities like it when you don't bring a car on campus, too, because that helps with air quality and parking. But in the midst of all that low-cost fun, it's easy to forget that while on a bike, you're still subject to the laws governing traffic. Don't ruin your day by winding up on the wrong side of the law-- know your rights and responsiblities as an active transportation user before you roll to class.
See more about Texas Bicycle Laws at biketexas.org/laws. (Numbers reference sections in the Texas Transportation Code)
Bicyclists have the same rights and duties of other vehicle operators (551.101):
You must stop at stop signs and red lights, and a bicycle has the same right to the road as a car.
Ride near the curb and go in the same direction as other traffic (551.103):
We recommend a 3-foot cushion between you and the curb to allow for road hazards like potholes or debris. A bicycle may use the full lane if the outside lane on the road is less than 14 feet wide, or if a car and bike cannot safely share the same lane. (Note: If you are on foot, you should walk in the opposite direction of traffic. Ride with traffic; walk against it.)
You may ride two abreast as long as you don't impede traffic (551.103c):
In places where you can legally take the lane, you can legally ride two abreast. If the travel lane is wide enough for one bike and one car to share, it may be illegal to ride two abreast.
Use hand and arm signals (545.107):
Make clear signs with your full arm extension for turning, stopping, or changing lanes to let other road users know your intentions.
Bicycles must have a white light on the front and a red reflector or red light on the rear at night (551.104b):
Lights must be visible from 500 feet away. Legally, you must turn your lights on at the same time you'd turn on car lights, but for safety's sake, it's a good idea to have your lights on when the sun is low in the sky to make yourself more visible to drivers. You should also use your lights in rain, fog, or other conditions that make it difficult to see.
Keep at least one hand on the handlebars (two are safer) (551.102c).
One rider per saddle (551.102a).
Bicycles must be equipped with brakes that are capable of making the braked wheel skid (551.104a).
We have a PowerPoint presentation available about bicycle and pedestrian laws in Texas, plus lots of other good stuff to know if you're using active transportation in college. Learn more at biketexas.org/cats.
Active transportation-- walking, bicycling, and transit-- makes good financial sense for college students, since they are cheaper options than owning and maintaining a car on campus. One strong tenet of the CATS program is teaching college students the laws that govern biking and walking, since many students are trying active transportation for the first time and have never learned the appropriate laws.
College students also have another reason to choose bicycling: it's a good way to stay in shape. New U.S. bicycle commuters lose, on average, 13 pounds in their first year of riding-- a good antidote to the dreaded Freshman 15. Riding a bike doesn't just give someone great leg muscles-- it also gives the cardiovascular system a workout and engages the core, even during an easy ride. By starting this healthy habit so early in life, college students can put themselves ahead of the curve when it comes to reducing the risk for diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.
Riding a bike can also reduce stress and sharpen the mind, two critical components for college success. Finally, for students who are trying to figure out optimal time management skills (some for the first time on their own), riding a bike is an easy way to get all these benefits without having to squeeze a trip to the gym into an already-full day. Replacing a driving commute with a bicycling commute makes good financial, time, and health sense for college students.
May is National Bike Month, a time when communities and schools across the nation like to do a little bit extra to encourage active transportation. Bike Month is an opportunity to celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride. On May 1, 2014 the University of Texas kicked off the month with a Bike To UT Day.
Bianca Juarez and Sam Cortez from University of Texas Parking and Transportation Services organized Bike to UT Day to “encourage cycling and bring awareness to bicycle use on campus and the community as a whole.” Bianca, who presents the CATS program at UT first-year orientation, offered specific tips to students about bicycling and parking on campus (riding on sidewalks is prohibited, as is locking up a bike to a railing instead of a bike rack).
BikeTexas CATS staff attended the event and provided information on Texas Bike Laws and fitted helmets. University of Texas students seemed particularly interested in learning bike laws. As we've discovered many times before, college students are often returning to bicycling after a long break in high school. As children, they probably did not receive bicycle safety instruction and never learned what laws govern bikes. The CATS program is a great opportunity for students to learn to be safe, healthy, and ride within the law!
Friday, April 25 2014 10:54
Dr. Aaron Block is an assistant professor of computer science at Austin College in Sherman, home of 1350 students. Austin College was one of the pilot CATS schools in 2012, and Professor Block used CATS as a starting point to offer his well-earned wisdom to his students.
Dr. Block is involved with the Roo Riders, an Austin College bicycling organization which promotes awareness, knowledge, and understanding about the impact bicycles can have on society and health, along with providing camaraderie for students who ride bikes at Austin College. He added a bike repair session to the CATS presentation, enticing more students to come and learn not only how to ride safely and legally, but also how to properly look after their bikes. Students gained valuable skills in cleaning and basic bike repair.
Professor Block also emphasized that college students should ride differently than they did when they were children—kids stop and go a lot, ride slower, and may disregard rules of the road. Block tells his students, “Ride like an adult.”
He also urges students not to drink and ride. Block says, “One third of all bike fatalities are when the bicyclist is legally intoxicated.”
As an extra incentive for coming to the CATS presentation and learning bike safety, Professor Block gave out prizes to students who were able to answer questions correctly at the end of the presentation. CATS has been successful at Austin College because Professor Block took the basics and added his own flair.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Block.
BikeTexas was proud to host 18 UT Austin Students on November 11 for a CATS presentation and bike ride as part of their Adventure Activities course toward a degree in Kinesiology and Health (most of the students in this class are physical education teachers in training). Lecturer Tere Ramirez worked with CATS Program Manager Brenda Chuleewah to prepare an overview of the CATS materials.
Students took the CATS pre-test to assess what they already knew about bike laws and safety, then watched the award-winning Safety Bling! video. Next, students learned about Texas Bike Laws, when they should take the lane while riding, and the dangers of texting while trying to walk, bike, or drive. Students then took the CATS post-test to show what they'd learned.
After getting an overview of safely and legally riding, the students had the chance to put their new knowledge to work on a class bike ride. Before taking off, the group learned how to do an ABC Quick Check as well as how to scan while riding and signal a turn. Students then took off for a short ride around Austin, practicing all their new skills on real roads.
Monday, September 23 2013 10:47
BikeTexas is delighted to announce the return of the BikeTexas College Active Transportation Safety (CATS) program! CATS has been awarded a Traffic Safety grant from TxDOT for the 2013-2014 school year. This program teaches college students across Texas about bike laws and safe practices while riding or walking. Many students return to riding a bike for the first time in years when they start college, so the CATS program is there to make the transition to active transportation easier!
In 2012, the CATS pilot program reached over 3000 students at seven universities across Texas. With this new grant, BikeTexas plans to expand to seven additional universities to make sure even more young adults in Texas have the tools they need to ride and walk with safety and confidence.