Talk to anyone who’s been to the Netherlands, and they’ll likely tell you how awesome it is to be able to hop on a bicycle and ride anywhere they please, safely and without too much strenuous labor (there are about three hills in the entire country). Because so many people choose to commute by bicycle than by car in the Netherlands, they help to create a healthy, less-polluted atmosphere in even the country’s largest cities.
Now compare the bike-riding culture across the pond with ours: Cyclists in Louisville must take circuitous routes to get where they’re going if they want to enjoy the relative safety of bicycle lanes, and often, these routes contain a lot of hills, which aren’t so conducive to looking professional when you get where you’re going.
For Bellarmine faculty, staff and students who would like to ride to and from school, a research study by Environmental Studies student Andrew Dyson of Louisville may provide some relief. He compared the bicycle routes to Bellarmine from two neighborhoods using both the city’s suggested bike routes and more direct routes that are on more heavily used and faster-moving streets. He analyzed direct routes, bike routes, the position of significant slopes and general elevation data, as well as the travel time, to determine the optimal routes for people commuting to Bellarmine by bicycle.
“I thought of (this research) as activism, rather than research, really,” said Mr. Dyson, a liberal studies major from Louisville who has been involved with groups advocating a more bicycle-friendly city. “I had an idea that the city bike routes were based solely on whether or not streets had a lot of traffic on them, not whether they were suitable for biking in other ways, such as being more or less hilly or direct. As I suspected from riding the routes, the elevation plotter of ArcGIS shows that the city bike routes do tend to be a bit longer and more hilly. But that doesn’t mean they’re worse—that’s still a matter of opinion—and the fact that they are signposted means a lot because it means that automobile drivers may be on the lookout for you.”
ArcGIS is a Geographic Information System software that allows the user to visually display layers of data on maps, said Dr. Kate Bulinski, Mr. Dyson’s advisor on the project. He was one of dozens of undergraduate projects presented in April during Academic Achievement Week, representing the culmination of a semester’s or a year’s worth of work.
“With this technology, it is possible to display, examine and analyze complex information within a single map image,” Dr. Bulinski said. “Government agencies, healthcare, businesses, scientists and many others employ this technology to address a variety of questions or problems, such as identifying high areas of crime, areas of town that might have higher instances of respiratory diseases, potential sites for new business opportunities, or to map the density of the tree canopy in an urban forest, just to give a few examples.”
Mr. Dyson said it’s a matter of personal preference whether a cyclist wants to deal with more traffic or more hills on routes to and from school. “My goal is that more people ride, so I would always suggest to people to explore routes that are less busy when you start to ride for transportation,” he said. “When you build confidence you can start riding on busier roads. I recommend using the Metro government’s ‘Ride the City’ website to work on routes.”
Another student researcher this year analyzed the effectiveness of on-campus transportation. Ms. Clark, a Louisville senior majoring in math and actuarial science, took a close look at the university’s shuttle system to determine which route would be the most economical. She looked for an optimal, low-mileage (and, thus, low-cost) route using the mathematical principles of combinatorics.
“Combinatorics is a branch of mathematics that focuses on discrete structures, with the problems in this area often rephrased in terms of counting sub-objects of interest,” said Dr. Ryan Thierkelson, Ms. Clark’s advisor on the project. “For example, the standard Kentucky license plate consists of three numbers followed by three letters. The number of different license plates satisfying these conditions can be calculated quickly using combinatorial methods—it’s much quicker than listing all the possibilities!”
To her surprise, Ms. Clark discovered that the shuttle is already taking the most efficient route. “According to my research, one shuttle uses approximately $97 worth of gas every two days. I thought, ‘Certainly, there’s got to be a better way to do this!’ But it turns out that the route that the shuttle is taking right now is the most cost-efficient.”
Extending the potential on-campus environmental impact of Bellarmine student research was a study by Louisville senior Kacie Keisker on the university’s greenhouse gas emissions. The assessment involved data collected from the 2011-12 fiscal school year including commuter miles of students, faculty and staff; sports team travel; and electricity usage on campus.
“Bellarmine has already taken steps toward creating a more environmentally friendly campus, including installing automatic lighting systems and low-water-usage utilities, so the most surprising thing for me once the project was completed was Bellarmine’s relatively high emissions rate,” said Ms. Keisker, a biology major. “Compared to other campuses which have already established sustainability plans, Bellarmine is behind. However, I believe that this assessment and future reports will allow Bellarmine to become a leader in building a sustainable campus.”
Among her recommendations are that Bellarmine find ways to reduce electricity use, since most indirect greenhouse gas comes from burning fossil fuels, and encourage students, faculty and staff to find alternative ways to commute to and from school. “One of the largest factors that make Bellarmine less sustainable is our high number of commuter miles in a given school year,” she said.
Sounds like a job for Mr. Dyson.
By Emily Ruppel ’08 | firstname.lastname@example.org