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Faculty commutes range from short to jumbo

Some professors scrap the car in favor of other methods, like bikes or scooters

Published: Monday, December 1, 2008

Updated: Monday, December 1, 2008 08:12



Despite Massachusetts’ less-than-tropical temperatures, many professors still brave the elements and bike to work.

Tufts may not be considered a "commuter school" in the typical sense, but for the faculty -- some of whom live as far away as New York City -- getting to Tufts everyday is often more complicated than just getting in a car.

When Computer Science Lecturer Ben Hescott gets up in the morning to commute from Arlington Heights, Mass., to Tufts, he must often brave the inclement weather conditions, preferring, instead, to travel by bike.

"I have a lot of pressure at home and from family members to buy a car and stop biking, but I resist this," he said. "I don't want to deal with parking [and also my commute] is not that far. It's about 25 minutes on the bike, so it's nice to kind of collect your thoughts.

"You're not really in the traffic -- you have to pay attention a little bit but I've got a lot of bike paths on the way so it's easier in some ways," he continued "And there's a lot of freedom because if I want to get to MIT or Harvard for a meeting it's very close and it's very quick to get there, and I don't have to worry about parking and stuff like that."

Hescott is one of many professors at Tufts who hits the road on a bike everyday. Associate Professor Alva Couch, also of the computer science department, has the luxury of choosing from his extensive bike collection when he makes the seven-mile commute from Woburn, Mass.

"I have 30 bicycles in my collection, including seven I have earmarked for commuting," Couch wrote in an e-mail to the Daily. "Among these, I have several fixed-gear bicycles ... and a one-speed beach cruiser equipped with ice tires with carbide studs. I ride different bicycles depending upon my mood, how tired I am, the weather and my route to Tufts, which I vary from day to day."

Couch also varies his morning trek by choosing from a number of different routes.

"Though Tufts is only seven miles away via the shortest route, I usually add a minimum of two miles in order to make for a more pleasant ride," he said. "If I have the time, I may add up to five more miles on the inbound journey. It is a really fun part of my day. I need the exercise and also use the time to reflect on what needs to be done today. I vary the bike I ride and the route to get more exercise on days on which I can afford to take the time for more."

When Couch isn't riding his bike, he brings one of his many scooters along to aid him during his commute.

"If I take the bus, I get from Medford Square to Tufts via kick scooter; that is faster than taking bus 94 or 96," he said. "I also take the kick scooter from my office to Davis Square when I must travel to Boston. On occasion, just to liven things up, I will ride one of my adult kick-scooters with large pneumatic tires instead of a bicycle. This is much more of a workout.

"On campus, I get around on many kinds of weird human-powered vehicles, including several kinds of kick scooters, a Trikke camber-powered scooter [and] a Bouncer Bike with eccentric wheel drive," he continued.

For professors who live closer to Tufts, a bike or scooter may be unnecessary. Philosophy Professor Jody Azzouni lives just off of Ball Square and walks the 10 to 15 minutes to Tufts everyday, and because of his proximity to Tufts, he doesn't have a driver's license.

"I did [have a driver's license] at one time," Azzouni said. "The last time I drove was the day I passed the test, and I said 'Oh that's nice, okay, I did that.' It was a rite of passage or something. I'm from New York and it's insane to have a car there and it's insane to have a car up here too, I think. So I don't."

Azzouni walks rain or shine, and harsh winter conditions don't bother him much.

"There have been some rough days ... there's a particular place, apparently, which is right in my path, where all the snow from Somerville seems to get dumped, and I have to do a lot of maneuvering to get around that when it's ... pretty wintery, but otherwise it's not so bad," he said. "Besides, winters just aren't what they used to be, so most of the time it's a perfectly okay walk."

Hescott, however, explained that sometimes biking in the winter is trying.

"On a night ... where I'm biking home and it's twenty degrees outside, it's cold and I think 'okay, do you really want to be doing this?'" he said. "But that's not very often -- I would only say about one percent of the time ... The only times I wish I had a car are when I'm late or if it's [snowy]; I don't like it in the snow."

When conditions aren't perfect, Hescott makes sure he is prepared for the weather. "When it's raining I have a rain slicker and rain pants," he said. "A lot of times I'll actually [keep] a different set of clothes here."

Couch takes precautionary measures for all types of conditions.

"For rain, I have an excellent rain cape ... It covers my legs by covering the area between my shoulders and the handlebars. In extreme conditions [such as] wind-blown rain, I use the cape over a rain suit. I carry a cape and a rain suit on all commutes because one never knows in New England when it will rain," he said. "Winter cycling requires special equipment. When it snows, I use a bike with studded tires. These studs give grip on black ice, which commonly occurs on my commute. My clothing is alpine climbing clothing, of the sort one wears for mountain hikes in the snow."

Couch added that, sometimes, unexpected obstacles hinder his travels.

"I have to be careful to remember that my shoes are not studded like my tires," he said. "On occasion, I forget this, put a foot down on glare ice and fall down."

Although some professors have to deal with rainy bike rides and snowy walks, others have gruelingly long commutes. During Associate Professor of English Virginia Jackson's first two years at Tufts, she commuted every week by train from New York City.

"That was arduous," she said. "I mean, in some ways it's very pleasant; you know you sit by the water really all the way from New Haven to Boston, and it's very pleasant to work on the train -- but it's a four-hour trip."

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