Tell Us Your Green Tales

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Spotlight: "Sparky!"


Sparky is Campus Services’ electric “green van”, complete with a solar panel roof. Sparky was purchased to replace an aging and eco-unfriendly minivan, and is used mainly for delivery and pickup of Columbia administrative mail. Sparky also handles light duty pickup and deliveries for other Campus Services departments. 

Since its introduction to the road in 2010, Sparky has traveled 5,000 miles, and has helped Campus Services reduce CO2 emissions by 4.25 tons by avoiding the use of 336 gallons of petroleum that would have otherwise been consumed by the previously used minivan. Sparky can transport up to seven people short distances. 

This is one example of the many ways that Columbia is becoming increasingly sustainable.


Kayak Commuter: Peter Kelemen



How did you become a kayak commuter?

In 2004, my wife and I moved to Hastings-on-Hudson from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was a big switch from a small village to NYC. Hastings-on-Hudson is about halfway between the George Washington Bridge and Tappan Zee Bridge. It’s a 25-minute drive from my house to Lamont. As it turns out, Hastings is directly across the river from Lamont. The river’s only a mile wide, and because I moved from Cape Cod with two kayaks, I realized I could kayak across the river.

Walk us through your kayak commute. 

It's more difficult than I thought it would be. I have to load the kayak on the car, drive down to the river, park the car, pay the meter, and get the kayak into the water. I paddle straight over to the west side and lock my kayak to a tree, which is at the bottom of a pretty waterfall. Then I remove all the moving parts off the boat to take with me, as well as the paddle. All told, it takes me about an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door, and 20 to 30 minutes of that is in the kayak. When I choose to drive, it takes about 25 minutes each way. 

How to you get from where you tie up your boat to campus?

I hike up. There’s a break in the cliff and a notably steep trail--part of what makes this commute such good exercise. Some people call the nearby waterfalls, “Peanut Falls.” There’s also a hiking loop people like to do called the “Giant Staircase." The trail goes from route 9W right along the border of Lamont and Palisades Park, and steeply down to the river.

Why not drive every day?

Kayaking is great exercise and helps me reduce my carbon footprint. Also, when I return home, I get to see a spectacular view of the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan, looking down the river from the kayak. The nighttime view is amazing.

What do people at Columbia say about your unorthodox commute?

They think it’s cool. Very few people choose to live on the east side of the river and work at Lamont, so I have not inspired any imitators. But it’s good exercise, and it’s a beautiful thing to get out on the river. Different people allocate time for different kinds of exercise. I choose to kayak.

What makes it difficult to maintain the kayak commute?

It gets harder to kayak after the end of daylight saving time. In the fall when we shift over to standard time, it’s dark before I am ready to leave, and that’s a bit of a problem. I don’t kayak in the dead of winter because when the water is cold, it’s not safe.

A few years ago I was getting ready to paddle across for the first time in the spring, when a man passed by and said, You don’t have a wetsuit?! Shouldn’t you have wetsuit? Well I had not really thought about that! It was a beautiful warm day, but in the early spring the water is really cold, and indeed if I had capsized on that particular day, I would have died. So since that time, I make sure to wear a wetsuit in the late fall and early spring.

How often are you at Lamont?

I teach courses at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at both Morningside and Lamont campuses. I am at Lamont three days per week doing lab work.

On average, how often do you do the kayak commute? 

In the spring and fall, I manage to go once or twice every couple of weeks. I have to plan ahead and look at my schedule to do it. 

What differences do you notice between a day you kayak and a driving day? 

Well kayaking is not always a relaxing commute. When the wind and waves are against me, I can get pretty close to barges before I really notice. It’s really my job to get out of their way, but there haven’t been any notable close calls. Despite this, I will say I am a lot happier when I kayak.

Authors: Daniel Allalemdjian and Maggie Niemiec, Campus Services

Bike Buddies: Cindy Smalletz and Doug McAndrew


How did you get started with a bike commute?

Cindy: We have a friend who rides the train with us from New Jersey. He used to commute by bike and I thought, One day I’m going to own one of these. I put it off for the longest time. Then a bike store opened across the street from where I lived. 

I bought my bike the Sunday before Hurricane Sandy. Doug bought his bike in the spring. At one point we got everyone in the office on bikes!

Did you bike before starting this bike commute?

Cindy: Yes, and I’m a spin teacher. Doug came to my spin class. We biked around home, went to the farmer’s market, and went on some 30 or 40-mile rides with some people. But we did it socially.

Doug: Through the YMCA and spin class, we met a lot of people who also bike. When the weather got nice, we'd go on rides together.

What is your commute right now?

Cindy: I ride a mile and a half to the train in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. From Glen Ridge, it’s a 30-minute ride to Penn Station. We get out at Penn Station and as soon as we get a chance, we open the bikes up and take them outside. We bike to the Hudson River Greenway.

We ride all the way up to 155th Street to exit the Greenway, and go up the ramp to 158th Street. They [The Department of Transportation] just painted bike lanes a month ago on 158th. We go up Riverside Drive to 164th Street, cut over to Fort Washington Avenue, and take that up to the Medical Center. I park my bike on the corner at 168th Street, and Doug takes his bike into the Armory, where he works.

How long is the ride from Penn Station?

Cindy: It’s usually 45 minutes to one hour going uptown, and 30 to 45 minutes going downtown.

What time do you leave your apartment or home in New Jersey?

Cindy: I leave at 6:50 a.m. to take a 7:05 a.m. train in New Jersey. We take an earlier train to be at work by 9 a.m., just so we have time to clean up and change. The wind can make or break any ride. It’s about 8.2 miles each way.

How do you keep such a positive attitude about your long commute?

Cindy: Because you’re either sitting in a stinky subway and getting really frustrated, or you’re looking at the beautiful boats, the river, and the bridge and getting in fresh air. The endorphins kick in.

Doug: If you take the same path every day, it gets boring. I could read the paper, I could read my email and stuff. But to get outside, I’m seeing all the cars driving along the highway stuck in traffic while I’m getting a breeze, thinking this is nice.

Cindy: The best part is when you’re leaving work. You get on the bike, and by the time I get to Penn Station, I’ve calmed down. I can go home and relax. Otherwise I’d go home and go for a run.

Doug: Sometimes we take a few extra minutes to stop for coffee along the river. You get to see another part of New York you wouldn’t normally see. It’s a new community.

What do you wear on the bike? What sort of bag do you use?

Doug: I wear a backpack, so I just throw everything in here. I wear quick-dry pants from REI or Columbia, and a highly reflective yellow jacket. I have a shirt that’s bright, too. I have one for coming in and one for going home.

Cindy: I use a pannier that works on my folding bike and goes three ways. It’s either a shoulder bag, a backpack, or clips on one side of the bike. I throw it on as backpack to get up to Penn Station and carry my bike. I switch it to pannier for the ride. It’s waterproof, and fits my laptop in it.

In the summer, I wear running pants and a t-shirt. I use wipes in the bathroom and change clothes. But folding bikes are made pretty upright, so in the winter I wear a dress with tights and my scarf. You actually get really warm biking in the winter. I don’t even wear a jacket, just some sort of thin layer. You want to cover your hands and neck, too.

What percentage of the year would you say you bike?

Cindy: About 75 percent of the year. I bike down to 30 degrees, but once it’s below 30, the wind is just too much. 

What would be your advice to someone who wants to start a bike commute?

Doug: Consider taking a course in safely riding in the city. You have to pretend that you’re a car. When you commit to something, you commit to it. You can’t be darting in and out of cars.

Cindy: Learn the hand signals. Make sure you have a bell, and front and back lights. On the trail, stay to the right. It’s like driving. Always wear a helmet. Give a little room. It’s okay to take up some of the driving lane. Make yourself seen. You don’t have to tuck yourself away.

Doug: We average 45 minutes from Penn Station to the Medical Center, both ways. That's like taking two spin classes a day every time we commute by bike. 

Cindy: My best advice is it’s not as scary as it seems. As long as you know how to ride a bike first it’s not that scary. My recommendation is to start on the trail. Knowing where the bike trails and bike lanes are is key, and the more you can get on them, the better. Don’t worry. Just go!

I love showing up to meetings with my helmet or my folding bike. It makes me very proud. 

Author: Maggie Niemiec, Strategic Communications Manager, Campus Services