For newcomers to NAU and Flagstaff, finding the best mode of transportation around town can be a difficult task. Locals suggest university students ditch their cars and explore other transportation options, especially while living on campus.
Owner of Single Track Bikes, Kyle Hornbeck, said he advocates for biking around town over all other alternatives.
“It’s a good option, a safe option and a faster option, especially when getting around campus, the west side and downtown,” Hornbeck said. “I think you can cover up to three miles quicker on a bike than you can in a car in Flagstaff. Anyone who has driven down Milton would probably agree with that.”
Hornbeck said biking can get you anywhere in Flagstaff. He prefers biking over traveling by bus because buses can only get you so far before you need to walk. Hornbeck said navigating Flagstaff by bike is not a difficult task and is not limited to experienced bikers only. He said the Flagstaff Urban Trails and Bikeways Map does an excellent job of outlining paths that bikers can use to get to their destinations. The map also points out how difficult each route is so that bikers can feel comfortable with their commute and not have to worry about encountering heavy traffic or difficult obstacles.
Hornbeck said Flagstaff drivers are aware of the strong biking community in town and that they need to share the road.
“I’ve been in a couple of close calls with cars,” Hornbeck said. “We see it in here a lot of times where a cyclist is being naughty and riding through pedestrian crosswalks and getting clipped.”
Hornbeck said bikers don’t have to worry about the responsibilities that come with using a car. He said having a car requires much more responsibility than a bike, considering insurance and a parking pass for campus. He said the NAU’s Yellow Bike Program provides bikes that students can use so they don’t have to buy their own. Hornbeck said biking in Flagstaff has nearly no pitfalls and is among the best options for commuting.
“The thing I like about the bike is it can be exercise, it can be transportation and it can be an escape,” Hornbeck said. “It is also an affordable option. If you compare your brand new bike, which is around $400, it is cheaper than a parking pass for the year, and it’s going to last you way longer. The only downside is going to be in the winter when it’s really cold and you get a little uncomfortable.”
He also said biking is an amiable mode of transportation because of its openness for experiencing the surroundings and exploring the city in a unique way.
“On a bike, you’re not locked in a closed, mechanized steel capsule,” Hornbeck said. “Biking is really amazing for experiencing your surroundings. You’re not going to be open to take in the smell of the trees or hear the leaves and the kids playing when you’re in a car.”
There are numerous transportation resources around campus and in the greater Flagstaff area. NAU graduate and Flagstaff resident Kyle Nitschke said he would not recommend students use cars while living on campus because of the abundance of more affordable options.
Though Nitschke said bikers in Flagstaff have little to worry about with encountering cars, if something does go wrong, the responsibility usually falls on bikers not wearing proper reflective gear or being aware of their surroundings.
Nitschke said students should really consider other options for getting around Flagstaff, because the cons outweigh the pros for having a car on campus.
“If you’re living on campus, leave your car at home,” Nitschke said. “It’s just going to get you to drive down to Phoenix every two weekends, and that’s not good for you. The only reason to have a car is to go to Harkins, so one of your freshman friends has to have a car to go to the movies. But otherwise, leave it at home.”
Nitschke said that for the most part, students who live on campus don’t necessarily have to leave campus very often. With dining, housing and classes all within walking distance, Nitschke said students only use their cars sporadically. He said that once students move off campus, it makes more sense to have a car in Flagstaff, depending on how far they live from school and where they might work. However, since Flagstaff is a smaller town, having a car is still not a necessity.
“I graduated, and I’d need it to get around and go down to Phoenix occasionally,” Nitschke said. “But I don’t think NAU students need cars at all unless they live several miles away from school.”
NAU graduate and Flagstaff resident Quinn Cisneros said the bus system available in Flagstaff, The Mountain Line, is able to make the city more accessible to residents without cars.
“There’s a bus route that can take you to the mall from downtown for like a $1.50,” Cisneros said.
Depending on how frequently someone needs to travel, Cisneros said taking the bus could be worth it if a bus stop is nearby. However, this is not always the case.
“The bus does not come in my area, and I don’t take the bus much because I would have had to buy a bus pass, and I don’t want to do that,” Cisneros said.
Nitschke said many students have problems getting around Flagstaff and even to school, depending on where they live in relation to the bus routes. He said that the Mountain Line’s route 10 is free for students to ride from residential areas west of campus through campus and downtown. While this route is useful to many students, it only benefits a fraction of those who live off campus.
Cisneros said if one lives farther away from a bus stop, it is worth taking an Uber or Lyft to places that aren’t within walking distances. He said ride-sharing apps provide a relatively safe option, especially for nighttime commutes.
“Most Lyft drivers are very nice and non-threatening,” Cisneros said.
He also said that getting a ride from one of these companies is an inexpensive option, as long as it’s not an everyday thing.
“I bet you wouldn’t even scrape half the cost of a parking pass if you took Uber or Lyft everywhere while living on campus for an entire year, because you don’t really need to go far from campus all that much as a freshman,” Cisneros said.
According to Uber’s website, the price of a ride is calculated by three factors. A base rate is determined by the time and distance of the ride, a booking fee can be added depending on the area and, if there is a surge, the cost might be increased. However, if one plans on taking an Uber or Lyft every day of the school year, the price of each ride would have to be below $4 for it to be worth not using a car, as Cisneros said these services would only be worth it if it weren’t an everyday need.
Cisneros said one of the only downsides to ride-sharing services is that the prices can be subject to fluctuations depending on where you are going and when you are traveling. He said that longer distance rides are more expensive, but most places in Flagstaff are in a close enough range for rides to be affordable. However, if someone needs to get to the other side of town for a quick trip, paying for an Uber or Lyft can be a financial burden.
“Getting a Lyft home from downtown late at night on a weekend will also generally cost more money than getting one going home from work on a weekday,” Cisneros said. “Most of the time it usually stays within $6 to $8, because everywhere you’re going is pretty close.”
Although Cisneros said the best way of exploring one’s surroundings as a commuter is by walking, he recommends newcomers walk where they need to go so they can become familiar with the town.
“You kind of find all the nooks and crannies while walking around town,” Cisneros said. “You can really find out a lot more about the city.”
Cisneros said Flagstaff is walkable, and one could walk the entire city if they really wanted. Cisneros also said campus and its surrounding areas are relatively safe for people who wish to travel on foot.
“I don’t ever feel like I’m in danger in Flagstaff,” Cisneros said. “Though I’m a guy, and we have more of a privilege of not really being afraid of walking around in the dark. But if it’s the daytime, it is usually really beautiful and very safe.”
Nitschke said because Flagstaff is a dark-sky community, navigating surroundings can be more difficult at night and can make walking around at night much more intimidating than it would be in another town. He said if someone is planning on walking day or night, they should consider carrying some sort of protection for peace of mind and an extra sense of security.
Regardless of where someone lives and where they’re going, Flagstaff residents urge others to explore all the options and resources available to them to find the best fit for their transportation needs.