Michael Wenye Li / Sun Senior Photographer

While some Cornell professors drive to campus each morning, others bike up Libe Slope year-round.

January 29, 2020

Making Their Way Up The Hill: Professors on Their Unique Commutes

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What do a scholar from the MIT Media Lab, a historian-in-residence of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and a climate change researcher who has advised the Scottish government have in common?

Two things: First, they’re all Cornell professors. Second, they eschew driving — opting to find alternate forms of transportation to make it to campus.

“Well, I just hop on the bus. It’s pretty much it,” Prof. Danielle Eiseman, communication, told The Sun. Coming from a background in sustainability and environmentalism, her work has had a major impact on how she commutes.

“The main reason I don’t have a car,” Eiseman continued, “is because I’ve worked in climate change policy for a long time.”

According to Eiseman, many of her faculty peers in climate policy avoid cars in favor of bikes for similar reasons.

“Maybe it’s because I work with a lot of people that work in climate change research, but a lot of faculty that I work with cycle to work [and] don’t drive that often.”

Another similarly inclined faculty member is Prof. J. Nathan Matias, communication, an avid biker who advised students attempting their first bicycle climb up Libe Slope to ride “steadily and deliberately.”

“I’ll ride up the hill on my bicycle from the west side of Ithaca, where I live,” Matias said. “I’ve been doing that since I first arrived last summer and I’m really loving it.”

Matias commutes to class year-round, whatever the weather. During an interview with The Sun on Tuesday, he set down his helmet and goggles, seemingly undeterred by the steady barrage of snow outside.

He first got used to snowy bike-rides as a graduate student at Princeton University. As winter approached, Matias said he refused to store his bicycle away for the first time.

“Snow came,” he said. “I put on slightly more layers, and kept commuting.”

For Prof. Tom Campanella M.L.A. ’91, city and regional planning, the question isn’t necessarily about how to get to work — it’s about how to best split his time between Brooklyn and Ithaca.

“I have the old family home in Brooklyn. It’s a nice old house, and I love New York City,” the fourth-generation Brooklynite told The Sun. “It’s the focus of almost all my work I’m doing and have been doing for the last few years.”

Campanella recently authored Brooklyn: The Once and Future City, which is a “history of the rise, fall and reinvention of one of the world’s most resurgent cities,” according to its website.

“It’s just a love of place,” Campanella said. “I spend about half the year there, in New York, and half the year [in Ithaca].”

He usually drives, he shamefully admitted, because his cat comes with him on the commute, and taking the cat on the bus — while he can do it — is a “pain in the butt.”

While he was quick to deny any favoritism for either of his two homes, he granted that he had always made a home in Ithaca.

“I fell in love with Ithaca and Cornell when I was a grad student here,” Campanella said. “I started here in 1987. So that’s a long time ago. I always wanted to come back to Ithaca and Cornell, so I’m very fortunate I have this job, which has always been my dream job.