Eco-friendly Holiday Gift Ideas


With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are busy brainstorming gift ideas for family members and friends. As college students, we often hunt for gifts that are affordable, chasing different sales and deals. But have you ever thought about giving gifts that are eco-friendly?

Here are a few gift ideas that can have long-term positive impact on the environment and well-being:

Reusable, portable utensils

When we eat at a restaurant, especially those that provide a quick service, it is not uncommon to find plastic utensils. They may enhance convenience, but they are detrimental to our environment.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 8 million tons of plastic trash leak into ocean annually, and that amount is continuously increasing.

As a consequence, an increasing number of fish are consuming microplastic particles. This recent study found that when larval perch have access to microplastic particles, they only eat plastic and ignored their natural food source of free-swimming zooplankton. As a result, larval perch display abnormal behavior and stunted growth.

The negative consequences of plastic waste do not stop in the marine ecosystem. Plastic waste also has the potential to negatively affect human health through consumption of seafood .

So consider giving reusable utensils to your family and friends. It may seem like an small gift or small step forward, but it will be a step to the right direction in fighting the battle with increasing plastic particles in our ocean today.

Reusable shopping bags

Another common source of plastic waste comes from plastic grocery bags. However, with the passage of Proposition 67, it is the perfect time to give a reusable shopping bag as a gift. As this LA Times article points out, the proposition will not be effective unless we take an action to be conscious about using a reusable shopping bag.


Finally, consider giving a gift that can grow whether it is a potted plant, tree planting kit, or seed paper. It could be an excellent gift for a wide range of people in your network, from your friend living on the Hill, to your parents working in the office, to grandparents who may simply enjoy gardening at home. Growing plants not only supports the ecosystem but also benefits human health, as a study found that the presence of plants in the office setting and workers’ tension were negatively associated. In other words, giving a growable gift will positively change the built-environment for our family and friends in such a way that promotes both a greener planet and better health.

So, this holiday season, express your love and gratitude while also doing good for the environment! If you have any other eco-friendly gift ideas, please let us know via comments and social media platforms.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.


How Sidewalks Can Dis/Able Us

Whether you are walking to class, going to the gym, or getting groceries, the sidewalk may be something you take for granted. Many of the different parts that make up our daily built-environment go unnoticed. For some people, however, the built-environment can be a significantly limiting factor that literally “disables” them.

In the fall quarter of my sophomore year, I took Disability Studies 101: Perspectives on Disability Studies. It was an introductory course to Disability Studies exposing students to different perspectives that frame people’s understandings of disability. One of the angles the class used in discussing disability was social and policy perspectives, which covered a wide range of topics including aging with disability, chronic illness, and the built-environment. I still vividly remember one of articles I read for the class that discussed how the built-environment affects persons with a disability almost two years later. The author, Christopher Baswell, was a visiting professor from the University of York who uses a wheelchair. Baswell’s main point in the article was how certain buildings in his university make him “crippled” more than other buildings do. For example, in the British Library, he was “able-bodied” because he could “move about as easily as other library users.” In Bodleian Library of the Oxford University however, he was “crippled, reduced to begging for help on the pavement outside.” Although it is not explicitly mentioned in the article, we can infer that the British Library was build such that wheelchair users can navigate the library independently, whereas the Bodleian Library lacked facilities such as ramps and elevators that would enable wheelchair users to move around easily. In sum, the article was a clear example of how our environment constructs how we experience disability.

As a blind student, I could relate to Baswell on a personal level, and I could immediately think of a number of areas on UCLA campus that “disable” mobility for people with different physical challenges. One such area was a sidewalk in front of Schoenberg Music Building near the Inverted Fountain. As shown in the picture below, the sidewalk was narrow and bumpy because of tree roots that were sticking out of the ground.


Before construction. Photo via Sanna Alas

As I write this post, however, I am happy and grateful to say that this area is no longer “disabling.” A construction project took place at the end of the 2016 winter quarter, making this part of the sidewalk safe and accessible. Every time I walk by this place, I feel hopeful because it is a proof that UCLA is taking the right steps toward making the campus welcoming and accessible to everyone.


After construction. Photo via Ana Bonilla.

One of projects in progress for the BE-Well pod this academic year is Sidewalk Campaign. Through this project, the BE-Well pod hopes to address the importance of having safe and accessible sidewalks on and around the campus. A study has shown that having a well-maintained walking surface was the main functional factor that is associated with people getting out and walking. Addressing the issue of accessibility and safety of sidewalks on and around the campus will not only make our built-environment “non-disabling,” but also encourage the UCLA community to engage in walking more, thereby living healthier.

Can you think of any areas on and around campus where the quality of sidewalk could be improved? Share on social media or comment below if there’s an area on UCLA’s campus you’d like to see improved by the Sidewalk Campaign!

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

The Era of Vaping

Written by Joyce Lan

The Transition from Smoking to Vaping

Imagine this, you are sitting outside on your balcony, enjoying the gentle night breeze, as you unwind from your long, stressful day at work. However, as you close your eyes to relax, your neighbor lights up a cigarette on his balcony. Immediately, the gentle breeze blows the smoke your way, surrounding you in a murky cloud of second-hand smoke. To avoid the fumes, you quickly leave the premises and head inside for a drink of water. What a fantastic way to end the day!

Studies show that the current public perception of smoking has come a long way, evolving due to people’s increased awareness of smoking hazards. Unfortunately, many still choose to put the cigarette between their lips again and again despite knowing the health risks involved with smoking, which include coronary heart disease and the development of lung cancer.

Although some may have initially developed the interest as a way to alleviate stress, or to socialize more with their co-workers, their inability to quit demonstrates the toxic chemical power packed into that small roll of paper.

So, what is the alternative to quitting cold turkey or using nicotine patches? The latest, most popular solution is e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), also known as vaping.

Vaping, in A Few Words

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines e-cigarettes as a product advertised by manufacturers as the safer alternative to smoking. It lacks tobacco, along with its toxic carcinogens, therefore making it ‘safer’. It is a device designed to help smokers gradually quit. But who is truly benefiting from the marketing of e-cigarettes?

The WHO report calculates that the global industry earns approximately 3 billion dollars from the marketing and distribution of the product. Also, there are about 466 brands selling the product and related versions alike. Furthermore, with the availability of approximately 8,000 unique flavours on the market, it’s no wonder more people are vaping instead of smoking!

The Cause for Concern

E-cigarettes and vaping are often thought of as the safer form of smoking. You get the “coolness” of smoking without the dire health consequences… Right?

Contrary to popular opinion, current professionals’ findings suggest otherwise. Currently, Dr. Avrum Spira, a pulmonary care physician and professor of medicine and pathology at Boston University, urges people to be wary of what they are breathing into our bodies.

E-cigarettes vaporize liquid that contains nicotine and flavouring, but is that all? According to Spira, the conversion of liquid to vapor changes the chemical composition of the liquid, causing you to potentially breathe in other chemicals besides the vaporized nicotine.

Moreover, the results of Spira’s preliminary research is not positive. It demonstrated that when e-cigarette chemicals come into contact with the mutated human lung cells of smokers who are about to develop lung cancer (their cultured cells), the lung cells became “more cancer-like”.

The Other Side’s Argument

On the other hand, there are also others who believe that the vaping ‘issue’ is not really an issue at all. Boston University Public Health Professor Michael Siegel strongly believes that the use of e-cigarettes will aid cigarette addicts and continue to do so. In fact, he believes that research regarding vaping should be redirected towards a more positive note. It should not restrict the utilization of vaping and condemn users, but help current smokers gradually quit smoking. In other words, e-cigarettes should should fulfill its original purpose, and help the addicted eventually quit.

To Vape or Not Vape, That Is the Question.

At present, it appears that there are conflicting views within the medical community regarding the benefits and regulation of e-cigarettes. While the WHO, the FDA, and Pulmonologist Avrum Spira assert that there may be negative health consequences related to vaping, Public Health Professor Michael Siegel and his supporters advocate for the continued marketing and use of e-cigarettes, along with more (positive) research regarding the effects of vaping. And so, the debate, and the research, continues. Which side will you take?

Joyce Lan is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Linguistics & Asian Languages and Cultures. She is the Website & Media Chair of BreatheLA at UCLA, a club that seeks to raise awareness of UCLA’s tobacco and vape-free policy.

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UCLA To Experience a New Level of Bikeability

By Jimmy Tran, UCLA Transportation Bike and Pedestrian Planner

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Santa Monica’s Bike Share hub at City Hall. Photo via UCLA Transportation.

Short term bike rentals, popularly known as bike share, are appearing across Los Angeles County. From the green Hulu bikes in Santa Monica to the blue bikes in Long Beach, bike share programs give residents and visitors alike a new way to experience a sustainable and healthy mode of transportation. UCLA is gearing up to join the ride with the launch of its bike share program this spring! Like many of the Westside cities, UCLA will work with the vendor CycleHop to bring a bike share program to campus. The bikes and hubs will be located on key parts of the campus and in Westwood Village where there is already a significant amount of foot traffic. There will be 16 hub locations, including Powell Library, Luskin Conference Center, UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and Broxton Avenue in Westwood Village.

A major appeal of existing bike share programs are their user-friendliness. CycleHop utilizes ‘smart bikes’ where real-time information is available to report bike and hub availability, remaining rental time, and distance biked. UCLA students, staff, and visitors will be able to rent these bikes using smart phones, Metro TAP cards, or via the kiosks at larger bike hubs. Flexible memberships and pay-as-you-go options will accommodate the needs of riders. CycleHop summarizes the rental process in four steps: Reserve, Release, Ride and Return.


The process for renting out bikes from CycleHop Bike Share Programs; Photo Credit: Santa Monica Breeze Bike Share

With this user-friendly bike share program, UCLA continues it’s efforts to improve and upgrade campus infrastructure. In 2015, UCLA attained Silver status in the League of American Bicyclists’ Bike Friendly University program by increasing the number and quality of bike lanes. This is important as UCLA aims to attract riders who are interested in biking, but concerned about the availability of protected bike lanes. Additionally, UCLA provides numerous amenities and programs across campus including: the UCLA Bike Shop, numerous bike racks and repair stands, shower access for commuters, benefits for members of the Bruin Commuter Club, bicycle traffic safety classes, a new bicycle citation diversion process, and an Earn-A-Bike program. Implementing a bike share program will further strengthen the University’s role as a leader in promoting bike culture and safety.

Earlier this year, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) released a report that found bike share programs in seven different U.S. cities experienced increases in the amount of cycling and decreases in the risk of death or injury for each individual rider. The report highlighted how bike share programs improve the visibility of cyclists, which makes bike riding safer for everyone. NACTO emphasized that bike share programs fared better for safety outcomes when coupled with protected bike lanes.

Good bike infrastructure already exists at UCLA with more to come in time for the launch of its bike share. UCLA will install several protected bike lanes on campus including westbound on Strathmore Place, on Westwood Plaza between the Gonda building and the Westwood/Strathmore intersection, and on Charles E. Young Dr. South near the Center for Health Sciences. In addition, supplementing ongoing Bike Friendly University efforts with bicycling awareness and education programs will be key to tackling safety issues and making bike share enjoyable to all Bruins.


National Public Health Week participants begin the 2016 tour of UCLA’s bike infrastructure led by Stantec Engineer Rock Miller (picture far right). Photo via UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.



Far From The Tree: A Book that Will Expand Your Understanding of Disability


Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 10.16.30 PM.pngAs a person with disability and a student pursuing a Disability Studies minor, I have read a lot of literature on disability. While there are many great books on disability, my favorite is Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me just before my sophomore year at UCLA began. At first, I was overwhelmed by the size of the book, as it is over 700 pages long. In fact, it took me most of my sophomore year to finish the book! Ever since finishing the book, however, I have been fervently recommending this book to many of my friends.

In this book, Andrew Solomon explores how horizontal identity affects the relationship between parents and children. By “horizontal identity,” Andrew Solomon means “an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents” due to a variety of reasons, which may include “recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors” (p. 2). Examples may include sexual orientation, gender preference, and ability status. More specifically, Andrew Solomon focuses on deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, severe disability, musical prodigies, children conceived by rape, criminals, and transgender individuals in the book. Each of these topics represents horizontal identity; parents and children inevitably experience the world differently because of these physical and/or psychological differences.

The book is based on Andrew Solomon’s interviews with more than 300 families, but also includes Solomon’s own story of becoming a father. Each story featured in the book is genuine. Solomon did not shy away from including raw, challenging, and, at times, tragic reality of living with what the society considers abnormal conditions. Solomon was also careful to not exaggerate positive aspects, and he successfully avoided inspiration porn. Each story and commentary is insightful and unique in its own ways. However, all of the stories are also tied together by a common thread: a desire to embrace differences, express love, and exercise hope.

Overall, Andrew Solomon sends a message that what the society may see as deviant does not get in the way of living a fulfilling, meaningful life. He also contends that the concept of disability is fluid rather than fixed. Furthermore, it could embody strength. He eloquently writes, “We are all differently abled from one another, and context – which is socially constructed – often decides what will be protected and indulged” (p. 33).

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Despite the ongoing effort to raise awareness and bridge the gap between those who are viewed as disabled and non-disabled, people with disabilities are continually marginalized in many ways. Reading Far From the Tree (even just one of the chapters!) would be a great way to expand your understanding on disability and think about how physical and psychological differences can be valuable aspects of diversity in our society rather than deficits to be stigmatized.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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Loud Yet Easily Overlooked: Noise Pollution in Dorms and Apartments


It was about 11 PM, and, after a long day of moving in, I was more than ready to sleep. However, the street just outside my window was booming with loud music and sounds of people chatting, putting a good night’s sleep just out of reach. It was only the first night in my apartment and I could not help but worry that I might have to deal with sleep-disrupting loud noise throughout the school year.

Whether you are living on the Hill or in an off-campus housing arrangement, my experience may sound familiar to you. According to this study, one of the top five reasons why college students lack sleep was dorm noise. In addition to lack of sleep, living in a noisy environment can negatively affect our health in other ways as well. However, there are many strategies to combat noise pollution and prevent it from negatively affecting our health.

What is noise pollution?

Noise pollution is unwanted or disturbing sound. It can include anything from the loud music coming from your neighbor’s room to the sound of a lawn mower to audible conversations down the hallway. While it may not be something many people think about seriously, noise around us is a part of our daily built-environment that can threaten our health and disrupts our quality of life.

Noise pollution and physical health

Noise may be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This research found that exposure to noise pollution increases blood pressure, changes heart rate, and causes release of stress hormone. This may be because of the emotional stress reaction as body perceives discomfort from the noise and nonconscious physiological stress resulting from the interaction between the central auditory system and other regions of the central nervous system.

Noise pollution and mental health

Noise also may affect mental health. While there is no direct association between exposure to noise and mental health conditions, it may contribute to a wide range of symptoms such as anxiety, stress, nervousness, and emotional instability. Another study demonstrated an association between noise level and aggressive behavior.

Noise pollution and sleep

Lastly, yet perhaps most importantly, noise disturbs a good night of sleep. More specifically, noise may cause difficulty falling asleep and frequent awakening, which lead to sleep deprivation and number of other negative health consequences such as depressed mood, decreased cognitive performance, and fatigue.

What Can We Do?

One option is wearing ear plugs when you are sleeping. You can grab them for free from the Powell Reading Room behind the CLICC desk.

Another option is to communicate with your roommates and/or neighbors. Discuss with your roommate(s) about each other’s sleeping and studying habits and what each other’s comfort level is. Agree on what works for you and your roommate(s). If neighbors next door or upstairs are the source of loud noise, let them know as well. I personally had an instance in which I had to talk with neighbor upstairs about their noise level and was able to resolve the issue by opening up a discussion.

Noise pollution, especially in college living environment, is a loud problem, yet often overlooked. Being mindful and respectful of people around you could be a great first step. When we communicate with one another and are intentional about our behaviors, we could easily make our living space quieter and healthier.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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Bruin Steps: Introducing UCLA HCI’s Sidewalk Series

Whether we may be aware of it or not, our daily surroundings have a big impact on our health and safety. An easy example may be how having trees on our streets improve the quality of air we breathe. Another is how the quality of water we use and drink could directly influence our health.

In this light, what seems to go unnoticed often around the UCLA’s campus are its sidewalks. Sidewalks may not seem as important, but they allow for safer walking. In turn, they encourage physical mobility and exercise.

While many of the sidewalks on campus are of fair quality, many of sidewalks surrounding areas of UCLA are poorly maintained. Can you think of a moment when you or your friend tripped over tree roots that are sticking out on cracked surfaces of the sidewalk? How about when a friend who uses mobility aids could not go through because the sidewalk surface was uneven or not wide enough?

Overgrown roots of trees, narrow width, unevenness of the ground, and arrangement of street furniture are some of factors that make sidewalks inaccessible and unsafe. The images included below are just a few examples of those concerns– and may be familiar to the many of you who traverse the streets of Westwood.

Such characteristics are obstacles especially for people who use mobility aids like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. However, they are also factors that degrade usability and friendliness of sidewalk for those who do not use assistive mobility devices. Too narrow of sidewalks or sidewalks that have unstable surface lead pedestrians on to the road regardless of their means of travel, which leads to dangerous situations for both pedestrians and drivers.

What then, makes sidewalks accessible and friendly for every type of pedestrian?

First, as suggested by Heather McCain, the executive director of Citizens for Accessible Neighborhoods, and the United States Access Board’s standards for floor and ground surfaces, the surface of sidewalks should be stable, solid, flat, and made of materials that can prevent slipping. Additionally, sidewalks should be wide enough for wheelchairs to pass through.

For visually impaired pedestrians, in addition to having a stable and solid surface, it is also important to have access to raised tactile surface, materials with contrasting auditory properties when tapped by cane, and contrasting color to obtain helpful information for wayfinding.

Lastly, street furniture (e.g., benches, trees, street lamps, and signs) should be arranged in a mindful way that considers pedestrians with mobility impairment and visual impairment prior to considering aesthetics.

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.

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Beyond the Disability Awareness Month

Perhaps some of you already know that October is National Disability Awareness month. There are many days in October relating to a variety of disabilities such as World Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day on October 7th, World Mental Health Day on October 10th, and White Cane Safety Day and Blind Americans Equality Day on October 15th. In addition, there are events that aim to raise awareness of disability, such as resource fair for students with disabilities, presentation by a Paralympian, and American Sign Language (ASL) workshops. Such events indeed raise awareness of disability by facilitating interaction between  those who identify as having a disability and those who do not.

While such awareness days and events engage the public’s attention to the idea of disability, celebrating merely a month to gain societal attention is insufficient to truly “raise awareness” of disability. As one of only a few blind students at UCLA, my daily interaction with those who do not identify with a disability on and off campus reflects the shortcoming in the public’s understanding of being blind. For instance, it is not uncommon for me to meet people who do not know what the White cane is. Many of them just call it a “stick.” Nor do people know what Braille or  a screen reader is. It is only when they ask me, “How do you read textbooks,” or “How do you use a computer,” we begin to talk about what it is like for me to be a blind student. It seems that many people are hesitant to ask such questions, perhaps out of fear they may seem ignorant or I might be offended. However, I believe that true awareness of disability begins only when we have such conversations.

Even I, who was born blind and grew up being around many others with disabilities, do not understand everything about different types of disabilities. For example, not until I took a course titled History of Deaf Community in America, I knew about the Deaf theater and the controversy of oralism versus manualism, a few of many aspects that make the Deaf culture unique. I am constantly learning too. This is why just a month of trying to engage the public in the discourse of disability is not enough. It is only a starting point. The dialogue that fosters learning about each and every person’s different abilities needs to continue beyond the month of October. Only with the continued dialogue, we will be able to have greater awareness of what we now commonly call “disabilities.” My hope is that eventually we will recognize disabilities as different abilities.

Check out this awesome video portraying a regular day in Miso’s life while she walks to class!

Miso Kwak is an undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Psychology with a double minor in Disability Studies and Education Studies. In addition to blogging for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she plays the flute with the UCLA Woodwind Chamber Ensemble. Outside of school, she works as a mentor for high school students through Accessible Science, a nonprofit organization that facilitates science camp for blind youth.


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UCLA State of the Commute 2018

UCLA Transportation produces an annual State of the Commute report highlighting the University’s efforts to maintain sustainable transportation programs, analyze recent commute trends, and highlight notable achievements such as reducing the UCLA employee drive-alone rate to under 50%.

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UCLA Is Now Home to LA’s First and Only Bike Counter

By Mike King, UCLA Transportation

UCLA student, staff and faculty bicyclists gathered around the new bike counter on Strathmore Place.

UCLA Transportation is proud to present the campus’ first automated bike counter.The bike counter is located on the southern side of Strathmore Place next to the green bike lane. The counter displays the number of daily bicyclists and annual bicyclists who pass it. Similar bike counters have been installed in bike-friendly cities such as Portland, Orgeon;Seattle, Washington; and Copenhagen, Denmark.







(from the left) Dr. Michael S. Goldstein, Professor, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Associate Vice Provost, Healthy Campus Initiateve; Renée Fortier, Executive Director, UCLA Events & Transportation; Professor Donald Shoup, UCLA School of Public Affairs-Urban Planning

The counter is one of many bike infrastructure improvements that are intended to make UCLA a more bike-friendly campus. UCLA is proud to be the first in Los Angeles to install an automated bike counter. While the Counter provides real-time ridership information, it also serves as a welcoming gateway sign and bicyclists can see that they’re part of a larger community.

The Counter was manufactured by Eco Counter. Eco Counter is an international company that specializes in pedestrian and bike counting systems. The counter was funded by The Green Initiative Fund and UCLA Transportation. Beginning November 25, 2013, data from the Strathmore Bike Counter will be available to the public here:

Ride down UCLA’s green bike lane on Strathmore and get counted!

~Re-posted from UCLA Transportation’s Be a Green Commuter website