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It’s Easy Being Green: Peddling Pedaling on Campus

SOURCE: Flickr/oppositeofsuper

Dickinson College is one of many campuses that has implemented a bike sharing program to entice students and staff to choose biking over driving.

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With college enrollment projected to increase 15 percent by 2015, many schools are facing a shortage of resources in one unlikely area: parking space on campus.

Ripon College, a small school in Wisconsin, has taken an innovative step to avoid paving over lawns and other open space. They started the academic year by giving away a free mountain bike to any freshman who pledged to not bring a car to campus for the year. Participants in the Velorution program also receive a helmet and a U-lock. Added benefits include less pollution, a lower traffic impact on the surrounding community, and healthier lifestyles for students.

The program cost $50,000 to implement this year—less than the cost of building new parking. The money was raised mostly from alumni, trustees, and donors. “Parking in this case is a distant third to the health and fitness of our students, and responsible energy practices,” said David Joyce, president of Ripon, when the program was announced last spring. “For students, it’s a lifestyle choice. For Ripon College, it’s choosing sustainability over ease and convenience.”

So far, the program has been a success. Sixty percent of freshmen at the 1,000-student school collected their bikes in late August, exceeding the school’s projection of a 40 percent participation rate.

But Ripon isn’t the only school trying out creative schemes to entice students to bike more and drive less. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education lists more than 60 schools in the United States that have either bike-sharing or renting programs.

Students at the University of California at Berkeley devised Green Bike Share, a program that lets students check out one of 20 bikes around campus for a 24-hour period in exchange for a $15 membership fee per semester. Unlike most larger-scale bike-sharing programs in urban areas, like Paris’s Velib or Washington D.C.’s SmartBike, the Cal rentals come with a host of accessories—a heavy-duty lock, head and tail lights, safety tools, a map, and a rear basket.

Emory University’s Bike Emory program encourages both students and faculty and staff to leave their fossil fuel-powered vehicles at home and commute by bike. The $250,000 program offers discounted bikes for those looking to purchase them as well as a bike-sharing program on campus for those who still commute by car but may make small trips around campus during the day.

Commercial bike-share programs have membership costs of up to $40 per year, and often depend on partnerships with advertisers to cover the cost of new bikes, maintenance, and mechanized check-out stations. Clear Channel is providing $153 million to Washington, D.C. for its SmartBike program, in exchange for selling advertising at the kiosks. Many campus programs, on the other hand, tend to have much lower costs and barriers to implementation. They also tend to be free to students and staff.

Still, bikes, maintenance, time to run the program, and the new bike racks needed as bike use increases, do require extra funding and legwork. To cut costs, the free bicycle-sharing program at Illinois State University, called Reggie Ride, refurbishes bikes that have been abandoned on campus. The Berkeley program is being funded by a grant that the student founders won in the university’s Big Ideas competition, which awards $10,000 to the best idea to improve student life on campus. At the University of Washington, the school has used a $200,000 grant from the state department of transportation to provide a fleet of 40 electric bikes to entice reluctant bikers to tackle Seattle’s hills.

With increased bicycle use, colleges are adding more bike racks and facilities to accommodate bikers. Western Kentucky University officials are considering special bike lockers and pavilions, while the Ripon grounds crew will spend their winter ensuring that snow is cleared quickly from bike paths. Students at the University of Missouri in Columbia will benefit from the town’s federally sponsored plan to create an additional 66 miles of bike lanes and 23 miles of street with marked bike use over the next several years.

Reducing the demand for on-campus parking is only one benefit of the bike-sharing programs sprouting up on campuses around the country. In 2007, the chancellors and presidents of 284 colleges and universities signed a pledge to make their campuses carbon neutral as soon as possible. Encouraging students to leave cars at home, as Ripon has done, or leave the car in the parking lot more often, helps to reduce emissions and move colleges toward carbon neutrality.

The cost-effectiveness of bike transportation also appeals to college students on a budget. And considering the added benefits of increased health, less pollution, and better air quality, peddling pedals on campus is one idea that could get a lot of mileage.

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