Bicycle Friendly College Campuses
The perfect going-to-college-gift might be a bicycle. After all, a bike’s transportations costs are just as easy on the starving student budget as they are on the planet. More bikes and fewer cars on campus equal less noise and exhaust fumes. Colleges and universities are taking note of the advantages with bike-commuting rather than car-commuting students. Campuses are finding that it is cheaper to put in bicycle parking ($150) than new parking space for a car (price for just one car space: $3000-$30,000). Students and their schools are also becoming more sensitive to their sustainability practices. (See how your college or university rates in sustainability with their green report card here.)
So many colleges and universities are welcoming and encouraging students to use their bikes as a means of transportation and designing their campuses to be ideal for cyclists that the League of American Bicyclists is going to expand their Bicycle Friendly America program to include colleges and universities. Next month they will launch their Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) program. The League has done a lot to promote Bike Friendly Communities with their programs and the BFU program will go a long way in pointing the way for campuses to encourage cycling.
There are many colleges across the country who are doing it right with bold approaches to get their students on the seat of a bicycle and away from the morning jostle to find the all too rare parking space. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities provides cycling maps for students to show the best routes through campus along the various bike lanes, and the locations of bike lockers and a place to hitch their ride (they have over 6,500 bicycle racks and hoops across campus.) Stanford University puts real effort into educating students with bike safety classes around campus and in the dorms. The School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program (HIP) also offers classes on Bicycling, Commuting, How to get Started, How to Stay Motivated, etc. Students who take up cycling in college are likely to enjoy cycling in the decades that follow, so it’s great to see universities giving them the inspiration and encouragement now.
Seven ways that top Universities and Colleges are encouraging bicycling on campus:
- Free Bikes for Freshmen: a handful of universities are offering incoming freshmen a free bicycle to use if they make a pledge not to drive a car to campus for the year. Examples: Ripon College (WI) and the University of New England pioneered this concept and Elmhurst College is going to be doing it this year.
- Bike Shares: colleges are acquiring fleets of bikes that can be loaned out to students by the hour, day or week to allow them to bike as much as they need. Most colleges are discovering that a bike rental program works better than the free-to-anyone programs which sadly result in bike abuse. Colleges that have a fleet of loaner bikes include: University of Arizona, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Washington, University of New Hampshire, Castleton State College, Westminster College, Northland College and Pitzer College. St. Xavier College in Chicago has a very modern European-style bike loan program.
- Bike Co-ops are often student-run groups where memberships entail working in the shop. It allows for maintenance, tools and parts to be affordable for students. At the University of Idaho, you can learn bike repair and borrow bikes as needed. Students can also find a great bike co-op at the University of California at Santa Cruz and Arizona State University.
- Bike Events for Bike Month, Charity rides or fun annual traditions such as Indiana University’s Little 500 are great ways to give an added emphasis to the benefits of cycling to college. I loved hearing about the University of Geneva (yes, in Switzerland!) which had a program called “Bike to the University” to encourage students and faculty to bike to campus. Incentives such as a team competition and prize drawing for all participants. Their faculty of medicine added their own encouragement offering cycling as a great form of exercise for better health and as a way to reduce their environmental footprint.
- A Healthy Dose of Encouragement —goes a long way to get students enthusiastic about cycling. Stanford’s Commute Club provides an $282 annual cash incentive not to drive which can be used for bike gear, bike locker fees and the like. As the students register their bikes they get free bike lights, reflective legbands and blinking strobe lights. Helmets were sold at 50% off at the campus bike shop and a bike buddy program is in place for first timers. Evergreen State College makes it easy for bike commuters with showers, commuter lockers, bike repair stations on campus and to keep students up to date, a bike shop blog.
- Well-designed Green Campuses with elements of Bike Friendliness are essential for campuses and some universities are doing a great job. With a great office of sustainability to lead the way, colleges like the University of Maryland are encouraging green transportation with well-designed campus infrastructure. The University of California in Santa Barbara has the TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) which works to make cycling around campus a better experience. Michigan State University is one of those universities who have hired consultants to help design green campuses with elements for bike friendliness, which is truly the wave of a hopeful future. Even small colleges do what they can such as Bates College which converted a railroad bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge so students can take a scenic route over the Androscoggin River instead of worrying about speeding cars
- Keeping it Safe: Mount Holyoke College does what it can to prevent theft with a succesful free bicycle registration program which helps the school return misplaced bicycles to their rightful owners. Arizona State University increases its campus police survelliance and make catching bike thieves a priority, using “bait bikes” to catch thieves red-handed. They don’t dismiss the value students place on their bikes.