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American Colleges and Universities Take Steps to Encourage Students to Bike Instead of Driving

October 24, 2008 at 1:15 pm
By Eliza Berry

A few days ago, the New York Times published an interesting article describing college and university efforts to promote biking.   School administrators explain that bikes can avoid car parking shortages, promote greener campuses, encourage healthy lifestyles and simply provide fun.  The director of the bike rental program at Mercer University in Georgia explained that, “A lot of students haven’t ridden a bike since middle school or even younger, but when they get back on it their faces light up”.   Some biking promotion programs include giving free bikes to freshmen who agree to leave cars at home—the University of New England and Ripon College in Wisconsin have already experienced success with this approach.  As a result of the Ripon program, 25% of freshmen brought cars this year (as opposed to 75% last year). 

Other approaches involve partnering with bike companies and bike stores to provide student discounts on bikes and creating bike-share programs (the college provides the bikes and students can use them as they wish). 

Some of these bike share programs are facing difficulties involving stolen and damaged bicycles (Carleton students can probably relate to this, given our experience with yellow bikes with bad breaks!). Colleges have responded creatively by tracking bikes by GPS and having students swipe their students IDs and report on the bike’s condition at an electronic kiosk before and after checking it out.

To read the article yourself, check out “With Free Bikes, Challenging Car Culture on Campus” on the New York Times website.

So…how can this apply to Carleton.  Carleton security estimates that an average of about 300 students bring their cars to school each year. If a student has a car at home, the one incentive for leaving it there is avoiding the $200 campus parking fee. Though there are rules surrounding who may or may not park on campus, it seems as though applications are rarely denied. 

As far as bikes go, it is very apparent that there are hundreds of student owned bikes at Carleton.   In addition, there are white bikes lent out to students with a lock for the year (students provide a deposit), a few green bikes that can be checked out for short errands and shared yellow bikes that float around campus (sometimes damaged).

Given that we are not a school where the majority of students bring cars to campus (like Ripon once was), my personal opinion is that there is no great need to strictly enforce rules about who may or may not bring cars to school—at least, not until we can create good transportation to and from the cities for concerts, events, outings, etc. 

However, I think that through offsetting the costs of purchasing bikes, the college will encourage biking and accomplish the following: (1) encourage students with cars not to drive while in Northfield, (2) dissuade additional students from bringing cars and (3) reward/help out students who would not consider bringing a car to begin with.  In so doing, the college will avoid the costs of having to constantly create more parking spots and reduce the college’s carbon footprint. The white and green bike programs are an excellent step in this direction (especially given that we are unlikely to start tracking yellow bikes with GPS to make sure they are not harmed or stolen).  I believe that additionally, the college should explore providing to students who promise to bring bikes to campus (instead of cars) with a cash reward or consider partnering with a bike company to provide students discounts on bikes.  As there are many staff and faculty members who live near by and travel to campus in cars, we should also brainstorming programs that encourage them to purchase bikes as well.

Image provided by Flickr.

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