Free bikes for green promise

  • Colleges around the country are getting bike programs on-campus to reduce cars and help the environment
  • University of New England set up a program that gives free bikes for leaving cars at home and a car rental service
  • Students at Marquette think riding bikes is good for the body and the environment

Colleges around the country are trying to get students out of their cars and onto their bikes.

According to Kathleen Taggersell, director of marketing and communications at the University of New England, the school has installed an innovative new program on their campus to get kids to ride bikes.

"The program was a multi-disciplinary program," said Taggersell. "We pulled in our student affairs, student council and department of safety and security. We wanted to find a way to reduce our carbon footprint and parking issues."

Taggersell said they got the idea from Ripon College in Wisconsin, but wanted to expand on the program.

"We wanted to take it to the next level," said Taggersell. "Not only did we give freshman a free bike, helmet and lock for leaving their cars at home, but we also added Zipcar."

Zipcar is a car-sharing program that runs at college campus around the country.

The University of New England allows students to register for Zipcar before the school year and get 28 hours of free service. They can also register during the year for $35 and pay an additional $7 an hour fee. New England has two Zipcars on campus, Taggersell said.

To further encourage students to leave cars at home, New England has raised their parking prices for freshman from $90 to $300.

So far the program has been a success, according to Taggersell.

"It is working better than we ever imagined," Taggersell said. "We wanted to provide that

access without making students bring cars up here. Now about 25 percent chose to bring cars as opposed to 75 percent last year."

Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, said he has seen bike programs used for many years.

"Schools started these free bike programs in the 70s,"Dautremont-Smith said. "I think the earlier rounds didn't go so well. I think bikes were just lying around and not taken care of."

St. Mary's College of Maryland tried a bike program but had limited success.

Lisa Youngborg of St. Mary's Campus Technology Support Services explained what happened.

"We had free bikes where students could just take bikes as they pleased," Youngborg said.

But Dautremont-Smith said he has seen schools begin taking a more "green" approach in the last year.

"What we have seen now in newer programs more often are sort of these hybrid approaches," said Dautremont-Smith. "The whole campus sustainability field has exploded. The bikes would be lost or just not returned. It only really lasted about one semester."

While programs like the one at St. Mary's struggled, these hybrid approaches, according to Dautremont-Smith, are probably going to take off at a more rapid pace.

"Commercial offerings are going to be turn key options to get bike programs going," said Dautremont-Smith. "Schools will hire bike companies to bring bikes to campus and set up a program so each school does not need to run their own program."

Dautremont-Smith said he thinks the bike programs are beneficial to the environment and students.

"They do seem like they're popular with students," Dautremont-Smith said. "It gets students in the habit of biking, reduces greenhouse emission. I think they're pretty great."

Some Marquette students also think encouraging the use of bikes is a good idea.

Colin Bowe, a junior in the College of Communication, rides his bike as frequently as possible.

"It is extremely convenient," Bowe said. "It gets me from point A to point B with ease and it is a great workout. Students who are so lazy that they drive to class every day clearly don't know the thrill of hopping on a bike and cruising down Wisconsin Avenue."

Kyle McWalter, a junior in the College of Engineering, said he rides for exercise but more importantly for the environment.

"I understand that I am riding my bike in a city that is already depleted by pollution," McWalter said. "But I think that I am doing my part."

Bowe said he thinks Marquette should consider the bike program as well.

"I think this would give everyone a chance to help," Bowe said. "We can all help make a difference in our environment."