Reporting 101 Enterprise: Bicycle culture growing in Pac-12 programs

Pac-12 conference gear up more bicycle programs to students and communities

By Nicholas Filipas

In today’s world with rising gas prices, cars hogging up the roads, crumbling infrastructure and high tuition, college students in need of transportation across campus and their communities are leaving the car keys at home and instead, hopping on a bicycle.

Bike transportation is growing rapidly, especially on college campuses whether students are zipping from class or around town. A cheaper mode ride is popular with those who are too busy paying for college tuition and don’t want to deal with parking permits and fighting for valuable parking space. Bicycles can take more of a beating to wear and tear and don’t require much work.

Bicycle commuting along west coast universities in the Pac-12 conference is thriving. From cities with the friendliest bicycle environments in the Pacific Northwest to those who are making strives to upgrade bike laws and make it more available to the community in large urban areas such as schools in California and Arizona.

In the last couple of years, universities such as Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Arizona and UCLA have made strong efforts in increasing student bike repair. Funded by the local community and the school themselves, mobile stations across campuses have been created to allow students free tools on site if they come across an emergency repair from a flat tire, loose screw or adjusting seats while at the same time learning how to care for their bike in the process.

Tools such as tire pumps, tire levers, screwdrivers and wrenches come attached to the mobile station with quick tips that service everyone from bicycle beginners to experts.

Currently at the University of Oregon, the nonprofit Outdoor Program funded with the campus ASUO have created five different stations located at multiple sites along campus near the library, student union center and dorm buildings. With a Smartphone on hand, a QR code can be scanned and the rider would be able to watch handful of videos on basic repair.

Created in 2008, the Outdoor Program has been striving to make the University of Oregon and the city of Eugene more bike friendly and making commuting for cyclists easier. As the UO is already one of the top bicycle-friendly campuses in the United States, the Outdoor Program led by Ted Sweeny and coordinator Briana Orr hope to get more involved with larger projects with the help of the Eugene community.

“We’re getting the funds ready for a system consisting of stations with bikes where you go and swipe a card or punches a pin and you get to rent a bike to use for a short trip,” said Aaron Rourke, program manager at the Outdoor Program, “It’s already really big across Europe and some states have gotten on board like Washington D.C., Minneapolis and campuses like Washington State, and California Irvine. It would be nice for the city to get on board and work with the UO.”

Aside from just repairing and servicing bicycles, the Outdoor Program at both Oregon and Oregon State come complete with rentals for any outdoor adventure, snowboards, ski equipment, kayaks, camping gear and boots and donated jackets. The OSU Equipment Rental also has available river and snow reports, maps, and gear for ice climbing, mountaineering and rock climbing.

These universities along with the rest of the Pac-12 have a campus repair shop on site, open for students and facility that offer do-it-yourself bicycle repair with trained mechanics on site.

These campus shops also come with bike rentals to those who are studying part-time or need a ride for a few hours, a day or an entire term.  While schools offer bikes for a small daytime fee, students at the University of Colorado for example can rent a cruiser or any of the 60 bikes available for free for one 48-hour period. At UCLA, $45 will get students a Felt-Cafe-8 bicycle, complete with a helmet, U-lock, and a front and rear light to rent for an entire quarter.

One such program is the Green Bike program at Washington State that has as many as 120 bikes for one-day check-out. “About 350 people we allowed to use these bikes to travel back and forth to meetings around campus during the work week,” said Lance Jackson, coordinator at the Green Bike Shop, “During this time the bikes were used on average 2.5 times a day.”

“The fee committee awarded us with enough funds to purchase 40 Trek mountain bikes and all the accessories (locks, helmets, bells, baskets) needed to start a larger program for campus.  In the first year and a half of this program 585 different people used the bikes; they checked them out 2,800 times and the bike’s traveled 12,000 miles.”

Washington State University, located in Pullman, Washington has recently got on board with funding several different mobile stations, with help of the University Recreation. “We were able to purchase our first four stations,” said Jackson, “Since then we have been able to purchase two more stations and that spring, students gave us more money to purchase three more stations.  As of September 2011 we have nine stations and 80 bikes on campus.”

The Cat Wheels program at the University of Arizona shares the same idea, students and facility members are able to rent bikes for free and the program has seen an increase of “243% with over 4,100 uses since the program started in November 2009” said Glenn Grafton, a transportation manager at the UA.

Much like Oregon and Washington State, Arizona has seven self-service bike stands and the city plans to create more. “Tucson is one of the best bicycling communities in the country,” said Grafton. With over 11,000 free bicycle parking spaces on just the campus alone, “The Pima Area of Governments has recently announced another two million dollars to create additional bike paths within the city of Tucson and this should elevate the city to Platinum status in the biking community.”

Universities like USC however are in the midst of creating more bike programs and action is taking place to more bike lanes along the busy streets of Los Angeles. Otto Khera, a senior manager for the Research and Evaluation Center for Scholarly Technology at USC, oversees instructional technology projects and says the city of Los Angeles is working hard with the school to provide new bike lanes and overall better public transportation.

Khera also has been apart of building different websites that connect student bicyclists for events and share resources. Along with USC faculty member François Bar and Melissa Louden, designed USCBikeCommuters.com and RideSouthLA.com that “incorporate technology into bike and walk events such that mobile and digital storytelling that can be connected to crowdsourcing maps that retell the ‘story’ of the ride and walk.” Khera said. “The goal here is to rethink our spaces and access to safe routes and healthy foods and better communities. It is a place making strategy that relies heavily on cycling.”

With these advancements in online tools to connect more riders, the city and the university have hit some setbacks.

“Students are frustrated that there is not a more committed effort to manage the bicycling situation given the numbers of cyclists, “Khera said, “They are apathetic about the responsibilities associated with cycling. Bottom line is that there is a need for more institutional resources and education opportunities like cycling.”

There have also been some negative attributes, USC is one of the largest private employers in the Los Angeles area but Khera says leadership to engage opportunities of bicycling for traffic reduction has been unresponsive and will need time to further improve.

With the ever-growing popularity of bicycles, more universities are hearing the calls for more available and affordable bikes and making their respectable cities and towns. Receiving gold, platinum and diamond status goes a long way for bicycle support as well as continuing a vibrant and diverse bike culture.

In a recent survey conducted by Bicycling.com in 2012, cities and towns that house schools in the Pac-12 such as Seattle, Wash., Eugene, Ore., Salt Lake City, Utah, Tempe and Tucson, Arizona and Boulder, Colorado made the list as the best in the United States.

In the coming years with more funding, each bicycle program should start seeing improvements with continued support from students, “Students love it,” said Jackson,  “We have new users every week and the bikes have been checked out over 10,000 times in the first year.”  Last year, a group of students at Washington State started a petition to get the next station built near a residence hall, “Our student government also passed a resolution to support the growth of the program and that was unsolicited!” Jackson said.

With a smartphone on hand, anyone with a QR code reader can scan and watch how-to videos on basic repairs.

With a smartphone on hand, anyone with a QR code reader can scan and watch how-to videos on basic repairs.

One of the five repair stations at the Knight Library at the University of Oregon.

One of the five repair stations at the Knight Library at the University of Oregon.

IMG_0918

The Outdoor Program located on 18th and University street at the University of Oregon.

The Outdoor Program located on 18th and University street at the University of Oregon.

A mobile repair station in use near the Global Scholar's Hall at the University of Oregon.

A mobile repair station in use near the Global Scholar’s Hall at the University of Oregon.

Aaron Rourke of the Outdoor Program checks out a bicycle one of their mobile stations at the University of Oregon.

Aaron Rourke of the Outdoor Program checks out a bicycle one of their mobile stations at the University of Oregon.

For more information about bike programs across the Pac-12 conference, check out the following links:

University of Arizona

Arizona State University

University of California, Berkeley

University of Colorado

University of Oregon

Oregon State University

Stanford University

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Southern California

University of Utah

University of Washington

Washington State University

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