by Jillian Farley
Just since January, the number of “bike share” bicycles in the United States has more than doubled. An exciting number of those bikes are at university campuses of all sizes ranging from coast to coast. What will it take to see some of that rapid growth happening in Delaware?
Alongside a group of fellow University of Delaware students, I got involved in finding out if Delaware’s first bike share program could be at the University of Delaware. We began by looking at other schools that already had systems in place to see what worked or didn’t for them. The big question was if such a project was feasible at UD. The even bigger question, the one I’m still asked, is does the university even need bike sharing? A preliminary survey of over 300 students showed potential. About 2/3 of the respondents said they’d use the bikes, and over half of those students said they’d leave their own bikes at home if bike sharing was an option.
UDCycles, as we called ourselves, started as a project through the school’s Blue Hen Leadership Program, and has since taken on a life of its own. I’ve found so much support between vendors taking time to go over costs to other schools talking to us about their own journey to starting and operating bike share programs to the bicycling community in Delaware. We also discovered that others at UD had looked into the idea in the past and there was interest.
At this stage, the planning process is still completely unofficial, but we are encouraged by the enthusiasm for biking on campus.
The arguments for bike sharing are compelling.
From reducing air pollution to saving natural resources as we engage in the new “sharing economy,” bike share programs benefit our shared environment.
At the same time, over 25% of college students are technically obese and stress levels are high on university campuses all over the country. Exercise is a well-known method of reducing both of those problems. Numerous reports have come out on improved productivity for employees commuting via bicycle. (It’s easy fitting in exercise without even needing to set aside extra time as one bikes to class, work, or the supermarket instead of driving. )
But while the data is clear, we are not utilizing this opportunity to simultaneously get healthy and improve our environment.
The Newark area has a great trail system well suited to the casual biker and a city committed to improving the “bikeability” its streets. But a bike sharing program could be a game changer.
Bike sharing is part of a change in thinking, too. The idea of bikers as spandex-wearing health nuts or the new hippie generation needs to go away. Many students and some employees already bring bicycles to campus, but bike sharing has been shown to involve people who are newer to biking.
Bike sharing is also something of a “gateway drug” to improved bicycle friendliness and infrastructure. Once the option is there, it will be used. I have faith that if we present the range of benefits, a strong showing of student and faculty interest, and the number of successful programs around the world, a bike share program will have to follow. A solid cost/benefit presentation will bring us the funding we need.
Soon enough, the first bike share program will launch somehow, somewhere in Delaware. It feels only right it’s at UD where my Alma Mater can live up to its motto: Dare to be First.
Jillian Farley is a student at the University of Delaware and a member of Bike Delaware.