In order to provide undergraduates with a sustainable form of convenient and accessible transportation, a student initiative called Big Red Bikes is working to implement a bike share program at Cornell, starting next fall.
“The main objective is to connect the separate Cornell communities and quads,” said Noah Zallen ’10, the leader of the student initiative.
Currently, the program’s founders are seeking byline funding from the undergraduate student activity fee. This is a $72 charge that all students pay per semester and $1 from each student would go towards Big Red Bikes.
“We just had the eligibility hearing for byline funding and it passed by a vote of 11 to two,” Zallen said. “This is a big step forward. Now we’re awaiting our hearing on Nov. 2. This will determine whether or not we actually get the funding.”
The bike share program will operate out of the library system. “It will basically work just like checking out a book,” said Pat Farnach ’10, a member of the group, who is also a Sun photographer.
There will be four different stations: Uris Library on Ho Plaza, Carpenter Library on the Engineering Quad, Mann Library on the Ag Quad and Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library.
“Undergraduates can rent a bike for up to 24 hours from any of the four stations and return it at any of the four stations,” Zallen said.
After the program is initiated, a student can go into any of these libraries and check out a key to unlock the bike at the nearby bike rack. The student will then return the bike to any library, lock it and return the key to the help desk. Transportation and Mail Services will check to confirm that the bikes have been properly returned.
Implementing Big Red Bikes is a comprehensive effort involving the Sustainability Hub, Transportation and Mail Services, the libraries, and Big Red Bikes’ two staff advisors.
Lois Chaplin, the University bicycle and pedestrian safety specialist in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, is a faculty advisor for Big Red Bikes. She works on campus to promote bike usage and address the current transportation culture.
Chaplin believes that with the commitment from the University to support non-motorized transportation, Big Red Bikes has a great chance for success. “The best thing that it can do is garner student enthusiasm and support,” she said.
“We want to expose undergraduates to sustainable forms of transportation and make it part of daily life for them to use and enjoy,” Zallen said. “It is a huge combined effort with other sustainability efforts, including things like the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs.”
The students have looked at other programs throughout the country and seen what works and what does not. The program is designed to accommodate Cornell’s unique climate and terrain. It will operate from spring break through Thanksgiving and it is centered on the relatively flat academic areas of campus. This can be beneficial to students who live in Collegetown or West Campus and want to ride around campus, but are hesitant to attempt the ascent up Cornell’s hills, according to Zallen.
Chaplin believes that “the weather here is not as bad as you think it is.” She pointed out that some of the most successful bike communities are in Madison, W.I. and Toronto, both of which have weather that is similar to that of Ithaca.
“The infrastructure here is actually pretty good,” Chaplin said. “It can and should be expanded, but we need to increase the ability of cyclists to integrate with traffic. It’s a balancing act with pedestrians.”
The funds will go towards buying the bikes as well as special bike racks, keys, maintenance and storage. Big Red Bikes will purchase 20 bikes for the first year, and an additional 20 will be added for the second year, totaling 40 bikes by 2011. The bikes will likely be purchased through The Bike Rack in Collegetown.
“We want to make it free so that use is based solely on convenience and time,” Zallen said.
Big Red Bikes started in the fall of 2006 when a group of students submitted the program to try to win a grant from the mtvU-G.E. “Ecomagination” challenge for sustainable ideas. They did not win the grant and the plans dissolved.
In the spring of 2008, Zallen picked it up again and brought the idea to the Sustainability Hub, where it was revived. “He got people involved; I was one of them,” Farnach said.
The group has been together for a year and a half now, according to Farnach. “We made our own proposal, met with different organizations, applied for byline funding and passed our eligibility hearing.”
If the S.A. grants funding on Nov. 2, then Big Red Bikes will have two semesters to prepare and work out some kinks in the logistics.
According to Farnach, the next step is to reach out to the community and get other students involved to sustain the program in the future. “Student support is required to take Big Red Bikes from the planning period to the action phase,” Farnach said.
Zallen noted that most of the leaders are juniors and seniors, so he would like to encourage underclassmen to get involved.
“Big Red Bikes is part of the bigger picture,” Chaplin said. “We’re encouraging non-motorized transportation, but we need to come up with ways, and have a successful pilot. We want to make it easy for people to do the right thing.”