February 17, 2010

Bike Sharing Program Offers Students a Free Ride

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Big Red Bikes, the nation’s first fully integrated collegiate bike sharing system, will officially launch this fall after almost two years of planning. The group will receive $13,500 in funding next year in order to purchase the bikes, which students will be able to check out at four locations on Central Campus.

At a meeting held Feb. 17 in Kaufmann Auditorium, Big Red Bikes co-executive officers Sonia Bui ’11 and Jackie Chen ’11 announced that the group had received by-line funding from the Student Activity Fee of $1 per student and could proceed with plans to implement the system.

“This will be the first system of its kind ever to be implemented in the world,” Chen said.

Big Red Bikes aims to “create a campus-wide bike sharing system that is accessible, affordable and convenient for every Cornell student.” To this end, the group has designed a system in partnership with the Cornell University Library and Cornell’s Department of Transportation and Mail Services.

The group has also formed partnerships with Cornell Outdoor Education, the Cornell Cycling Club and The Bike Rack in Collegetown.

“There are lots of supporting parties from across the University,” Big Red Bikes founder Noah Zallen ‘10 said.

Under the current plan, students would be able to check out bikes by swiping their ID cards at the circulation desk of one of four libraries, in the same way they check out books. The group chose the locations — Uris Library, Mann Library, Carpenter Library on the Engineering Quad and the Vet School — based on students’ responses to a survey.

“We wanted to include North Campus, but it was not logistically possible [because North Campus lacks library facilities],” Bui said. “Hopefully we will be able to do so in the future.”

With the new funding, the group plans to purchase about 20 bikes for this fall and an additional 20 bikes next year. The model they plan to buy, the Electra Townie, is a step-through frame bike with a 3–gear internal hub. The Electra Townie can be adjusted easily for people of different heights, making it ideal for the bike sharing program.

The group has selected a durable bike rack that is shaped differently from those already found on campus in order to make the bike stations easy to spot. Members will be able to monitor which bikes are being used on an Internet database, helping them effectively allocate funding.

“We have laid a strong foundation and developed an initial plan to implement the system on campus,” Bui said.

Now that funding has been approved for at least two years and the initial system designed, the group still faces several challenges in implementing the plan. Their chief concern is liability.

“There is risk involved, but we will develop a plan in order to mitigate it,” said Bui.

After consulting with Cornell’s Department of Risk Management and Insurance, group members decided that the best course of action would be to develop a waiver that students would have to sign prior to taking out a bike.

Other potential sources of concern include bike maintenance, marketing, determining additional sources of funding, planning of launch events and developing a more comprehensive website.

In order to best resolve these potential problems before the program launches, members of Big Red Bikes will be broken up into five teams: Marketing, Finance, Outreach, Events/Fundraising and Operations.

“The biggest problem was identifying the process by which we could proceed,” Zallen said.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg