University puts bike share program in motion

ReCycles, currently only a pilot program, allows students to check out bikes at the Regenstein Library, Ratner, the Social Service Administration Building, and 6045 Kenwood.

By Stacey Kirkpatrick

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In hopes of promoting environmentally conscious lifestyles, the University unveiled reCycles, a bicycle-sharing program that allows students, faculty, and staff to borrow bikes free of charge from one of four locations on campus. The program began O-Week with 20 bikes that were refurbished and donated by Blackstone Bicycle Works.

ReCycles, currently only a pilot program, allows students to check out bikes at the Regenstein Library, Ratner, the Social Service Administration Building, and 6045 Kenwood between 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. weekdays, after registering online.

The idea came from Director of Sustainabililty Ilsa Flanagan and the University Architect Steve Weisenthal, who rides his bike to work every day. Flanagan and Weisenthal also partnered with fourth-year Jarrod Wolf, president of Student Government, to add bike racks on campus for about 1,500 more bikes.

Flanagan mentioned that other universities already have these types of programs in place. Countries like France have what Flanagan calls “third-generation programs” where a rider can simply swipe a credit card and check out a bike. But from reCycles' early stages, “it was really important to me that it be a free program,” she said.

All bikes must be returned on the day they are checked out, and bikes can’t be reserved. However, reservations may become a possibility depending on the success of the pilot program. Flanagan hopes to survey users at the end of the quarter and find the “best way to expand and still manage successfully.”

Although users must sign a waiver and are responsible for damage to bikes, they will not be held accountable for the normal wear and tear of riding.

The program’s organizers also took safety into account. All riders are provided with safety rules and tips and there are plans of safety workshops later this month that will be taught by Blackstone Bikes. Although helmets are not provided, they are strongly suggested.

There are currently 222 registered users, and more are joining every day. “Just this week was the first time all the bikes were checked out at the Reg,” Flanagan said.

Most people rent bikes for four or five hours. Although not currently open for weekends, Flanagan said, reCycles is loaning bikes for the Southside Bike Tour Saturday.

“There’s no better way to make a trip downtown if it’s a nice day, or get somewhere quickly if you know you’re going to be in a hurry,” said second-year Pieter Ouwerkerk, who is a registered user. “As someone who lives in an apartment close to campus, and doesn’t need a bike regularly enough to justify purchasing one, reCycles is a great way to borrow [one to] get around for a few hours.”

Ouwerkerk added: “I’ll definitely use reCycles again. I’m happy to see a bike sharing program being implemented so soon after I first heard discussion about it.”

The bikes were bought by the Office of Sustainability from Blackstone Bikes, which will also maintain them throughout the course of the program. This is the first partnership between a nonprofit group and a university to create a program like this, Flanagan said. “It sets a different tone,” she said.

Flanagan, who said she “steeled herself” to the response, anticipated “at the U of C that you’ll get really vocal feedback.” Many users have responded with thanks but also suggestions for expansions, such as adding bikes to dorms and offering the service on weekends. “I’ve also just been pleased to see people respecting the program,” she said.

With the pilot program, Flanagan said she hopes to investigate the impact of the program with questions like: “How are we impacting greenhouse gas emissions? Is this changing behavior?”

One of the ultimate goals of the program is to facilitate sustainable living. “People often see sustainability in restrictive terms. I really want people to see living sustainably can be a robust, rich life and I think the bike share program does that,” she said.