Stanford U., with its large campus and its network of paths, has won plaudits for encouraging students and staff members to bike (Erin Lubin, Bloomberg News, Getty Images).
Plenty of colleges offer cyclists places to lock up their bikes. But an institution will need to do more than buy a few bike racks to qualify as a “Bicycle Friendly University” under a program being unveiled this week by the League of American Bicyclists.
The program is designed to help institutions develop holistic policies on biking. A 90-question application requires colleges to assess how much support they offer cyclists—for instance, by providing bike maps of the campus and including information on cycling in freshman orientation.
Applying for a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum designation through the Bicycle Friendly University program will be “an education in itself,” says Bill Nesper, director of the league’s Bicycle Friendly America program. The campus program aims to encourage colleges to evaluate how useful on-campus bike paths can be, whether university parking policies and fees encourage or discourage cycling as an alternative to commuting by car, and how serious campus police are about bike theft and safe cycling.
A few colleges have already gained recognition under other league programs that recognize bicycle-friendly communities, states, and employers. Anyone who’s been to Stanford University and seen the free bicycle-repair station won’t be surprised to learn that Stanford is among the institutions already recognized. Another honoree, Ripon College, offers a “Velorution Project” that provides students with free mountain bikes (painted in Ripon colors) for a year if they pledge to use the bikes as their sole source of wheeled transportation.
Capella University and the Universities of California at Santa Barbara, Wisconsin at Madison, and Minnesota-Twin Cities have also earned designations since the league began its recognition programs in 2003. Altogether the league has recognized 140 communities in 41 states and 133 businesses or employers in 26 states. Money from the Bikes Belong Coalition and Trek Bicycle Corporations’s 1 World 2 Wheels project allowed the league to add the university program.
Mr. Nesper said the league decided to create a special program for colleges because many of them already had some of the right elements in place to promote cycling—elements like high population density, defined boundaries, and a supportive community ethos. Also colleges can be good showcases for biking’s benefits.
Institutional bragging rights aside, the benefits can be substantial. Besides a decrease in automobile traffic and improved health for students and staff members, more biking can mean dollars-and-cents savings in parking and maintenance.
Offering the right infrastructure is an important part of creating a bicycle-friendly environment, says Mr. Nesper, but “soft” projects, like safety education and enforcement programs, go a long way too.
He notes that even institutions that don’t have sprawling campuses or residential populations can take steps to encourage cycling, such as promoting or even subsidizing bike-sharing programs that make bikes available for students and staff members once they arrive on campus. “That’s something a commuter school could really think about doing,” he says.
The league is introducing the Bicycle Friendly University program at this week’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2010 conference in Chattanooga, Tenn. League officials say each institution needs to take the approach that best suits its geography, student body, and mission. League staff members will provide all applicants with feedback and technical advice. They will also make copies of the application available to students, staff members, and cycling groups in the college’s community, so that they can weigh in too.
The program’s one constant, league materials say, is this: “We want to see successful demonstration of growth of the bicycling community.”