This spring Cornell University's Sustainability Hub unveiled their Big Red Bikes program. Like many bike share programs across the country, the project aims to make biking accessible, affordable, and convenient to the casual commuter who may not be familiar with bike maintenance or may feel intimidated about purchasing their own bike. As the cold Ithaca winter encroaches, bikes are being moved into storage, but that has not stopped the student organization from continuing to advocate for additional funding in hopes of expanding the program in the coming years.
In the works since 2008, the student organization Big Red Bikes unleashed 20 bikes in May 2011 that made up the initial fleet for the share program. Six months later, 20 more were added. Hopes are to eventually expand the program to include 100 bikes and more docking stations across campus.
To get off the ground, Big Red Bikes approached various university departments and organizations to get financial support. Transportation contributes a large sum that helps cover the SPARK software that is specifically designed for small bike shares. They also fund the bike racks that currently occupy three locations on campus. The bikes themselves are paid for by the Student Assembly who has allocated $1 of every student’s annual activity fees to go toward the bike share program.
Each three gear bike costs about $500 including lights, helmet and lock. Remaining relatively local, Worksman Cycles are made in Queens, New York and assembled in Dryden, a town in upstate New York that borders Ithaca. The bike-powered lights come from the Netherlands.
When asked how Big Red Bikes deals with uneven bike distribution given the steep topography of Ithaca, the organization was ready with a response. To entice students, faculty and staff to return bikes to stations located at the top of a hill, Big Red Bikes has organized a rewards program. For instance, after returning a bike five times to an upper campus location, bikers receive a 10% discount to a nearby cafe — something larger, city-wide bike shares might want to consider.
As demand for the program increases, Big Red Bikes is working in a highly democratic manner to determine how to expand the program. The organization sent out a campus-wide survey to decide where to install future bike stations and get feedback about bike models. For instance, the second, 20 bike addition to the fleet boasts a slightly different model and includes a basket.
While only a campus-wide program, the ramifications of small scale bike share initiatives have the potential to contribute to the larger national movement. Boris Suchkov, director of Big Red Bike’s finances, explained, “When [students] graduate and go live somewhere else, they have this expectation that biking should be a part of life.”
The organization added, “We believe that students who are exposed to an environmentally sustainable transport system during their collegiate years will be more likely to expect and demand sustainable systems of all kinds in the future.”
All images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat