Bike Share program promotes alternative transportation

May 18, 2009

Luther College responded to student suggestions and requests for alternative transportation on campus by creating the Luther Bike Share program in April 2008. The success of the program in the 2008-09 academic year is expected.

The college purchased eight bicycles for the Bike Share's first year of operation. The program is a collaboration between Luther's sustainability initiative and Wellness program.

The sustainability initiative's goal was to increase opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage in alternate forms of transportation. The Wellness program's objective was to promote physical fitness and environmental wellness, including the reduction of pollution emissions from vehicles.

"When people see those bright yellow bikes riding in groups through town or parked en masse outside the co-op, they see a glimpse of a future in which we are not relying on dirty foreign fossil fuels to move ourselves around," said Caleb Mattison, Luther's sustainability coordinator. "Instead, we're exercising our bodies in the fresh air and not emitting pollution, so it is my hope that these bikes can act as and represent a healthier future."

The program operates from Preus Library on campus, where students swipe their Co-Curricular Activity Fee (CAF) card to check out a bicycle, free of charge, for the day. Currently, there are five one-speed cruiser style bikes, fitting for short trips and flat terrain, and three eight-speed bikes, which are more suitable for longer rides and hills.

"We invested in nice bikes with an internal gear system in the rear hub because a theory we have is that many people do not have nice bikes and never experience the ease and pleasure of biking," said Mattison. "Our hope is that students realize this through using our higher quality bikes and hopefully purchase their own to use."

Although students had suggested a Bike Share program for years, certain obstacles always kept it from getting off the ground, according to Mattison.

"Last spring, a dedicated group of students, faculty and staff who were determined to make a Bike Share program happen met with all sorts of people, ranging from those who would be affected to those who were just interested," said Mattison. "We addressed each obstacle and found solutions at every step, and eventually decided to start the program."

One member of the pioneer Bike Share group is Rob Larson, associate professor of management at Luther. Throughout the initial interest meetings and subsequent planning sessions, Larson recognized the multi-dimensional benefits of a Bike Share program for both Luther College and the community of Decorah.

"The usage of the Bike Share program is clear evidence that the program has encouraged alternative transportation around campus and the city of Decorah," said Larson. "The bikes are used recreationally, but they seem to be used more frequently as a more economical or efficient way to get to places off campus."

Last spring, the program was well-received on campus with 250 checkouts during the first two months. To date, all eight of the bikes have been checked out a total of 798 times during the 2008-09 academic year.

"The program has been received extremely well, based on usage and on the comments we receive," said Larson. I hope that this program results in students considering bringing their personal bikes to campus and for students, faculty and staff to be more open to using bikes instead of automobiles when this choice is feasible."

Students in a spring semester environmental philosophy class are examining the potential for expansion of the Bike Share program, and Mattison supports the endeavor.

"I would like to continue to have a fleet of nice checkout bikes, but I would love to also see a fleet of lesser quality bikes that are all painted one color and roam freely around campus, unlocked and able to be used by anyone as they please," said Mattison.

"But before we do that, we need to create a stronger bike culture before a system like that would succeed," he said.

Mattison believes the program plays a primary role in sustainability at Luther by fulfilling the college's goal of cultivating a culture of conservation and educating the community on sustainable living.

"One of the goals of the college's sustainability initiative is to create Luther graduates who are aware of and care about the environmental issues that face the world today," said Mattison. "This program encourages students to develop habits of conservation while at Luther, which helps that goal."

Both Larson and Mattison hope the Bike Share program helps students realize there are other options besides using their cars.

"Luther's definition of sustainability is broader than most because it considers wellness and the human spirit as important resources that need to be conserved and protected in the same way we seek to be effective stewards of place," said Larson. "This program plays a small role in the long term plan, but it is an important role in how it can direct and instruct us that meaningful, as well as symbolic, progress can come from uncomplicated changes.

Caption: Luther College sophomore Anna Zaffarano enjoys an afternoon in Decorah by renting one of the eight bicycles available through the Luther Bike Share program.

Luther Bike Share program