Berkeley's Green Bike Share program is coasting toward nationwide trend

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Schools offer bicycles to relieve congestionIt's not easy being green, but if your college offers bicycle rentals, it just might be.

On college campuses across the country, from Yale to Berkeley, bicycle cruising has become more popular for its environmental impact and cost effectiveness than rolling in gas-mobiles. Instead of splurging on a new bike, or pouring an entire paycheck into a car, more college students are pursuing bicycle rentals and bike share programs on campuses.

One of the newest programs to launch is in California's bay area, at the University of California at Berkeley. The Green Bike Share pilot project has launched a fundraising campaign to increase the quality of life on campus and introduce a fleet of 20 green bicycles. The group aims to bring the cost-friendly, environmentally sustainable form of transportation to campus for students, faculty and staff. Until then, they work to raise a total cost of $40,000. Currently, they have raised 25% of the costs, but they still need an additional $30,000. Members pay $15 each semester to be a member of the Green Bike Share and checkout bicycles for up to 24-hour periods.

In 2008, Loyola University Chicago began its own, student-run bike rental program, Borrow-A-Bike, as one of the only bike sharing or rental programs in the city of Chicago. There, students, faculty and staff can rent bicycles through the university's student bike club.

Senior Tony Giron founded the Borrow-A-Bike program, which recently received a large donation of 30 bicycles valued at $1,000 each from national bike rental company, Bike and Roll. This is far from the 12 used, grungy bikes that the club began with.

"We used previously abandoned bikes from campus," said Giron. "We used some city government funding for tools and parts, facilities built us a bike workshop in the main parking structure and Bike club volunteers pretty much dedicated to this project with their time and effort to bring bikes into the borrow-a-bike fleet."

Once the group began rolling, the donations spun in. "As word got out people donated their bikes," Giron said. "We also received donations from bike shops and bike co-ops. Toward the end of our first year we ended up with 30 bikes."

The Loyola program is different from the automated citywide programs in Paris or Copenhagen. "We use a simple check out system on paper and we're planning on upgrading to some rental software," said Giron. "The rentals are 24-hours and it's a very hands on approach to renting a bike."

It's so hands-on, that Giron and fellow Bike Club members have taught students how to ride a bicycle.

"The program is set up to pretty much allow any type of rider," he said. "We pick out the best bike for that person and we've actually taught a few people how to ride a bike from ground zero."

Other universities are taking on bike sharing and rentals as serious projects.

At Ohio State, Buckeye Bikes allows students to roll on Schwinn Heavy Duty Cruisers for a rental period of 48 hours, just by the swipe of a student ID card. At Yale, students register to pay an annual fee of $10 and ride bikes around New Haven, Conn.

In addition to bike share and rental programs, some colleges purchase bicycles for their students, such as Ripon College in Wisconsin. The college began the 2009-2010 Ripon Velorution to curb vehicle usage on and around campus – and to avoid building a new parking structure, said Cody Pinkston, director of media and public relations.

"Basically, we wanted to look at ways to reduce some of the parking issues on campus," said Pinkston. "Rather than continue to increase the rates for parking permits or find some other way for "punishing" students, we thought, 'Why not reward students who don't bring cars?'"

The college offers free Cannondale F9 mountain bikes to students who pledge to limit fuel consumption, ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution by not bringing a car or motorized vehicle from August 26, 2009 through May 12, 2009. By accepting the free bicycle, students are required to bike to class and around the Ripon, Wisc. community.

"The first year we had about six out of 10 freshman sign the pledge," Pinkston said. "The second year it was a little more, it was seven out of 10 took that deal."

Enthusiastic freshman and a close campus are part of the reason the bike program does so well on this residential campus.

"It's relatively inexpensive for the college to buy a few hundred bicycles when you compare it to the cost of building a parking structure," Pinkston said. "It costs around $60,000 [for] maintaining this program [and] we are lowering the campus population's carbon footprint."
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