Anonymous students start free bike sharing program

Project aims to make campus greener

| Contributing Reporter

No one knows who brought free bicycles to the Danforth University Center.

These bikes belong to the Washington University Green Bicycle Project (WUGBP), a student-run enterprise that allows University students, staff and faculty to use the bicycles without charge. The identities of the project’s organizers, however, remain a mystery.

Students who refused to give their names initiated the project toward the end of this summer. Bicycles appeared outside the Danforth University Center (DUC) in mid-October.

WUGBP is funded by the Greater University Service Foundation (GUSF), an institution not connected to the University. GUSF aims to assist University students’ research and small projects by providing grants, but stipulated in its contract with WUGBP that the students remain anonymous.

The project has no connection to any University student group or to the administration. According to its Web site, WUGBP aims to “increase environmental awareness among the student body.”

To obtain the codes for the bicycle locks, participants must provide their Washington University ID number and e-mail ad-dress. Registered users are then free to ride the bikes as often as they please. Tracking devices are attached to each bicycle.

As of Nov. 9, the program received nearly 80 requests for bicycle lock combinations. The WUGBP team said that the project remains in its early stages, and the team looks to circulate more bicycles around the campus.

“I hope that with the increased viability of bikes students will opt to take bikes instead of cars when traveling short distances,” junior Melissa Legge, co-president of Green Action, a campus environmental group unaffiliated with WUGBP, said.

Legge added that most car trips are taken within 10 miles of the home or dorm. Using a bi-cycle for these trips, she said, can help the environment and reduce the effects of climate change. She also mentioned that Green Action might promote WUGBP in the future.

“I think having the bikes there will be a great help,” Legge said. “I think it’s a great step forward for the University in terms of reducing carbon emissions.”

The University of California, Berkeley, as well as cities such as Portland, Ore. have similar bicycle projects that all share a common premise—providing free bikes in order to promote environmental awareness.

Users may ride the bicycles on off-campus trips, but WUB-GP also requests that participating students limit their time with the bikes to less than three hours. When students are finished, the program requests that they return the bicycles to the DUC bike rack.

However, students like Brett Scheller see some shortcomings in the project.

“I think in theory the system is great,” Scheller said. “Two flaws I have found in the system are the fact that the bikes are in poor shape and they are not always available because there are not that many.”

In an e-mail to Student Life, the WUGBP team explained that it hopes to add more bikes and work with the administration and other student groups to implement a larger bike sharing program here. The team is now working on improving the bikes already in circulation.

WUGBP is not the first student-run bicycle enterprise on campus. Bear Bikes, located
on the South 40, rents bikes to students. Despite the threat of losing business, Bear Bikes co-owners Luke Saunders and Alex Bergson welcome the competition.

“While we do run a successful and profitable business, our priority is to find ways to best serve the University community,” Saunders and Bergson wrote in an e-mail to
Student Life. “We are thrilled about any efforts made on the Wash. U. campus to promote bicycle use and environmental awareness. We would enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with the WU Green Bicycle Project and we would be happy to share information about best practices.”

Students like freshman Amy Turner question whether WUG-BP will contribute to environ-mental sustainability on campus.“

Most places that people go they get to either by foot, by public transportation or by borrowing a bike from someone they know,” Turner, who owns her own bicycle, said. “People who would utilize them would be traveling across campus, in which case they wouldn’t be using a car in the first place.”

Still, the idea of bike use without pay appeals to others.

“I often want to ride a bike to Forest Park, but don’t want to pay for it just for one day,” freshman Hannah Rabinowitz said. “I think that Wash. U. Green Bicycle is a great program that should be better advertised.”