Whether due to health benefits, environmental factors, or financial reasons, more people are becoming bicycle commuters. In fact, cycling has grown in popularity as a primary means of transportation throughout the past decade. The US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) reports that there were nearly twice as many bicycle commuters in 2009 than 2000. In New Jersey alone, between 2007 and 2011, the number of people who rode their bike to work increased by 16.59% [i].
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has recognized these trends throughout the state, and has been working with municipalities to provide residents with opportunities to use alternative modes of transportation. Similarly, they have also provided assistance to municipalities in the form of bicycle and pedestrian planning; these municipalities include some of the state’s higher education facilities such as Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township and Stevens Institute of Technology in the City of Hoboken. Additionally, New Jersey’s eight TMA’s provide a great deal of assistance to cyclists. By providing bicycle racks at transit stops, or assisting riders in identifying the most suitable roads for commuting to work or school on a bike, the TMA’s serve as a valuable resource for a budding cyclist looking to make “the switch.”
While the largest increases in the number of cyclists have typically occurred in cities, NJDOT and the TMA’s understand that universities and college towns are also becoming hubs of cycling culture, where it will continue to be important for local officials to provide adequate facilities for cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists created a designation to acknowledge these rising cycling communities and has currently awarded 44 universities across the country with the title of Bicycle Friendly University (BFU), including New Jersey’s own Princeton University [ii].
Such recognition is not only beneficial for the reputation of these universities, but Universities also have other reasons to promote bicycling among their student body: alleviating congestion on and around campus; reducing the demand for costly automobile parking; enhancing safety for cyclists and pedestrians; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The list below contains some of the best ways that universities can encourage bicycling among their student bodies and highlights the best practices of several successful BFUs.
1. Create Bicycle Education Programs
It is essential for colleges to provide educational programs and resources to students not only to promote cycling in a university setting, but also to ensure that students are riding safely. Ideally, all students should have the opportunity to attend a bicycle safety workshop at orientation, similar to the presentation that the New Jersey Ambassadors in Motion gave at Rutgers International Student Orientation. This event covered topics that all novice cyclists should be familiar with, such as local traffic laws, safety tips, basic bicycle equipment, and bike locking techniques. Classes similar to this workshop, as well as more advanced safety and maintenance courses, should also be offered periodically throughout the semesters.
Universities should also make additional materials and resources readily available to students, such as maps highlighting local bicycle routes and the locations of bike parking facilities on campus. Boise State is an example of a school that has taken the initiative to encourage cycling on campus through educational programming. One of these enterprises was the creation of a Bicycle Learning Center where students can find instructional clinics, informational brochures, and repair services [iii]. The availability of this resource guarantees that all students have access to information that will help to improve their ability to travel safely and efficiently around campus.
2. Make it Easy to Obtain a Bike
In order to commute to class by bicycle, students must first own or have access to a bicycle. The University of New England and Ripon College in Wisconsin have been giving away free bikes to freshmen who pledge to leave their cars at home. Due to critical parking shortages in campus facilities and the need to ease congestion on campus roadways, Ripon College dedicated $50,000 towards the purchase of 200 Trek mountain bicycles, helmets, and locks for the program to encourage students to bike as their primary mode of transportation on campus. The University of New England copied this program and distributed 105 bikes during the first week of school, which contributed to a 50% drop in vehicle-ownership among freshman [iv].
Creating bike share or rental programs on campus is another way to enhance the ability of students to access bicycles. Bike share programs have been successful in many major cities in the United States and Europe, leading universities to consider these types of programs. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey recently launched a bike rental program in 2011, with a fleet of 150 bicycles. The program costs students only $25 a semester, which is far more economical than purchasing a parking permit for hundreds of dollars annually [v]. Many designated bicycle friendly universities also have similar bike share or rental programs, such as Cornell University and UCLA [vi].
3. Construct New Bicycle Infrastructure
An individual’s perception of safety can be an enormous obstacle preventing them from bicycling. Many novice or casual cyclists would prefer not to ride with traffic, especially on busy roads, because of such safety concerns. Building bicycle lanes to provide cyclists with their own designated space on the road effectively improves their perception of safety. Additionally, not only does riding in a bike lane improve a person’s perception of safety, but according to a recent study published by the American Journal of Public Health, these facilities cut the risk of injury in half in many cases while separated bicycle paths reduce the risk by 90% [vii].
College campuses that have such facilities have been immensely successful at encouraging their student body to use bicycles as their primary mode of transportation to class. The University of California, Santa Barbara is an excellent example of a school that has made great strides to provide infrastructure for cyclists. To date, their campus contains 10 miles of on-road bicycle routes and 7 miles of separated shared use paths, which feature 7 bicycle roundabouts, and 3 underpasses, to avoid roadway conflicts [viii]. Consequently, these infrastructure investments have contributed to their status as the third most bicycle-friendly college campus in the country, with 49% of students and 9% of faculty and staff commuting by bicycle [ix]. Providing the infrastructure needed to reduce the risk of accidents and to dispel perceptions of danger associated with cycling is a crucial preliminary step to encouraging a student body to commute by bicycle.
4. Provide Adequate and Varied Bicycle Parking Facilities
Students need dependable places to park and lock their bikes if they are going to ride to class. A sufficient number of bike racks must be provided near the entrances to all classroom and dorm buildings, preferably with some form of shelter. Bike lockers should also be available where bikes will be stored for longer periods of time, such as at dormitories or at campus bus stations. These lockers should also be available in areas where vandalism or theft has occurred more often, as these facilities are generally considered much more secure than simply using a traditional rack.
Stanford University has constructed 12 bike locker compounds on campus, with capacity for over 180 bikes. In addition to these facilities, the campus also has an estimated 12,000 bike rack spaces [x]. The school also provides locking tips on its website and removes abandoned bicycles regularly. These efforts have paid off in terms of encouraging students to cycle. In 2010, the annual Stanford spring bike count indicated that there were over 13,000 cyclists on campus daily [xi]. Further, it is estimated that 22% of employees, off-campus students, and post-docs commute by bicycle [xii]. These figures could not have been achieved if the supporting parking capacity did not exist.
5. Build Bike Stations
An alternative to installing traditional bike racks and bike lockers, if financially feasible, is constructing bike stations around campus. These larger facilities, which can be free standing structures or retrofitted portions of existing buildings, provide secure bike parking and are able to accommodate other bicycle-related amenities and activities. For example, many existing stations have day-use lockers, restrooms, showers, changing rooms, self-repair stations, and bicycle parts and accessories for sale [xiii]. Having these facilities would help to encourage more students and faculty to cycle because of these amenities while also dispelling the perception of who commutes. The availability of lockers that allow individuals to store extra clothes and change if needed and showers provide cyclists with what may be a necessary amenity after a long ride on a hot day.
Existing bike stations require a paid membership, which provides 24/7 access to these facilities [xiv]. However, in a university setting, the use of student ID cards would allow the parking to be digitally secure without a membership. Thus, colleges are ideal settings for these types of facilities. The University of California, Davis has a bicycle club that provides numerous benefits, including access to showers and changing rooms [xv]. This amenity, in addition to implementing several innovative bicycle friendly policies and projects have contributed to UC Davis’s designation as one of the most bicycle friendly universities in the country, with approximately 39% of all commuters traveling by bicycle [xvi].
6. Make Streets Safer
There are a number of non-bicycle related measures that can be taken to improve safety not only for bicyclists, but also for pedestrians. Infrastructure improvements such as traffic calming measures effectively slow traffic speeds on calmed roads. Slower road speeds reduce not only the severity of accidents that occur, but also the frequency of collisions between pedestrians or cyclists and cars [xvii]. Such measures include creating bump-outs or curb extensions, building pedestrian refuges in the middle of streets, and narrowing traffic lanes by extending sidewalks, adding trees or planters, or better yet, adding bike lanes.
Additional actions that can be taken to enhance safety on streets on and around campus include encouraging university police or campus security to step up the enforcement of pedestrian safety laws, such as the Stop – And Stay Stopped law in New Jersey. Those who disregard pedestrians and cyclists by driving carelessly should be issued citations for violating these laws. Further, the penalty should require the driver to take a safe driving class. Representatives from Stanford University worked with the City of Palo Alto to develop a traffic calming plan for a neighborhood near campus, which included a combination of speed bumps, speed tables, and center median islands [xviii] Evaluations of the project show that overall traffic speeds and volumes in the neighborhood decreased, thus making it safer for cyclists and pedestrians in a city with a university that has some of the highest ridership rates [xix].
7. Create Incentives to Encourage Cycling as a Primary Mode of Transportation
Even if all the barriers preventing people from cycling have been eliminated, some will inevitably still need additional motivation to hop on their bike and start riding. UC Davis’s goBike! program provides students with numerous incentives to start cycling. Members of the program enjoying benefits such as a 40% discount on campus bus 10-ride passes, Enterprise Rent-A-Car vouchers, emergency ride home options, complimentary lock-cutting services, access to tool and air stations, and as previously mentioned, access to showers and locker facilities [xx]. Incentives such as these complement the use of a bicycle and thus help to encourage riding. They also provide access to other modes of transportation, such as buses and cars, for situations in which travel by other modes may be necessary. Incentives such as these are essential to encouraging students who may not normally ride otherwise to start cycling.
8. Adopt Policies to Minimize the Use of Automobiles
To enhance the benefits of having a student body that bikes to class, universities should also attempt to minimize the use of automobiles on campus. Incentives like those in the goBike! program can be coupled with criteria that cause students to drive less. Stanford’s Transportation Demand Management Program created a Commute Club, which provides $300 in Clean Air Cash and Carpool Credits for students who return their parking permits [xxi]. The program provides students with up to $96 in annual Zipcar credits and provides options to purchase daily parking passes for the select days when they need a car [xxii]. Universities can also take other measures to discourage the use of cars, such as increasing the price of parking permits, reducing or eliminating the amount of free parking available, and providing commuter financial incentives, such as offering a choice between a parking space or a transit pass [xxiii]. UC Davis has demonstrated a particularly innovative approach to minimizing the use of automobiles on campus: The University closed off the core area of campus to almost all vehicular traffic, resulting in a network of wide pedestrian walkways and bike paths. Having a campus core without cars has led to approximately 73% of on-campus residents choosing cycling as their preferred mode of travel [xxiv].
9. Improve Links between Cycling and Other Modes of Transportation
Cycling is an ideal way to travel around a college town or campus; however, some journeys that students wish to take may be impractical by bicycle. Therefore it is essential to improve links between bicycles and public transportation. Universities should work with the municipality in which they are located to provide the necessary bicycle parking at local bus and train stations. It is also essential for colleges and towns to pool their resources and collaborate in order to provide safe routes to these transit options. Having the ability to bring a bike on public transportation is another crucial link between these two modes of travel. This connection is not only beneficial for cyclists, who benefit from expanded travel options because of these racks, but it is also valuable to transit agencies who may witness increases in ridership with the addition of cyclists as new transit users. Universities should require all new university buses or shuttles to have bicycle-carrying racks and old buses should be retrofitted to include these devices. Further, students should be made aware of how to use these functions. Instructional videos detailing how to operate bicycle racks on buses, such as the film created by NJ AIM, should be made available on the university’s website. Students need to be encouraged to commute bicycle but should not be limited solely that one mode of travel.
10. Promote a Culture of Cycling with School-Wide Events and Student Organizations
Another essential measure to encourage biking on college campuses is to nurture and promote a culture of cycling. This can be accomplished through the formation of bicycle organizations and clubs and the holding of bicycle-related events. Such events could include student bike tours, bike to school days, and cyclovias. Cyclovias refer to streets that have been closed to motorized traffic, to allow cyclists, pedestrians, and other non-motorized travelers to circulate safely and freely [xxv]. An event such as this could be implemented on a college campus for a day or an entire weekend and would act as a way to expose more students to cycling while also acting as an exercise in community building. Another way to nurture the development of cycling culture is to create bicycle-related clubs and co-ops. These organizations could even operate out of on-campus bike stations if constructed. Students involved in these groups could volunteer to organize repair clinics and assist other students with basic bicycle maintenance, such as fixing flat tires and replacing brake pads. Having a cycling culture on a college campus will make students proud to bike to class and will likely encourage more students to prefer this mode of travel.
Having a student body that cycle as their primary mode of transportation is not an unrealistic scenario. As illustrated in this post, many universities have achieved this goal and continue to improve their facilities and programs in order to attract more students to bicycling. Colleges around the nation should follow these tips and model their practices on those of existing bicycle-friendly universities. Better yet, in addition to following these guidelines, schools should also develop their own innovative approaches for inspiring students to cycle. Having a bicycle-commuting student body is an attainable goal for virtually all universities and these top 10 ways demonstrate how universities can fulfill this objective.
[i] Means of Transportation to Work (New Jersey): 2000-2011 American Community Survey. U.S. Census Bureau (2011).