Both IU and Bloomington have kicked around the idea of a bike share program for several years. Now, it may become a reality.
Jane St. John, a consultant working on the project with the City of Bloomington, said she estimates the program will be unveiled early next fall.
St. John said other cities have started similar programs, including the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare program in Indianapolis and the Zagster bike share program in Carmel, Indiana.
"We're looking to them as examples, learning from them," she said.
Kevin Whited, IU’s transportation coordinator and bicycle manager, said the initial cost once made a bike share unlikely. Now, he said programs are switching to a new model in which bike share companies foot the bill and get the profit.
“We earn absolutely nothing, but we have to pay absolutely nothing,” he said. “We just get the benefits of the bike share program for free basically.”
Right now, Whited said representatives from IU and the city are researching bike share companies, considering contracts, drafting proposals and planning how many bikes are needed. He said he hopes the proposal will be done in the next two weeks.
The program also needs approval from many IU offices, including architect and legal offices. Because IU is particular about what it allows on its campus, Whited said this step takes time.
Whited said getting the bikes to Bloomington will also take time. Many companies don’t keep bikes in stock, so they would need time to produce and ship the bikes.
St. John said another obstacle to consider is protecting the program’s bikes from theft and vandalism. As a result, they are considering open, well-lit areas for bike rack locations.
As they continue the planning process, St. John said she wants the input of the community.
“We want to know what Bloomington and IU want from a bike share program,” she said. “We want to listen and make this a partnership, not only between us, but with the entire community.”
Whited said IU and Bloomington would sign different contracts but work with the same company. As a result, the bikes will be in the same system and able to flow back and forth.
“A student can pick up a bike in downtown Bloomington and drop it off on campus,” he said.
In the past, St. John said bike share programs only used docks where users would have to take their bikes after each ride. Now, she said there’s the option of going dockless.
Whited said this would involve linking bike racks on campus to geo-sensors so that bikes would check in when placed in any registered rack.
Renting a bike would involve downloading an app and typing out a number or scanning a QR code on the bike, Whited said.
St. John said they are also working on ways to make the program accessible to people without smart phones through a cash payment option.
Olivia Ranseen, IU Student Association Chief of Sustainability, said the convenience of the program is its biggest draw. She said if students are coming from far off campus, they may still use a bus. But if they’re just off campus or traveling between places just farther than walking distance, renting a bike is the best bet.
Ranseen said there are a lot of transportation options at IU, but not all of them are convenient, cover all of Bloomington or are affordable.
“That’s where bike share comes in,” she said. “It’s the ease of a bike without the hassle and cost.”
St. John said getting people out of cars and onto bikes can reduce traffic for drivers. For bikers, she said biking can be just as fast as or faster than cars in Bloomington traffic.
Ranseen said switching from cars and buses to bikes cuts back fossil fuel emissions and reduces Bloomington’s carbon footprint.
But she said it’s hard to get people to make choices that are better for the environment because it is usually more work.
“So when it comes to reducing emissions, the trick is to make it as convenient as possible for people,” she said. “Only then are they going to think twice about it.”
A bike share program would also meet what she said is IU’s obligation to make sustainable options available to students.
“The university is creating professionals and academics who’ll one day change the world,” she said. “But it also needs to show students how they can make an impact now.”
She said both IU and Bloomington are trying to make sure its students and residents have bright futures, and part of that lies with protecting the environment.
“The city has to look out for its future citizens,” she said. “It’s easy for us to get lost in the present, but it’s a government’s job to always be thinking about the future. And that future depends on us conserving our environment.”
Whited said biking is more important now than ever because people live such sedentary lifestyles. He said biking can also improve moods and avoiding heavy traffic for cars and buses can reduce stress.
While she doesn’t know exactly how much a bike share program will affect student health, Ranseen said she knows it offers a convenient, sustainable and healthy way to travel.
“It fosters a culture of engaging with the environment around you and doing physical activity that fosters a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
Ranseen said this bike culture was once the norm at IU. In 2011, IU was given a bronze award for bicycle friendliness at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C. When 2015 rolled around, this award expired, and IU did not earn it back.
The bike share program may be able to make IU one of the most bike-friendly campuses in the U.S. once again, she said.
“There was an initial push toward being bike-friendly, but we’ve kind of lost our way,” she said. “Now’s the time to regain that.”
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