Commuting by bicycle is on the rise, and bike advocates hope to tout the lifestyle’s financial and health benefits to a group with less money and more stress: college students.
Higher education representatives from across Maryland gathered at Hood College Jan. 16 for Bike Maryland’s second “Bike-Friendly University” workshop, a day of speakers looking to grow the number of college campuses where two wheels are as welcome as four.
Bike share advocate Peter Agovino said students can use bikes to arrive at classes, run errands or visit others across distances too far to walk but too short to drive. Having transportation options makes them more likely to be out and about and productive, he said.
“The ability for your students to get up and go enhances their quality of life,” Agovino said.
Bike commuting in the U.S. has increased by 61 percent from 2000 to 2012, according to Bill Nesper, vice president of programs for the League of American Bicyclists.
Schools can apply for recognition by the League’s “Bike Friendly University” program, which has certified 75 schools in the U.S. so far. The University of Maryland, College Park, is the only institution in the state on that list. It holds a silver rating, the second of four possible levels of recognition from bronze to platinum.
A bike-friendly school features infrastructure like wide roads, plentiful bike lanes and sidewalks, bike parking or stations; offers workshops or other opportunities to learn about biking and maintenance; employs a bike coordinator and uses a bike share or commuter incentive program.
“You may not have money to buy a car in college” but you can ride a bike largely free of cost with the added benefit of exercise,” Bike Maryland program coordinator Katie Lupo said.
Hood spokesman Dave Diehl, a cycling enthusiast, said the school is “as bike-friendly as we can be,” but hopes to offer more bike education events and encourage more students to commute on bikes.
He added that students who choose to ride in Frederick enjoy a safe and respectful city for cyclists, whether on city streets or other trails.
Hood offers free bike rental to its students through the Campus Safety Student Bike Program, started in 2010. Four bikes, helmets and a cable lock are available for up to four hours at a time.
Students who bring their own bikes to campus are required to register them for free with the Department of Campus Safety.
“We’re taking baby steps in the right direction ... but we haven’t been that public about it,” Diehl said of students’ awareness of bike services on campus.
Neither Mount St. Mary’s University nor Frederick Community College offer bike share programs. FCC incorporates bike racks into the design and construction of new buildings on campus, as mandated by Maryland law. Private institutions are not bound by that law, but Hood and the Mount do have on-campus bike racks.
Mount St. Mary’s Director of Public Safety Barry Titler said he’d like to start a bike sharing program at the university but doesn’t yet know if there’s enough demand for one. He said the school collects around 10 bikes a year from students who leave them behind during summer break, and would use those to start a pilot program and gauge interest.
Not many students use bikes to commute in Emmitsburg because there are fewer places to go than in more urban areas, he said.
Lupo said colleges looking to expand bike culture on campus should appoint a “bike ambassador,” someone who can tout their usefulness or start a rental program for students. Promoting the school’s existing bike racks or other infrastructure, as well as discussing safe cycling through social media, can hook students who might not seek out bikes on their own.
The more familiar bikes become to a student, Lupo said, the more likely they are to incorporate their two wheels into life after graduation.
“Start biking in college, and you’ll keep biking elsewhere,” she said.
Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras.