Why UIUC Needs a Bike-Sharing Program

Today, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has four primary means of transportation for students, faculty, and staff:

  • Walking
  • Bicycling
  • Personal automobiles
  • Public transit

Walking from destination to destination is by far the most common way people get around campus, and the University’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page cites that more than 14,000 students and a fair number of university faculty bring bicycles to campus to take advantage of the 4.7 miles of bicycle paths. As for driving, about 75% of all students here have a car on campus, according to U.S. News & World Report. The public transit options, run by the Champaign-Urbana Mass-Transit District (CUMTD), offer a lot of services:

  • Frequent and regular buses with generally comprehensive routes
  • Specialty curb-to-curb paratransit for individuals covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • SafeRides for safe transit after dark in remote locations
  • Specific bus routes like tranSPORT for express transport to the University’s Assembly Hall on game days.

With so many options invested in by the university administration for how students, staff, and faculty can get to class, it may seem like the current system doesn’t need any improvement. However, we all know how large the Urbana-Champaign campus is–7.1 square miles of total building facilities, in fact, not including any of the distances between all these buildings–and once this is taken into account, it’s easy to understand how walking from destination to destination on a daily basis can be both unfeasible and a waste of time.

That said, the two major modes of individual transportation–biking and driving cars–aren’t perfect either. While students, faculty, and staff bringing bicycles and private automobiles to campus is fairly common, both of these require time commitments of finding parking each bike or car trip as well as significant finances in the vehicles. For example, a user-generated article from Forbes Magazine estimates the average cost of purchasing a standard bicycle at around $400, with an average maintenance cost of $100 per year. As for automobiles, Samantha from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s undergraduate student admissions blog notes that a parking permit on campus costs an average of $600 annually and also involves hefty costs like paying for gas and automobile insurance. Additionally, pedestrians are emphasized through campus infrastructure policies like frequent pedestrian crosswalks, many major roads being reconstructed as one-way streets, and low automobile speed limits, all of which are relatively high barriers for new drivers to navigate. International and out-of-state students are particularly disadvantaged as they cannot easily bring a bicycle or automobile to campus; these students would have to either rent out campus space or somehow bring the bicycles or automobiles home for the summer, and continually repeating this process throughout his or her time at the university is both costly and impractical.

Meanwhile, while the services provided by the CUMTD are very useful–often only having a few minutes for margin of error and already paid for in student tuition fees or covered in staff and faculty’s benefits–they can also be insufficient. For instance, the CUMTD does not operate on major holidays, only runs skeleton crews of bus routes every half hour after nightfall, and has limited weekend schedules. As services stand now, students, staff, and faculty who need to meet after hours, on holidays, or on weekends for extracurricular activities, group projects, or conferences cannot rely on the CUMTD. Additionally, there is an inherent lack of convenience and independence from relying on public transit in general, and being just a minute too late to board a bus can result in the unfortunate (and commonly shared) experience of being late to classes, meetings, or interviews.

One solution for these inefficiencies would be to introduce a bike-sharing program at UIUC. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the specific policy we hope to install as well as benefits of doing so!

Bike-Sharing: A Primer

So what, you ask, does a modern bike-sharing program exactly entail? According to B-Cycle–an experienced bike-sharing company with locations in 13 major U.S. cities–it’s basically a program that lets you have “a bike when you need it and gone when you don’t!”

While the first bike-sharing programs in the mid-1990’s relied heavily on the honor system (and unfortunately saw numerous instances of vandalism and theft), bike-sharing programs these days are very technologically advanced. Many programs have electronic docking kiosks for people to rent out and return bikes and almost all have attached either GPS (“global positioning system;” often used for individual travel directions as well as directing farm equipment) or RFID (“radio frequency identification;” often used in store merchandise to prevent theft) capabilities, or both, to individual bikes. Because of new rules for accountability, bike-sharing programs have become a lot more financially sustainable than in years past, and the following is usually how they work:

  1. Purchase a period membership either online or on-site at a bike kiosk. Example membership periods include options like 24-hours, a few months, to even a whole year!
  2. Take out a bike from any docking station with either a card swipe or personalized pin code. We’re proposing using university-issued iCards to make this process more streamlined!
  3. Bike! The first half hour is commonly free; additional rental fees increase afterwards by hour.
  4. Return the bike to any docking station. If bikes aren’t returned at all to any docking station within a certain time frame–generally an average of 3 days–it’s counted as “stolen” and a bulk fee is charged to the same account that initially paid for the bike-sharing membership.

These bike-sharing programs–especially ones based in the midwest–typically close in mid-December when the first snows start.

The key for success in a bike-sharing program, though, is that a targeted area is densely populated with many bike-sharing docks. Nobody wants to go out of his or her way to find a docking station close to the final destination just to return a shared bike, it’s too much effort!

…And that’s the gist of a standard bike-sharing program! We’ll be covering the current transportation situation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as well as the many benefits and planned implementation of a bike-sharing program soon, so stay tuned for more updates!

The Primordial Post

If you’re reading this, welcome! This blog will be focusing on the idea of having a bike-sharing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We are a group of students really interested in this idea, and we hope to convince our lovely readers to help support our proposal!

So what is bike-sharing? Throughout many major cities and college campuses across the United States, administrations are implementing programs where people can take bikes from designated bike racks, ride them for a certain amount of time, and then return them to any bike rack on campus. This will be incredibly helpful for anyone who misses the bus by mere seconds and will be late to class if they wait for the next one, or if you’re just so darn sick of walking, but can’t manage to bring a bike or car to school!

Stay tuned for more updates and information, and in the meantime, happy Sunday!