Beechert: Get Your Cycle On

by Michael Beechert | 9/22/13 10:00pm

As the term progresses and papers start to pile up, my backpack becomes heavier and heavier. Long walks to and from various places on campus begin to feel much longer, with little help from gradually dropping temperatures. Perhaps it's because late arrivals to class bother me, or perhaps it's just because my legs are sore, but I believe that there are few objects that facilitate life at Dartmouth better than a bike. It greatly cuts down on travel time and related physical and mental stress. Do you have consecutive classes in the Thayer School of Engineering and the Life Sciences Center? If you don't have a bike, you can enjoy cramps, shortness of breath and missing the first 10 minutes of class. But if you do, it's no sweat.

Last year, I was lucky enough to have a bike on campus in September. It made my commute to and from East Wheelock easy, and although icy conditions in the winter made it overly dangerous, the arrival of spring term and nicer weather allowed me to retrieve my bike from storage. Our reunion was brief, however, as it was stolen from outside the Hop one weekend in April, never to be seen again. Although I wish great pain on whoever did this, as my commutes around campus are now significantly longer, I have not yet acquired a replacement. There are a couple of reasons for this. Logistically, it is difficult to transport a bike from its place of purchase, which would presumably be off campus, back to Dartmouth. Cost-wise, a bike of good quality not a Walmart or K-Mart model is expensive, with many prices hovering in the hundreds of dollars. Certainly, these are common concerns, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of students do not bike, despite the fact that most of them, I'm sure, would appreciate the use of one.

Fortunately, this issue presents a fairly straightforward solution or, at the very least, the College could adopt a program that would greatly benefit the student body. Bike-sharing programs, which have been implemented in major cities across the world and at various college campuses, have provided a cheap and easy-to-use method of community transportation. Although the details of each program vary, they operate on the same set of principles. Some central body, whether a city government or a school administration, purchases a large number of used bicycles. The relatively low cost of this initial investment is, at least in schools, partially offset by membership fees paid by participating students. These students are then able to "check-out" bikes from designated locations, much like they would books from a library. The students are then able to use the bikes and return them after a certain period of time.

Dartmouth has attempted to implement a bike system before, but, not all that surprisingly, the program failed. Students stole or defaced bikes, and bikes that developed mechanical problems were not fixed. Although such a system will never run perfectly, implementing a measure of accountability for those who wish to check out bikes would combat theft and vandalism. Instead of placing bikes randomly around campus and leaving them up for grabs, whoever runs the system should designate several places across campus to serve as bike hubs, so that students could only check out bikes at, say, the gym, the library and Thayer. Each of these locations would be staffed by either a student or a College employee, from whom students would have to also loan a bike and accompanying lock. Students can swipe their ID cards to receive a bike, keeping a record of each transaction containing both the identity of the student and the particular bike he or she borrowed. After a certain period of time, the bike would be due back.

Although such a program would undoubtedly experience some growing pains, any problems that crop up could be resolved as the system ages. The tangible benefit that a properly planned and managed bike-sharing could provide to the student body warrants its inception, and Student Assembly and the College would be well-advised to seriously consider funding and implementing such a proposal.