I was asked recently to sit on a bike panel at the Powershift 2009 conference for the Ohio chapter of Powershift (or something like that). Powershift is a group that is trying to pass climate change legislation and to promote alternative energy solutions. Part of reducing our impact on the environment is exploring alternate sources of transportation, like biking. The conference, while not directly set up as such, was mostly students from universities around Ohio.
I expect I was supposed to give the planner’s perspective on cycling, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. Our panel was composed of the director of the Ohio City Bike Co-op here in Cleveland, the president of Cleveland Bikes! (an advocacy organization), the director of the Oberlin Bike Co-op and myself, a grad student who doesn’t actually work in bike planning but works on the same team as one. I suppose my real qualification was the fact that I don’t own a car. Most of the students who attended our panel were interested in creating bicycle organizations such as co-ops or rental programs on their campus. It was really heart-warming to hear students from all kinds of colleges who are interested in promoting cycling for transportation.
Not every student can have a car on campus, or could even afford one, but certainly we could get more access to bikes. Considering the costs of parking on some campuses, a small fee to rent a bike for a semester suddenly seems like an attractive economic alternative. Especially if most of your travel is local.
At the same time, it was a little sad to realize that a) I was the ONLY representative from Cleveland State University (and wouldn’t have even come unless I was on that panel) and b) there are successful bike programs on some campuses, yet we are struggling to get Cleveland State to put in bike racks. I don’t really see a bike cooperative or rental program really working on our campus because it’s mostly commuters, but the least we can do is put in racks in visible, well-lit, prominent places for people like me and many classmates who do cycle to school. We’re an urban school with a stellar school of urban affairs. Promoting biking should be a natural fit.