Bike share programs are now commonplace in New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C., and new programs are being planned or launched in smaller U.S. cities every week. The City of Charleston is among those considering a bike share program.
But students, faculty and staff at the College of Charleston already have access to a bike share program – one that is free, convenient, and easy to use.
The College’s Office of Sustainability launched the pilot program in August 2013. With only minimal advertising since then, the program has seen steady use, logging nearly 300 bike checkouts during fall semester alone. And most riders are repeat customers, including several students who have checked out bikes as many as nine times per month.
With spring just around the corner, the program’s organizers are expecting a spike in bike checkouts.
“Bike sharing in general is starting to get a lot more publicity, especially after New York City launched its program,” said Aaron Holly, a graduate assistant in the Office of Sustainability who manages the bike share program with a team of undergraduate interns.
With university-sponsored bike share programs still something of a novelty around the country, Holly said it’s significant that the College’s program is already up and running. If the program continues to see steady demand, that could provide encouragement to City of Charleston officials as they evaluate whether to start a bike share program.
The College’s program is a great option for people who commute to campus by car or bus but who may want a bicycle to get around downtown Charleston during the day. It’s also attractive to people who live downtown but don’t own a bike, Holly said. “Aside from the sustainability aspects, the attraction for a lot of people is you don’t have to worry about storing and maintaining a bike.”
Holly is a graduate student in the College’s dual degree program in environmental studies and public administration. An experienced cyclist, he recently demonstrated how the checkout process works and offered some safety tips for first-time users.
Before you can checkout a bike, you’ll need to watch a short video, take a safety quiz, and sign a waiver – all of which can be completed online at http://bike.cofc.edu/bike-share-program.
Eight beach cruiser-style bikes are available for check out at the Stern Student Center information desk. After presenting a valid Cougar Card, you’ll be assigned a bike number and a corresponding bike lock key, offered a helmet, and given a pair of LED lights to affix to the bike.
The bikes are locked to a bike rack outside the Stern Center along Glebe Street. They can be checked out on weekdays and weekends but must be returned before the Stern Center closes.
“The Stern Center and the staff and students in the Office of Student Life have been instrumental to the success of the program,” Holly said.
For those who don’t ride a bicycle regularly or are more familiar with road and mountain bikes, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes getting acquainted with the beach cruiser, especially before taking it out for a spin around the city.
The bikes are equipped with footbrakes rather than handbrakes. That’s not something you want to realize for the first time while attempting to make a sudden stop.
Another feature that may take some getting used to for new riders is the bike’s handlebars, which are wider than on many other styles of bikes.
While helmets are not required, they are strongly encouraged. After hearing from some users that the helmets provided at checkout were unattractive and uncomfortable, the bike share staff upgraded to sleeker, racing-style helmets that are easily adjusted.
There also have been requests for bike baskets. Holly hopes to soon add metal baskets as an option during checkout.
While riding around downtown Charleston, Holly pointed out some of the most common risks associated with cycling in an urban environment.
Riding with the flow of vehicle traffic, which is the law, can be challenging on some of Charleston’s narrow one-way streets. He stressed the need to obey all traffic lights and signs, use proper hand signals (you’ll learn them in the training video) and to stay alert for other bicyclists, skateboarders and the doors of parked cars.
Most of all, share the road, Holly advised. Maintain your space – you have a right to be there – but don’t antagonize motorists. “Our roads were built for cars, and they aren’t going away,” he said. “So we have to co-exist.”
Questions about the bike share program should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.