Grab a bike, get to class

Next month, students may never have an excuse for being late to class again.

Under student government’s Public Rec Program Pilot Study, the university will distribute a fleet of 40 to 45 one-speed 1950s-style cruiser bikes around campus to be shared by the campus community. The study will also place 10 heavy plastic outdoor containers around campus filled with an assortment of outdoor recreational equipment.

Neither the equipment containers nor the bicycles will be locked at any time.

The program is the brainchild of Student Body President Karl Sjogren, a senior social and decision sciences major, and Student Body Vice President Andrea Hamilton, a senior art and ethics, history, and public policy major.

The initiative was passed by Student Senate at its February 15 meeting.

The pilot study is designed to allow students and staff to use the equipment at their leisure. Rather than having to take time “signing out” a bike and locking it up, anyone on campus can grab a bike in order to ride across campus to make a class, go grocery shopping, or relax and take a ride through Schenley Park. Once a person is finished with the bike, he or she can leave it at any rack on campus for someone else to borrow.

The plan is a way to promote a stronger sense of campus community and increase personal mobility, Sjogren said. The bikes are meant to make surrounding areas like Shadyside and East Liberty seem open and accessible to students who might otherwise be confined to campus.

The athletic equipment in the outdoor containers is meant to facilitate general camaraderie and activity around campus, Sjogren said. When weather improves in the spring, students will be more inclined to relax, read a book, or do homework on the cut. He hopes providing the communal athletic equipment will bring activities to places where students already congregate.

The pilot study will begin the last week of March or the first week of April. The kick-off ceremony will also include a contest in which groups or individuals can enter to paint one of the bikes.

The bikes and the equipment will all be painted red with yellow, blue, and green stripes to resemble Tartan plaid.

The highly recognizable motif is one measure being taken to prevent theft, one of the major concerns of some members of Student Senate. While Senate passed the initiative with a vote of 19:3:2, according to the minutes for the February 15 meeting, members questioned how the program was going to be run from a logistical standpoint.

Since Carnegie Mellon is considered an urban campus, members argued, the initiative may lure people from outside the school to campus to steal bikes or equipment.

Sean Weinstock, a junior business major and member of Student Senate, felt that there were better ways to run this program. For example, he suggested having the info desk facilitate the borrowing of bikes and equipment. This way, the university would not have to hire and pay new personnel, and all items could be accounted for.

“Anyone can come on campus and take this equipment,” Weinstock said of the current plan.

However, Weinstock agreed with Sjogren’s objective, which is to foster a stronger sense of campus identity. If run properly, Weinstock said, this initiative will achieve that goal.

The total cost of the pilot will be upwards of $13,000, Sjogren said. Senate has allotted $2000 for the project; other donations will come from various university and private sources, including Carnegie Mellon Athletics, Student Affairs Council Chairman Mike Murphy, President Cohon, Student Development, Student Activities, and Student Dormitory Council.

The university will purchase the cruisers from Iron City Bikes, who will also be coming to campus to perform light maintenance and oil changes on the bikes throughout the year.

While some members of the university regard the project as fiscally irresponsible, Sjogren reiterated that the funding will only cover the one-year pilot study. Throughout that time, student government and university personnel will gather data to determine whether sustaining the project is worth the full cost.

He defended the practice of non-regulation by stating that the cost of setting up a network of card readers at each bike rack and equipment container would end up being more expensive than just having to replace lost or stolen equipment.

Preliminary numbers show that it will be cheaper to have $1500 stolen than to institute security or card readers.

“We know people are going to steal,” Sjogren said.

If the study shows that the rate of theft compared to the price of replacing equipment is low enough, he explained, the program can continue, even though it will never have the ability to generate revenue.

If the project continues past the trial period, the Public Rec Program plans to increase the fleet by six to 10 bikes per year.

Carnegie Mellon is not the first college or university to institute such a project.

A similar program at the College of William and Mary was instituted in 2004. The project has been successful, but it is run by the administration and the college locks up the bikes at night.

In contrast, Sjogren spoke positively of the fact that neither the bikes nor the equipment boxes under Carnegie Mellon’s plan will be locked.

“[This way] enforcement does not belong to one person,” he said.

Rather, he explained, the program is contingent upon students policing themselves and their peers in using the equipment.

The Rec Plan is based on the mutual trust of the student body as a whole, Sjogren said. The success of such a plan does not just reward the individual, he added, but is a vote of confidence for the entire campus community.