At forum, officials discuss bike rental program

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Plans are in place to establish a bike rental system and new parking areas for bikes. Buy this photo

By Taylor Wizner, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 24, 2012

In an effort to improve conditions for bicyclists in Ann Arbor, the Office of Campus Sustainability and Parking and Transportation Services sponsored a town hall meeting at the Michigan League last night to foster discussion on transportation in Ann Arbor.

Students, Ann Arbor citizens and city and campus officials discussed the upcoming implementation of a bike rental system and brainstormed the possible development of increased bike lanes on city streets, and the creation of additional areas for bicycle parking on campus.

University Planner Susan Gott said improving bicycle parking conditions is an important initiative for the University, particularly through adding more parking stations or advanced structures on campus.

“We are looking for the best areas for the structures,” Gott said. “Would it be in our highest use areas, for example around the residential halls where we have high volumes of students, or by our transit centers …”

She added the University is taking “competing interests into consideration” in order to create the most effective program for students.

Steven Dolen, executive director of Parking and Transportation and panelist at the forum, discussed how the upcoming bike rental system was developed largely as a response to student need for bike transportation on campus.

“The rental program is our first step in really showing our commitment,” Dolen said. “I think it’s a small step, but it is something we can do quickly that we know there is a need (for) and what people want to see more (of). So we think this is a great way to start.”

Panelist John Swerdlow, senior assistant director of Outdoor Adventures, said he is looking forward to the bike rental system and the increased convenience for students.

“I think that we can create some opportunities with the rental bikes, whether it’s for freshman or working out day trips open for the weekend when students might otherwise not be renting bikes,” Swerdlow said in an interview after the event.

Swerdlow added implementing a sharing system, which would allow students to use bicycles on campus for free as needed and then pass them off to their peers, is more difficult, as he has witnessed the program fail in different towns.

“The idea of the bike sharing is very exciting, but as I’ve been to many of these communities (with bike sharing programs) and seen it’s difficult to plan successfully,” he said. “I think people will need to be patient in order for it to work out.”

Dolen added that some bikers said covered bike parking is unnecessary since bikes would be exposed to wet conditions as they are riding anyway. Despite the discrepancies, most parties agreed that there is a need for additional bike parking, including better enclosed parking areas. These structures could be open areas in vehicle parking structures, according to Dolen.

“Enclosed is better, because it is better protected, and has a higher level of security,” Dolen said.

Rackham student Parrish Bergquist has collaborated with the city of Ann Arbor on several projects involving the University. She said she is pleased with the new bike renting system, but hopes bike sharing will eventually be implemented.

“Bike sharing is still in the planning and resources gathering phase because we haven’t found a funding source for that and that’s what we are working on right now,” Bergquist said.

Emma Kelly, an LSA sophomore who spoke at the forum about her biking habits, said she leaves her bike at home during the winter because there isn’t a place to store her bike to keep it from rusting, and would benefit from increased storage space on campus.

“If we have enclosed bike racks by the residence halls and storage right now, students will keep their bikes there,” Kelly said. “I know there is a lot of wear and tear with the snow and if we had covered or enclosed bike structure there it might promote year round biking.”

LSA senior Catherine Kent said she came to voice her perspective, adding she developed a particular interest in bicycle use on campus after developing a project for her Sustainability on Campus class to make campus more bike-friendly.

“There were (four) aspects to my project — distribution of education materials to students, infrastructure bike lanes and bike pathways, bike sharing/rental program and collaboration of city and University,” Kent said. “Some of these are happening already and some aren’t, so that’s why I’m here.”

The attendees also discussed setting up a website with information for Ann Arbor cyclists. Gott said the forum’s planners would follow up with attendees by distributing surveys and analyzing the feedback.