A Book and a Bike

A new bicycle sharing program gives students an easy way to get around

It’s just the kind of spring day you want to spend reading a book on the academic quad—or maybe taking a bike ride. Now you can do both. Check out a book at Tisch Library, and while you’re there, you can check out a bike, too.

That combo constitutes the new bicycle-sharing program launched April 1 by the student group Tufts Bikes, which has seen hundreds of students—as well as faculty and staff—borrow a set of wheels to tool around campus and beyond.

“It was amazingly popular even in its first week, and we’re all very excited about that,” says senior Jason Merges, one of several co-founders of Tufts Bikes. “The past couple of days I’ve walked by the racks and seen only two or three of the 30 bikes left.”

The setup is simple. Take your Tufts ID to the library circulation desk, sign a waiver form and receive a helmet and a key to your bike. Head out to the special bike stands on the library patio and the Campus Center’s lower patio to get your wheels and for the next eight hours, the bike is yours. You can even check on the availability of bikes by going to the Tisch Library website and searching “Tufts Bike.”

Tufts joins the ranks of about 100 colleges nationwide that have bike-share programs. Besides the obvious benefit to the environment, the Tufts Bikes organizers see the program as a healthy and convenient way to explore the surrounding area and take advantage of local arts, theater, music and sports.

“We view it as a way for students to get off campus whenever they want,” says senior Daniel Heller, one of the program founders. He says it’s great for people wanting to enjoy a show and late dinner and not having to worry about catching the MBTA’s last train at 1 a.m. There’s also a larger agenda: “Our far-reaching goal is to expand this program and encourage bike culture on campus,” he adds. Tufts Bikes students will begin discussions about possible expansion in the fall based on analysis of use over the program’s first months.

From the Ground Up

The new program was the brainchild of several students, all lifelong biking enthusiasts. But its real catalyst was Sally Sharrow, A11.

“I first heard about campus bike sharing at a conference of student environmental leaders I attended in Washington, D.C., in 2009,” she says. “The idea stayed in my head, and after coming back from studying abroad and working with a bicycle advocacy organization in Quito, Ecuador, I knew I wanted to have this happen at Tufts this year.”

“Sally came up to a few of us and suggested the idea,” Merges says. They started talking with peers at schools with bike-share programs, including Macalester College, Clark University and Brandeis, to learn the ins and outs. “I think our bike share incorporates the best of all those other programs,” Sharrow says.

The Tufts Bikes team has been actively working on the project since last September, say Merges. The timing was perfect: the student senate had extra funds it needed to distribute to campus groups, and Tufts Bikes fit the bill.

The group received a $50,000 grant from the senate, which paid for 30 bikes as well as helmets, locks, racks and professional bike tools. It also paid for rack shelters, which should be installed in the next few weeks. Working with a variety of campus organizations, including the Craft House, Tufts Sustainability Collective, the Office of Sustainability, the Programming Board, the Facilities Department and Tisch Library, they managed to get the idea off the ground quickly.

But it’s not like they can sit back and relax now that the program has launched. About 15 to 20 students attend regular Tufts Bikes meetings; they also have an email list of about 200 members. “Our mechanics have been working hard to make sure the bikes are all in working order each day, and the circulation desk at the library has been really great about adding this to all the other things they do,” Merges says.

As the weather gets nicer, the Tufts Bikes team will be leading more group rides; the first one a couple of weeks ago took riders along the Minuteman bike trail, which runs along the historic rail route from Bedford to Cambridge, though Lexington, Arlington and Somerville.

“The first couple of weeks have been extremely gratifying,” says Sharrow. “Every time I’ve been out working on the bikes, I’ve talked to so many people who are excited or curious about the program.”

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.

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