Biking booms on the Hill, with SUNY ESF bike-lending program and plans in works at SU

More than 80 students signed up for SUNY ESF's bike library in the fall.

Bicycling at Syracuse University is on a roll, thanks to a bike-lending program at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and other efforts to make using bikes more convenient.

Eighty-seven new students at SUNY-ESF signed up for the university’s “bike library” in September, signaling a boom in the popularity of the program. The bike library, headquartered at Moon Library and now funded by the student organization Cycling Connection, was started in 2013 by two ESF honors students, said Melissa Fierke, an associate professor at SUNY-ESF who helped with the program’s initial planning and conception.

Photo: Katy Beals
Melissa Fierke estimates that SUNY-ESF has approximately 300 spots for bicycles on campus.

“The students got grants, and they purchased five Kona AfricaBikes, which are really, really nice, and they went down and bought 10 at-cost helmets from the head trauma unit, and they pulled this whole bike library together,” Fierke said.

While students didn’t show much interest when the program started, Fierke said sign-ups soared earlier this semester at the ESF involvement fair, where the Cycling Connection set up a table and shared information about bike safety. Safety tips included wearing helmets and not using two earphones at the same time. The group waived the usual $20 registration fee associated with the library that afternoon.

“It was a little slow starting off because there’s an insurance waiver form and a safety course you have to take, because we want people to be safe, and so for many people it just seemed like all these hoops to jump through,” said Stephen Weiter, director of ESF college libraries.

“This year, the student groups have gone out of their way to really promote this through the activities fairs and stuff that we’ve done on the quad, and so interest has peaked in the last couple weeks,” Weiter said. “I think they’re really doing a great job at marketing it.”

Even with the recent spike in popularity, Fierke said she does not predict that the bike library will expand anytime soon. “I think that a lot of ESF-ers have bicycles already, simple as that,” Fierke said.

And she’s right. Twenty-four percent of the ESF students who responded to a school survey in 2012 on commuting habits said they commute by bike.

“We have 300-something spots for bicycles and they’re always full during halfway-decent weather, so I don’t see us expanding the bike library anytime soon,” Fierke said. “I think if SU was to have a bike library, it would be really successful, especially with the squeezing of parking.”  

Fierke’s idea of an SU bike share program isn’t too futuristic. It’s already in the works, said Scot Vanderpool, manager of parking and transit services at SU.

“We are still trying to identify exactly what our program will look like,” Vanderpool said. The program would use bicycles that students left behind after school ended last spring, he said.

Planners are considering offering shuttle bikes at South Campus parking areas and on the main campus, so that commuters could easily get back and forth, said Fierke, who has been talking with Vanderpool about an SU bike-share program.

“Our current goal is to just start the ripple in the pond,” Vanderpool said. “Our real goal all along has always been to develop a decent bike program for the university.

Vanderpool foresees that the bike-sharing program could expand to the larger Syracuse community if it gains some early success. “There is definitely a broad community-wide interest,” he said.

There are other bike infrastructure programs in the Syracuse area in the works as well, Fierke said. She talked to town planners in DeWitt about creating bike programs in the area, and that she knows there are plans to expand bike infrastructure in the city of Syracuse.

Infrastructure is critical in order to put a bike share program in place, she said, comparing it to putting the cart in front of the horse. Fierke and others say that this will mean making streets near campus safer for bicyclists.

Brent Silberman, an information and technology senior who lives on Westcott Street and commutes to class by bike, said Euclid Avenue is especially difficult for cyclers. He said he thinks there should be more bike lanes, especially on Euclid Avenue where current bike lanes are inconsistent.  

Silberman also said he believes that there is a market for a bike share program in the SU community.

“For kids who live far off campus like me, or kids that live far away like international students, they could really use the chance to rent a bike and bike from Westcott to class,” he said. “If they could, I think they’d definitely do it.” 

Great Idea

I used to go to Portland State University and it was the same thing, really cool idea especially when its an urban university.

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