Berea Blue Bikes, a campus-wide bike sharing program, is officially open for Berea College students and faculty. Operated by the Berea Bikes Community Shop, located in the bottom floor of the Alumni Building, Berea Blue Bikes will allow members of the Berea College community to check out bikes for a certain period of time and ride them wherever they need to go. Much like with library books, patrons will be able to check out a bike for free and renew their checkout if necessary. This program, which existed in a previous form in 2005, has been created as “an easy way for Berea students and faculty alike to have access to bicycles as an alternative to walking or driving around the community,” says Jordan Engel, Berea student and co-founder of Berea Blue Bikes. This program has been made possible through the efforts and initiative of Engel, a junior, and his fellow Berea Bikes employee, Denny Scalf, a senior.
Engel and Scalf were inspired to create Berea Blue Bikes in an unexpected way. “I got this bike manual for the shop called The Chainbreaker Bike Book,” says Scalf, “and I was looking through the directory for bike share programs. Under the listing for Kentucky, I found one that said ‘Berea Bikes’.” Surprised, the two students asked around and found out that the shop they work for was actually created in tandem with a bike share program that failed a few years back.
“The old system was unsuccessful,” explains Engel, “because most of the bikes ended up getting stolen. They were not locked up and merely left around campus.” In order to resolve that issue, The two have been working closely with Berea College Public Safety. The program now runs similar to the school’s transportation motor pool, and has protections and incentives in place to make the process run smoother and safer.
When a person comes into the bike shop, he or she will be able to check out a bike, a U-lock, and its key for a 48-hour period. They will have the option to ‘renew’ the bike for an additional 24 hours, but will have to wait a day after that before being able to check it out again. This is to ensure that all patrons have an opportunity to use the bikes. There will be a small fee, similar to library fines, if they keep it longer than that.
“Our goal is not to charge people or make money off the Blue Bikes,” explains Engel, “It will be a service, not a business.” In fact, if a person returns a damaged bike, he or she will have the option of fixing it for free at the shop, which specializes in teaching bike repair and maintenance. Says Engel, “Our spiel to people who might be hesitant about it is that it’s a feasible means of alternative transportation. You get stuck on campus and you need to go places. So you get a car, but then you get all the problems that go along with that. Hopefully people will start to consider Berea Blue Bikes as an alternative.” As such, the program is considerate of peoples’ various transportation needs. For example, some are fitted with baskets for grocery shopping.
The idea for this program has taken off and received enthusiastic help from many in the college community. “Everyone has been really supportive, including the Student Government Association (SGA), its president, Ahmad Shuja, and the whole Public Safety Department in general,” says Engel, “Having a bike share system is a proven way to reduce bicycle thefts in an area. It’s an asset to Berea’s public safety because if people have access to free bikes, then there is less incentive to steal.” All of the bikes are painted a distinctive shade of blue for identification and have a number corresponding to their key in the shop. This also helps Public Safety keep tabs on the bikes.
Berea Blue Bikes is a great representation of the college’s commitment to sustainability education. “I really hope that this program can contribute to us having a cycling culture on campus,” says Engel, “It’s an important investment for the future. I think that increasingly, as we try to live more sustainably and ethically, or just because of necessity, bicycles will play a very important part of future transportation, which will become more localized.” As well, the program is a celebration of the bike itself. “It’s a more versatile machine than we give it credit for,” says Scalf. Engel calls it “one of the most egalitarian machines ever invented.”
Berea Blue Bikes is open for students and faculty, and a Grand Opening is planned for Monday, April 25 at 6 PM. It will be held at the Baird Lounge in the Alumni Building. There will be information about the program, chili, and a screening of bicycling movie, The Flying Scotsman.