It’s no secret that bicycles offer a simple solution to limited parking, improve the environment and provide riders with good exercise. That’s why colleges and universities in Florida are using safety and incentive programs to encourage students to use bicycles as their means of transportation.
The increase of student cyclists and bicycles on campus has had positive implications and a few negative ones as well.
Many schools use campus events to acquaint students with various aspects of cycling, from safety and repairs to traffic laws.
“Promoting bicycling is a very big issue for us…,” said Major Brad Barber of the University of Florida’s Police Department. “We had a bicycle rodeo where we gave away bike accessories, including free bike helmets, and local law enforcement agencies taught about safety.”
Barber’s colleague, Sgt. Nick Konopka, said the bicycle rodeo was just one of a long list of promotional events this year.
“We also have four helmet fittings per year for all graduate student housing areas. At each fitting, bicycle accessories are provided for families living in that area,” said Konopka. “In the previous year, we handed out over 165 lights for night riders.”
According to Konopka, during freshman orientation campus newcomers are shown a bicycle preview, and the Student Government Association provides free bike repair service for students.
All of these programs give UF the chance to promote cycling and to teach precautions. “We use any chance we get to advise our population about bicycle safety,” Konopka said.
The University of Miami created the UBIKE, a system of “bike friendly path ways” for students who ride bikes on campus. According to the university’s Web site, students who register with the campus police receive free bike locks and access to free air stations.
In 2009, the university created the Bike Safe Program, in addition to UBIKE, to encourage safety and to prevent residents in the Miami-Dade County area from receiving injuries due to bicycling. “We did an event at [UM] to teach college kids about bike safety,” said Michelina M. Witte, who is involved in the university’s safety program.
Programs like the Bike Safe Program and UBIKE seem to put some students at ease about riding to campus.
“I feel safe riding to class because traffic is very well managed,” said University of Miami student Rochelle Bradley. “I also feel energized in class because I’ve been pumping my muscles before getting there.”
At Florida State University, students have access to bicycle parking at nearly every major building on campus, according to the university’s Web site. Cyclists can also use the FSU Bicycle Parking Map, which is available for download.
Of course, all the bikes are easy to see — and sometimes easy to steal.
Garrett Williams, a Crime Prevention Officer at FSU, said that there are numerous reports of bicycle thefts each year.
“We ask that people register their bikes with the FSU Police Department,” said Williams. “It helps us to track down the stolen property.”
Thefts are also a problem at The University of Florida, in Gainesville.
“Bicycle theft is the No. 1 theft on our campus,” said Major Barber of UF. “We have 50,000 students, so it’s difficult.”
Traffic tickets are also a problem for cyclists who disregard the rules of the road. Barber stressed that bicycles are treated as vehicles in Florida, and student cyclists must follow the traffic laws as motorists. Students who are unaware of the traffic laws could face a fine.
For other schools, bicycle safety progression is coming, but it’s been a slower process.
In Tallahassee, the FAMU Way Extension Project, now in the design phase, will add two-lane, two-way road with bike lanes, on-street parking, landscaped sidewalks and medians, to a busy street on Florida A&M University’s campus. Work is scheduled to begin in 2013.
Dominique Key, a FAMU student and on-campus bike rider, is excited about the project, but believes that it’s long overdue.
“When I ride to campus, there aren’t many bike lanes so I have to use the sidewalk, “said Key. “ The problem is that the sidewalks are extremely damaged, which makes it harder to ride. Bicycles are vehicles, too — they are meant to be on the road.”