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Columbia gets a Bike-Share

EcoReps' bike-share program is expanding this spring, giving 100 students the opportunity to explore the city on two wheels.

The brainchild of Columbia EcoReps, the bike-share initiative is limited to students in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science and will be launched on March 26, providing 100 students the opportunity to share 16 bikes among individual timeshares.

The pilot program aims to collect data on student usage in the hopes of laying groundwork for a permanent, large-scale bike-share program that would be available to all students at Columbia.

Irene Jacqz, SEAS '13 and one of the EcoReps responsible for the pilot's creation, says that the two-month-long program will be a trial run to gauge efficiency and sort out any unforeseen kinks.

"A pilot gives you freedom to try things out," Jacqz said. "From campus aesthetics to student life, there's a lot to be taken into account."

The initial program, launched last spring, included 40 students and eight bikes over two weeks. Trouble arose over the condition of the bikes, which had all been previously owned and did not have consistent standards of safety and quality.

"A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into fixing the bikes," Jacqz said, but in the end, students found the bikes to be uncomfortable and inconvenient due to older features such as drop-handlebars.

This year's program will feature an assortment of new bikes, collected from donations from bike-share vendors and purchases from a local bike shop. The bikes will be stored in a rack outside of Lerner for the duration of the program.

Jacqz envisions students using the bikes for recreational purposes, with friends, and riding to and from internships and classes against the backdrop of an increasingly bike-friendly city.

"Bikes and New York go together really well," she said.

EcoReps is not yet able to incorporate General Studies or Barnard into the pilot program, but the group hopes that a successful pilot will encourage administrators to get involved and perhaps oversee the installation of a Columbia-sponsored bikeshare program.

"I see no reason for this not to be a campus-wide thing that's broadly accessible. It doesn't belong under EcoReps necessarily," Jacqz said.

She pointed out that many other colleges already have institutionalized bike-share programs.

"It's up to the bureaucracy to figure out how to fund this," Jacqz said.

So far, the pilot program has seen significant student response, Jacqz said. Though EcoReps only advertised the program through its Facebook event, Jacqz said that the initiative generated an impressive amount of interest.

"It's really motivating to see that," she said.

By Feb. 22, more than 200 people had submitted their names to the online sign-up sheet—double the number that the bike-share pilot will be able to accommodate.

"We are all very excited about starting the bikeshare at Columbia," EcoRep Raphaelle Debenedetti, CC '14, said in an email. "This could not have happened without the bike-share committee's tremendous work over the past two years."

New York City is also planning a bike share system that is scheduled to launch in May. The program, which will cost $95 for an annual membership, will not initially have any stations in Morningside Heights or anywhere in Manhattan north of 62nd Street.

Eric Grossman, GS/JTS '14, however, had more doubts about the program's usefulness.

"It's a hard neighborhood to have bikes because there are a lot of hills," he said.

Debayan Guha, CC '15, said that increasing the availability of bikes on campus was not a necessity, noting that some Columbia students "come here because there's public transportation and we don't need to bike anywhere."

He said he would consider making use of the bike share, but not on Columbia's elevated, stair-laden, and pedestrian-packed pathways, but enjoyed the idea of being able to use a bike elsewhere, if provided with one.

"I wouldn't use it on campus. I would take a bike and I'd go to the park, and I'd ride that bike right on that path on the riverside. I've always wanted to do that," Guha said.