I spent this past summer working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and quickly fell in love with the culture and attitude of the city. There’s a reason why people know Rio as “Cidade Maravilhosa,” as it is the perfect combination of great music, delicious food and wonderful people. One of my favorite things I did in Rio was walk along Ipanema beach, and I remember feeling like all that I saw were boobs, butts and bikes.
If people weren’t sunbathing or playing futebol on the beach, they were using Rio’s extensive bike-sharing program, “Bike Rio”—founded in 2011 and now renting out over 600 bicycles throughout the city. Though unique in many aspects, Rio is certainly not alone when it comes to having a substantial bike-sharing program. Programs in London, Paris, Wuhan and New York City are used by thousands of people daily, and smaller programs are emerging in other cities throughout the world. In fact, there are over 535 municipal schemes world-wide, as cities are quickly realizing the benefits of decreased congestion, carbon emission and theft.
Perhaps more pertinent to our time here at Duke, however, is the rise of bike-sharing programs in universities across America. Technically speaking, a bike-sharing program is a system where anywhere from two to two thousand bike stations are spread across an area rented out for a small cost. Many universities offer their students rentable bikes for free. Moreover, most programs nowadays tactfully employ technology so that all bikes are GPS locatable. Resultantly, one needs little more than a phone, computer or student ID card to check out a bike. In addition, many programs offer the ability to lock bikes in intermediate locations, thereby further increasing mobility and the demand for such programs.
Perhaps spurred by the rise of similar municipal developments, college bike-sharing programs are quickly gaining prominence, with over 33 universities—including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale, New York University and Harvard—currently operating some form of program. Seen as a way to increase mobility and mitigate carbon emissions, bike-sharing programs are truly an asset to almost any university, and Duke is no exception. The University has all of the elements needed to make a bike-share program here very successful.
In 2012, Duke was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists for having a bike-friendly campus, because of marked bike lanes and wide shoulder lanes on roads. The University has three fairly distinct campuses, with substantial portions of the student body residing on each campus. Additionally, there is a fairly substantial demand for bikes. Though the Arts Annex bike program was unfortunately eliminated earlier this year, it wasn’t eliminated due to a lack of demand.
Finally, the sustainability goals of the University seem to be in line with creating some sort of bike program. Duke is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2024, and creating a bike-sharing program would certainly ensure that the University is one step closer in doing so. As a campus, it’s a little hypocritical to “bleed blue and live green” without any sort of university- sponsored biking program.
While a bike-sharing program certainly wouldn’t be a solution for all forms of transportation, it would definitely alleviate the pressure on students who have to rush between campuses to class and prevent students from parking illegally after driving to class in a hurry. Such a program would also help improve Duke-Durham relations, mainly by allowing bike-less students the ability to explore Durham on wheels. Though implementing this program would certainly require a substantial financial investment by the University, I truly believe that doing so would help improve campus life in a variety of ways.
So, the next time you are sprinting through the gardens to get to class or trying to hitchhike your way to Chipotle, know that, perhaps, an easier way exists. While Duke is certainly on the forefront of academic excellence as well as handling sexual assault cases and gender-neutral housing, it currently has a long way to go when it comes to implementing a bike-program the likes of those at peer institutions. Thus, I think it’s necessary for us, students, to speak out in favor of a modernized bike-sharing program. In the words of Queen, “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.”
Lavanya “Lava” Sunder is a Trinity sophomore and the DSG Vice President of Services. Her column is the fifth installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written by members of Duke Student Government. Send Lava a message on Twitter @Lavactually or @DukeStudentGov.