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February 2013 | Volume 2, Issue 1  


 Grantee Spotlight: Albuquerque’s Bridge Boulevard Redevelopment Plan
 Mixed-Use, Mixed-Income Development near Rail Transit in Reading, Massachusetts
 ARRA-Funded Energy-Efficiency Program Seeds Private-Sector Financing
 Earn-A-Bike Aims to Get the University of Louisville Cycling

Earn-A-Bike Aims to Get the University of Louisville Cycling

A Fix-it-Station, including a bike support, air pump, and repair tools, installed near a street curb on the University of Louisville campus.
To support cycling, the University of Louisville installed
Fix-it-Stations, which include basic tools and an air pump. Image courtesy of Justin Mog.
Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky now have the opportunity to cycle to class or work as a result of an innovative program designed to reduce vehicle trips to campus and encourage healthy transportation options. Launched in fall 2012, the Earn-A-Bike program, which provides participants with a voucher to be used toward the purchase of a bicycle or cycling-related equipment, is part of a larger movement toward sustainability at the university.

Campus Commitment to Sustainability

In 2008, the University of Louisville joined higher education institutions from across the country in signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The agreement, which targets climate neutrality for participating institutions, has served as a galvanizing force to advance strategies that reduce the university’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and integrate sustainability into the school’s education and research mission. Since signing the agreement, the university’s sustainability council has performed a GHG emissions inventory and developed a climate action plan to guide the university’s mitigation efforts. The inventory provides necessary context for university policies and programs, and has confirmed that the commuting habits of the more than 28,000 university students, faculty, and staff are responsible for a significant portion of campus-related GHG emissions.

The inventory’s finding that cars accounted for 10 percent of the university’s GHG emissions was no surprise to Dr. Justin Mog, the university’s assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives. According to Mog, “U of L is historically a commuter school…. [A]necdotally it appeared that a majority of students and university staff and faculty drove to campus. The emissions inventory backs this up and helps leadership understand where inroads can be made to meet our goals.” Some of these opportunities exist at the nexus of land use and transportation. The university’s efforts to expand housing on and close to campus have resulted in the addition of more than 2,000 resident rooms since 2001; 70 percent of freshmen now live on campus. Despite these efforts, a 2010 survey of transportation alternatives conducted by the University of Louisville’s Sustainability Council and Sustainable Urban Neighborhood Program revealed that 65 percent of students and 79 percent of faculty and staff still drove alone to campus.

Give Up the Parking Permit to Earn-A-Bike

The transportation alternatives survey provided valuable information on how students and faculty got to campus and also provided details about respondents’ preferences for other modes of transportation. Supported by this information, the sustainability council worked with existing university departments and affiliated services to create programs that expand transportation choices. Beginning in fall 2012, the university launched car and bike share programs, rerouted existing bus lines to better serve the university’s three campuses, and partnered with Zimride, a social media platform that supports carpooling. Perhaps the most ambitious of these new programs, Earn-A-Bike provides participating students, faculty, and staff with a $400 voucher to be used toward the purchase of a bicycle (or bicycle repairs), helmet, lock, and other equipment essential to bicycle commuting. Participation comes with one major concession: receipt of the voucher requires program participants to forgo the purchase of a university parking permit for two years.

One person instructing eight cyclists on the University of Louisville campus.
University-sponsored cycling classes teach safe cycling skills to students, staff, and faculty. Image courtesy Justin Mog.

Based on information gathered from program applications, Mog estimates that approximately 40 percent of those receiving vouchers had parking permits in previous academic years or had returned their parking permit to become eligible for the voucher. “A main goal of the program is to reach those people who would otherwise drive to campus. This way, we are encouraging healthy transportation choices and reducing vehicle trips,” says Mog. Despite a limited outreach and marketing effort, more than 800 university students, faculty, and staff applied for the 400 vouchers offered in the program’s first year. Seventy-six percent of the vouchers went to students, 20 percent to university staff, and 4 percent to faculty. To further encourage cycling on campus, 66 new bicycle racks and five “fix-it-stations” — each including a bike stand, hand tools, and a tire pump — were installed before the program’s launch.

In the coming years, Mog hopes that a stronger marketing campaign will enable the program to reach even more would-be drivers and perhaps even change the way students select their housing. “A $400 voucher is a pretty significant incentive, particularly for a student. Earning a bike and choosing to live close to campus really cuts down [on] transportation costs.” The program will continue with an annual budget allocation of $175,000. “This isn’t a one-shot deal,” says Mog. “The university has committed to it for the foreseeable future.” The relatively low annual cost of the program could save the university millions of dollars by reducing the need for new on-campus parking structures.

The Earn-A-Bike program is just one component of the university’s effort to encourage cycling among its students, faculty, and staff. This program and the university’s recent investments in cycling infrastructure are part of the university’s bicycle master plan, which supports the broader goals of the climate action plan by reducing automotive dependence and GHG emissions. In spring 2013, the university will conduct another transportation survey to evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts to expand bicycle ridership and other alternative transportation modes.

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