A Plexiglas arch protects them from the elements, and a few purple stickers mark them, but it would be easy to walk right past the row of 10 silver bicycles beside James Dormitory without realizing how special they are.
There’s certainly nothing to declare them the culmination of student-led efforts and research, or to note that they’re part of a campus trend toward sustainability in ways both big (a new $2 million Green Revolving Fund is the most recent example) and small.
Nor is there a sign to tell passerby how they’re among ongoing gestures to make campus, and the College itself, more accessible, more diverse and more community centered.
They may not look it, but as any one of some 200 new student members of the Amherst College Bike Share could tell you, these are special bikes.
There was a “very real need on campus for an easy-to-use and environmentally conscious transportation system that all students could access,” Alisa Bajramovic ’18, who helped launch the project, wrote in an email interview.
Initially proposed by Ben Walker ’16 and Bob Neel ’16, bike-share idea ran into early hurdles, particularly around liability. Then, in 2015, the College’s newly created Office of Environmental Sustainability and its director, Laura Draucker, saw an opportunity to lend support.
With Draucker’s help, Bajramovic and Becky Danning '16 formed a committee, researched similar college programs, and developed three guiding principles: the bike share had to be accessible, easy to maintain and seamlessly integrated into campus life.
“Whether a student would want to use it to get to class, to go to a store, or to just enjoy a nice autumn day, we did not want cost to be a barrier,” Bajramovic wrote in the email.
Funding from the Association of Amherst Students purchased racks, shelters, equipment and high-quality bicycles from Laughing Dog Bicycles in Amherst. To keep costs low, student volunteers serve as bike share managers and mechanics. The system of checking bikes in and out was set up in Keefe Campus Center under the watch of the center managers.
“Although we don’t call ourselves a co-op, we’re operating in somewhat of a similar way,” says Draucker. “Students sign waivers and become part of the bike share community.”
Membership is free, although students are responsible if they damage or fail to return the bicycles.
During a soft launch this summer, students checked out the bicycles some 70 times. Another 200 students signed up for the program this fall, prompting Draucker and student leaders to start looking into the possibility of adding more bikes. The ultimate goal, Draucker says, is to give every student the opportunity to ride.
“The whole Pioneer Valley is conducive to biking,” John Michael '19, who coordinated the pilot program this summer, wrote in an email. He’s talked to many students who want to access the trails but who don’t have their own bicycles on campus. “Bike Share,” he wrote, “fills this particular gap.”