Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Velorution Rolls Out at Ripon College

Ripon, WI; I hereby pledge to do my part to ease traffic congestion, limit fuel consumption and reduce pollution by not keeping a car or other motorized vehicle at Ripon College during the entirety of my first year, from August 23, 2008 through May 13, 2009. In exchange for this pledge, I accept the bicycle given to me by the College and will use it as my sole means of wheeled transportation on campus and within the Ripon community.

When Ripon College faced the challenge of limited campus parking, President David Joyce took an innovative approach to solving the problem; he started a Velorution. The Velorution, a bike incentive program, gives a free bike, helmet, lock and lights to any incoming freshmen that pledges to go car-free for their time on campus.

“For students, it’s a lifestyle choice. For Ripon College, it’s choosing sustainability over ease and convenience,” explains Joyce. As president of the college and an avid cyclist himself, Joyce was adamant against paving over any more greenspace on campus to make room for parking. For Joyce, offering free bikes seemed like a great way to both lure students off of their car dependence, and get them to experience first-hand the simple convenience of the bicycle.

“We obviously live in a car culture. That’s not about to change,” explains Joyce. “But if a significant number of students learn that a car isn’t a necessity at this stage of their lives, that’s good enough for us.” Joyce has already worked to encourage bicycling at Ripon College by introducing a varsity mountain biking team. The team coach, Ric Damm, worked closely with Joyce to set up the logistics of the program.

“We’re basically turning the tables on our car culture and trying to make a bike culture,” Damm explains when describing the purpose behind the Velorution program. In addition to giving away bikes, the college is working to make driving on campus less convenient. Major road projects are currently underway to transform two of the streets on campus into bicycle and pedestrian pathways.

In Ripon College’s case, what is good for the environment and student health is also good for the budget. “The entire cost of administering this program to date is roughly equal to the cost of three parking spaces in a multi-level garage,” explains Cody Pinksten from the Ripon staff, reflecting on the $50,000 that went into buying the bikes and setting up the program.

The program is good for the student’s budget as well. “I don’t want to waste money on gas for a car,” explained one student as he picked up his new bike. Nearly 60 percent of the three hundred incoming freshmen signed up to go car-free and get a bike. As they filed in to pick up their new bikes there was a buzz of excitement. “We’re getting free bikes for not bringing cars,” explained Nic Schaalma. “It’s pretty sweet!” While most students were excited about getting a bike, many were just as eager to use their bike to get fit and help the environment. “It’s just a way to do my part to help the environment,” explains Matt Maginns, a freshman who signed the pledge to go car-free.

Spreading the Velorution
Releasing 160 students on bicycles has obvious implications for the wider community of Ripon, and the program has already gotten community leaders talking about the need to accommodate the increase of bicyclists—outside of campus. “The Ripon City Council has been discussing the need to purchase bike racks,” explains Damm, who has seen many of the new students out on their bikes in the community.

“We really need to get a bike shop downtown,” describes Damm, expressing what he feels is a major obstacle to bicycling in the community. “We gave away these bikes, but a lot of students don’t know how to tune them up.” While getting a local bike shop and improving bike parking are great steps forward, ultimately what is needed is a comprehensive bike plan.

“Just like a land use or comprehensive plan, a bicycle plan serves as a guide to making a community a bicycle friendly place as the community undergoes new development or re-development and reconstruction,” explains Jack Hirt, Executive Director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Eager to spread the Velorution to the wider community, Damm has been taking time out of his busy schedule to attend city meetings and advocate for improved bicycling infrastructure.

“At some point you have to hang your hat on something,” says Damm, when asked about the future of the free-bike program. Already the Velorution program is scheduled to continue next year. Starting a revolution is never easy work, but with over 160 students out in the community on new bikes, the Velorution is already in high gear.

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