AASHE Student Diary Series: Creating a Bike Friendly Campus
Johann Weber, graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy at Georgia Tech, is featured in this installment of the AASHE Bulletin Sustainability Student Diary series. As chairman of the university’s Bicycle Infrastructure Improvement Committee (BIIC), Weber details how the committee facilitated a bicycle infrastructure improvement project on campus. AASHE welcomes questions and invites feedback on each Sustainability Student Diary entry. Submit diary entries of your own for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the fall of 2010, a handful of graduate and undergraduate students at Georgia Tech from a wide range of departments including Environmental Engineering, Aerospace, Chemical Engineering, Public Policy and Civil Engineering who were interested in bicycling began an active and ongoing discussion about how to make the campus more bike friendly. Many of us had strong environmental motivations, and all of us recognized the ease, enjoyment and bargain that bicycling can provide to students, faculty and staff of a large urban university such as Georgia Tech.
Before this began, the campus had a number of buildings with dramatically insufficient parking, and only two segments of bike lane. We firmly believed that with better facilities, more students would be inclined to ride; a winning proposition for the students, the campus and the metro area of Atlanta, which is infamous for both its congestion and poor air quality.
Through close interaction with a staff member in the office of Parking and Transportation, this general desire to improve campus coalesced into the more concrete task of forming a committee that would provide suggestions for improvements and facilitate their undertaking. This included identifying funding, selecting contractors, and installing them. To do so would require incorporating a number of departments on campus, all of whom had no shortage of projects on their plates already. Yet those departments embraced the opportunity and challenge presented to them, with many offering not only to participate but actively asking to be committee members so that they could be as useful as possible.
The Student Government Association (SGA) approved the formation of the institute-wide committee in January, and our first meeting brought to the table Parking and Transportation, Facilities (responsible for all infrastructure projects and maintenance), Campus Planning, Auxiliary Services, as well as members of the Sustainability Committee, StarterBikes (an on-campus bike cooperative), SGA and the city’s bicycle advocacy group, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition.
As a committee we identified—based on existing knowledge of demand and usage—where there was a need for more bicycle parking, and identified viable corridors for the installation of bicycle lanes (based on road width and conditions). We then secured cost estimates for each project, and compiled a list totaling around $45,000. Originally, our hope was to push for an increase to the student fee for parking and transportation by $1 per term. This would bring in around the desired amount of money thanks to a student population of more than 20,000. However, meetings with SGA quickly made it clear that while they supported our efforts, they would not support increased student fees and, more importantly, it was unlikely that the logistics of such an action would prove manageable. They suggested an alternative solution: Ask the student body directly for the money. A bill could be drafted to request that money be given to the committee, which could disperse it to the departments involved in the projects. While $45,000 was probably not in the cards, a smaller amount could be feasible, and would be popular since it involved an investment in infrastructure, rather than a temporary support for a small campus group.
So we altered the project list, cutting it down to a more manageable $26,146, including .8 miles of bike lanes and 6 racks (a total of 58 parking spaces). We wrote up the bill and submitted it. It went before the chambers of the SGA in March 2011 and was passed. This was a huge success, proving not only that the campus wanted these improvements, but also that they were willing to work together and devote money to make them happen.
We rapidly followed up this success by constructing a website entirely devoted to bicycling at Georgia Tech (bike.gatech.edu), as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts to supplement it. In addition, Parking and Transportation collected a commuter survey, giving us a baseline mode share for bicycling on campus, and helping us direct future projects. BIIC also created subcommittees tasked with maintaining the website, constructing a bike master plan, and securing funding for further development. We welcomed new members from Campus Police and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
In April, BIIC was awarded the 2011 Georgia Tech Environmental Initiative Award in recognition of its accomplishments, and in May we began the process of working with Campus Planning to finalize the precise details of the roadway projects, as well as ordering the racks. This led to the decision to replace downhill segments of lane with sharrows (an on-road marking noting that bicycles and cars will share the lane) to help ease merging points and reduce the need to move the centerline (a costly endeavor).
As of this July, the project details have been finalized, and Campus Planning has taken the additional step of selecting other roads for sharrow installation, contingent upon funding. The racks have arrived, and we are preparing to install them. The website is live, a student survey has been prepared for the fall, and orientation education programs are in the works.
We’ve submitted grant applications to a number of organizations, and are hoping to hear back soon, while also pursuing funding from Georgia Tech. Most recently, we added two faculty members to the committee, and are working to begin the roadway projects as soon as the last details and contracting are ironed out.
In many ways, the first year has been a great success. Looking back on what was available and being done a year ago, BIIC has made huge leaps forward. However, we look at our peer institutions, and we know we have a long way to go. It was also enlightening to see how difficult a process this can be, even when all the stakeholders are committed and supportive. In sum, things are good, but they can always be better, and we will continue to work hard to make Georgia Tech a place that not only educates in and researches sustainability, but practices a more sustainable way of living every day.
Browse by Topic
- AASHE Biz
- Co-Curricular Education
- Community Engagement
- Connecting the Dots
- Dining Services
- Diversity, Access, and Affordability
- Faculty and Staff Development
- Government & Legislation
- Human Resources
- Presidents & Chancellors