It’s a sunny Louisiana day — hot, but not one of the gross days where you feel the need to change shirts between classes — and you want nothing more than to enjoy the sight of the University’s oak trees before spending another day inside. Well, that’s too bad because you need to find somewhere to park. If your class isn’t in Patrick F. Taylor or the Business Education Complex, then finding a spot that won’t warrant you a parking ticket is a near Herculean task.
Parking is a universal issue for students at the University. But for the students who bike to class each day, parking is an afterthought. With hundreds of campus bike racks, The League of American Bicyclists granted the University a silver Bicycle Friendly University Award, making the University’s campus one of only 164 bicycle friendly colleges nationwide. However, it’s unlikely our campus deserves this accreditation, as the extent of dedicated bike lanes at the University is only one quarter of a mile on Field House Drive. By adding more bike lanes and focusing on bike accessibility, I’m confident the University could reach a platinum level BFU award.
There are a number of reasons for the University to strive for excellence in the biking community, and chief among them is more student bikers means less student-caused carbon emissions. Louisiana is currently in a fight to save itself from losing a third of its coast — you know, the part of the coast acting as extra padding against those paranoia-inducing storms which spawn with unbelievable frequency during the hotter months.
Many Louisianans are beginning to have a sinking feeling about their effect on the environment, so they may ask, “What can one person really do to help?” Well, commuting by bike rather than car reduces personal carbon output significantly. While the switch to cycling doesn’t come close to cutting the carbon emissions of the nation’s factories, it’s at least a start until Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk finds a way to make his cars affordable.
In many cities, the switch from car to bike is easy and far less boring than the monotonous search for a gas pump that isn’t broken. With new bike sharing programs showing up across the U.S., such as Blue Bikes in New Orleans and Baton Rouge’s BikeShare program, society has the means to reduce auto emissions in a manner that doesn’t siphon cash from people’s pockets.
The way it works is quite simple. For example, Blue Bike users pay a monthly fee for one hour of ride time a day, charging $0.10 for each additional minute. This allows users to unlock a bike from one of the many bike racks stationed around the city.
The University should implement a similar bike sharing program to streamline the way students get to class. Installing bike racks around high-traffic areas would allow students access to the entire campus in mere minutes, and the bike racks could operate like the UREC’s admission system — a simple Tiger Card swipe or face scan and you’ve got yourself a bike. If the student fails to return the borrowed bike to one of the designated spots in the allotted time, then the University can charge the student for additional minutes, much like how the University deals with overdue library books or campus parking tickets.
Although the idea works in theory, problems arise when looking at the University’s ability to fund such a project. The process of installing a bike sharing system, paying for bicycle safety education and creating more bike paths seems like a daunting list of hoops to jump through.
When looking at the situation further, it appears that the University and the student body benefit from these expenditures in the long run. For example, the University spending more money on bicycle safety education might help reduce Louisiana’s status as one of the worst states for bicyclists. Louisiana is currently ranked as the second worst state after Florida.
Fixing the bicycle safety problem in Louisiana is similar to the carbon-emission problem. Each is only a part of a much larger problem, but we have to start somewhere. I believe making bicyclists safer and making bikes more accessible at the University is the start we’ve been searching for.
Michael Frank is a 22-year-old political science and English senior from New Orleans, Louisiana.