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'I've got a bike, you can ride it if you like'

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Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:00 pm

A group of Gonzaga students is trying to save other fellow Zags' time, money and hassle in their daily commutes around campus and Spokane while simultaneously saving the environment. How? By starting a bicycle sharing program at Gonzaga.

Juniors Matt Neilson and Thomas Dantas Whitney, co-presidents of the Gonzaga Environmental Organization (GEO), are familiar with the concept.

"It is a computer-automated system," Neilson said. "You swipe your ID card at the station and get a bike to use for an allotted time free, like 15 to 20 minutes."

After that, every extra interval will be charged to the student's account. According to Neilson, "Something like $1 for every 15 minutes, which will go to maintenance."

"GEO has a vision to see a campus that is less dependent on cars to get to Safeway when it is so close," Whitney said. "Just borrow a bike off the rack."

Gaining student support is the key to making their vision become reality, say Neilson and Whitney. They encourage Zags to join the Gonzaga Bike Sharing Project Facebook group to stay informed on the status of the venture.

"We've met every week," Neilson said. "As soon as new information comes through we will put it up [on Facebook] to let people know what's going on."

GEO will be out in front of Crosby some time next week to get signatures and give students a chance to voice their opinions.

GEO members have been working closely with B-cycle, a Wisconsin company that builds the bikes and their solar-powered, automated stations, and has started installing them in cities and college campuses around the U.S.

According to the B-cycle's Web site, their bikes are "simple and reliable as a wristwatch. They never need air in their tires or grease on their chains."

"Imagine a bike that is there when you need it wherever you are and gone when you don't," says the introductory video on www.bcycle.com. "B-cycle is good for you and good for the environment, but perhaps more important B-cycle is easy. And perhaps even more important than that, B-cycle is fun."

Another great thing about the B-cycle stations is their modern technology.

"There is a phone application that lets you look at a station and see how many bikes are available and lets you reserve bikes," Neilson said. "The whole thing is run off Wi-Fi and 3G. Phones are a major thing."

 "[B-cycle] are modeling after the Barcelona and Paris systems," said Neilson, who first came into contact with the concept in Amsterdam. "All of these cities have huge bike sharing networks that have had many positive impacts for their populations and environment, he added.

"[University of Denver] just started one," he said. "The mayor [of Denver] found out about it and bought like 600 bikes and got the whole city going — all from the initiative of two seniors."

Neilson and Whitney are focused on Gonzaga, but also have some Spokane-sized dreams.

"Kind of a sub-goal would be to be like Denver and have the city get involved," Neilson said. "It would be perfect for the Centennial Trail and Riverfront Park."

According to Whitney, many other schools have already implemented similar bike sharing systems, including West Virginia, Denver, Xavier, Carnegie Mellon University and University of New England.

According to an October 2008 article in The New York Times, the New England program has drastically reduced automobile usage.

"Because of the program, only 25 percent of freshmen brought cars with them this year, officials said, compared with 75 percent last year."

In the article, New England students seemed pleased with the program. Many were excited about reducing their footprint, keeping a solid community feel and staying healthy.

Maybe instead of gaining the freshman 15 I'll lose it, one student said.

 "Pretty much an underlying theme is that GU is so far behind in terms of environmental impact," Whitney said.

Along with Neilson and the rest of GEO, he is taking steps to change that.

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