Wisconsin college to give bikes to incoming freshmen - Additional parking "not an option."
Among the many choices Ripon College’s class of 2012 will face is whether or not to bring a car to campus this fall. Those who pledge not to do so will receive a big incentive: a brand-new mountain bike to keep. Dubbed the “Ripon Velorution Program” (RVP), it is the first of its kind in the nation.
Incoming students starting their first college semester at Ripon will have the option to sign an RVP pledge this spring saying that they will not bring a car to campus for the duration of the upcoming academic year. Those who participate will be given a brand-new Trek 820 mountain bike, a Trek Vapor helmet and a MasterLock U-Lock to keep.
Dealing with student vehicles is not just a big-campus problem; the 1,000-student liberal arts college 70 miles northwest of Milwaukee discovered last fall that demand for student parking was about to outstrip its capacity. Proposed solutions focused on where additional lots could go, but President David C. Joyce, an avid cyclist, was dead-set against it.
“We’re a residential college with a beautiful, historic campus in the middle of a small town,” Joyce said. “Paving it over was not an option I was willing to consider. I'm afraid that anyone hoping for news of a new parking lot or a multilevel garage being on campus will be waiting for a long time. For anyone waiting to reinvigorate themselves and our society by helping to build a bicycle culture in Ripon, however, the wait is over.”
When an opportunity came to purchase a quantity of Trek mountain bikes from a nearby bike shop, Joyce had his solution: Trade four wheels for two. Friends, trustees and alumni donated about $60,000 to buy 200 bicycles to give away to an incoming freshman class of an expected 300 students.
“Parking in this case is a distant third to the health and fitness of our students, and responsible energy practices. For students, it’s a lifestyle choice. For Ripon College, it’s choosing sustainability over ease and convenience,” he said.
The “Velorution,” in the program’s name is a deliberate anagram of “revolution” using “vélo” (French for bicycle) as its root. It refers to the mass acceptance of bicycles, thereby reducing societies’ dependence on automobiles. Cities such as Amsterdam, Portland and nearby Madison run successful community-bike programs, whereby bikes can be rented or borrowed at little or no cost. By actually giving students bikes, Ripon’s program takes the idea one bold step further. Initial funding will come from friends of the college, trustees and alumni, whose support of cycling became evident last fall when the college agreed to sponsor a mountain-biking team - one of only a handful in the entire state.
It remains to be seen how students will react to the program. For the roughly one-third who weren’t going to bring a car to campus in the first place, a free bike is a no-brainer. Another third or so won’t give up their cars no matter what, leaving a tantalizing group of undecided students to determine the program’s success. Determinations about winter storage, extra bike racks and maintenance cannot begin in earnest until administrators know how many students are willing to take the pledge. While Joyce is confident they’ll find a rider for every bike, he acknowledges that the car habit may be hard to break.
“We obviously live in a car culture,” he said. “That’s not about to change, 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.”