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Emory University Builds Campus Bike Culture

Published January 4, 2008

BY LYNETTE CARPIET

PHILADELPHIA, PA—Pat Cunnane is a man with a vision. So when officials at Emory University issued a call to industry suppliers and local retailers asking for help in reducing single occupancy vehicle usage on campus, he answered it quite enthusiastically.

“With most kids now, there’s a disconnect. They don’t ride bikes. This is a great opportunity to introduce that age group to bikes,” said Cunnane, president of Fuji Bicycles.

Fred Boykin, owner of Bicycle South, only two miles from campus, also jumped on board. Boykin, an Emory University alumnus, said despite his store’s proximity, the school had no cycling culture. “Bike racks were empty, and the few bikes there had been there for months,” he said. “They needed to start small and develop the culture.”

As a partner in Bike Emory, Fuji Bicycles launched a dedicated Web site, www.bike.emory.edu, and donated bikes for events and raffles and for Emory’s bike loaner program. It also offers bikes at a discount on the Web site to students, faculty and staff.

For its part, Bicycle South provides onsite service at two campus locations twice a week. Its mobile repair center allows those who ride their bicycles on campus to get minor repairs done on the spot. The store also assembles bikes and fulfills orders placed on the Bike Emory Web site and services bikes from the loaner program.

Both Cunnane and Boykin are quick to point out that Emory University sought them out and put in significant monies and manpower toward establishing a campus-wide bicycle program.

“Emory is firmly committed. They’re looking at this long term,” Boykin said.

The program launched during freshmen orientation last August and includes an extensive marketing and PR campaign consisting of communication through school and community publications as well as visible signs throughout campus that ask “Why Not?”

“You can’t go anywhere and not see our brand. It’s on the windows, banners on the sidewalks, on coffee cup sleeves or someone is wearing one of our T-shirts,” said Jamie Smith, Bike Emory program manager and an avid cyclist who often rides to work.

Smith was hired to handle Bike Emory, an initiative under the Clifton Community Partnership (CCP). The organization was started by Emory and is made up of local residents, businesses and governments that work together to create a healthy living, learning and working environment throughout the Clifton community—the three-mile radius surrounding Emory’s campus.

A certain amount of that organization’s budget is allocated to Bike Emory, one of a dozen other major initiatives.

“We didn’t increase tuition to do this. We didn’t take away from other programs,” said David Hanson, associate vice president for administration and special assistant at Emory. “Our CFO has done a tremendous job of finding ways of increasing revenue streams and found new resources.”

Of course, having a number of avid cyclists in different administrative roles at the university didn’t hurt, either. Hanson, who completes several long-distance charity rides a year, said he saw the program as a way to bring one of his passions into the workplace.

Emory University alone employs more than 20,000 people. And with a major healthcare complex on campus, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters next door, employees that commute to campus top 30,000. Its student body is another 12,000.

“That’s upwards of 40,000 individuals. If we can take a lot of those cars off the road, then it’s good for us,” Hanson said.

To encourage alternative transportation, including cycling, Emory offers buildings with showers, free campus shuttles with bike racks, free cycling safety classes, free ride home in case of emergencies, Flexcar (offering hourly car rentals for trips requiring a vehicle) and park and ride lots outside the city.

And other initiatives are in development, including outfitting new and existing roads into campus with bike lanes, expanding the network of campus bike loan stations from two to 10, and adding more content to its Bike Emory site to make it a complete resource for cyclists. The site will soon have a route planner, a message board for riders to share tips, and a “Get Involved” section that will list opportunities for cyclists to promote cycling.

And while not even a year old, Bike Emory is already bearing fruit. “The results they have seen have been phenomenal,” said Cunnane, adding that Fuji plans to develop a special commuter-type bike for Emory.
“They’ve run out of bike parking spots. It’s had much faster adoption than anybody expected.

“We’ve learned so much. Next year, I think it will be incredible,” he added.

Boykin said some issues, such as product availability (school starts in August, when most manufacturers are out of product), are still being ironed out, but he sees the program as a positive step.

“Building non-traditional partnerships—that’s what you need to have if you want more and more people to cycle,” Boykin said.

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