Hayden’s Hopes: Community bikes

Published Nov. 16, 2012 in the Davidsonian

Davidson’s biggest point of pride is the Honor Code. While the Honor Code’s biggest impacts may be in the classroom, the most visible sign of community trust might have been the bright yellow community bikes that could be seen around campus and always seemed to turn up just when you needed one the most. The idea was that these bicycles belonged to the College community, and that anyone could pick one up and ride it, so long as they kept it in the community and didn’t try to turn it into their own private bike. It was a great system and an idea that made real the spirit of the Honor Code.

Unfortunately, the Class of 2015—this year’s first-years—will be the first in a long time for whom the community bikes will not play a part in their Davidson experience. The community bike program died quietly this year. But the loss of the community bike program represents much more than the loss of easy transportation, because the program was always about more than that. It’s no coincidence the community bikes were always so prominently featured in Admissions pitches.

Why did the program fail? Partially because there was no ownership. Though the program was funded by SGA, it was administered by Davidson Outdoors, who took on the program much later. The funding given to the program was underwhelming. More than that, the College experienced a moral failing in the chronic abuse of the community bikes. This column offers suggestions for the revival of the program that address both of these issues.

Firstly, the question of funding. Davidson College currently charges extremely low parking fees. I propose that the parking fee be raised by $20/car/year, with the additional money raised expressly put aside for funding the community bike program. This increase is well within reason; Davidson charges far less than the standard at other colleges. At President Quillen’s previous job at Rice, parking permits cost $390 (in 2005). It seems reasonable that we might tax carbon-polluting cars slightly to provide an overwhelmingly positive public good: the community bike system.

Secondly, I suggest that we deter abuse of community bikes by allowing campus organizations to sponsor individual bikes. This could mean that they are able to decorate or paint the bike however they like, within guidelines. These sponsorships would be auctioned off, with proceeds going towards bike maintenance. If organizations, and their members, have a stake in one bike, they will have a stake in the system as a whole, and be deterred from abusing others’ bikes.

Further avenues of investigation might include locking bike racks that require a CatCard to swipe out (increasing accountability); closing these racks at 8 p.m. (decreasing likelihood of abuse under cover of the night); and better communication with the police. The community bike system represents a lot of what’s good about Davidson. Let’s bring it back, and with better support this time.

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