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Big Idea: $1 to Save Bicycling on Campus

Convincing college students to spend money can sometimes be a losing battle.

Not so for Grace Kyung. The graduate student studying urban planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign successfully lead a campaign on campus to institute a $1 semesterly fee for bicycle programs and infrastructure. The fee not only passed, but it sailed through a vote with 73% of students in support. She’ll be talking more about her Big Idea at the 2015 National Bike Summit this March, but we caught up with her to talk more about how her initiative got rolling. If you haven’t registered for the Summit yet, click here and join us for the largest annual gathering of bike advocates in country!

Tell us more about how you conceived of and pursued your successful campaign at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

In February 2014, it became apparent that we were running out of ideas of how to save our beloved Campus Bike Center from closing. We needed to find $50,000 in less than 4 months or else the center would need to make drastic cuts in order to stay open. So I of course took the “easiest” idea that came to me and that was to create a student fee. The student fee was the creation of a $1 per semester Bicycle Programs and Infrastructure fee for bike-related projects. The idea for the fee came up in a conversation I had with a friend and I went full throttle with pursuing the fee once others agreed it might be worth going for. From there, everything has been a roller coaster, we’ve hit almost every bump there was possible to postpone the fee from existing. It was the through precision and many conversations, I was able to, with the help of a great network of people, in less than a month gather about 2,400 signatures of students showing support to see a vote on the bike fee. In November 2014, the bike fee passed on campus with 73% approval from students for the fee. 

The fee still hasn’t taken effect, but I can happily say with the energy from the students at UIUC, the Campus Bike Center did not close in June 2014. Instead, we were able to push for funding to come through from the University and have campus tasked with finding a solution to ensure the Center would not be at risk of closing again. 

The pursuit has been long, challenging, and difficult. There were definitely tears of frustrations, but it has been a challenge worth going after. I am still working on the fee today and trying to find it a home, but after what has happened in the last year, I have a really good feeling, there are great people on this campus who will ensure the success of the fee.  

Why did you pursue a bike-related initiative? 

The reason why I pursued a bike-related initiative was because honestly it was my job. I was one of the bicycle planning interns at UIUC, and it had come to my attention that our Campus Bike Center had the potential to close very soon. I had great experiences meeting students who loved their bikes, and I loved the idea of bicycles and didn’t want students to miss an opportunity to use the Campus Bike Center. So my job led me to my pursuit, but my job did not motivate me to pursue the fee. It was meeting the other students on campus and learning how much they valued the Campus Bike Center that I wanted to do everything I could to keep it open. 

How did you convince students that adding cost to their semesterly fees was worth it, especially considering the skyrocketing costs of higher education in the United States?

These were probably the most difficult conversations I had when beginning the fee. We had so much work to do in less than a month, yet I was not part of the bicycling community. I was the “new kid” who had never fully interacted with the students who already had been working towards saving the Campus Bike Center. So I had to have a lot of conversations before being able to motivate or convince anyone to want to help me in going after this initiative. It was through a lot of listening and being as transparent as I could with the fee that I was able to show students no changes will be made unless we made sure our voices were heard. If we wanted to make a difference towards opening the door for funding to come towards bicycling initiatives on campus then we were going to need to do something to gain the attention of the university.  

How did the administration handle and react to your campaign?

The administration has been helpful, yet there have been times I haven’t been told all the information so it constantly stalled the bike fee. I wouldn’t say it’s all on the administration either because they’ve had to work with me in cleaning up the messes the bike fee has been causing. So overall, they’ve been helpful throughout the process but have reacted with caution on the campaign because they want to ensure each decision they make is what is best for the entire student body. 

For other students or staff members interested in pursuing a similar initiative, what advice would you give them?

If other students or staff members wanted to pursue a similar initiative, I would ask them to pause and reconsider the decision. Creating a fee is not a good solution for anyone, but it was the solution we pursued because we were tired of not seeing any funding come towards bike-related projects. So the students wanted to show the university that students are willing to tax themselves a $1 per semester to see changes happen. What will the University do to ensure our interests are heard? I would say if it really is the best solution then to start dialogue. Creating a student fee takes team work from everyone on campus. It requires more than those who love bikes to be in support. There has to be support from your student government and so forth in order to see it succeed.