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Greener Campuses Are Car-Free Campuses

The following article, written by Bicycle Friendly America program director Amelia Neptune for the League’s Summer 2022 magazinecelebrates all the ways Bicycle Friendly Universities (BFUs) are putting their commitment to sustainability into action by getting more people riding. If you’re looking for more ways to promote sustainable transportation on campus, take notes and apply to our Bicycle Friendly University program. The deadline to apply for our 2022 round of awards is Wednesday, August 10th!

Many colleges and universities strive for sustainable, greener campuses—and they often find their way to the League’s BicycleFriendly University (BFU) program on their journey.

In our latest round of BFU awards, more than a third (36%) of the applications we received were submitted by staff from campus sustainability offices, which is more than any other type of campus office or department. (Transportation departments were a close second with 31%.) Campus Climate Action Plans (CAPs) almost always include a “Transportation” chapter with related targets, and it is no surprise that the humble bicycle frequently plays a central role in helping campuses achieve their lofty climate goals of net zero emissions or climate neutrality.

The University of Pittsburgh, which moved up from a Bronze-level designation to Silver in our latest BFU awards, referenced the school’s “commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2037” in its reasons for applying to the BFU program. The institution also states that its support for bicycling “builds on our past progress and demonstrates our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally and globally. With the first Pitt Climate Action Plan pending Board endorsement later this year, shifting more Pitt students and employees to active and shared modes of transportation is a huge part of our ongoing journey, including improved biking and walking amenities across, around, and to campus.”

Beyond the basics of making it easier and safer to bike on campus, how are Bicycle Friendly Universities putting these climate commitments into action through bicycling? I’m so glad you asked!

Working Bikes

One of the ways Bicycle Friendly University campuses are reducing their carbon footprint is by reducing vehicle miles traveled for on-campus work trips among their employees. From facilities and maintenance crews to IT staff, many college and university staff roles require staff to zigzag across campus multiple times per day. What better way to eliminate emissions than to convert these short trips, formerly taken by cars, trucks, and golf carts, into bike rides? Here are some of our favorite examples of shared bike programs from our new and renewing 2021 BFU awardees. 

University of Louisville in Louisville, KY (Silver BFU)

University of Louisville’s Sustainability Council supplied and maintains for the Office of Health Promotion a utility tricycle and a bike blender for campus events. Credit: University of Louisville

University of Louisville’s Sustainability Council supplies employees with work bikes, such as this IT Help Desk Trike ridden by Victoria Harpe. Credit: University of Louisville

University of Texas at Austin (Silver BFU)

University of Texas at Austin’s Landscape Services team recently started using this e-bike as a more sustainable option. Credit: University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin’s Libraries shared bike, which is used to shuttle books between campus buildings. Credit: University of Texas at Austin

University of Pittsburgh (Silver)

Pitt Sustainability Coordinator and LCI Nick Goodfellow rides the University’s newest sustainable fleet vehicle—a RadBurro electric cargo bike. Credit: Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh

SUNY Cortland in Cortland, NY (Bronze)

SUNY Cortland’s “Green Hauler” storage hauling bikes in action. Credit: SUNY Cortland

Bike Tours

Campus and community bike tours are another way that campuses demonstrate just how possible it is to “Drive Less, Bike More” and show off the many ways that newcomers can contribute to a greener campus (including biking, of course!) The University of Louisville, for example, has an annual tradition during Welcome Week called the Sustainable Louisville Bike Tour which introduces new students to hidden sustainability gems on campus and around the city, including a stop at the local community bike shop, Falls City Community Bikeworks. Similarly, staff from the Office of Sustainability at Ohio University – Athens Campus organize and lead a Welcome Week Bike Tour every year.

University of Louisville’s Earn-A-Bike program also promotes biking instead of driving on campus. Credit: University of Louisville 

Students on the 2021 Welcome Week Bike Tour at Ohio University – Athens Campus. Credit: Sam Crowl 

Trails and Access to Nature

Many campuses in the BFU program are strong supporters of their local natural trail systems. These trail systems serve not only as great places to bike safely and connect with nature but also as key players in a climate-neutral future. After all, trees are one of the best tools we have to capture carbon and offset greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, not every college or university is lucky enough to have a natural trail system on campus, but two of our newly-minted Bronze-level BFUs are great exceptions. 

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville maintains approximately 15 miles of dedicated bicycle pathways and trails on their 2,660-acre campus, including several tunnels and bridges to minimize roadway crossings. Several SIUE campus paths also integrate into countywide trail systems, and the campus has been an active collaborator with the community in building rail-to-trail and other paths that provide a total of over 135 miles of connected and dedicated bike and shared use trails and pathways throughout the county that the university resides in.

A campus bike path at SIUE featuring a pedestrian bridge above and tunnel under automotive road in background. Credit: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Above, right:  Students using SIUE bike share bikes on one of the school’s many dedicated bike trails. Credit: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

University of the South in Sewanee, TN, has over 55 miles of dedicated mountain bike trails on their 13,000-acre campus, as well as a dedicated team of staff and workstudy students to maintain it. In addition to the extensive trails system on campus, the University of the South is also connected to the Mountain Goat Trail, a local/regional shared use path with growing connections to neighboring cities. The Sewanee Outdoor Program (SOP) helps students take advantage of these incredible natural resources through programming, bike rentals, and the SOP bike shop, which has been helping Sewanee students with bike repair needs for the last 15 years.

The campus trails map for University of the South in Sewanee, TN. Credit: University of the South