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The ABCs of a BFU: How Michigan Became a Bike Friendly Campus

Last month, the League announced its latest round of Bicycle Friendly University awards and the news took flight on Twitter. Students and staff tweeted the good news and, yes, a bit of friendly competitive banter emerged among rival colleges.

So what does it take to earn that coveted BFU status?

In just its first application, the University of Michigan earned a Bronze designation and League Media and Communications Intern, Lindsay Plante, asked them how they did it. Here’s what Lisa Solomon, from the U-M Parking and Transportation Services, told her…

What concerted efforts has U-M made to create a more bike-friendly campus? Was anything already in place that made becoming bike-friendly easier? 

Recent improvements to strengthen U-M’s bike friendliness have focused on infrastructure,  building campus culture, engaging student groups and community stakeholders and enhancing/developing programs. Notable infrastructure-related improvements to existing bike systems included:

  • An expanded network of marked bike lanes and the addition of sharrows (shared road markings) on campus roads
  • Addition of the Thompson Street Enclosed/Secure Bicycle Parking Facility on Central Campus in 2010
  • Construction of covered bicycle parking at the newly built North Quad Residential and Academic Complex in 2011

Some exciting recent programmatic and outreach efforts have included:

  • Regular bike maintenance clinics at U-M Rec Sports Outdoor Adventures through a partnership with Common Cycle, a community-based organization founded by U-M students
  • A Bike Town Hall in early 2012 — a campus-wide meeting that allowed nearly 100 faculty, staff and students to learn about future plans for improving bicycle transit on campus and provide the opportunity for input on programs
  • Ongoing collaboration with the City of Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Transit Authority, Downtown Development Authority and local non-profit groups in updating the City’s Non-Motorized Plan and furthering programs such as bike sharing in the City and on the U-M campus

U-M is fortunate to have a solid foundation that has contributed to continued improvements in bike-friendliness. Bicycling has been a popular commute mode on campus since the 1970s and campus planning efforts have focused on improvements to routes and cycling amenities over the years. The University is also fortunate to be located in the City of Ann Arbor, a Silver Bicycle Friendly Community that has a lot to offer in the way of cycling. The campus also enjoys active student groups and co-ops focused on cycling and tremendous support from students, faculty, staff, departments and upper administration.

U-M North Quad Covered Bike Parking

What changes are planned to further improve U-M’s bike friendly status? 

Since beginning the BFU application process last year, U-M has developed a bike rental program that will be initiated on campus in Spring-Summer 2012.  Also, the City of Ann Arbor recently formed a group devoted to the development of bike sharing within Ann Arbor.  The university is participating in this effort and recently was a part of a grant application for CMAQ funds to help start a bike share program. U-M also plans to launch a new website that will serve as a one-stop resource for cycling on campus. This site will include improved safety resources, information on programs, news and events, links to resources and other valuable information. Further educational and programmatic opportunities are also planned. For example, U-M hopes to initiate a campus bike tour during orientation in the fall term of 2012 utilizing the campus rental bikes. The BFU application process also helped ignite efforts that have already been underway, including updating the non-motorized plan, provision of additional covered bike parking areas on campus, and looking for opportunities to grow cycling amenities on campus, such as bike pumps.

What are the main benefits and challenges for U-M when investing in bike friendly changes?

Sustained investment in cycling helps U-M meet its carbon emission reduction goals, addresses parking demand, offers a less costly option for commuting and getting around campus, provides positive health benefits, and recreational and fitness opportunities. As more bicycle accommodations and users join the campus network, the university will be challenged to ensure that cycling is safe and safety is the norm. Another challenge will be to ensure that new programs and features are successful and include good integration of education and encouragement.

How else has U-M made cycling a priority? Why should other campuses follow your lead?

One way that U-M has made cycling a priority is by taking a collaborative community-based approach.  Since its creation in 2002, U-M has actively served on the City of Ann Arbor’s Alternative Transportation Committee (committee members include city staff, the University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the AATA getDowntown Program, the Downtown Development Authority, Walking and Bike Coalition of Washtenaw County, Clean Energy Coalition, and other community partners). Because city roads and the U-M campus are intertwined, cooperative bike planning helps promote network connectivity, consistent messaging and design features. Although each campus has its own unique setting, U-M has found great value in community collaboration as it has allowed for coordination of the actions of various partners and lead to the development of some of the creative strategies implemented on the U-M campus and in the City.

What do the students think? How does cycling fit into the campus culture at U-M?

U-M students have shown a great interest and passion for bicycling as transportation mode, dating back to the 1970s. More recently, student groups on campus have taken an active – and in some cases, leadership – role in developing programs in and around biking on campus or urging the university to enhance and expand the bike programs available on the Ann Arbor campus. Examples include student-lead groups that provide bike repair services on campus, student involvement in the recent Town Hall meeting in which they provided input on future programs, support of the bike rental program that will launch this year, and participation in committees that are exploring alternative transportation programs, including the campus bike program.


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