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Top of the Class: Portland State University

Last week, the League announced its latest round of Bicycle Friendly University awards, including the rise of Portland State University to the small but esteemed ranks of Platinum level BFUs. In this post, Clint Culpepper highlights how the campus not only inspires new riders, but keeps students cycling long-term.

As an urban university in an already bike-friendly city the problem that we faced was not how do we get people on bikes; it was how do get even more people on bikes! Most of our students live off-campus and commute to campus, so we had to make the university better for bike commuters in particular. Creating a place that students felt comfortable having their bicycle related questions answered was our first priority and our first step  to becoming a Platinum Bicycle Friendly University.

Nearly six years ago, we opened the PSU Bike Hub, our on-campus bike shop, and the bicycle program as we know it today began its modern life. What began as the PSU Bike Co-op in a 200 square foot storage closet in the bottom of a parking garage became a 1,900-square-foot, full-service bike shop with a third of the space dedicated to teaching students how to work on their own bicycles. We often hear that a reason for not riding a bicycle is as simple as a flat tire or not having the money to get their bike up and running. Our solution was to focus on providing the resources to allow students to repair their bikes for no or little cost.

The Bike Hub now employees two full-time staff members and 15 student employees. We have more than 1,200 active members and facilitate more than 2,000 repairs each year. The DIY aspect of the Bike Hub is what sets it apart from a traditional bike shop. Every hour that we’re open, students and staff are welcome to come in to use the repairs stands and tools and get our staff’s assistance on any type of repair they’d like to learn. This is all in addition to the formal clinics that we hold throughout the year. These range from a weekly fix-a-flat clinic to a bicycle legal clinic led by a local attorney specializing in bicycle law. Find yourself with a flat tire after the shop has closed? We also have 11 repair stands and pumps throughout campus for those emergencies.

While getting folks on bikes is the first part of our challenge, keeping them riding can be just as difficult. To keep their bikes safe and dry, we’ve made providing secure bike parking a priority. Three months after opening the Bike Hub, we opened the first of our secure bike garages with the help of grants from Metro (our regional government) and the city of Portland. Since then, we’ve opened an additional six garages on campus. We have a total of 485 spots in garages that have controlled access and security cameras, providing a safe place to park bicycles for less than $4 per month.

While physical facilities are part of the solution, ensuring that students know that bicycle commuting is a viable option is the other. Each May we challenge the university’s students and employees to commute by bike to campus. The Bike to PSU Challenge is our big push to give new riders the encouragement they need to get on a bike — and the 2015 Bike to PSU Challenge featured 644 riders actively logging their trips, 228 of them new riders! Throughout the month of the Challenge, we host Biker Breakfasts to serve coffee, donuts and yogurt to everybody who rides to campus. This is definitely one of the most popular things we do on campus and something that people look forward to all year. We bring sponsors on board that provide prizes for participants throughout the month. At the end of the month we host a huge awards party with awards for the most active riders and teams.

Many students will discover their interest in bicycling after they’ve arrived but are not yet ready to make the commitment to purchasing a bicycle. For these students we have a program that we call Vike Bikes. What began as a student project with 12 bicycles found abandoned on campus has now grown to a 135 bicycle fleet that sells out year-round. The Vike Bike program is about much more than just the bike! Participants in the Vike Bike program receive a fully refurbished commuter bicycle with full-length fenders and a lights, helmet, lock, quarterly membership to the PSU Bike Hub and quarterly bike parking in one of the secure bike garages.  

All of these things have helped to create a culture of bike-friendliness in a town that was pretty darn bike friendly to begin with. Even with all that we’ve accomplished, I still can’t help but to look into the next year for something I’m extremely excited about. Hint: It may have something to do with bike share!

Clint Culpepper is the Bicycle Program Coordinator for Portland State University.