Chicago-Area Universities Collaborate to Promote Bicycling

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is participating in a program to promote bicycling and other alternative transportation modes on campus. By collaborating with the Chicago Department of Transportation and the five largest campuses in Chicago- UIC, University of Chicago, Northwestern Medical Center, Loyola University, and DePaul University-advocates hope to create a more active system of transportation within the city.

To set a baseline for this program, as well as for UIC’s greenhouse gas inventory, a commuter survey was conducted in fall 2008. The initial data showed that 8% of the UIC’s population walk, bike, or use other non-motorized means to get to and around campus; 7% carpool; 60% ride buses or campus shuttles; and 24% drive alone. When asked about biking to campus, 65% of the respondents indicated interest, but cited issues such as safety, theft, insufficient protected parking and the lack of a bike share program as barriers to doing so.

Not all students are dissuaded: Each campus has a student transportation intern for the program and although each intern is from a different discipline, they have a love of cycling in common. Beth Sholtis, the active transportation intern from UIC, explains, “Ease of transportation is important. It’s faster to get wherever you’re going on a bike than public transit or driving, and Chicago is flat so it’s easy to ride a bike here.” Like other cyclists, she also points out the multi-tasking potential of getting exercise and traveling to campus at the same time.

The interns meet monthly to discuss projects. Sholtis describes this as a “great time to hash out problems, explore how different schools handle them, and generate new ideas.” She describes the diversity of the group as a strength and a source of creativity. Funding and administrative support come from the Chicago Department of Transportation’s contractor, the Active Transportation Alliance, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation grant.

Size is a unique challenge for UIC, the largest university in the Chicago area, with over 25,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff and 100 buildings on approximately 244 acres. It’s also a commuter campus, located near the intersection of two major highways.

Thus, the transition to a campus whose students and staff all arrive by sustainable transportation methods is a gradual one. Since the adoption of the U-Pass (a student pass to use on Chicago’s transit system), student use of the public transportation has increased significantly. A transit benefit program also provides incentives for faculty and staff.

By participating in a city-wide program, Sholtis and her cohorts hope their efforts will make a much bigger impact on transit in the city than one campus alone. Since bicycling remains unpopular, each campus is developing part of a bicycling promotion program that can be used on all five campuses (and other colleges in Chicago).  Ideally, this cooperative project would also form a basis for other city-wide cooperative projects that can help each campus and the city reach their greenhouse gas reduction goals.

The bicycling promotion program developed by the active transportation program, as well as other initiatives launched by the interns, will be implemented into UIC’s Climate Action Plan.

See More:

Students Follow the Yellow Bike Road: ClimateEdu

With Free Bikes, Challenging Car Culture on Campus: New York Times

If a Green Bus Drives but Nobody Rides, Is It Still Green?: ClimateEdu


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Published: March 31, 2009