Bicycle Improvements Enhance Commuter Culture on Campus

Whether you use four wheels, two wheels or two feet to get to Tech each day, you may start to notice some changes for bicycles around campus. It’s not the ghost of Sideways installing bike racks or painting bike lanes; it’s the collaboration of students and staff on the Bicycle Infrastructure Improvement Committee (BIIC).

BIIC Tables at Earth Day 2011
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Bicycle Infrastructure Improvement Committee members, including representatives from Starter Bikes and viaCycle, table at the 2011 Georgia Tech Earth Day celebration at the Instructional Center Lawn.

Formed in January, the group plans to improve the quality of bicycle infrastructure for the Georgia Tech community to make it safer and easier to bike for pleasure, health and commute.

“There hasn’t been one department or group looking at bikes on campus before,” said Gretchen Goldman, committee chair and a graduate student in environmental engineering. The formation of the BIIC came after Goldman met with Student Government Association (SGA) leadership last fall about making bicycle-related improvements to campus.

In March, the committee received $26,146 from SGA for its proposal to add bike racks and lanes to several areas of campus. The funding will provide additional bike racks in three areas that a Capital Planning and Space Management (CPSM) study showed would help the greatest number of students: the College of Management, the Instructional Center and the Ford Environmental Science and Technology building. It will also add bike lanes to Hemphill Avenue and Ferst Drive. Racks have been ordered and plans for the lanes have been drafted; Goldman is hopeful that both will be in place by the fall semester.

Though cyclists may benefit most directly from new racks and lanes, all of campus can benefit from an enhanced bicycle environment. Aaron Fowler, alternative transportation coordinator for Parking and Transportation and a member of the BIIC, is tasked with the job of promoting alternative commute options to a constantly expanding campus.

“We’ve kind of reached a parking limit, but the campus is still growing — so we’re figuring out how to get new people to campus,” Fowler said. A Parking and Transportation survey this year showed that many commuters who drive alone would be interested in cycling to campus, contingent on continued improvements in safe, convenient bike routes and secure bicycle parking. “[The committee’s] got all the major players at the table who have a hand in bikes on campus, and we want to focus on infrastructure improvements that we can pretty much install and finalize, with little maintenance,” Fowler said.

In addition to the bike racks and lanes projects, the BIIC created bike.gatech.edu as a hub for all things bike at Tech. It also has hosted cycling classes with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, participated in Georgia Rides to the Capitol in support of House Bill 101 (which passed during the 2011 legislative session), assisted Georgia Tech Police with a bike registration drive and is leading a bike confiscation effort to free campus racks from abandoned bicycles. For its work, the committee earned the 2011 Georgia Tech Environmental Initiative Award, given each year at the Earth Day celebration to an individual or group that has had a significant environmental impact on campus or in the community during the past year.

“We wanted to get something done this semester,” Goldman said, referring to the spring term. “I knew SGA had trusted us with this money and I wanted to prove the value of what we were doing.” Future priorities include creating a campus bicycle master plan, which will include identifying current infrastructure needs on campus and exploring funding options for those projects; BIIC members have met with the Student Alumni Association and the Office of Development to discuss funding for project implementation.

“We have an inventory of where more bike racks are needed throughout campus, so that’s always an option, but we’d like to do more to improve safety and commutes,” said Fowler. Parking and Transportation now has sharrow stencils that CPSM intends to incorporate in Fowler Street improvements during construction of the McCamish Pavilion.

“There seems to be more excitement than in the past about biking on campus,” said Goldman, who has been at Tech for five years and is surprised by the positive response across campus. Though Goldman plans to graduate in August, the BIIC is brimming with ideas that range from bike boulevards in nearby neighborhoods to an Options cycling class to create more confident cyclists.

“Tech is a microcosm of bikes in Atlanta,” said Fowler. “I hope this infrastructure connects surrounding neighborhoods to Tech and encourages biking off campus as well.”