By Danielle Glazer, third-year student in the College

recycles, the University’s bike share program and one of the only such programs in the country, is celebrating its first anniversary: They’ve hired a bike share mechanic to keep the bikes well-maintained and to keep the program going.

“We want to promote healthy living and a sense of community,” says Katie Anson, assistant program coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, “while also reducing waste and pollution.”

The free program, which provides one-day bike rentals to students, staff, and faculty at four campus locations, started last fall with 20 bikes and ran for three months.

“We didn’t know what the need for it would be, or how people would respond,” says Colleen Lanier Christensen, program coordinator at the Office of Sustainability. “With any new program, you’re kind of heading out into the unknown.”

The pilot, according to Lanier Christensen, was a huge success.

Now boasting a fleet of 22 bikes and nearly 1,000 registered users, recycles sees about 100 bike rentals per week.

“As soon as it launched, feedback was extremely positive,” Lanier Christensen says. “People were really excited about this new program on campus.”

Kristen Liu, a third-year in the College, agrees. “I wanted to try it because I like to go to Hyde Park Produce so I thought it would be more convenient,” she says. “It’s great.”

Community Partnership

As well as promoting sustainability efforts on campus, recycles partners with Blackstone Bicycle Works, a local organization that also sponsors youth education programs, by buying refurbished bikes exclusively from the Woodlawn-based non-profit.

“It’s one of the components of the program we’re very, very excited about,” Lanier Christensen says. “They’re important to us, and we feel that they have a very important place in the community and deserve our support.” In fact, the new bike share mechanic, Kevin Applewhite, is a graduate of Blackstone’s apprenticeship program.

Aaron Swanton, Youth Program Manager at Blackstone Bicycle Works, agrees. “It’s been a good partnership for us,” he says. “To have a partnership with the University—it helps our mission.”

Swanton says the University also donates abandoned bikes found on campus to Blackstone. This fall alone the University donated 57 bikes to Blackstone, according to Lanier Christensen. In addition, after a fire destroyed one of Blackstone’s trailers this summer, the University’s Facilities Services—the department in which the Office of Sustainability is housed—worked with University vendor W.E. O’Neil to donate a new trailer to the bike shop. Within days, the trailer was put to use to help manage Blackstone’s inventory.

Frances Miller, a fourth-year in the College, however, says she was unaware of the partnership with Blackstone. “Knowing that the University has a formal association with Blackstone is a very good thing, for both the outside community and the University community.”

recycles Online Registration

In addition to buying and donating bikes, recycles has launched a new website to allow students and staff to register and view available bikes online.

“As the program expands, and people learn more about it, then they’ll recognize that it’s not just a U of C or Office of Sustainability program. It’s really a campus-wide and a community -wide program,” Anson says. recycles’ future, Lanier Christensen says, lies in its users’ hands. “It’s really up to users,” she says. “The more we hear about certain upgrades they’d like to see, the more weight we’re going to give them.”

Originally published on December 6, 2010.