Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

Bicycles on Campus

I read an article recently that discussed the popularity of bicycles in Amsterdam and, in fact, all of the Netherlands. Would you believe that near the Centraal Station, in the heart of Amsterdam, there is a secured bicycle parking lot that can store the bikes of more than 10,000 travelers? Expanding the perspective a bit, the author pointed out that there are more bikes in the Netherlands than there are people. (Having been born and raised there, and remembering the challenge facing pedestrians as we tried to cross busy streets at rush hour, I can certainly relate!)

Shortly after reading that article, as I was walking across campus, I noticed an interesting feature right outside our main building entrance: a heavy-duty bicycle pump, firmly secured in the concrete walk and in close proximity to the bike racks. I don’t know how long it had been there (am I that unaware?), but I found that an amazingly thoughtful gesture on the part of our campus’ leadership. And appropriate. After all, we provide free charging stations where students, faculty and staff can recharge their hybrid or all-electric automobiles.

The Upside of Cycling

As a reaction to the emphasis on preserving the environment (that will, one hopes, survive current and concerning Washington, DC denials) and as an effort to save money — and to exercise — an increasing number of campus constituents regularly opt to ride a bike to/from/on campus. I find this particularly remarkable since, unlike the geography in the Netherlands, the terrain here has serious elevation changes. It seems that here in our state, many of the campuses are clinging to the foothills. In fact, there isn’t much flat land around here! (I know; still riding a bike every chance I get…)

Recent estimates suggest that approximately 50 million U.S. residents have some sort of bike, though we should not assume that most of them ride their bikes on a regular basis. But, judging by the number of bikes sold every year and the number of fatalities involving bicyclists every year, I believe that we can assume that there a lot of us. In response, most states have passed legislation designed to regulate bike usage, mostly with the intent of helping to make biking a safer activity. By the most recent information I could find, Washington state is the most bike friendly. I won’t identify the state listed as the least bike-friendly state, but will say that its name starts with the first letter of the alphabet (see bikeleague.org/states).

How Do Bikes Relate to FM?

At this point, some will ask: what does this have to do with facility management? With significant bias, I think the answer is obvious. Years ago, I wrote an article suggesting that we are in the FM business to provide essential support to campus stakeholders. I believe that this perspective has to extend itself to bicyclists and their bikes, as well. How bike friendly (and still pedestrian friendly) is your campus?

Are there adequate bike storage facilities close to each building’s main entrance so that ADA-compliant ramps, railings and trees remain unburdened? Are storage facilities secured and protected from the elements and would-be thieves? (Some bikes run into the thousands of dollars!) Is there a registration process for bikes? Are tire pumps conveniently located? Is there a place in the buildings for riders to store their biking-related equipment? Are there showers available for use by those wanting to clean up before coming to class/work? Do parking enforcement staff stand prepared to provide assistance to bike riders? Are there policies in “moderating” the appropriate behavior of/by/toward bicyclists? Are design guidelines in place to cause bike-friendly designs to be implemented in new buildings? Is there a constructive relationship between campus officials and corresponding representatives from the surrounding community, who can together work toward establishing a safe, convenient route to be used by those who choose to ride their bikes to campus? From experience, I can easily remember close calls with motorized vehicles (the four wheeled-type, sometimes operated by individuals harboring a hostile attitude toward any biker). Statistics show that nearly every state has several bicyclist fatalities per year. I am also aware that pedestrians on college campuses have fallen victim to injury or death as a result of a skirmish with a bike.

Cyclists are like almost any other group. Many will be vocal and want the best and the most convenient, and at little or no cost to them. Some are frightfully inconsiderate of bi-pods and automobiles (of course, that works both ways). Our challenge is to filter their wishes from needs, allowing us to create and maintain an environment that avoids discouraging bike ridership, but encourages it as a viable option.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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