Students Launch NYU Bike-Share

The fence at Washington Square Park: a sign of latent demand for bike-share?

New York University may be the enemy of many East and West Villagers over its plans to expand, but its students are finding other ways to cut the school's environmental impacts: A group of undergrads and grads are gearing up for a bike-share program in the fall.

Their plan, which is still being tweaked, aims for a fleet of 30 bikes available at two dorms. One residence, at 40 East 7th Street, was selected because it's slated to become a "green house" with composting and other environmentally friendly features, explained junior Lindsi Seegmiller. They selected the other dorm, on Broome Street near Lafayette, because it has a floor devoted to green living, known as the "eco-Broome."

The team of six undergrads and grad students expects to be awarded $13,000 from Green Grants, a two-year-old program run by NYU's sustainability task force. Their project is one of several Green Grant winners the school plans to announce this week.

The grant will cover a swipe card system that two graduate students from Tisch's Interactive Telecommunications Program are developing. Also provided for: a maintenance program and the actual bikes, which will be rehabbed from abandoned bikes found on campus. The fix-up effort will be coordinated in tandem with a bike maintenance program started last year by NYU student Emily Allen.

"It will get NYU to start thinking more about biking," said Seegmiller, an environmental studies major working on the project. "We're not a campus where you can walk to everything. Yes, we have the buses, but I know the Transportation Committee for Sustainability doesn't like those buses."

To use the bike-share system, students or faculty will first reserve a bike online. Then, at the dorm, they swipe a card, opening a cubby that holds the key for a U-lock attached to the bike they reserved. (Bike-share planners originally wanted a system where the swipe card could automatically unlock the bike, but that was beyond their budget.)

The bike-share will also depend on volunteers who complete Allen's bike maintenance workshop. The student mechanics will be responsible for monthly inspections of the project's bikes. "People who live in Broome have a community service requirement, so we hope they'll volunteer," Seegmiller said. "It's a lofty goal, but it's good to know how to fix a bike and it's a community-building experience."

Riders will be required to take a bike safety workshop before participating. Plus, Seegmiller believes students will feel safe because, "A lot of it, I think, will be friends riding together." Helmets will be included with each bike, along with a waiver about personal responsibility for wearing them.

Though Seegmiller has heard other campus bike-shares have had problems with stolen bicycles, she is hoping to prevent that by having the students sign a waiver and swipe a card -- "kind of like a library card" or one used for "campus cash" -- to unlock the bikes, which will be charged if the students go over the allotted free time. (The share time is to be determined.)

Seegmiller was heartened by the popularity of a weekend bike-share at the Storefront for Art & Architecture last summer. She's hoping NYU's bike-share will eventually expand to other dorms: "It would be amazing to see something similar to Vélib."

Photo: krzysztof.poluchowicz / Flickr