I Want to Ride My (free) Bicycle
The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Sustainable Campus Task Force (SCTF) is
currently spearheading a uni-bike program they hope will be operational as soon as next
week. The new initiative will provide UAF students with quick, easy, and best of all free
transportation around campus in the form of brightly painted blue and gold bicycles. The
bikes will be put at several locations all over campus and will be available for use by
anyone. As well as being painted the same color the bikes will be adorned with a plaque
that designates their use and will not be locked at any time.
“We want to give people another option for getting around campus,” said Eli
Sunafra, president of SCTF at UAF. “Walking is slow and riding the shuttle is wasteful.”
It is hardly all business when it comes to SCTF’s reasons for trying to get a uni-bike
program built. A big part of why SCTF is trying to get more people to ride bikes is based
on a “tastes good and is good for you” style philosophy.
“We just want to promote bike riding. It’s fun and it’s healthy,” said Gretchen
Garcia a biology major and member of SCTF.
The idea for free bikes on campus was first presented in part of a student senate bill
but didn’t garner very much support in that forum. Seeing this as a smart and useful plan
for UAF, Sunafra decided to present it to SCTF as a project they should undertake and
make happen. The idea was well received by members and the ball started to roll. SCTF
made flyers and posted them all over campus and on every bicycle they could. Support
came from a wide variety of places. The always lucrative transfer sites provided SCTF
with a good number of bikes and parts to start with. The project has also relied on
students and residents of Fairbanks for the ever growing bone yard of bikes and bike
parts in front of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center where the refurbishing is
done. SCTF even got a few bikes from the wood center where some abandoned and
unclaimed bicycles are kept. SCTF also plans to ask some local businesses for assistance
for things like chains, tubes and tools which are harder to come by. Supply is not the
problem. Demand however might be a different story.
Winter is right around the corner and many people look at sub-zero temperature
bike riding as a sport reserved for the arctic elite and the just plain crazy.
“We hope that at least some of the people who think winter bike riding is
impossible will have a chance to give it a shot and maybe change their minds,” Sunafra
The project is aimed not only at providing free bikes for everyone on campus but
also at doing so on a paltry budget.
“So far I’ve spent about 20 bucks,” said Sunafra. The SCTF has applied to the co-
op council for 600 dollars to buy tools and essential parts that are hard to find in good
shape for free. The SCTF’s uni-bike project, if successful, will not only provide quick
and easy rides for students but will do so without any kind of financial burden being
placed on them. The same cannot be said for the shuttle services on campus.
If the uni-bike project is successful UAF would be the first campus in Alaska to
have a free bike program. Similar projects have been done in towns and on college
campuses throughout the country. Thirty states in the U.S. have at least one community
bike program, several of those states boast two or more. Cities in Denmark, Norway,
Canada and others have also implemented bike sharing programs. In Copenhagen,
Denmark the success of their “white-bikes” program can be attributed to their ability to
keep the bikes from being stolen and destroyed. The bikes there are specially designed to
be uni-sex and have an adjustable saddle so that bike fans tall and small can enjoy them.
When a person wants to use a bike they put a 20 DKr coin ($3 U.S.) into a coin slot on
the rack. They can then take the bike wherever they want within city limits. When they
are done with the bike they return it to any of the special bike racks and get their money
back. This also means that anyone who finds a stray “white-bike” can return it and get the
refund. The bikes are used for advertising as well which helps produce extra income to
help with maintenance. Granted the cost of doing all this is beyond the reach of SCTF but
it is inspiring to see how successful a program like this can be.
SCTF feels confident that they’ll be able to at least get the project off and running
on a budget of only 600 dollars (potentially less), but there are other concerns still. The
issue of liability has to be taken into account in a project like this, especially considering
the icy conditions of Fairbanks roads in the winter. On average it would cost almost 300
dollars to fully winterize one bicycle so doing so is definitely out of the question for
“Not only can we not afford it, but even if we could the bikes would just be too
valuable. People would steal them immediately,” said Sunafra.
Fortunately getting around the liability issue has proven easier than expected for
other similar programs. SCTF is working to find out exactly what the stipulations would
be here on campus, but in most other cases operating under the premise of “use at your
own risk” has worked out fine.
There are myriad reasons why a program like this should be embraced by the
Fairbanks community and the students at UAF. Riding a bike is healthy, it’s efficient, and
it’s fun, not to mention the bragging rights associated with taking on the elements and
helping to keep UAF and the Earth a healthier place to live. Contact the Sustainable
Campus Task Force for more information about the uni-bike program at 474-6037.