Profile: Yellow Bike Program (Eckerd College)

Eckerd College’s Yellow Bike Program is as simple as simple gets, and I dig it. Part of the College’s sustainability initiative, the Yellow Bike Program functions as a symbol of the community’s environmentally friendly identity, and the simplicity of the program’s design demonstrates the extent to which that identity has taken hold. The program is one component of a campus-wide master plan to eliminate motorized traffic from the central areas of campus altogether. From the information I’m able to gather, they have somewhere in the vicinity of 200 bikes available to help them achieve their goal.

Here’s how it works:

Anyone on campus can pick up a yellow bike that is not being used and ride it to where they need to go. When you get to your destination, you place the bike in the nearest bike rack or gently on the ground if there is no available space in the rack. The next person that comes along and needs a bike can pick it up and ride it to their destination, and the circle continues. If the bike is broken then you should flip it upside down.

Even the bikes themselves are simple: fixed gear cruisers. As risky as it is, I even appreciate the honor system on which the program depends. The bikes are never locked up. To be sure, the program has had its share of problems as a result. They have encountered the same kinds of problems that other free bike programs of this kind have experienced (e.g., theft, accidental loss, intentional damage, riders stashing the bikes or removing the seats, trouble keeping the bikes maintained, etc.) The challenge is figuring out ways to keep such things in check without incurring a great deal of expense and/or sacrificing the freedom and ease that characterizes the “take-a-penny; leave-a-penny” arrangement. This is something I think I’ll revisit another time.

The only drawback I see to the program is that bikes can’t leave campus. The rationale for this policy is easy enough to figure out, but such a policy seems slightly at odds with the program’s green intentions. If bikes could leave campus, students might eventually stop bringing cars to school altogether. At the very least, they might begin limiting the number of errands they run by car. This in turn would benefit the entire city and not just the college.

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