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Green Bikes put students in motion

By Alexandra Wertz '12
May 5, 2010

For many St. Olaf students, the coming of spring means tuning up their bikes after spending the winter in drifts, and riding them all over campus. Along with holding classes outside, tossing Frisbees, hanging out on "Hoyme Beach," it's all part of the season.

But what's different today is that a number of students are riding bright green bicycles from the new Green Bikes program that aims to promote fitness and decrease car use while providing transportation for students.

The college's Green Bikes program initially was launched four years ago but couldn't overcome maintenance and accountability issues. But this year, in conjunction with Oles Advancing Social Innovation and Sustainability (OASIS), Green Bikes has set up a repair shop in Ytterboe Hall and organized an automated checkout system that promotes accountability and responsibility.

Students in the Campus Ecology class check out Green Bikes to use for a Northfield tour conducted by Nate Jacobi from the Center for Experiential Learning.

"I've learned a lot about what it takes for a program like Green Bikes to work," says Daniel Novak '11, an organizer of the program. "And although our methods continue to develop, I think that its newest incarnation has really found its place at St. Olaf."

The program is completely student-run. Now with six newly repaired and painted bikes available to students, and 14 more on the way for next year, the creators hope Green Bikes will last.

"My dream for Green Bikes is to see it develop into a more complete bike advocacy program," Novak says. "By providing a resource for students to learn more about how to ride safely and keep a bike working smoothly, we hope to help more people gain the independence, fitness, and confidence that bikes can provide."

The bikes are kept locked just outside Rolvaag Library. Students wanting to use the bikes can rent them free of charge for 24 hours at a time using their Ole Card. The library also provides locks, lights, and helmets. Bikes that are not returned within the day are subject to a daily late fee.

A key component of the new program is the Green Bikes repair shop in the basement of Ytterboe Hall, where students like Colin Huffer '12 (L) and Dan Novak '11 fix bikes and teach other students simple maintenance.

Future plans
And there's room for expansion. "For the future we're looking at a semester-long rental program, in which students can rent a bike for the duration of the semester, as well as have the option to purchase the bike at the end of the semester," Maren Gelle '10 explains. And Sarah Carlson '10 and Kristin Johnson '10 have worked with students from nearby Carleton College to implement a program to construct bicycle ambulances for Haiti as a means of transporting injured and ill individuals from rural areas to a hospital. A city-wide computerized bike-rental system for Northfield also is being investigated.

Despite its infancy, the program already has gained recognition. The Green Bikes/OASIS team, represented by Gelle, Novak, and Kayla Johnson '10, attended the Clinton Global Initiative last month at the University of Miami. The students were presented with an Outstanding Commitment Award by former Secretary of Health and Human Services by Donna Shalala. The team was even featured on MTV (starting at 41 minutes).

Students are excited about the recognition, but really have one goal in mind: contributing to St. Olaf's green way of living. "At Olaf we see it as a way to improve the quality of life in our community," Novak says.

Photos by Ben Hovland '11.

Contact David Gonnerman at 507-786-3315 or