20071129_pid38257_aid38255_ebike_w600_spanhighI met today with a recent alumni from the University of Connecticut named Jessica Mortell in South Florida.  She has spent the last year developing a bicycle sharing program for the densely populated center of the university. Fitting upon the subject matter, we rode our bicycles to a local park to conduct the interview. Sitting on a bench surrounded by the plethora of birds who migrated South, we began discussing the environment.  “We humans have a tremendous impact upon our environment,” says Mortell who has a civil engineering degree.  “I want to work and protect against  urban sprawl.”  Mortell, like so many of her peers, wants to redesign the way we live, work, and transport ourselves.  

     A year ago a friend of Mortell’s suggested the creation of a bicycle plan as they were studying for exams.  The two debated the reality of such a program and from there the seeds of an organization was established.  Starting in the Spring of 2008, Mortell began investigating the steps needed to begin such a program.  Fortunate for her, she discovered a Senior Design Project from 2005.  Available through the Institute of Transportation Engineers at UConn, the project provided information on university density, projected bike lanes, paths, location of racks, etc.  Since the design of the program was previously created, her next step was to confront the bureaucratic juggernaut known as “The Administration.”  

     It can be discouraging when attempting to begin a project and bring the issue to the administration.  Mortell served as an undergraduate senator and spoke about her idea with Julie Elkins, the Vice President of Student Affairs.   Ms. Elkins was in the process of forming a sustainability committee for the University and asked Mortell to contribute her ideas to the forum.  From there Mortell was able to network and garner the support from both students and faculty.  The students created an organization called UConn Cycles.  Their initial responsibility was to build exposure of the program and provide student feedback.  The faculty built support within themselves so that when the fall semester began, the Associate Dean of Students, the Director of Transportation, the Director of Residential Life, Dinning Services, and even the President of the University, all supported the creation of a University Bike Sharing Program. 

        With complete support from the administration and the formation of the student organization, UConn Cycles could now receive funding for the program.  Last November the organization sent three student to Davis, California for the Campus Bike Programmers 1st Annual Conference.  The conference brought together students and universities from all over the country to promote and exchange bicycle sharing programs.  One of the successful plans is from the University of Washington.  Their bike program is now being adopted and implemented in city of Seattle.  

      “I am excited to see how far we have come,” says Mortell. “But there is so much left to be done.”  With support to launch the program, Mortell is drafting a business proposal for the administration and local businesses.  She has found a location to store the bikes on campus but is now waiting on funding to purchase bikes for the program as well as donations from the private sector.  Those who wish to donate  bicycles or have any questions can email the organization at uconncycles@gmail.com.  

      Mortell, and other students like her, are taking advantage of the resources in front of them.  With it they are making strides to redesign the way we live our lives.  Universities have been doing this, cities have only recently begun, but the impact has been felt.  It will be interesting to see the way we live our lives in the not so distant future.

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