Columns / Discourse / April 30, 2014

Conservation Corner: A case for better bike infrastructure

As the relentless cold gives way to more forgiving spring rain, bicycles are starting to come out of storage. Tubes are empty, chains are rusted and many folks are eager to get back in the saddle.

As one of the mechanics in the Knox Bike Shop, I myself have been busy preparing many two-wheels to tool around campus. No matter how much we, as students, prepare ourselves and our bikes, however, there is not much we can do on-campus to prevent having our bikes exposed to the torrents of water that come with a midwestern spring.

Indeed, the severe lack of covered bicycle racks on campus deters students from cycling at any point in the year —  good weather or bad. It sends a message that cycling —  a feasible and sustainable means of transportation —  is either not understood as a priority or not seen as one by the institution.

This lack of basic cycling infrastructure relegates the bicycle to a cute hobby, to be done when the weather is exceptionally nice, as opposed to the alternative means of transportation that it is. Especially on our residential campus, where the bicycle is many students only means of transportation, the lack of proper bicycle parking demonstrates a misunderstanding of student needs.

Too many student and campus bikes are damaged from harsh weather conditions and lack of proper storage every time the weather sours (which, living in west central Illinois, it inevitably does). Bike repairs —  replacing parts that have been sullied from exposure to the elements —  dominates most of the budget at the bike shop on campus. Covered bicycle parking is a cost-savings measure, in this regard.

While much work has been done to help cultivate a better cycling culture at Knox, there is no getting around the fact that current campus bike racks are scattershot and ineffective. Outside of GDH, students and faculty have to trudge through the mud in order to lock their bikes to an antiquated rack. Outside of the mailroom, it is the same story.

When considering how many students there are bringing bikes from home and renting them from the campus bike shop, it is clear that the demand for adequate parking and cover is not being met. Like many seniors who are expected to commence in just a little over one month from now, this final term seems to have an end-of-days quality about it. Moments and memories are sweeter, frustrations accrued over a four-year period easily dismissed.

However, it doesn’t take much for me to think back to my time as a prospective student, traveling through a whirlwind of college visits, where every small impression gave me reason to lean toward this school or that. As we know, first glances from prospies are everything. And if this is the case, there is nothing quite as uninviting to a prospective student (who may be interested in cycling) as seeing a pile of bikes jumbled over each other on a rainy spring day.

Covered bicycle racks would be a boon to current students and would also help to avoid turning prospective cyclists away.


Tags:  bicycle bike campus campus bike shop Knox College

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