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Aggie Blue Bikes: benefits the environment and promotes good health

Aggie Blue Bike       When Aggie Blue Bikes was established in fall 2005, it had nine bikes. Through generous donations from students and community members, the number of bikes has grown to approximately 120 in just three years.
Aggie Blue Bikes employee Dave Griffin        Aggie Blue Bikes employee Dave Griffin fixes the brakes on a bike to get it ready to become an official Blue Bike.
Air pollution is caused by many factors, but with approximately two million miles driven in Cache Valley every day, some of the pollution is inevitably linked to greenhouse gas emissions from cars. 

In 2005, a group of students and faculty members at Utah State University in the USU Community Bike Coalition started brainstorming ways to attack the air quality problem in Cache Valley. The winning idea was a community bike program that evolved into Aggie Blue Bikes, which officially began serving students in September 2005.

Aggie Blue Bikes is a student-managed and student-run program that checks bikes out to students free of charge for up to a semester at a time. It also offers free, one-on-one maintenance counseling and provides bike tools to help students take care of their own bikes.

The program started with nine bikes and one employee and has grown in just three years to include more than 100 bikes and 10 employees annually.

“Our mission is to get more people on more bikes more often to promote health, sustainable communities, reduce vehicle congestion and to better the air quality in Cache Valley,” said Adam Christiansen, Aggie Blue Bikes program coordinator and senior in mechanical engineering.

In spring 2007, they realized they would not be able to serve the amount of students they desired because the demand for Blue Bikes far exceeded the supply. So they adopted this mission and have been developing ways to make this happen ever since.

In an effort to get people on bikes more often, whether on a Blue Bike or not, Aggie Blue Bikes has expanded the educational side of its services to include one-on-one tutorials, community weekly classes, League of American Bicyclists classes and the student tool board.

The tool board is a full set of bicycle tools and stands that students can use any time. If the student doesn’t know how to use the tools, a Blue Bikes employee will teach the student how to use the tools and maintain a bike, but will not fix the problem.

“By doing this, we take concepts and turn them into hands-on skills that students will have throughout their lives,” Christiansen said. “This teaches students how to take care of themselves rather than relying on someone else and gives them the ability to pass their knowledge on to others. The success of the student tool board has been phenomenal.”

The lucky students who get to borrow a bike enjoy the benefits of this sustainable form of transportation.

“I was so excited when I got my Aggie Blue Bike last summer — I showed it to everyone at work as soon as I got it,” said Loni Pilcher, senior graphic design student. “I lived really close to campus and work so it didn’t make sense to drive my car. I got great exercise riding up the hill to work a few times a week, and I loved being able to ride to my friends’ houses instead of spending money on gas.”

By fall 2006, just one year after Aggie Blue Bikes was established, the bike supply had doubled from 9 to 18 bikes. A year later it had more than tripled to 65, and a year later it had about 120 bikes.

The Blue Bikes come from students and community members who donate their old bikes to the program. Aggie Blue Bikes employees restore the bikes or use them for parts and paint the frames aggie blue. Christiansen has also been able to coordinate with the USU police to recycle abandoned bikes around campus. After an abandoned bike is taken by the police, it’s held for three months to give the owner ample time to claim it. After the three months, Aggie Blue Bikes adds it to its fleet.

“This program is completely original,” Christiansen said. “We studied different models used at other schools and in other communities, but no other program runs at virtually no cost to the students.”

Aggie Blue Bikes has been able to function due to generous donations and grants from AmeriCorps, the Utah Conservation Core, Provost Raymond Coward, Vice President of Student Services Gary Chambers and Dean of the College of Natural Resources and Director of the Sustainability Council Nat Frazer.

“Aggie Blue Bikes is a fantastic program for sustainability at USU — not only does it help lower carbon emissions in Cache Valley, but the students who use the bikes are sustaining their own bodies by getting exercise as they ride them,” Frazer said. “I can think of no other student-managed initiative that has such tremendous benefits. I am delighted that the Sustainability Council has been able to support its efforts.”

Beginning in 2007, Blue Bikes started a Friends of Santa program in which its employees collect donated children’s bikes and refurbish them to give to needy children in the community. Aggie Blue Bikes also plans and hosts the Cache Valley bike festival each spring in an effort to give community members a chance to learn about bikes, biking etiquette and local bike businesses, etc.

“We’re so grateful for everyone who has helped us and everything that’s been given to us,” Christiansen said. “We are glad we’ve found a way to give back to the community to show our gratitude.”

Contact: Adam Christiansen, 435-797-8139
 Writer: Annalisa Fox, 435-797-1429
October 2008

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