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Bikeshare program cruises into Palo Alto

By Nick Alvarado | Pulse Staff Reporter

Bikeshare program cruises into Palo Alto
Henry Parrilla and Laura de Leon assembling bikes.

I happened to be making my way from the Performing Arts Center toward the courtyard when I noticed another student taking the same route in a more hurried fashion. I caught up with him and saw a small amount of sweat on his brow, which was not surprising seeing as it had been a little warmer than most winter afternoons.

“It’s a pretty long walk you know?” said Zachary Bermea, a sophomore Liberal Arts major, who was heading from the Performing Arts Center to Pedernales Hall. “When you have two classes back to back that are across campus, it makes it pretty hard to make it on time. So it’s either work up a sweat, or get chewed out for being late.”

This is one of the problems Palo Alto’s new bikeshare program hopes to put to rest when it takes effect on campus sometime this spring. It also hopes to bring vehicle use down around campus and to promote regular exercise for students, faculty and staff.

Dr. Denise Barkis Richter, Communications professor at Palo Alto, started this program with the hopes of improving Palo Alto’s air quality. She believes riding bikes is good for our air and even better for our health.

Richter stressed that this program is not going to ask for bikes to be signed in or out.

“It’s going to be based on the honor system. We’re not going to lock them up…” said Richter.

Students simply go to one of the seven designated bike racks and pick one up. Six day-glow green bike racks will be located at Pedernales Hall, the Ray Ellison Family Center, the Gymnasium, the Library, Brazos Hall and the Palomino Center parking lots. One red bike rack at the back entrance of the Performing Arts Center will bring the total number of racks to seven.

The program is also ride at your own risk, so exercise caution when riding and wear a helmet. Bike Safety Workshops have also been made available by Lydia Kelly of the San Antonio/Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization to students, staff and faculty to raise awareness of safe riding practices.

The idea for the program first materialized in the summer of 2009 when the campus Go Green! ¡Viva Verde! Committee decided to apply for a grant offered by National Geographic and Sun Chips to create a green project that would benefit the environment. The grant was worth $20,000 and would be used to start the program.

ESOL Adjunct Anna Cohen Miller and Communications Professor Gregory Pasztor created and entered a video that was selected as one of the top 10 finalists out of 2,500 applicants. Although they didn’t win the grant, they decided to move forward with the program anyway.

The program really got rolling once Palo Alto student Laura de Leon, a Communications major, got involved. She was a key component in finding volunteers, especially professional bike mechanics, to help re-assemble the 20 donated bikes that had been collected from various sources, including a surplus of parts collected over many years by Richter’s late father, Art Barkis, VIA buses that donated forgotten bikes and even Mayor Julian Castro’s mother, Rosie Castro, who works in Palo Alto’s Center for Academic Transitions.

“I love riding bikes and I like introducing people to the biking world,” said de Leon. Volunteers gathered to work on the bikes on Jan. 21, Feb. 5, Feb. 19 and Feb. 26. The next bike assembly will be on Sunday, March 25, at noon in the new facilities carport.

The bikeshare program also received a huge contribution from Steve Sikes, regional manager of Service King Collision Repair, who offered to not only prime but paint all 20 donated bikes.

Eight bikes still need to be assembled before the bikeshare launch can take place, but the program should be here sooner rather than later. Sometime in the near future, you won’t be enduring, but enjoying, that long trip from the Performing Arts Center to Pedernales Hall.