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Theft, vandalism kill community bike program

By Lyla Halsted
On September 14, 2011

  • Students are saddened by the death of the community bike program. Julie Coursen

This year Davidson has seen a host of changes, from new construction and renovation to policy changes. Most are glaring: half-built buildings, rearranged bookshelves, and PCC event changes. Not immediately obvious is the disappearance of a once flourishing program on campus: the community bikes. They were slowly disappearing last year, and the program has now lost all funding.

The community bike program was instituted by Davidson Outdoors and other organizations, who acquired bikes, labeled them for use by any student on campus, deposited them in various locations and repaired them periodically. Anyone could ride a bike and park it in a new location for the next person.

The bikes were intentionally adjusted to the size of an average person and originally painted red, though the color eventually changed to yellow. This way, the bikes would be easily recognizable and less likely to be stolen.

In 1995, Denmark released 1,000 city bikes onto the streets of Copenhagen, and other cities and campuses in the United States followed suit. Davidson was eager to institute such an initiative, and Catherine Turner '93, Davidson's former community service coordinator, was responsible for the bringing the idea to campus.

The original six bikes came from the campus police, who donated impounded bikes to Davidson Outdoors to be painted, repaired and equipped with racks for books.

The plan was to eventually release tandem bikes and expand the program into the town of Davidson.

The system was convenient for those who did not have bikes on campus, or who were unexpectedly running late to class. They were also a pleasant surprise to many, who found them sitting outside their dorm, the library, the Union or on Chambers lawn. The bikes did not have to be locked up or left in a secure location, which made them extremely convenient.  

Of course since the bikes were limited in number, completely public and in high demand, they were never in one place for long. This inconvenience aside, the program was in place for many years here, and many other campuses across the country maintain similar programs.

Why was such a useful and popular program discontinued? Unfortunately, it appears that the strong Davidson sense of honor and responsibility wavered when it came to these bikes.

"They were stolen, damaged and some were even thrown off of buildings," Jeannie Kinnett '12 said. "Since there were no repercussions for damaging them, and no way to ensure their maintenance, the Activities Tax Council decided that funding them this year would not be worth it since they would be trashed anyway."

There were efforts by Davidson Outdoors and other organizations to improve student treatment of the bikes, but this was largely ineffective. They were being damaged and stolen faster than they could be repaired or replaced.

"I once found one on the side of the road on Main Street," Samanvitha Sridhar '14 said. "I tried to ride it, but the tires were completely deflated, so I fell. It was pretty awful, and after that, I avoided the bikes because they all seemed to be in bad condition or broken." One bike was even found in a drug bust.

Though Davidson students take great pride in their honor code, it is difficult to enforce any sort of regulation on the treatment of public property that changes hands on an hourly basis. Ironically, the program's initial success was due to the honor code, which has now become its downfall.

Many students are not happy about the end of the program. "While I understand why the decision was made to end the community bikes program, I think that it was a useful resource for many students and I'm sad to see it go." Denton Baird '14 said.

Perhaps one day the community bikes program will be reinstituted, perhaps not. Either way, it brings to light the fact that, though the Honor Code is a source of pride for every Davidson student, when tested at least a few students take advantage of the benefits it affords. Our community is also accessible to a wider public that does not share our mutual pact.


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