Bicycle lost and found program is a positive step for sustainability effort

Column by Emily Foerster

After lambasting the administration last week for its lack of environmental stewardship (which, I dare say, I’ll do again) I would like to devote this week’s thoughts to “giving credit where credit is due,” as they say, by praising the school’s support of one of our most important sustainability initiatives: the Wildcat Wheels Bicycle Library.

Though many students are unaware of its existence, Wildcat Wheels is a nationally recognized program at UK that provides free bike rentals and maintenance to students, faculty and staff. Some bikes are available for semester-long checkout, while others are available through the Student Center for two days at a time. The goal is to get more students to stop using their cars by providing free sustainable transportation to and from school and around campus.

Shane Tedder, UK’s prime sustainability guru, conceived the idea in 2003 and quickly began research and development. He discovered that every semester a number of abandoned bikes are seized by Parking and Transportation, so he arranged a relationship with the department, which now donates them to the Wildcat Wheels Library, where they are put to good use.

Before students can check out the bikes, the Wildcat Wheels crew fixes or trades out any broken parts, paints the frames yellow and generally spruces them up, so they can be safely used. If anything goes wrong with a bike, there is a maintenance shop in the basement of Blazer Hall (just through the door that faces the back of the New North dorm) where riders can go for free help. The shop is also available for free maintenance on any bike belonging to a member of the university.

The program is an extremely innovative approach to campus sustainability, and it’s our own program, rather than a copy of a benchmark. On July 29, The New York Times published an article called “Catalysts for Change,” which named Wildcat Wheels as one of seven noteworthy environmental efforts in the country.

If UK embarrasses me for its general sloth in going green, the Wildcat Wheels Bike Library Program partially redeems it. I am proud of the university’s cooperation with this program, as well as its departmental support of it. Parking and Transportation works closely with Tedder to provide Wildcat Wheels with abandoned bikes. UK Health and Wellness promotes it to students for fitness, and the Student Center manages the two-day bike checkouts. It’s inspiring to watch so many different departments rallying together to make Wildcat Wheels possible.

While there is a solid support system for the program, it’s not without its challenges. The biggest issue right now is that there are simply are not enough bikes to satisfy student needs. On average, they recover 10-12 bikes each semester (they’re up to 85 now), but they receive more and more requests every semester. All of the semester-long checkouts were filled on the first available day, which only covered about one-third of their demand.

The program’s funding comes only from a smattering of grants and donations, many of which have been provided by Student Government over the last five years. This means that they have no single, dependable flow of income. The Wildcat Wheels crew has proven that it can work magic with limited resources (they’re alchemists!), so imagine what they could do with more money.

UK should figure out a way to provide a constant stream of funding to the program, because unlike that monstrosity of a hotel that will replace the Dame and Buster’s, Wildcat Wheels may actually attract talent to our campus as we struggle to become a top-20 school.

Students, faculty and staff can also help the program by donating old bikes that Wildcat Wheels can transform and adopt into their fleet. Getting rid of the clutter in your basement or garage will be helpful to you, and you will be making it possible for somebody else at UK to take a car off the road.

In short, congratulations to the Wildcat Wheels crew and UK for such a remarkable program, and thank you to the school for its support, both financial and departmental. This kind of university-wide cooperation behind green initiatives is exactly what we need to see for UK to be a leader of sustainability in higher education.