How College Campuses Create Bike-friendly Spaces

Ivy-covered templates for better city planning.

College and university campuses are perhaps some of the most immediately recognizable spaces in photos and on film. While the ivy-covered mid-rise buildings certainly steal the most attention, it is the open public spaces with wide sidewalks and narrow streets filled with people on foot and on bikes that make campuses instantly identifiable. These are spaces where people are encouraged to walk and bike and even linger at their leisure, while motor vehicle access is, more often than not, very restricted.

In an article on bikeportland.org, editor Michael Andersen notes that many college towns boast relatively large percentages of people who bike to work regularly. To explain why, Andersen points to four important lessons for city planners found by looking to college and university campuses and their surrounding neighborhoods. These four lessons: that universities breed 20-minute neighborhoods, that they create car-free spaces, that they use public space to enable density, and that they charge for car parking, when applied to other urban areas can have the power to create spaces where bicycling and walking are convenient, efficient, and safe.

In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists awarded the University of California-Davis (UC Davis) a platinum Bicycle Friendly University award, the highest award available and an achievement shared with only one other campus. By heavily regulating and restricting car access throughout much of the campus, an effort started nearly 50 years ago, UC Davis planners laid down a foundation of support for walking and cycling. Since then, the network of bike-friendly paths and streets on campus has been connected to the campus perimeter and to city bikeways.

In an interview with the League of American Bicyclists, David Takemoto-Weerts, UC Davis’ Bicycle Program Coordinator said, “With a bike mode share approaching 50 percent, upwards of 20,000 bikes on campus during peak use days, and ever-improving infrastructure and safety programs, we hope to continue to serve as a model for other colleges and universities working to increase the beneficial use of bikes for daily transportation.”

The central campus of McMaster University in Hamilton, ON, includes many of the hallmarks of university spaces that encourage walking and cycling. Noble old buildings mingle among more recent and larger structures including libraries and a hospital. Car use is carefully controlled on campus and parking is not cheap. Off-campus housing in the adjacent neighborhoods is mixed among family homes on mostly low-traffic streets with strict parking regulations. Nearby Westdale Village is a walkable destination where students and residents can get groceries, dine out, and find entertainment.

In recent years, the City of Hamilton has ambitiously added bicycle infrastructure both leading to and through the university campus that includes protected bike lanes and a former rail line converted to a wide car-free path providing a connection for students and employees living further off campus.

Beyond limiting car use on campuses and creating spaces that support walking and biking, many universities provide extra incentives for cycling. Bowdoin College’s campus in downtown Brunswick, ME, a recipient of the League’s silver Bicycle Friendly University award, features a bike share program and abundant bike parking to support students and employees.

Student-run bike shops offer low-cost bicycle repairs and rentals on the campuses of the University of Calgary, the University of Toronto, and many more. While car parking can be costly, bike parking is often abundant and free. The University of Victoria has 2,900 total bike parking spots, electric bike charging stations, bicycle engraving by Campus Security Services, and even a campus bike share program.

The people-first templates of college and university campuses are mimicked across the country and lauded by planning professionals. From the University of Victory to the University of Maryland, creating people-friendly spaces is a higher learning lesson that more cities should be getting.

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