RISD students pilot bike-sharing program

By
Monday, November 24, 2008

A new bicycle sharing service is making it easier for Rhode Island School of Design students to borrow a set of wheels – for free.

Nate Phipps and Madeleine McGarrity, both juniors at RISD, have created a service called Pink Rides that has stationed bicycles in the lobby of a RISD residence hall at 15 Westminster St. in downtown Providence. During the first phase of the program, two bicycles are available for any RISD student to use for up to eight hours at a time.

Phipps installed the first bicycles last week and said the program could at some point be expanded to Brown.

The program began as Phipps’s project for a class called “Design for Social Entrepreneurship,” in which students examine the ways design can help communities, the industrial design major said.

Phipps and McGarrity modeled Pink Rides after similar bicycle sharing services that have become popular in Europe, he said.

“Most bike programs, or at least the early ones, were branded by color,” Phipps said, explaining the name of the program. “We wanted to do a color, and pink just felt right.”

The two original bicycles were abandoned on campus and removed by the RISD Department of Public Safety, which gave them to Phipps for free.

Phipps said he hopes to “scale up” Pink Rides to a total of 20 bicycles in the spring, when the weather gets warmer, by recycling discarded bicycles.

“You’re giving people an idea of it now so that when the full program comes out in the spring they’ll be more likely to use it,” McGarrity said.

The bicycles are marked with pink fabric that bears Pink Rides’ flamingo emblem.

Bicycles can help foster a sense of community, Phipps said. People go around in “boxes” all day, he explained, from the car box to the office box and back again. But when people ride bicycles, “people talk, and are exposed to each other,” he said.

“It’s kind of all in the spirit of the cycling community,” he added.

“We want more people to bike. Having a bike on campus is so much better than walking,” McGarrity said. “It’s a lot faster, and it encourages people to get into biking even when they’re not at school.”

Phipps said the service would also allow students to get off campus. “At college, it’s always a struggle to get out of the bubble that is your school,” he said, adding that a bike lets students get away in just a few minutes.

Because they are using abandoned bicycles, “costs are very minimal,” he said. Their biggest cost is getting secure locks. Pink Rides is trying to persuade bicycle stores to donate locks or sell them at wholesale prices, he said.

A RISD student can sign a bicycle out from the Public Safety officer stationed around the clock in the lobby of 15 West by filling out a small form with his or her name, e-mail address and student ID number, along with the current time.

“We hope that students will respect the system. It does involve some kind of responsibility and respect,” Phipps said.

“I think because it’s limited to people with RISD IDs, it’s going to work really well,” McGarrity said. She said she thought having to identify oneself to a Public Safety officer before taking a bicycle will also cut down on bicycle theft.

The program could eventually be expanded to include Brown students or the greater Providence community.

McGarrity said other distribution points could be added, such as the Quad, RISD’s first-year dorm, though such expansion would be restricted by where Public Safety officers are stationed.

Students will be asked to fill out an online survey after borrowing a bicycle, and Phipps said he hopes the survey will give Pink Rides “good information” on how to move forward. Pink Rides is just one project that Bike Town, a larger umbrella organization at RISD that Phipps is part of, is working on. The group is also planning bicycle maintenance and safety workshops as well as organized rides.

Though Pink Rides currently receives no funding from RISD, Phipps said, Bike Town is applying to be an official student group. If it is approved, Pink Rides could receive funding from the RISD Office of Student Life as a subsidiary group.