THE SCAD Bike Share program launched this week, and it already has 130 registered users on its brand new website. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science (or maybe more appropriately, industrial design) to understand why.
First of all, the easy-to-use program is entirely useable through a smart phone app, making it simpler to grab a bike than to order Chinese food.
Anyone with a SCAD ID, including faculty and staff, can reserve and/or simply pick up one of 100 bikes at three designated “priority” hubs and return it to several more racks placed throughout downtown and midtown.
It’s cheap, too. The first four hours of the day are free, plenty of time to cruise from Montgomery Hall on 52nd Street to Foundations and grab lunch at Art’s in between. After the grace period, it’s $4 an hour, with a max daily rate of $20.
Also, for the first time in the college’s history, incoming freshman aren’t allowed to bring cars to campus, and none of those enterprising industrial design students have invented a jetpack yet. SCAD’s 24-hour bus system already has them covered, but the transportation department wanted to offer more options.
“The idea came out of an initiative from President Wallace to find alternative ways for students to travel around campus,” says Executive Director of Campus Safety and Security, John Buckovich, who also oversees transportation and adds that the department will be launching an Uber-type program this year as well.
Most importantly, bicycling around Savannah is one of the purest pleasures the city has to offer, especially when experiencing the schadenfreude derived from watching drivers lined up around the squares, hunting for a place to park.
“You don’t have to risk being late because you’re circling around looking for a space. You can just roll up to the building and go to class,” concurs Buckovich with a reminder that every rider needs to wear a helmet.
(Every SCAD student spends time with Buckovich learning about staying safe in Savannah, and bike share riders are required to wear helmets and observe traffic rules. )
Perhaps the most attractive reason for the program’s instant popularity is the bikes themselves. Simply put, the rides are dope, a whole lot sturdier and fancier than anything most college kids can afford. Blazing yellow with black Kevlar saddles, they come equipped with a U-lock, bell, bungee cord basket and a light that’s programmed to turn on automatically via a solar panel behind the seat.
Puncture resistant tires handle potholes like a dream, and the three-speed belt drive means never having to sit on the side of the road trying to fix a dirty chain.
To offer these top-of-the-line models, there was no need to reinvent the wheel. SCAD partnered with Gotcha Bikes out of Charleston, a company that has designed bike share programs for several other universities around the country.
Gotcha Bikes in turn uses the technology developed by Social Bicycles, a Brooklyn-based outfit that allows users operate the simple interface and managers to track each bike through an in-built GPS system. (If a bike is left standing too long or starts traveling more than 35mph, it sends an alert that it’s been stolen or abandoned.)
This ingenious simplicity is responsible for a surge in American bike sharing programs in the last few years, according to public bike use expert Russell Meddin.
“It’s a very convenient way to enjoy bicycling without owning a bike, especially if you live in a dense city. Who wants to take a bike up four flights of stairs?” asks Meddin, who has catalogued and mapped thousands of bike sharing systems around the world.
“With bike sharing, there’s no hassle, no storage, no worry about someone stealing it. Once you’ve docked it, it’s not your problem.”
Meddin lives in Philadelphia but knows the urban plan of dozens of cities and college campuses around the country in terms of their bike share viability, including Savannah.
“I think SCAD’s program is going to be very successful,” he says, adding that the City of Savannah’s stalled public bike sharing program could benefit from a deeper look at the model.
While SCAD Bike Share is currently limited to those affiliated with the college, there are advantages to Savannah citizens in the form of freed-up parking spaces and better-educated riders.
As of this week’s launch, officers from SCMPD have been tapped by the college to teach new freshman about bike safety, another benefit touted by Buckovich.
“It helps build that relationship between SCAD students and the city at large.”