All for Bikes and Bikes for All!

Biking for One

This semester, University of Virginia Parking and Transportation released their UBike program, which is a bike share program that students, faculty, and staff can use. Once you sign up for UBike, you have access to the gorgeously designed UBikes at any time of day. Membership packages include being a UBike member for daily, monthly, or annual depending on how much you plan to use the bike share system. Why would you want to get a UBike? Perhaps you don’t own a bike at home but want to use one to get to classes faster or maybe you like the benefit of not worrying about maintenance on the bike. (For instance, if there’s a problem with a bike you check out, you can simply press the repair button and then someone will come and fix the bike.)

UBikes in front of the chemistry building. Photo from the UBike Facebook page.
UBikes in front of the chemistry building. Photo from the UBike Facebook page.

I had the pleasure of being a UBike beta tester before the program was launched in January. Let me tell you, I love them! There are YouTube videos on how to unlock your bike and how to put your bike back in the racks, which makes the process of getting a bike easy. For even faster access to bikes, UBike users can get a free membership card which they can simply tap on the computer system in the back rather than inputting their user ID. However, the magnetic strip on my card seems to have worn off. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is next to my phone. (Many hotel key cards undergo the same problem.) I personally have no gripe inputting my ID number so it’s all good.

You can even use UBike online to track your mileage, calories burned, and kg of CO2 you’ve omitted from putting into the atmosphere by choosing to bike instead. I typically don’t use any online systems like that to keep track of calories or my trips, but I’m sure for other people, it’s fun to use. I’ve heard of possible future competitions among UBike users to see who can omit the most CO2 by using their bike but that may just be a rumor!

UBike in all its glory. Image from the UBike Facebook page.
UBike in all its glory. Image from the UBike Facebook page.

Biking for All

As for the design, I love the design of the bikes. The bike lock holster is genius since you take the bike lock out and place it in a convenient side area on the bike. It doesn’t get in the way at all when I ride compared to my own bike at home. Although it has three simple gears, I’ve found that the three gears are all I feel like I need to get around grounds (up hills, down hills, etc.). There is a basket to store belongings but I’ve never felt the need to place anything in there. Perhaps this will be more useful when there are more UBike hubs around Grounds.

At the moment, you can only lock a UBike at the designated hubs. If you do not, you must pay a fee. Therefore, using the UBike to get to places off Grounds, such as the Corner, downtown, or even grocery store is less appealing. (You’re probably better off taking the CAT, a.k.a. Charlottesville Area Transportation.) It’s a shame that UBike has to be so restricted but for the moment, it makes sense. A few years ago, the city of Charlottesville attempted a bike share program and subsequently lost all of the bikes due to theft and people not returning the bikes.  However, as UBike expands, more hubs will be installed around Grounds to increase convenience. At least for me, being a UBike beta tester has make me consider having my own bike at UVa due to the UBike area limitations. Bottom line: While I may not purchase a UBike membership, I still appreciate how fast, easy, and convenient having a bike at UVa is and I am tempted to have my own. No matter what, I’m still choosing to reduce my own carbon footprint!

Biking 101 Workshop designed by Andrew Knuppel.
Biking 101 Workshop designed by Andrew Knuppel.

Again, I reiterate the fact that once I’ve experienced what it feels like to use a bike around Grounds, I appreciate the ability to have a bike! However, I’m not the best biker in the world. When I look over my shoulder to check for cars, my handlebars move in all sorts of directions and I don’t bike straight ahead. (That’s definitely bad.) I know basic hand signals but I feel nervous and uncomfortable interacting with cars at intersections. Other members of Green Grounds have voiced similar feelings which is why the Green Grounds Parking and Transportation subgroup wrote a GIFT Grant (Green Initiative Funding Tomorrow) this past fall in order to address this empty nice of a bike class for students. The Grant got funded and we at P&T are pleased to announce one of TWO biking 101 workshops! We are partnering up with UVa P&T and Bike UVA to provide students with an interactive biking workshop that addresses both bike safety and maintenance. The workshop will be held on March 25 from 5:30 – 6:30. Check out the Facebook Event page for more information.

Biking for All: A Case Study from Seattle, Washington

Finally, even if you don’t bike, there are ways to encourage biking and bike safety. I came across an article from PeopleForBikes.Org where language has been used to paint biking in a positive light and driving in a more negative one, which reflects the pro-bike, pro-transit policies. The Seattle Neighborhood Greenways,a  nonprofit group, calls it the “War on Cars” with the goal of advocating for a citywide network of low-traffic local streets that could be optimized for biking, walking, and running.

Smart language examples from the War on Cars. Image from

SNG brands themselves as neighborhood advocates rather than bike advocates and takes their inspiration from Portland, Oregon. By switching from phrases like “accident,” people use the term “collisions” because “accident” implies “that conscious choices like speeding aren’t involved in traffic collisions.” Rather than splitting groups into “drivers,” “bikers,” and “pedestrians,” which completely categorizes the transportation types, phrases like “people biking” or “people walking” are used which breaks down this categorization that strictly distinguishes one person’s actions from another.

Certainly the UVa and Charlottesville community doesn’t have this type of language and thinking down or a local nonprofit group like Seattle Neighborhood Greenways but that doesn’t mean it can’t start. I challenge you to change up the way you talk about bikes, whether you drive, walk, or bike. Try this new “smart language” and when someone asks about your wording, tell them. This Seattle case study is a great example of how we can change the way we see things with our speech. Speech allows us to communicate ideas and beliefs and thus influence others. Time to bring the power of speech to the green transportation movement!


UBike Facebook page

People for Bikes Website and Smart Language Case Study


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