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News Maryland Baltimore County Catonsville

UMBC bike share program provides options for students, connects communities

Many college students are without a car or alternate form of transportation to check out what is available off campus. Students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County are no different.

Beginning Friday, however, UMBC students began having free access to bicycles for use on campus and in the surrounding communities.

Scott Westcoat of C'Ville Bikes & The Hub has partnered with Mike D'Archangelo at UMBC to install a bike share program at the Retriever Activity Center on campus.

"From [the perspective of] a business person on Frederick Road, who has talked to other business owners, you have this whole [untapped] population of 11,000 people only a few miles from town on any given day," said Westcoat, owner of the bicycle shop on Frederick Road.

Terry Nolan, president of the Arbutus Business and Professional Association, said the new program will do just that.

"UMBC is a potential economic growth pool for Arbutus," Nolan said. "When the kids come down here to go to the movies, they buy a toothbrush at Rite Aid and they get a pizza at Sorrento.

"Those things directly benefit the business in the community. The more we can cause those interactions to occur, it's a positive action for both communities."

D'Archangelo, the assistant athletic director at UMBC, said the program will foster a still-growing relationship between the campus and its neighbors in Catonsville and Arbutus.

"I think this is going to allow them, the folks that don't have a car or the folks who are a little more health oriented, to take a ride and get to the local communities," he said.

Student government representatives originally approached Westcoat in the fall of 2012 with a desire to make bicycles available on campus. The students quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of work the program would require, and the effort fizzled. This summer, they returned with a plan.

"They wanted to make this happen at any level," Westcoat said.

Towson University began its bike share program last spring, according to the school's website. That program gives winners of a student lottery a bicycle to use for a semester, unlike the UMBC program, which gives students access for a few hours, an entire day or even a week or more.

Westcoat said the UMBC program will start off with eight bicycles. The bikes come at a minimal cost from Diamondback Bicycles, for whom Westcoat's shop is a designated dealer.

"They are picked specifically for this area as a type of bicycle that work well with a lot of hills, with easy maintenance," he said.

Each bike will have a designated lock and helmet paired with it, he said.

"It's very easy for anyone to get on the bike and just pedal away," he said.

Westcoat said the program is a great first step to making bicycle transportation a more viable option for students.

"Obviously, we'd like to get more bicycles on campus," he said. "We saw this as a first step to making bicycles available to students.

"Generally speaking, bike shares allow people to not have to fully commit to one single transportation mode," Westcoat said.

The bikes will be housed in the Retriever Activity Center [RAC] on campus.

"The initial roll-out of the program is going to be essentially a no-cost program for the students," D'Archangelo said. "In other words, they're just going to fill out a sheet of paper with their name, their student ID number; there might be a small waiver piece. And then they're going to be able to access this bike to get to the local Catonsville and Arbutus communities.

"Typically, when you rent anything from the RAC...a student would give their ID to us and we would give them the equipment. In this instance, we're actually not going to take their ID, just their information, because we want them to have their ID on them because some of the local restaurants accept our UMBC card."

Students use the ID card to gain entry to their dorms, buy food at on-campus dining establishments and to receive student discount deals on food and drinks at businesses in Arbutus and Catonsville.

Nolan hopes the accessibility to bikes with not only encourage students to come into the community and use their cards more but also bolster his belief that improving and increasing bike paths in the area will be a lasting benefit.

"This is a long-term venture that we have tried to engage," he said.

First District Councilman Tom Quirk, a strong advocate for making communities more bicycle-friendly and who often bikes through nearby Patapsco Valley State Park, said he is looking forward to seeing the immediate benefits of the bike share program.

"I think with the bike share program, more and more students can grab a bike and bike into the business areas of Arbutus and Catonsville," Quirk said. "I think that's what really critical and what's being worked on, is how we can increase connectivity with UMBC.

"UMBC, perhaps unintentionally, is very self-contained," Quirk said. "They have a lot of the shops and restaurants right on their own campus.

"I think the business community in Arbutus and Catonsville need to continue to be accommodating to the students. It's an amazing asset, and we need to continue to foster and grow that relationship."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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