High schools and colleges are steering students away from cars to save money on gas, save the environment and promote physical fitness.
This fall, Ripon College in Ripon, Wis., is offering freshmen free mountain bikes, helmets and locks in exchange for a promise not to bring a car to campus. The $300-per-student cost is funded by private donations.
The college's president, David Joyce, says the project was meant to avoid building a parking garage, but its side effects are beneficial: less pollution, more exercise and savings on gas.
The timing was right, Joyce says: "We were either extremely brilliant or extremely lucky."
About 60% of the school's 300 incoming students have signed up.
"Today's teenagers deserve a lot of credit. They're socially aware, they're environmentally conscious," says Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association of Pupil Transportation. "When the price of gasoline takes effect, they're smart."
On other campuses:
• At Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., a bike maintenance shop in the new student union and a bike-sharing program kicks off this fall.
High gas prices have helped the school meet its goal of increasing bike ridership to 12% of students and staff two years ahead of schedule.
• Other bike-loan programs will start or expand this year at colleges in Georgia, Illinois, Maine and Pennsylvania.
• More bike racks, new speed limit signs and a parent carpooling system are among the changes being considered at Hanover Park High School in East Hanover, N.J., to reduce car traffic and to improve students' safety.
• Howards Grove High School in Howards Grove, Wis., is using a federal grant to create a walking and biking path to the campus, currently accessible only by car or bus. The $100,000 project is scheduled to be done by fall 2009.
• Graduate students at State University of New York-Albany proposed a 5K (3.1-mile) biking and walking path around campus as a class project. The first phase, one-third of a mile, was completed in June.
• Faculty and students at three high schools in Marin County, Calif., are working with their local Safe Routes to Schools program to improve intersections, designate walk-or-bike-to-school days and use bikes as transportation for field trips.
The National Center for Safe Routes to School gets state and federal funding for kindergarten through eighth grade. A bill sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would fund high school programs. High schools' wider attendance boundaries, students' reduced physical activity and their desire to be self-reliant make funding necessary, he says.
"We have over 100 million bikes that are sitting around in garages and basements and back porches," Blumenauer says. "When people start to use them, it can be transformational."