Every Friday and Monday afternoon, Bike Share members can be found set up on Occidental’s Academic Quad as music blares and tools lie scattered on the cement. The Bike Share program provides students free repairs and week-long bike rentals. The program launched Earth Day 2010 with the goal of creating an environmentally sustainable and efficient way to travel around campus and the greater Highland Park area.
Venturing outside of the Occidental bubble can be challenging at times, according to Bike Share co-manager Phillip Wong (senior). Wong believes bikes can provide a solution to the lack of accessible transportation to and from campus. He encourages students to consider alternative modes of transportation besides a car or train.
“A lot of kids who don’t have cars sometimes feel trapped on campus, so providing an alternative transportation is definitely something that is valued for a lot of people,” Wong said. “Especially if you’re coming from a city, like New York, where a lot of kids don’t know how to drive but know how to bike.”
As a sophomore, Wong learned about Bike Share while trying out for the men’s tennis team.
“I met someone who was on the team who was working for Bike Share and I thought it would be a really fun activity. I enjoyed biking, especially in my Boy Scouts troop, but I didn’t really get into it [until college],” Wong said.
Like Wong, Kenny Shoji (senior), co-manager of the Bike Share program, was not a bike fanatic before joining Bike Share. Shoji initially applied for a job at the Green Bean, Occidental’s student-run coffee shop, but later decided working for Bike Share appealed to him more.
“If I have to get a job, I want it to be [at Bike Share]. It seems like fun and people were cool, and then I would learn how to fix bikes. I didn’t know anything about bikes before I joined,” Shoji said.
Over the past nine years, Bike Share has revamped their image and presence around campus. Wong spoke about how the program struggled in the past with encouraging students to utilize the free bike service. However, the number of bike rentals this year has increased to 22 per week compared to 15 per week last year, according to Wong.
“I feel like we have a pretty consistent group of people who consistently come back to us, and new people every now and then. And the biggest reason why people won’t use us is because they don’t know about us,” Shoji said.
In order to increase visibility on campus, Shoji and Wong use social media to announce events and sell merchandise. Recently, Bike Share sold t-shirts designed by one of their members, Julian Strauss Biro (junior).
Bike Share hosts bike excursions every other weekend, ranging in destination from the Atwater Village Farmers’ Market to CicLAvia. CicLAvia is a nonprofit car-free street event in LA that encourages cyclists to explore normally congested parts of the city, such as Downtown and MacArthur Park. These excursions create a sense of community among Bike Share riders and encourage students to consider joining the program, offering them a different perspective of LA, Wong said.
Kaiah Callahan (first year) enjoys participating in Bike Share excursions. She said they give her a chance to explore LA and get off campus.
“It’s nice for me to see different parts of neighborhoods, because I definitely would never have even known to look for these places otherwise,” Callahan said.
Through her two Bike Share excursions to the Atwater Farmers’ Market and Spoke Bicycle Cafe, Callahan has connected with many students, and she recognized some familiar faces on her second excursion. One student Callahan met on these excursions is Pacita Del Balso (first year). Both Callahan and Del Balso love to bike. Their mutual love of biking inspired them to formally join Bike Share.
“I always biked a lot at home. I biked around my neighborhood and to work at a nearby park area. I didn’t bring a bike with me because I didn’t know if I would need it,” Del Balso said. “So, it was a cool opportunity [to join Bike Share].”
With the increasing presence of Bike Share on campus, John Urquiza, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy, approached Wong about organizing a group ride for his class “Visualizing Gentrification: Bridging Land Use, Data and Ethnography.” Professor Urquiza hoped students could better understand the effects of gentrification through the perspective of biking.
“Students really enjoyed it [the group ride]. It’s a really interesting way to see the community,” Wong said.
This year, Shoji and Wong plan to improve Bike Share’s ability to not only serve as a bike rental service, but to provide opportunities for students to learn more about bike repairs.
“We really try to promote the idea of a community. You do not have to be obsessed with biking to hang out with us,” Shoji said. “That’s why we sit in the Quad — to invite the school to sit down with us and learn about bikes and about what we do.”