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PACE bicycles

Free Bikes Relieve Transportation Woes for 50 Students

Fifty UT students were given new bikes this semester thanks to a collaboration between the City of Knoxville and several departments within the university.

When the Office of Sustainability was approached by the City of Knoxville to receive free bikes, they knew they had an opportunity to help students. Through a collaborative effort between the Divisions of Student Life and Student Success, Office of Sustainability, and the City of Knoxville, the university was able to award 50 bikes to students in need.

“Brian Blackmon with the City of Knoxville Office of Sustainability reached out to me to tell me they were getting the bikes from the Pace bike-share program that they wanted to donate to us and other entities that could give them to people who needed them,” said sustainability manager in the Office of Sustainability Jay Price.

Price brought in several others from the UT community to collaborate on this project, including department colleagues Leah McCord and Heather Brinton, Katy Locke from RecSports, and Abigail Brumfield from the Dean of Students Office.

Being able to get out and use the bike on the greenways, especially during COVID times will be a great de-stressor.

Kiley Dibble, bike recipient, senior

When deciding on exactly what to do with the bikes, several members of the committee for this initiative noted how transportation directly impacts student success. Locke, director of RecSports, noted in a conversation with Assistant Vice Provost CortneyJo Sandidge that transportation was a common barrier in student employment, and ultimately student success. Talisha Adams, director of Academic Inclusive Initiatives in the Division of Student Success, also shared the importance of transportation as it relates to the success of students.“Supporting student success can look different for every student,” said Adams. “This initiative highlighted some short-distance transportation needs. Several applicants discussed that by being awarded a bike, they felt they would have more time to focus on their academics since a bike would significantly decrease their commute time to campus.” With having more reliable modes of transportation, students will have more control over their schedules and how they spend their time.

“I saw this opportunity as an easier way to get to my classes, especially since they’re all near Ayres Hall,” said Ryan Jacobik, a junior aerospace engineer. “I am able to get to my classes on time without having to worry about parking.” In addition to having more efficient ways to get to classes, other students also talked about using the bikes to get to other places, like work.

“I work at the gym [TRECS] and I saw this opportunity and thought ‘Having my own bike would save me so much time going to and from campus for classes and work’ so I thought I would apply,” said senior marketing major Kiley Dibble. “I’m excited, I think this is going to save me time and get me out more.”

Locke also mentioned the importance of removing obstacles that stand in the way of students achieving their goals. “I think that with such a diverse student population anytime we can identify a need and remove a barrier we are helping a student graduate. I also think we are helping them take the next step to a career and to becoming an active member of a community for the future.”

In total, $35,933 worth of bikes were awarded to a total of 14 first-year students, 15 second-year students, eight third-year students, and 13 fourth-year students, representing seven different academic colleges.

“Reliable transportation is a key need for everyone, including students, and many don’t have and/or cannot afford a car,” said Price. “Owning and operating a car costs about $7,000 per year on average, and that’s out of reach for many students. A bike is a great way to get around for groceries or other needs, get exercise, and connect with greenways, parks, and other forms of recreation. It’s a safe way to do those things, even in the midst of a pandemic, which, of course, has made things even harder on many people physically, financially, socially, and mentally.”

Recipients of the bikes echoed that same sentiment when asked, noting that the bikes offered them the chance to get to know the city and take some much-needed time to relax, which is another facet of student success.

“I live nearby and having the bike will make it really easy to get to campus,” said senior and fellow aerospace engineer major Mary Kemp. “But I’m also looking for creative ways to get outside and be active so I think this will really help me do that. I really love the greenways and running near the UT research park so I’m looking forward to going there.” Dibble also mentioned having such quick access to the local greenways is an added bonus to receiving a bike.

“Being able to get out and use the bike on the greenways, especially during COVID times will be a great de-stressor,” said Dibble. “A lot of my friends bike as well so I’m looking forward to going with them by the river and on the greenways.”

“A bicycle would allow students to be more active and live a healthier lifestyle,” said Adams. “Riding a bicycle, just like other methods of exercise, can be a good stress reliever which relates directly to student success.”

In addition to the bikes, students chosen were also given a helmet, a lock, and educational material on bicycle safety provided by RecSports.

“As part of the acceptance of the bikes, students were educated on safe bike practices,” said Locke. “Bike riding is a great way to promote sustainable transportation, so we are protecting our planet with alternative forms of transportation. I also feel like the health benefits from bike riding are also very important.”

“My hope for students that received a bike through this initiative is that they’ll make biking a way of life,” said Price. “It’s definitely recognized as a sustainable form of transportation and is a lot faster than walking! I hope they won’t have to worry as much about how they’ll get food or pay their rent or get to their job, etc.”

In a year like none other, a new bike and one less worry might be exactly what these 50 students needed to keep moving toward graduation.