Bike rentals are newest green initiative at St. Xavier

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • March 25, 2009 @ 8:00 AM

St. Xavier University is close to rolling out – literally – the newest element of a major initiative to cut down on carbon emissions on campus.

In the coming weeks, students will be able to rent bicycles for short periods of time to get from one side of campus to the other. At a school where many students commute to classes from the city and suburbs, it’s a move designed to get them out of their cars, university officials say.

“So many students and of course employees drive to work, and then often will drive from one part of campus to another,” says spokesman Joe Moore. “We do have a shuttle system that works very well, but this will be an even greener approach.”

The GreenBike system is the same as one used in Paris since last year. Students will swipe their campus ID card at special computerized bike racks, releasing one bike. The first 15 minutes of riding will be free, with each 15 minutes after that costing 60 cents. With racks slated to be positioned across campus, students can return the bikes to another rack without having to make a round trip, Moore says.

The system has had its problems in Paris, where bikes have ended up in the bottom of the Seine River and in scrap yards, according to news reports.

But Moore doesn’t expect that to happen at St. Xavier. The system will keep track of each student who rents a bike, making it easy to find the last user if a bike goes missing.

“The bikes themselves are very, very unique-looking,” Moore says, describing the bright yellow and green paint scheme. “There’s nowhere one could sell these bikes.”

The GreenBike system is just the latest initiative for a campus that has been busy erecting energy-efficient buildings and looking for ways to cut emissions and save energy.

“We’re ahead of the game,” says Paul Matthews, a vice president at St. Xavier who oversees campus facilities. “I feel very pleased with all the different things we’re doing. It’s not just building construction.”

New buildings are a big part of the work, though. So far St. Xavier has built two new buildings that meet high standards for energy efficiency, starting with Rubloff Hall.

“Rubloff really convinced us that green really made good economic sense,” Matthews says of the residence hall the university completed in 2006.

The building cost $9.5 million, including all of the dormitory furniture and other equipment inside, he says. Of that, the additional steps to make it highly energy-efficient cost $260,000.

Matthews figures that it will take about 4-and-a-half years for lower utility bills to make up for the slightly higher upfront cost.

“When it comes to utility costs, those sytems and those new green attributes pay for themselves in a pretty quick manner,” Matthews says.

That has the university looking toward other upgrades in its existing buildings, including roofs with better insulation and more effective heating and cooling systems.

In the next 20 to 30 years, the campus is aiming to be carbon-neutral, meaning that it will effectively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

While capital projects can add up, Matthews acknowledges, not every green project has to be costly. The campus’ new sustainability office keeps its own costs down by using interns and work-study students to staff it.

“You don’t need a lot of dollars to do this stuff,” Matthews says. “You just need to be smart about it.”


Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.