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Bikes for a buck

Graduate students Sham Sokka (left) and Chris Cassa chat in the bike room at the new graduate dorm at 70 Pacific St. Students can rent bikes for $1 a day or store their own bikes there.
Graduate students Sham Sokka (left) and Chris Cassa chat in the bike room at the new graduate dorm at 70 Pacific St. Students can rent bikes for $1 a day or store their own bikes there.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Residents of 70 Pacific St. can add bicycles to the dwindling list of things they can get for a buck.

The new graduate dormitory introduced a program last week that rents bicycles to residents for $1 a day. Twenty bicycles were acquired for $175 apiece from Bikes Not Bombs, a Boston-based nonprofit organization, which constructs the bikes on donated frames in neighborhood workshops. Helmets, locks and cables, lights and rechargeable batteries are included in the $1 fee.

Anke Hildebrandt, a second-year graduate student in civil and environmental engineering, is coordinating the program.

"It's not enough to ask people to live in an environmentally friendly way; one also has to provide them with the appropriate facilities to do so," said Hildebrandt, who is the recycling chair of the residence hall.

"The idea was to make bicycles available to people when they come to campus. If they get used to having a bike, maybe they'll get one of their own and realize that they don't need a car."

Hildebrandt, who has lived in Germany and Switzerland, did not have a bike when she came to MIT two years ago. In Europe, it was her primary means of transportation. She missed the convenience.

"Those three months without a bike, I had a terrible time," said Hildebrandt, who shipped her bike from Switzerland to Cambridge. "I'm so used to doing all kinds of stuff on my bike."

When she suggested the bicycle rental program to the residence hall's leadership group, the idea was endorsed enthusiastically. Six residents have volunteered to maintain the rental bikes. "Hopefully we can offer bike repair workshops soon," Hildebrandt said.

The program is called ZipBike, with apologies to ZipCar, which rents cars by the hour to its members.

Last Wednesday, 135 of the dormitory's residents signed a pledge promising not to own a car as long as they resided at 70 Pacific St. Their names were entered in a raffle and prizes were distributed. Chetak Reshamwala (S.B. 2001), a second-year graduate student in mechanical engineering, won the first prize of a $500 gift certificate from Broadway Bicycle School to be used toward the purchase of a bicycle.

"I may actually not keep the bike for myself," he said. "I may give it to a friend who had hers stolen only a week ago."

Funds for the bike program and raffle were included in the budget for the residence hall. "MIT has one of the lowest rates of automobile usage and ownership in Cambridge," said Michael K. Owu (S.B. 1986), project manager for the dormitory. "This seemed like a creative way to encourage students to walk or bike around the campus and the city while helping to reduce vehicular traffic on neighborhood streets."

The ZipBike program plans to sponsor bicycle repair classes on the premises in the future in conjunction with the Broadway Bicycle School, which recommended Bikes Not Bombs.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 25, 2002.

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