University’s Bike Share Program Honored at Mass ECO Awards

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MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack presented Campus Recreation Director Peter Murray, left, and Transportation Services Manager Ruairi O’Mahony with top honors at the Mass ECO Awards at Fenway Park.

By Ed Brennen

The university’s commitment to pedal power isn’t just changing the way people get around campus, it’s being recognized as a model for other institutions across the state.
Thanks to Campus Recreation’s increasingly popular Freewheelers Bike Share program, UMass Lowell was named a Spotlight winner at the fifth annual Excellence in Commuter Options (ECO) Awards, held March 26 at Fenway Park.
Hosted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the ECO Awards honor employers across the commonwealth for their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through decreased “drive-alone” trips while encouraging employees to travel to work by transit and carpools or by bicycling and walking.
MassDOT Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack lauded the university’s efforts after presenting the “Leadership in Commuter Options: Bicycle” award to Transportation Services Manager Ruairi O’Mahony and Campus Recreation Director Peter Murray.
“I think what the university is doing with bicycles and bike sharing is a real model for other colleges,” Pollack said. “College students are naturals for bike use, and the program makes it so easy for them to take advantage of that.”
The university was one of nine Spotlight winners, joining the likes of Harvard University, Staples, Mass Mutual, Converse and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
For the fourth consecutive year, the university was also named a Pinnacle Award winner in recognition of overall excellence in commuter options. Fellow recipients include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, UMass Amherst and Tufts University.
“I think getting recognized at this level is great, but we are also fully aware that we need to keep moving forward with this and make some major improvements in the next few years,” said O’Mahony, who noted that a “comprehensive partnership approach with the city” was needed on shared infrastructure and upgrades to make alternative modes of transportation like bicycling safer and more appealing.
The Freewheelers program, which began in 2007, features a fleet of 30 bicycles that students, faculty and staff can check out, free of charge, at five locations across campus. According to Murray, an average of 500 bicycles are checked out each month, or about 1,500 each semester.
The program has expanded this semester to include 10 additional bicycles available for free weeklong checkout from the Campus Recreation Center.
“The goal is to help students who need a bike overnight or who might have to travel off campus,” said Murray, who added that all 10 of the bikes were checked out within the first two days they were available. (An ( app was also launched this semester that shows how many bicycles are currently available at each check-out location.) 
“I think the award is a great recognition of the start we’ve made,” Murray said. “Trying to encourage as many people as possible to choose an active mode of transportation, if they have that option, is something that will be good for the university, and good for the individuals who take advantage of it.”
O’Mahony credited Facilities Management’s Planning Division — particularly Assistant Director of Planning, Urban Design and Transportation Peter Brigham and Director of Campus Planning and Development Adam Baacke — for working in close partnership to encourage bicycling and alternative means of transportation.
“They’re big supporters of the activities we’re doing and an excellent resource for us to have working on this together,” said O’Mahony, who echoed the sentiment of Pollack’s keynote address when summing up the awards event.
“We’re not trying to tell anybody how to get to work,” he said. “We want to give them the options so they can make the choice themselves.”