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A bicyclist travels on a Richmond street bike lane. [View Image] Dedicated bike lanes on Franklin Street provide a quick path from VCU's Monroe Park Campus to the state capitol. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

VCU is the most bike-friendly university in Virginia

The university’s gold status from the League of American Bicyclists puts it in elite company nationally as it works to provide a safe and bikeable experience for students, employees and visitors.

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Each day Sera Erickson commutes from her Church Hill home to her job at Virginia Commonwealth University on her bicycle. She followed the same routine as a VCU student. 

Now, as bicycle program coordinator and alternative transportation coordinator for VCU Parking & Transportation, she’s focused on helping VCU become one of the most bicycle-friendly universities in the nation.

Her hard work paid off when VCU received gold status as a Bicycle Friendly University this winter from the League of American Bicyclists, elevating the university from the Silver status it achieved in 2016. VCU is one of 31 universities nationwide to receive gold status this year and the only one in Virginia to earn that designation.

The Bicycle Friendly University program recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bikeable campus for students, staff and visitors. Institutions are elevated to gold status for a variety of reasons that include efforts to prioritize equitable access to biking families, an integrated network of on-street and off-street accommodations for cyclists and programs centered around biking.

Currently about 10% of the student population at VCU bikes to school regularly. There are 13 miles of roadway through university’s Monroe Park and MCV campuses and of that total mileage there are five miles of shared use path, which includes one mile of bike lane and bike boulevard and two miles of sharrows (road markings indicating a path for bikers).  

“We spent a lot of time focusing on equity and access for VCU, but also for the community,” Erickson said. “We don't have a large budget, so we had to think about what we could do that would reuse and recycle things we already had, or how to best use our time to benefit the university and our city. The city, with the help of advocacy organizations and groups, made some great strides in engineering alongside that by adding bike lanes and other infrastructure, so we're appreciative of that.” 

Campus improvements fall under the ONE VCU Master Plan, approved by the VCU Board of Visitors in 2019. Among the improvements is an emphasis on mobility to, from, around and between VCU’s Monroe Park and MCV campuses. The reopening of Monroe Park in 2018 provided cyclists with a safe connection to bike lanes on Franklin Street that run between the park and Capitol Square.Three people stand outside of a store. The window displays the name and logo of the "Rambikes" shop at V C U. [View Image] In this file photo (from left to right), Elise Ketch (she/her), Sera Erickson (they/she) and Alexa Santisteban (they/them) pose for a photo in front of RamBikes. (Courtesy of Sera Erickson)

Partnering with the community 

When Erickson started working at VCU in October 2017 there was already a shop — RAMBikes — and a basic loaner bike program in place.

“We updated our fleet with commuter bikes, changed our bike parking policy to be able to reuse old bikes, created the international rental fleet for international students on campus and started an Earn-A-Bike program,” she said. “We also created a Bicycle Advisory Committee to bring together different departments and students to come up with new ideas on achieving more bicycle-friendly initiatives.”

The shop’s partnerships with various community organizations are representative of what it takes to earn gold status. 

“We already had an excellent relationship with Safe Routes to School, which promotes biking and walking to school safely for young folks,” Erickson said.

The shop has also donated bikes to a variety of organizations, including Rag & Bones Bicycle Cooperative and Sacred Heart Center, which works with Latino families.

“We’ve donated bikes to our Build-a-Bike program, which takes youth from A Better Day Association that are affected by the incarceration of a parent and teaches them hands-on how to deconstruct and rebuild their own bike,” Erickson said. 

The department also works closely with Groundwork RVA and its Bellemeade Community Bike Shop to support its after-school bike club, as well as events and bike advocacy for kids in the neighborhood. It additionally provides an opportunity to connect VCU student volunteers with members of the local community. Service learning students at VCU are involved in all these programs and other bike clubs, Erickson said, “so they can get real-world exposure to how bikes can serve as a tool for social justice.”A bicyclist on a street travels through an intersection. [View Image] Biking down Franklin Street. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Riding into the future 

In the future Erickson hopes more students, staff and faculty will bike to campus and that they will be able to connect biking to other modes of transportation as the city becomes more dense.

“RamBikes exists for commuters and the Outdoor Adventure Program does a great job of providing access to mountain biking and road biking knowledge and introductions, so hopefully more people who attend VCU will become lifelong bikers of all kinds,” Erickson said. “We also really want to instill the sense that bikes can be very accessible and empowering for the community.”  

She is appreciative of the people and organizations that are now partners that also see bikes as a vehicle for change and empowerment.

“I’m also appreciative of all the mechanics who have worked at RamBikes in the past three years and who've helped make the shop better, create more rad events and dream up new programs to work on. Currently I have two shop folks, Alexa Santisteban and Elise Ketch, who are wonderful as well,” she said.

She is very proud of this year’s gold status.

“We're now the highest ranked university in the state for cycling so I'm just glad that the work we've done and the things we've focused on in terms of valuing our community are being recognized,” she said.

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