Photo by AOK Library & Gallery, UMBC on Flickr.

Since it opened in the 1960s, the University of Maryland Baltimore County in Catonsville has been known as a commuter school. But university officials are giving students alternatives to driving to campus, starting with a new bikeshare program.

Sitting at the intersection of interstate highways 695, 195, and 95, UMBC’s campus just outside Baltimore was designed for drivers. A loop of heavy vehicular traffic encircles the campus, and most students live elsewhere. As a UMBC student, I frequently became frustrated by the amount of traffic, poor planning, and lack of parking on campus.

Recently, the university has made significant strides in becoming more sustainable. Its shuttle system now reaches nearby MARC and light rail stations, and officials have added carpool-designated parking, Zipcar services, and charging stations for electric cars. In late October, UMBC launched its first-ever on campus bikeshare program.

The bikeshare program is a partnership between UMBC’s assistant athletic director, Mike D’Archangelo, and Scott Westcoat of C’Ville Bikes and The Hub in Catonsville. Any UMBC student can rent a bike free of charge with their student identification card. Students will be able to take out a bike for anywhere from a couple of hours to a week or more. This program is a little different from traditional bikesharing programs like Capital Bikeshare, which are intended for very short-term rentals.

Other area universities have expressed interest in giving their students alternatives to driving, citing the expense and harm to the environment. Towson University launched its first bikeshare program last spring, and runs shuttles to a nearby light rail station.

UMBC’s future campus planning calls for additional bicycle and pedestrian paths to neighboring communities and nearby attractions, making it easier for students to travel to and from campus and explore the wider region. In 2012, Baltimore County announced plans to construct two new bike routes from UMBC to the Halethorpe MARC Station and Frederick Road in Catonsville’s business district.

The UMBC bikeshare program will greatly enhance the transit opportunities available to students. The program will not only offer a free method of transport, but will also greatly improve connections to Catonsville and Arbutus. This interconnection will support the local economy in a sustainable way, and will encourage the thought process for advanced alternative modes of transportation for UMBC and southwestern Baltimore County in the long term.