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Keith Whitworth is the driving force behind the new Purple Bike Program on campus. The custom SUN two-wheelers are very purple, very cool and coming to a sidewalk near you.

By Brian Abrams

Two years ago Keith Whitworth was strolling across campus when a Physical Plant mini-truck drove past and blew a gnarly smog plume out its tailpipe. Gathering himself after a coughing spell, the 55-year-old sociologist shook his head at the pollution.

"That day, standing behind [the truck's] internal combustion engine, I gagged," he said. "It reminded me how much garbage we inhale from auto emissions."

The following week the affable scholar investigated the costs of replacing the Physical Plant's gas-powered vehicles with electric cars. At $8,000 a pop, the University couldn't swing it. A disappointment, to be sure, but he realized that changing the vehicles wouldn't help as much as changing the minds of those who navigate the campus.

Thus, Whitworth initiated the Purple Bike Program, which encourages students, faculty -- anybody -- to park their cars and use a bicycle provided by the university -- free.

"I look at it as an opportunity to educate 7,000-plus students," he said. "If I can educate them how to recognize or calculate their environmental footprint, they can leave TCU armed with knowledge to reduce it. They can spread that as they go into the world."

Whitworth assigned 14 students in his Applied Sociology course to a semester-long project to devise a solution. This led to a grant proposal, which TCU's Vision in Action program funded.

Administrators have appropriated more than $1 million to VIA projects, each chosen for its ability to improve retention and increase the University's academic stature. The $4,080 given to the Purple Bike Program was the first award for a proposal from the student body.

Beginning this month, anyone on campus can check out a bicycle for any reason and for any given time: to get to classes, for an afternoon outing, to ride the Trinity River bike path over the weekend, even to use as primary transportation for a semester. In fact, a dorm or a sorority house can check out the bikes for community use.

Five bikes are available now, an additional 10 should arrive soon, and Whitworth is writing another VIA proposal for 85 more. He anticipates 500 bikes on campus within the next year and a half.
Is this a realistic figure?

"I think we have a very likely chance," he said. "You have to remember: You can't change a culture overnight. People have to begin thinking about their environmental footprint and its impact on the campus, community and our planet. It's about a mind-set of thinking green. It happens one day at a time."

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