More education on bike safety needed

The crackdown on cyclists on campus raises concerns over how the U should approach bike safety.

Daily Editorial Board

Police officers began issuing $98 fines last week to those riding on sidewalks or other places where biking is banned.

Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock sent an email to students earlier this month that said additional law enforcement would issue a “hefty” $98 fine to bikers riding on sidewalks or pedestrian areas.

Wheelock also noted a huge increase of 1,000 more bikers on campus over the last year. With so many new bikers, the University is now dealing with safety concerns.

Safety may not be improving

University police Chief Greg Hestness said bicycle-pedestrian complaints were at a “critical mass” this fall.

Hestness said University police had a six-week advising period when law enforcement warned hundreds of bikers about illegally biking in pedestrian areas. The additional enforcement came after police saw little improvement in safety on campus.

University police issued 34 tickets on the first day of additional enforcement, Hestness said. As noted in an Oct. 22 letter “Outlandish bicycle fines,” the steep fine is crippling for some students. University police do not regulate the size of fines.

“The fines are too high,” Hestness said. “Smaller fines would just as easily get the attention of students.”

Hestness said cyclists see the signs, but the laws regarding bike safety aren’t a part of campus culture. That’s why University police replaced maroon and gold “dismount area” signs with clearer white signs, he said.

“We like biking,” Hestness said, “but we must balance it with safety.”

Safety issues a symptom of having no convenient bike route

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, stressed the need for a good east-west route through the heart of campus.

“There isn’t a clear route between the Washington Avenue Bridge and Washington Avenue,” Fawley said.

The largest problem area on campus is the intersection of Church Street and Scholars Walk, where University police placed new white signs marking pedestrian or dismount areas. Bicyclists likely use Scholars Walk because of its convenience and proximity to classrooms, despite being a pedestrian area.

Hestness said the more the University can do to create well-marked, convenient bikes lanes, the more University biking culture will improve.

Students unsure where to bike

Fawley said an effective plan for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety must be more holistic.

“The reality is that new students have had no bicycle training,” Fawley said. “The University needs to take a step back and educate people.” Fawley said the University could work biking into orientation programs.

The University recently added two online courses, AlcoholEdu and Transit-Financial Wellness, to its Welcome Week program, but rules regarding biking on campus aren’t stressed by the office of Orientation and First-Year Programs.

Molly Sullivan, president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said biking isn’t treated like an institutionalized issue like safety regarding alcohol and safe-sex practices.

“The University needs to develop lifelong biking practices with students,” Sullivan said.

“The University should celebrate biking,” Fawley said. “Biking brings up short-term challenges, but these can be managed.”

 

– The University should see that bicycling is implemented in future orientation and first-year programs because new students will likely have little experience biking in an urban area.

– The fine for biking on sidewalks or pedestrian areas in the University area cannot continue to be $98. These fines disproportionally affect students who may have little education on bicycling laws. Student bicyclists would likely follow this law without ditching their bikes if fines were lower. The University should try to continue the huge growth of biking on campus rather than risk changing its culture against new, potentially uneducated cyclists.

– Finally, the University should develop a plan for connecting bike lanes, which will be an option when Washington Avenue is fully open next year.