Cyclist traffic raises concern of U officials

by Heather Fors

With the warmer weather moving in, more University students will now hop on their bicycles to get around campus.
And this increase in two-wheel traffic heightens University officials’ awareness of potential problems and dangers.
“Surprisingly enough, bike safety here is generally very good,” said University Police Sgt. Joe May. But because of the large number of bikers, it is still a major focus during high-traffic times.
“It’s people’s safety that’s our primary concern,” said University Police Lt. Regan Metcalf.
Officials’ major recommendation is to follow road rules and obey all traffic laws.
“I don’t usually mind bikers on the road,” said Mike Fee, a chemical engineering junior, who drives now but used to bike around campus. “I just expect that everyone follows the rules.”
However, officials said many bicyclists ignore these rules and ride as pedestrians, not as another vehicle on the road. Many don’t yield to pedestrians or stop signs. And sometimes bikers ride toward traffic rather than with it.
“That is absolutely suicidal,” said Steve Sanders, project manager for Parking and Transportation Services. “Cars don’t expect to see you coming from that direction.”
Creating bicycle lanes is one way to accommodate cyclists. “We’ve added bike lanes on a lot of campus streets and I think that makes a lot of people feel safe,” Sanders said.
However, there is still a problem with people riding the wrong way on the bike lanes, Sanders said. That is why lanes will have the words “one way” painted on them in the spring, after the streets are cleaned.
Sanders said the issue of bicycling in the streets is still controversial. Some say the only safe measure is to separate bikes from traffic, while others say treating bikes like any other vehicle is the best solution.
“Drive your bike like you drive a car,” Sanders said. Most people are not taught to do this, he added. Therefore riding in traffic takes some time to get used to.
“Cyclists have, for some reason, always felt they can take advantage of the laws but not follow all of the rules,” said Tom Sullivan, organizer for Pro Events International, a company that has organized various biking events for more than 15 years.
Another major concern with bicycle safety is visibility. “I think for bicyclists probably the most important thing to do is to make yourself visible,” said Rebecca Miller, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition of Bicyclists.
If riding at night, the law says bicyclists should use a white front light and reflectors so they can be seen from about 500 feet away. Another suggestion is for bicyclists to wear light colored clothing. However, sometimes it is not an issue of visibility.
May said while not many injuries occur from accidents between bicycles and cars, many are caused by bicycles running into stationary objects or failure of bicycle parts.
University police are also concerned with bicycle parking on campus, especially when it inhibits handicap accessibility. This spring, police will monitor more closely how and where bicycles are parked.
Metcalf said bicycles parked on handicap access ramps, trees and shrubs and parking meters will be targeted and ticketed.
Officers will also begin educating the University community of this new crack-down approach by speaking to various campus groups, talking to bicyclists and other ways.
Cyclists who continue to park their vehicles in these areas will be given a warning or possibly a ticket. “We’d much rather have a volunteer compliance with state regulations as well as with University (rules),” Metcalf said.
She also said being considerate of other bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists might help relations. “It’s not a difficult problem to solve when we just slow down and take a look at what we’re doing.”