Commuter safety

by Terry Niebeling, University student

University of Minnesota students, staff and faculty recently received an email from University Services Vice President Pam Wheelock about how the transportation around campus has changed.

I challenge this idea. I challenge those who think we adequately regulate commuting to campus and who believe it’s safe to utilize throughways at the University.

We see it daily: people walking, zigzagging, texting or talking on the phone.  They have little idea of their surroundings. This puts people in danger.

Drivers may encounter these people and cause a serious accident. Bicyclists may collide with an unsuspecting pedestrian. Construction crews, joggers and others on campus may be in danger.

The issue is that there is a general lack of accountability on the part of pedestrians — and commuters in general — on this campus.

We live in a bike-friendly city, so let’s act like it. I bike, walk and take the bus. I don’t drive. While biking, I have observed pedestrians walking directly in front of fast bikers without looking. I have seen pedestrians capriciously walk in the middle of bike paths and out into busy streets. 

This concerns me. Why take the risk? Where is the respect for the road? Where is the common sense? 

This is a University setting, and it houses some of the most idiotic commuters in the city. I feel people need to put their phones away, text later, take out their ear buds and pay attention.

There should be fines for all commuters if the school finds it fit to fine bikers $98 for biking on the sidewalk or dismount zones. Police generally don’t fine people for walking in bike lanes or the street. I find that discriminatory.

Walking is great, but pay attention. Walk in designated areas and use some common sense. If you bike, stay on the paths. Bike safely and respect the yield signs. 

These are the first real steps to changing the transportation for next year, because congestion will be down soon with winter approaching.

Next year, there should be greater regulation to keep all commuters — bikers, pedestrians and drivers — accountable for their actions.

In order to limit confusion with commuting, the University could better distinguish bike paths and sidewalks. White and yellow paint on the ground is obviously not enough, as we have seen.

If people could see — or if not, pay a fine — they would pay attention. We could utilize a stoplight system for pedestrians, giving the right of way to bicyclists. Bikers are generally going to be in and out of an area faster than pedestrians.

We could enforce fines if people cannot obey the laws of pedestrian stoplights, signage or commuter common sense. University police fine bikers for being on sidewalks and dismount zones; we should do the same for pedestrians walking in bike lanes. Police fine drivers for inattentive driving; we should fine people for inattentive walking.

The only marked change to decrease problems has been cooler weather. Fewer people are biking, causing less interaction between cars, bikes and pedestrians. There is an easy solution to this problem: Hold pedestrians accountable.

Pedestrians get let off relatively easy in a world of cars and bikes. If a car hits a pedestrian, the driver gets the brunt of the infraction. If a biker hits a pedestrian, the fault generally goes to the biker.

I believe it is time to hold everyone accountable. The University should clearly label bike paths, walkways and streets and implement bright signage, stop lights or traffic wardens at high-incident areas.

Commuters should also stay engaged and pay attention to their surroundings.

Lastly, we should assess our situation. Perhaps it’s safer to drive with extra caution, bike with more care or walk with a bit more accountability. We are not the only ones trying to get places, but if we put ourselves in danger, we will get nowhere together. 

Be safe, be accountable and share the road.