Police, student gov’t get tough on cyclists

University police and MSA are cracking down on sidewalk cyclists and crowded racks.

Students walk and bike through Scholars Walk on Friday. With an influx of bikers in the past year, UMPD ticketing for bicyclists has increased.

Juliet Farmer

Students walk and bike through Scholars Walk on Friday. With an influx of bikers in the past year, UMPD ticketing for bicyclists has increased.

Kyle Stowe

University of Minnesota police and student government are cracking down on cyclists this fall.

Police officers began issuing $98 fines last week to those riding on sidewalks or other places where biking is banned. The Minnesota Student Association is also working on a way to put time limits on bike parking.

University police received a record number complaints from pedestrians this fall, saying cyclists weren’t walking their bikes in highly congested areas.

“The complaints have been enormous,” said University police Chief Greg Hestness. “We get complaints every year about bike behavior, but this year is by far the worst.”

The number of cyclists on campus rose 13 percent, or 1,000 bikes, this year, according to a University-wide email from Vice President Pam Wheelock. The congestion is compounded by Green Line light rail construction that reroutes bikers from Washington Avenue onto campus.

Most complaints came from students, but opinion on the fines is split.

Journalism sophomore Cindy Love said the fines were too large, even if cyclists are violating the rules.

“Ninety-eight dollars is a lot of money for a college student,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Samantha Franco, a genetics, cell biology and development junior, said she thinks the crackdown makes campus safer for walkers.

“Scholars Walk is already very busy and congested with just pedestrians,” she said. “It’s scary when bikers come flying through.”

Hestness said University police ticket more aggressively every year after receiving many complaints.

“When we get a critical mass of complaints, we have to do something about it before somebody gets hurt,” he said.

For the first six weeks of the semester, University police put up more signs in problem areas warning that biking wasn’t allowed, Hestness said.

While police would rather issue warnings to illegal bikers, Hestness said, officers had to begin ticketing last week.

“Compliance this year has been completely absent,” Hestness said. “We hate to issue citations, but we need people to follow the rules.”

Franco said the push seems to be working.

“There’s definitely a noticeable difference,” she said. “It’s just sad that it takes a police officer to make that happen.”

Though the University police department doesn’t have enough staff to conduct bike stings every day, Hestness said, enforcement pushes will continue periodically.

Overcrowding at bike racks

University students are also taking issue with a lack of space at bike racks around campus, especially near Coffman Union.

Some students, including psychology freshman David Jokipii-Krueger, say it takes several minutes to find a spot to park their bike.

“It’s ridiculous,” Jokipii-Krueger said. “I’m spending too much time trying to find a place to lock up.”

In response, MSA is working with University police and Parking and Transportation Services to establish a system to limit parking at some bike racks.

Under the policy, University police would monitor the racks each day and chalk bike tires, said Alex Cole, co-director of MSA’s facilities, housing and transit committee. If a bike remains for a week, a bike monitor would cut the lock and take the bike.

Cole said he hopes the policy will take effect by winter break.

“There’s just too much bike rack congestion around Coffman right now,” he said. “We hope this policy would keep people from leaving their bikes there for months at a time.”

Biochemistry sophomore Matt Rajcula said highly congested bike racks are inconvenient when he’s in a hurry.

“It’s a pain,” he said. “It would be really nice to have more bike racks in some places.”

Steve Sanders, head of the University’s bike program, said PTS installs more bike racks each year, but space is limited in some areas like Coffman.

Light rail construction on Washington Avenue also contributes to congested bike racks, Sanders said.

PTS already tags bikes and removes them after 10 days if they’re unclaimed, Sanders said, but abandoned bikes are still problematic.

“It mushrooms quickly,” he said. “We have to be aggressive about it.”