Who will pay the price of safety?

Before ticketing bikers, change the fee amount and create better infrastructure, or face long-term consequences.

Chris Iverson

Pam Wheelock, vice president of University Services, sent an email to students Friday regarding bicycle and pedestrian safety around campus.

In the email, Wheelock noted that a recent campus traffic study showed an increase of 1,000 bikers, or a 13 percent increase, on campus over the last year. While a greater bike count is promising for public entities like the City of Minneapolis that want to see increased bike traffic, it also raises new concerns about transportation safety.

In a truthful but stern message, Wheelock requested all people maneuvering through campus to be more careful. She advised pedestrians to get their eyes out of their phones in order to be more aware of their surroundings, and she encouraged cars to drive defensively through the multi-modal campus streets. Lastly, she urged bikers to pay attention to non-biking areas in the area and threatened ticketing for not obeying the orders.

Although I support Wheelock’s message, I question her intimidating cyclists and pedestrians. Sure, there are always the outliers who warrant complaints — the stereotypical sidewalk or lane blocker who is as attentive as the inebriated pub-crawling zombies from last weekend. Careless driving also bleeds into the non-motorized world, as reckless biking and walking cause many incidents of their own. However, does lane-based ticketing honestly do the best job to encourage safety around campus?

If the University of Minnesota is looking for a short-term patch up, then perhaps it is. After all, Washington Avenue will reopen soon, alleviating east-west traffic flow. Long-term ticketing will scare away riders. The fastest way to discourage biking overall is to supply them with a hefty fee of about $100.

Two years ago, University police began ticketing bikers on Scholars Walk a couple of weeks into the fall semester.

One fateful evening after a night class, I unfortunately became a starry-eyed and in-denial victim.

 The Minnesota Daily ran a story in 2011 on UMPD’s crackdown starting the next morning, but it was too late a warning for my already skinny wallet — I had to pay $115 for my apparent misdeed.

After that, I basically stopped biking for the remainder of the semester out of pure disgruntlement. I was not alone in these efforts, either; 62 people were ticketed in a two-week period. Several of my friends joined in dropping their wheels, more out of fear than the inability to bike anywhere on campus. I guarantee the best way to decrease bike ridership is to threaten and issue hefty $100 fees.

The heftiness of the fine is harrowing. Before ticketing cyclists, however, I want to see the fee decrease. Nearly $100 for biking on a non-designated walkway is a ludicrously high fee, considering the fine for parking your car in a bike lane is less than half that amount. A ticket that is $30 or even $40 would be reasonable for students to bear, and would get the point across without discouraging biking altogether. Severely fining bikers will make many take their bikes back home to mom and dad, and many will never pull them out again.

In the same light, revising the ticketing schemes on campus and adjusting fining priorities for all modes would put many at ease.

According to a Hennepin County Traffic Violations list, there is a ticket for walking bikes in pedestrian areas, illegally chaining a bike to a tree and not using roller skates in bike areas. All of these offenses have higher fines with surcharges than blocking a traffic lane with your vehicle. If we are trying to move individuals out of the car and onto the sidewalk, we shouldn’t hinder the efforts by threatening large fees.

This appropriate ticketing method is certainly a start, but it’s like the equivalent of putting a cute smiley Band-Aid on a major gash. Yes, you might be able to mitigate that area of the problem, but that won’t prevent you from healing the entire wound.

Something is wrong with the infrastructure on campus, and there needs to be more traffic segregation to design for that oblivious pedestrian and that terrible biker listed before.

Everyone knows campus is dense, and accommodating all walking traffic is a constant challenge. Now, add bikers to the mix. This naturally creates a spatial challenge of its own, as only a portion of the walkways can be designed to hold bikers. The University should segregate bike lanes and pedestrian zones more efficiently. Although it has done a good job by adding separated bike paint on pathways, more work should still be done. Small, non-intrusive concrete barriers between bike lanes and walkways can be installed to differentiate between the movements. This could easily be started on the Washington Avenue Bridge, where some bikers still power through the south side of the bridge while pedestrians intrude on the bike lane on the north side.

With Washington Avenue no longer a four-lane nightmare, the University should also seriously consider alleviating the area near the Science Teaching and Student Services building by constructing a ramp from the top deck to the street below, where bikers can continue riding toward the east. This would be challenging due to the new catenary rail wires overhead, but should be looked at. This would not alleviate all biker traffic, but would certainly help take pressure off major problem points.

Growing up, my parents always gave me a stern warning if I did something wrong and punished me if I did it again. Wheelock’s email was a good warning, and students will appreciate the reminder. The University should now progress on modifying ticketing protocol and improving physical infrastructure to ensure the continued growth of bikers and pedestrians in the area.