Bicyclists want safe, bike-friendly campus
March 7, 2014
Last week I experienced the most treacherous road conditions I have ever faced on a bicycle. The wet snow that froze on the streets of River Falls got polished and compacted by a few days of car traffic. My wheels spun and fishtailed as if I were on a skating rink.
Though I imagine some drivers do not want bikers on the streets, I am really thankful to those who have given me a wide berth on the road.
I think both campus and city employees have been working very hard to keep roads and paths safe and clear for everyone’s safety. This winter has been extra challenging with the frequent subzero temperatures and odd precipitation.
I think with modest policy and infrastructure change from both UW-River Falls and the city of River Falls, biking could be made considerably safer and not a nuisance to other vehicles.
For our part, winter bikers especially should never assume that a car will stop for them even if the biker has the right of way. When possible, the common hand signals for turning and stopping need to be used to give others on the road a heads up to our intended movements. In my experience, bicyclists in most of the U.S. are the underdogs. For that reason, I go out of my way to obey traffic laws and give pedestrians the right of way. I would rather gain ground by not antagonizing fellow drivers.
I surveyed five bicyclists and each independently gave me feedback on Cascade Avenue and the extra plowing needed for this main access to campus. Cascade Avenue needs to be plowed to its full width in both lanes in order to accommodate safe bicycle traffic.
I genuinely empathize with the drivers that get stuck behind me because we literally cannot share the slippery, shrunken lane. The concrete apron that normally serves as a bike lane in warmer months is currently inundated with chunks of ice, snow and debris. Bicyclists cannot safely move over to let cars pass: the irregular surface on the edges could lead to the biker falling in the car’s path.
Corners and intersections are the most likely place for bicyclists to fall. Biking straight across ice is a relatively trouble-free task as long as no sudden braking is necessary. It is the turns that normally make a winter biker lay down their bike.
Several bikers that I surveyed expressed hope that extra time would be spent cleaning intersections. With the major improvements to Cascade Avenue for pedestrian safety, it would also be nice to see bicycle signage and road markings that designate a bike lane.
Once on campus, bikers have the added challenge of avoiding their classmates as they share the narrow paths between buildings. Jabez Meulemans, an environmental science major who graduated from UWRF this past semester, suggests that all paths on campus should have dashed lines painted down the middle. He called attention to the fact that the paths are multi-use as well as two-way thoroughfares.
They should be navigated as if driving a car down a two-lane road, instead of blocking the entire path by groups walking shoulder-to-shoulder in one direction.
Last week I was thrilled to see that more than one bike rack outside the University Center’s front entrance had been plowed. I presume it is not easy to get snow removal equipment around these tight spaces or the sad, abandoned bicycles. So, when they are dug out, my fellow pedaling commuters and I think it is pretty great.
The bike parking outside of the Agricultural Science building could use a more frequently shoveled path or removal of the snow piles that build up there from the plowing of the sidewalks. As the snow depth increases, there is less bike rack space for me to lock my bike to and more snow inside my boots.
I am collaborating on the UWRF’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) report. One section of the report, “Support for Sustainable Transportation,” emphasizes implementing policy and investing in infrastructure to encourage the use of bikes commuting to and on campus. Beyond convenient bike parking, it gives credit for bicycle storage, shower facilities and lockers for bicycle commuters.
UWRF could also earn credit if we developed our own bike accommodation policy with dedicated bicycle and pedestrian paths and lanes.
The University currently references the city’s “River Falls Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan” but does not have its own plan. While there are showers and lockers in dispersed areas around campus, there is no centralized information or designation of these facilities as open for bike commuters to use.
UWRF could really benefit from earning the designation of a “bike-friendly” campus.
Parking for cars on or near campus is not going to get any less scarce, frustrating, or expensive. Students looking to save money or unable to afford a car could enjoy safe and efficient mobility to visit downtown or go grocery shopping.
Encouraging biking is an innovative way the campus could support both student and employee personal health as well as health for our shared environment.
Molly Breitmün is a non-traditional student majoring in conservation with a minor in GIS. Her interest in campus sustainability was fostered by becoming an undergraduate fellow for the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development as well as by her peers in the Student Alliance for Local and Sustainable Agriculture.