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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Board but never boring
September 28, 2011 - 8:45pm

Greenback U, this academic year, has experienced an influx of bicyclists. We've always had a small number, but this semester we've experienced an order of magnitude increase. I attribute it largely to the installation of lots of bike racks around campus. And the creation of well-marked bike lanes. And, perhaps, the efforts of the sustainability staff. But mostly, racks and lanes.

As much as I like students to bring bicycles to campus (certainly, as opposed to cars), I have long had reservations. Mostly because too many bicyclists seem to have the idea that traffic laws (and logic, and sometimes physics) really don't apply to them. Even without being near a campus, I've seen too many bikers run red lights, or weave back and forth across narrow, hilly, limited-visibility country roads where the speed limit is 55 mph and the average vehicle outweighs them by a good couple of tons. Now combine that with the inattentive way many (many!) students wander through traffic on pretty much every campus, and you'll understand my concern.

So it was with a heavy heart that I read a recent item in Grist about how Kansas had exempted bicyclists from such inconveniences as the need to obey red lights. Not that I don't understand that stopping (and having to restart) a bicycle is more inconvenient than a similar maneuver in a car. Just that I'd prefer -- from an educational perspective -- that we drive home the message that motor vehicle operators have a predictable set of expectations of everyone else on the road, and that it's in the general interest of bicyclists to conform to those expectations. One expectation, of course, being that red means "stop".

But now I've gotten over the whole bicycle safety thing. I no longer worry about bikers, and intersections, and that nasty mass-times-velocity thing as it affects two-wheelers. Because now I worry about skateboarders.

While the number of skateboarders at Greenback has always been smaller than the number of bicyclists, and boarding stops as soon as the snow begins to stick, the self-assured air of immortality exhibited by skateboarders operating on roads around our campus makes even the most devil-may-care biker look risk averse. This afternoon, I watched in horror as a skateboarding student, operating within the normal lanes of traffic, approached a controlled intersection, saw that he was facing a red light and the traffic crossing his path had a green, made absolutely no attempt to stop (or even slow down), waved his hands to attract as much attention as possible, caused cross traffic in both directions to slam on the brakes to avoid turning him into porridge, and then blithely went on his way. I guess he had a good downhill run going, and didn't want to give it up.

This "look Ma, no hands!" attitude, of course, is aggravated by the fact that skateboards have no brakes and limited ability to steer. And that skateboarders, from the perspective of a driver approaching on the perpendicular, are nowhere near as visually obvious as bicyclists. To my mind, it's only a matter of time (and probably not a whole lot of it) before some Dean at Greenback has to contact parents with a message about how their skateboarding son (girls seem to have more sense(?)) has been seriously injured, or worse.

So while I can make the case that personal transport by skateboard is environmentally friendly (no fossil fuels, and all that), I have to say that it's socially and economically destructive. Socially because it so often flies in the face of a generally operational set of agreements, and economically because the cost of a long rehabilitation (or the opportunity cost of a life snuffed out early) is pretty high.

When it comes to issues of transportation, boring is good.


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