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

Riding right
October 7, 2010 - 4:45pm

I'm all in favor of campus no-idling policies. And I'm even more in favor of electric vehicles for on-campus travel -- if your vehicle is electric, whether or not to idle becomes moot. But what I'm really in favor of, at least for students and faculty and staff who don't have to carry a lot of tools and other heavy objects, is bicycles.

Not that bicycles are a perfect answer. Certainly, not in the winter. And if you ride your bike 5 or 10 miles to campus on a warm day, please take a quick shower before you come to the (small, enclosed, poorly ventilated) meeting room. Or my office. Or class.

And I've even read that if you take in the additional calories you use to power your bike by eating typical (commercial, industrial) American beef, you're responsible for more CO2 than if you drove a typical midsized sedan.

Still, I like bikes. Every time someone rides a bike to, from or around campus, a message gets sent to everyone in sight. They may not all be open to receiving the message, but still . . . And bikes can carry more than you think -- a company called Worksman Cycles (just one example) makes and sells rather a wide line, including models suitable for maintenance and delivery personnel.

What I don't like about bikes around campus is that most of them are ridden by students who seem to devote no more attention to their own safety than they do when they're walking.

Now, student pedestrians are a notorious traffic hazard on every campus that's not entirely closed to vehicles. It's been that way for generations, and it never seems to get much better. It's not the distraction of the cell-phone or the ipod or whatever. It's because they're young and subjectively invulnerable. (That's the kindest term I can think of.)

But while a student who's going to walk right out into the street approaches the curb at a relatively slow speed, giving nearby drivers a living shot at not hitting him/her, the same student on a bicycle can execute the same boneheaded maneuver at 25 or 30 miles an hour. From pretty much any direction. Now, not hitting him/her becomes a whole lot harder.

The fact that most bike riders (at least at Greenback) are young, invulnerable students probably isn't the entire problem. A whole lot of bike riders seem to think that rules, in general, are for other people. Ignoring traffic controls (lights, signs). Making illegal turns. Riding on the sidewalks (and getting mad when legitimate pedestrians don't get out of their way fast enough).

On country roads in the summertime, we're often inundated with (sub)urban bicyclists who think it's perfectly OK to zig-zag all over the traffic lane, going maybe 5 mph in a 55 mph zone, in an area with limited sight distances and no shoulders.

At Greenback, we're doing what we can. We're installing more bike racks, more showers/lockers, more bike lanes both on campus and on the surrounding city streets. But we need cyclists to do what they can, as well. We need them to start using a little common sense and exhibiting some knowledge of traffic laws. We need them to stop shooting out into the middle of intersections, against the light. Or they're going to end up like the student/cyclist I saw near campus last week. He thought he could get through the intersection before the cross-traffic T-boned him. He was wrong.


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