Bicyclists on our campus are running amok. And their numbers seem to grow almost exponentially. Bicycles are chained to anything that doesn't move, whether posted or not posted. Riders weave in and out of traffic, some exercising judgment, others riding with abandon. I've now seen three accidents involving bicycles, and a few weeks ago I was staggered by a young lady who glanced off my shoulder and careened into the brick wall under the West Engineering arch. "Why didn't you get out of my way?" she screamed. I was more surprised than she and could only mumble, "I couldn't." Unfortunately, she was not spared from abrasions and her bike from bent bars. We pedestrians have become more aware and lighter on our feet as we struggle to avoid cyclists.
I thought universities taught the importance of exercising judgment, taking preventive actions, and being pro-active problem-solvers rather than reactive observers. But we seem to rarely practice what we preach. The current bicycling crisis is a case in point.
I have consulted with officials who then referred me to committees; I have consulted safety officers; and finally I wrote to the president, whose office referred me to the campus police department. I met with a police lieutenant who sympathized with the problem and who encouraged me to pursue the matter, but who felt reluctant to act. Considering the probable reaction of cyclists, I empathized with his reactions. Nonetheless, the campus bears a responsibility for providing a danger-free environment. What will it take to mobilize the officials? A disabled student run down? A pregnant secretary gored by the handlebars of a mountain bike? An emeritus professor seriously injured? Or a young freshman sent home disabled? It's going to happen; it's inevitable.
Other campuses have not been so reluctant to act. Trinity College in Dublin bans bicyclists from the central court. The University of Colorado has issued regulations including designated "dismount" zones which, I am told, are monitored. Colorado has codified its policies on riding and storing bicycles. The policies are issued not only for protection of pedestrians but as aids for cyclists as well.
I was encouraged to read recently that President Duderstadt is quoted as saying to the Campus Safety Committee, "Do something about the problem." It is not that the campus is without options; bike paths strategically located and enforced dismount zones in areas such as the West Engineering arch and the bridge to the Central Campus Recreation Building would be a beginning. I'm sure there are other creative approaches that would provide a safe environment while preserving the rights of responsible cyclists. The need for action is obvious.
Richard M. Dougherty
Professor of library science