A panel of students, faculty and staff Tuesday offered solutions to improving the on-campus bike lanes, but did not reach any definite solutions.
The event was part of the Office of Campus Activities’ monthly Campus Conversation series held at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Room 450. The panel was moderated by Associate Senior Vice President of the Career and Protective Services Charlie Lane and drew a crowd of approximately 20 students.
The panelists, including student leaders and faculty and Dept. of Public Safety members, evaluated the effectiveness of the bike lanes. The bike lanes, which are a joint project by USC Student Affairs and the Undergraduate Student Government, were added on Trousdale Parkway at the beginning of the fall 2012 semester. The lanes stretch from McClintock to 34th streets, and are enforced Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. In a given day, there are approximately 12,000 bikes on campus, Lane said.
Alison Kendall, the principal architect of Kendall Planning + Design, the firm hired by USC, to assess possible solutions to bike collisions and parking problems, said bike lanes increase campus safety by regulate biker traffic.
“By providing a bike circulation and master plan on campus, we will be able to prevent many bike conflicts,” Kendall said. “Most cyclists on campus have never used a bike before coming to USC — that accounts for a lot of the problems we’re seeing now.”
All panelists acknowledged that, though the bike lanes were an effective first step, improvements still need to be made in regulating and enforcing them.
“Bikers like the bike lanes because they can move more efficiently than navigating through people. The issue that we’re seeing is the implementation of these lanes. It takes USC students a long time to adjust to these changes. This applies to both pedestrians and bikers,” USG President Mikey Geragos said.
Director of the Office for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Paula Swinford attributed the slow assimilation to these changes because of the mindset of young adults.
“It’s very hard to get an 18-year-old to follow the rules when the rules are flexible,” Swinford said. “They begin to think that the rules don’t matter unless [they] see DPS.”
Though Swinford believes the strict implementation is necessary, DPS Chief John Thomas said he does not want to enforce the bike lanes by handing out traffic citations.
“[DPS] purposefully doesn’t want to go down that path,” Thomas said. “It does have an impact because that provides order, but that’s not the ideal model. We prefer the culture to adhere to it. We’re just not at that point yet.”
Thomas also attributed the disinterest in citing students to the fact that patrolling the bike lanes is very time-consuming and expensive for the department.
Assistant Director of Campus Affairs Logan Heley, though not a fan of citations, said educating students about the rules was necessary for improving the bike lanes.
Heley and his committee are currently working on creating a section during freshman orientation where incoming students complete homework and watch a video about on-campus bicycle safety. Heley is also looking to start a bike student ambassador program where students patrol fellow students on the bike lanes.
Geragos agreed that, in some cases, peer regulation is more likely to change students’ habits than reprimands from DPS.
“Students have to make it their goal for other students to understand how the process is working,” Geragos said. “Once you see the system working as it’s supposed to, it benefits everyone involved. It’s our job as students to let them know that there are systems in place that they need to follow.”
Kendall panelists advocated to expand the bike lanes around campus to extend the uniformity of the policy, while other panelists, like Swinford, thought setting limits on the amount of bikes on campus was the best course of action.
“It would be very convenient for me to park my car in front my building, but I don’t because there’s rules about that,” Swinford said. “If there were more rules about bikes we could really see a shift among students.”
Many students had mixed reactions about regulating bike lanes in the coming semesters. Camille Wu, a junior majoring in public policy, management and business, said she believes biking will continue to be an integral aspect of the university’s culture, even if the bike lanes are regulated.
“Biking is an important and healthy lifestyle choice,” said Wu, who rode a bike last semester but does not ride it as frequently now. “Creating a campus that is both bicycle-safe and pedestrian-friendly can help contribute to that. That’s something that the campus should emphasize.”
Some students said the bike lanes could not easily be implemented with just educational tools.
“It’s not an education issue. Instead it’s an experience and reinforcement issue,” said Alex Elavitt, a Ph.D. candidate in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism communication program who commutes to campus on bike. “There are different bike cultures on campus: those who regularly bike on the road versus cruising bikers. Cruisers are the ones who cause issues and collide with others.”
Though many students spoke from a daily on-campus perspective, one of the most passionate audience member reactions did not come from a student. Otto Khera, the senior manager of research and evaluation at the Center for Scholarly Technology, noted that the regulation of bike lanes served an important function on campus, but it should not come at the expense of encouraging greater bike movement off-campus.
“I hope we don’t lose sight of what our civic responsibility is. USC students are the most courteous and professional students out there — except when it comes to biking,” Khera said. “There’s a sea of change out there: The number of bikers is growing, the city is adding more bike lanes and if we really try we can show everyone that even in the most unlikely place — the center of busy L.A. — bikes can thrive in here as well.”