Concern for the bike perimeter
Washington University’s connection with sustainability and environmental consciousness should come as no surprise to any undergraduate. From the LEED-certified buildings to on-campus involvement to student political leanings, the University loves green.
It therefore surprises us to hear of the University’s plan to construct a bike perimeter together with Great Rivers Greenway. While the bike perimeter may be designed to promote the use of bicycles on campus and encourage student use of bikes, we feel that ultimately the path is a misguided attempt that will cause more problems than it solves.
The University should be given credit upfront for considering student input, especially in the wake of the controversial tobacco ban, which was largely pushed forward without student involvement. That said, the bike perimeter’s design—at least as it stands—is woefully inadequate.
Being able to ride a bike up to a class building is one of the largest advantages of having a bike on campus, and if the designated “nodes” for parking along the perimeter are the only places to park bikes on campus, then this benefit effectively disappears. If, on the other hand, the perimeter nodes are not the only places to park bikes on campus, then the nodes are useless. Students will likely continue to use the bike racks outside of classroom buildings.
We understand that cyclists on campus often come into conflict with pedestrians. However, this is a problem that cannot simply be built away. Constructing a perimeter that at best will be unused and at worst will severely inconvenience cyclists is a waste of time and effort that could be spent elsewhere.
Even if it is inconvenient for pedestrians to skirt bicyclists while walking on campus, it is hypocritical of the University to provide an ostensible barrier to entry for cyclists: transportation by car seems far more tempting when one has to walk to class from the outside of campus in either case. By effectively stymieing certain advantages that bicycles bring to transportation, the University is defeating its own goal of promoting sustainability on campus.
As it stands, however, the bike perimeter is not a lost cause. With plenty of student input, it is possible that the bike perimeter could be built in a way that would strongly benefit students on campus. Conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists on campus, however, cannot be solved simply by building a perimeter. Rather, mutual respect and courtesy between cyclists and pedestrians is the only way to truly foster an atmosphere on campus that encourages bikes over automobiles. Building a culture of cycling on campus is ultimately a much better path than building a perimeter. Hopefully, we can have both.