Biking on Campus

Bike safety becomes increasingly important as Texas Tech nears its 40,000 student goal.

By Katie Yingling
Photos by Josh Devlin, Emily Burkholder and Natalie Underwood

She approaches the bike rack outside of Holden Hall and sees her trusty bicycle. She rolls up her right pants leg to prevent those pesky black streaks of chain grease. She grabs the bike lock: seven, four, eight, one. She pulls the bike over the rack, walks it toward the road and swings her leg over her bike. She flips her TOMS-clad toe into the toe-clip, and with one push of her left leg, she’s off.

The number of bikes on campus daily is estimated in the thousands; and on a campus as large as Texas Tech University’s, a good bicycle infrastructure can make time spent traveling on campus a safer and more convenient experience. The administration at Texas Tech plans to improve the bicycle infrastructure around campus. Tyler Patton, Student Government Association external vice president, said three initiatives have been introduced regarding bikes on campus.

Shared Use Path Sign The first is the new shared-use path between the English and Philosophy Quad and the Library. A shared-use path is a wide sidewalk that is meant for both pedestrians and bicyclists. “For a while, there was just kind of this muddy area, and it was just awkward,” Patton said. “So for about two years we really pushed to try and get a shared-use path and they got it in the beginning of this past year.”

The second initiative is a recently completed path that connects the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to Greek Circle. Patton said this was a successful joint venture between Texas Tech and the Health Sciences Center.

The third initiative is a combination of a push for a bicycle advisory committee and bicycle safety information and education. “They will try and formulate an official recommendation, kind of like a master plan, to the university about where our biking infrastructure is today and where we want it to be when we hit 40,000 students and kind of identify some issues that we’ve got,” Patton said.

The bicycle advisory committee is working on improving bike friendliness so that the university can be recognized by the Bicycle-Friendly Universities Program. The Bike-Friendly University Program is a part of the League of American Bicyclists, and according to the organization’s website, it “recognizes institutions of higher education for promoting and providing a more bicycle-friendly campus for students, staff and visitors.” Bike-Friendly Universities evaluates universities in five categories, referred to as the Five Es: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation and planning. Patton said meeting the program’s standards is part of Texas Tech’s ultimate goal for the bicycle advisory committee.

“Tech is a campus that cares about bicyclists,” Patton said. “We want to get our infrastructure up to where we meet their standards.”

She pedals a few times and glides into the bike lane in Memorial Circle, watching for students wandering into her path talking on their phones. She keeps a wary eye out for cars and unexpected road cracks that could turn her trip to Italian class into an embarrassing trip to the pavement. She takes a right down the street in front of the Student Union Building and heads toward the stop sign. She slows to a stop while another cyclist speeds past her, ignoring the stop sign.

Sgt. Eric Williams, a Texas Tech University police officer, said the problem campus patrol officers have most often with cyclists is that some do not obey traffic laws. “A person on a bicycle is obligated to follow the traffic laws just as if they were driving a car,” Williams said.

Any cyclist who runs a stop sign or stoplight, rides on the sidewalks, or rides the wrong way on a one-way road can be ticketed and fined. Williams advises students to walk their bikes while on the sidewalks to avoid this. “When the students come in the Fall, we give them about a three or four-week grace period where we just give them information,” Williams said. “After about a month, we have to start writing tickets.”

Bike racks Another problem the police department deals with is bike theft. “We get a lot of bikes that are stolen,” Williams said. “Most of the bikes that are stolen are not secured; students put them against a tree or a building, and they are taken. We do have some bike thieves that come out with tools and cut the locks, but I would say that is the exception more than the rule.”

To help return bikes when they are stolen, University Parking Services created a bike registration program. A student enters the serial number, make and model of his or her bike so once it is reported stolen, it can be returned to the owner. However, many bikes on campus are not registered. According to University Parking Services, only 236 bikes have been registered since the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester. “We would like to see a program put in place where it is a mandatory bike registration, but it is cost-prohibitive right now,” Williams said.

Both Patton and Williams agreed Texas Tech is fairly bike-friendly, but they also find room for improvement.

"I would say bike-friendliness comes down to bikers as long as they obey the law and as long as we have people driving their cars that are aware,” Williams said. “It is both sides, if the drivers aren’t paying attention, they can hit a bike even if the biker is obeying the laws.”

Williams said bike-friendliness is more than just a good bicycle infrastructure; the attitude requires everyone to be aware. Thus, he advises cyclists to use their hand signals to inform drivers when they are going to turn and to stay on the right side of the road.

“It’s not pretty when a car and a bicycle collide,” Williams said.

She turns left at the stop sign and rides up to the shared-use path near the English Building. She stops and swings her leg over the bike. She will walk the bike across the worn dirt path in the grass between the shared-use path and the Foreign Language Building.

Patton said Texas Tech has done a good job of keeping up with the needs of a growing bicycle community on college campuses in general. “Because our campus is flat, it really does make our job a little easier as far as how we create bike lanes. There was a time when bicycle infrastructure on a college campus wasn’t important. Tech, I think, has done really well at bringing itself to being a very bike-friendly campus, but there are still some awkward places that you kind of think, ‘Oh, I thought there would be a bike lane there.’ And there’s not. Really we just want to make sure that we are expanding all the bike lanes and have a comprehensive, connected bike path system around campus. That is still something we are slowly working on, but really most of campus has a bike lane dedicated to it.”

A member of the Texas Tech Cycling Team, Dunte Hector, said riding on campus has positives and negatives. “Some of the good things are that it is a bike-conscious campus,” Hector said. “People are aware that cyclists are there and that they are moving, whether or not they act accordingly. Though there are bike lines, the negatives include the fact that some sections are poorly maintained. The shoulders drop by not less than an inch into drainage areas, and the bike lanes are full of uneven pavement, stones, gravel, or whatever stuff gets thrown in the road.”

Students bicycling on campus Hector said if the community developed real bicycle awareness, the campus would follow. Hector also said the best way to improve safety for cyclists on campus is to prevent vehicles from standing in the bicycle lanes, but the main responsibility falls to the cyclists.

“Part of the issue is still cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the bike lanes and the roads on campus. Because the more they break those rules, the more the (drivers of the) cars feel that cyclists are going to do what they want anyway, so why should we obey their bike lanes,” Hector said.

Patton said another goal is to encourage cyclists to help alleviate the parking problem on campus. “I want more and more students to be using bikes,” Patton said. “Because, honestly, the more motor traffic we can alleviate on the main part of campus, the safer students are going to be walking to class, and obviously, the safer students are going to be if they are on a bike. Really, in an ideal world, the only vehicles we want driving around campus would be our campus buses.”

She gets out of Italian class late, as usual, but instead of worrying about being on time to her next class, she can enjoy the wind in her hair, and the pleasant freedom of straddling the invisible line between pedestrian and vehicle. She whizzes around Memorial Circle, the tingle of exercise creeping into her quads. The best part of riding a bike is how it clears your head, she thinks about nothing but the road, the bike and what is directly in front of her. She enjoys the opportunity to share the road each day.