Cycling on USC Campus: The Wrong Way to Build Bike Infrastructure

The University of Southern California is the most urban university on the West Coast. The street grid from the surrounding neighborhood extends onto campus, and until the 1920’s automobile traffic was permitted on all thoroughfares on campus, as they were public roads. After acquiring all of the properties between Jefferson Boulevard, Vermont Avenue, Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street, allowed the campus to become a gated, private facility. The growth of the University has begun to move north, with most students living north of campus, and huge new projects like the New University Village and University Gateway are massively increasing the concentration of students north of campus.

The most popular means of transportation between North University Park and campus is the bicycle. Based on University counts, 15,000 cyclists a day enter and leave campus, perhaps more than much of the rest of the City of Los Angeles! This overwhelming quantity of cyclists is concentrated in the last 15 minutes of the hour, before and after classes dismiss. This condition creates crush loads on campus and also at the intersections of Jefferson Boulevard with Hoover Street and McClintock Avenue. Last year, LAPD and DPS (USC Public Safety) Officers began to ticket cyclists for riding through these intersections, even though riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is legal and even encouraged in the City of Los Angeles. This type of enforcement and neglect of the California Vehicle Code on and around the USC Campus has been the de facto bicycle policy of the University, with no attempt to accommodate cyclists.

On campus, current bicycle infrastructure is essentially limited to bicycle racks in front of most buildings. Most days, these bike racks are overused and many bikes rest on their kickstands instead of a fixed rack. USC has not even attempted to designate specific bicycle routes or paths on campus. Now that people have begun to complain about bicycle overcrowding, the University has banned all bicycles on Trousdale Parkway and Childs Way, the main north-south and east-west routes on campus, respectively. In addition, all bicycle racks in the center of campus will be moved outside a perimeter, or eliminated, in an effort to clear up center campus.

This policy will create three major problems. First of all, racks or not, people will park their bicycles in center campus, meaning that thousands of bicycles will be parked on kickstands with no organizational structure. Second, the smaller paths in the area will not be banned for bicycles, creating a far more dangerous situation for pedestrians. Finally, this policy does not deal with congestion at the intersections north of campus, or the terrible riding etiquette and technique in which most USC campus riders engage.

Here are my suggestions: ban bikes on the small paths on campus, not the main thoroughfares, and keep the bike racks in center campus. The old bike racks could be replaced by more aesthetically pleasing racks, and bikes not locked to racks could be confiscated. DPS could begin to enforce the California Vehicle Code, including ticketing cyclists with headphones on, and those who choose to chatter away on the cell phone. Also, cyclists can be ticketed for moving violations, so bad riding could be punished. For this policy to be fair, DPS must also initiate a large cycling education program. A requirement for a 20 minute online course before obtaining a license to operate a bicycle on USC campus could do wonders for riding style and etiquette on campus.

Also, a designated system of bicycle paths is critical on USC campus. The streets used for motor vehicles, like 34th Street, 36th Place, 37th Place, McClintock Avenue, and Watt Way, should be designated bike routes. Vehicular traffic should be severely limited during peak hours on Weekdays, allowing the entire street to be used for cyclists. On pedestrian malls, like Trousdale Parkway and Childs Way, European-style bike paths should be installed. These lanes could take the form of a different kind of pavement, such as brick. Cyclists must ride on the brick surface, stop at all intersections, and signal turns, allowing the chaos of these areas to cease.

Countering the problem of cyclists on campus will take this proactive approach. Covering up the problem with enforcement and bans will simply make it worse and infuriate students. After all, USC is essentially a corporation and students are its customers. It’s never a good policy to piss off your customers.

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About Karl Tingwald

Civil engineering student at the University of Southern California with a severe transportation compulsion.

Posted on September 21, 2010, in Cycling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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