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A shift to European style bike system gets attention of cycling community at Oklahoma State University

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
October 10, 2012
 

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Just a couple weeks ago, the stripes on the sidewalks of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater disappeared. They acted as exclusive bike paths in parts of the campus, with the goal of keeping pedestrians on one side, cyclists on the other. But before the paint could fade away, the complaints started. On a campus where cycling is up, and there’s no sign of it slowing, why were the lines picked up?

To get an answer to that question,  (run sound under right here) I sat down with Nigel Jones. He’s OSU’s Architect, and has spearheaded the reshaping of the campus…

“The bicycle paths were not part of a full system. If you look, they were just little short, in effect three, relatively short pieces that didn’t connect to each other or form a system that went across the whole of the campus.”

Perhaps the most noticeable one ran behind OSU’s towering Edmon Low Library in the center of the campus, with classroom buildings tightly packed within a hundred feet in every direction.

“We worked with these consultants and the recommendation was that because of the layout, the configuration of our campus, we couldn’t do a separated bicycle pedestrian lane system.”

“It’s kinda hard when they took out the bike lanes without giving us a place to go. And say ‘Hey deal with it right now. But where are we going?” said Trevor Seward, president of the OSU Cycling Club.

Anger initially was the only emotion among most cyclists at OSU, just listen to senior Adam Gribben.

“No preference really to me means fend for yourself. They’ve decided to deal with this by not dealing with it. Why take them out, just leave them there. At least they gave some guidelines of where you were going to travel.”

Part of that came from confusion it seems. A headline in the student newspaper The O’Colly blared “OSU getting rid of bike lanes.” But Nigel Jones says that doesn’t mean it’s sidewalks or nothing…

“We’re not saying don’t use the street. A cyclist can use the street, but is a vehicle and should obey the laws of being a vehicle on a street. A cyclist can also be on the sidewalk, but then should be a pedestrian in effect.”

He says bikers don’t have to go as slow as a pedestrian, just using good judgment and navigating carefully. The university points to successful shared paths in Europe. And they say this is the only viable option for a campus that in its core, is pretty tight.

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OSU’s campus is bustling as the students rush to afternoon classes. The sidewalks, shared use paths, or whatever you want to call them, are clogged. Some bicyclists choose to walk their bikes, others start and stop as they weave through. Sophomore Parker Inglee hopped off his seat right around that congested spot near the library. He’s noticed the change.

“It’s less efficient for people on bikes, but I don’t know. The stripes on the sidewalk were more of a something to make pedestrians to watch out for because that’s where bikers were going to be coming through. And now they’re coming from everywhere.”

“You just kinda have to ride slower through here and be more careful.”

Putting one foot in front of the other still appears to be the most popular way to get from point to point, but some pedestrians actually went back to the efficient line I heard from a lot of bikers. Now, they say it will just be one big jumble, before they saw some defined boundaries. Sophomore Julie Metcalf.

“I walk over by the Seretean a lot, and there’s still the striping there, and it works really well.”

Nigel Jones says he’s heard the complaints. And then in early September, an biker and skateboarder collided outside the Student Union, requiring an ambulance. He says there are more similar anecdotes…

“We were seeing lots of conflicts, harsh words spoken because of iPods and pedestrians not being aware of things.”

On the other hand, the OSU Police Department only had that one report of a collision between a pedestrian and cyclist in the last three years.

And OSU doesn’t exist in a bubble. The city of Stillwater has increased bike friendly streets, with arrows and signs encouraging drivers to share the road. Here’s the city’s Transportation Manager Jason Peek

“University Avenue, we had fairly wide lanes, and did designate some lanes for bikes so in that sense you’re adding facilities to accommodate users, but also for safety.”

This is where the confusion comes in, and Nigel Jones acknowledges the university hasn’t lived up to its side of the bargain…yet…

“What I’m hoping is people will: A) give us time.”

“We will do some catching up and deal with the education side of things, and when in a years time, we will have everybody moving around our campus in a friendly way.”

After initial concerns about dedicated bike lanes, things have started to calm down. Now, the battle is to make sure they continue on that path.

One Response to “A shift to European style bike system gets attention of cycling community at Oklahoma State University”

  1. Joshua B says:

    interesting and definitely fairly reported. But, as a cyclist, this is really a story about the University dropping the ball. Not having a cycling plan in place is not acceptable.

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