USC’s big-bad bicycle ban (not)

As a pedestrian, I have the dubious distinctions in life of having been hit by both a very slow-moving car and a relatively fast-moving bike. The fast-moving bike incident was much worse for me, broke three of my ribs, chipped a bone in my knee, and left me in chronic pain. Had I been frail and elderly at the time of the bike accident, it could have been the beginning of a death sentence.

So yesterday some of our wonderful students posted emails trying to organize against USC’s new bicycle ban on its most heavily trafficked pedestrian corridors. I’ve been thinking through the question, and I have to admit: I don’t get what the big kerfuffle is about the rule.

LADOT Bike Blog has a number of comments, all of which strike me as making a big fuss where none is needed. Here’s the actual rule:

The areas currently under ban for bicycle riding are Trousdale Parkway and Childs Way (map), the primary north-south and east-west thoroughfares through campus, each almost half a mile in distance. Trousdale Parkway is currently listed as a bike lane in Metro’s new bike map and is listed as a bike path facility by google. As of Tuesday September 14, bicyclists must walk their bicycles on these two thoroughfares from 9AM to 4PM.

link: USC Bans Bicycles on Bike Lane, More Restrictions to Come « LADOT Bike Blog

Ok so let’s look at these two walkways on a map:

Two walkways out of eight routes are being restricted. One of those restricted routes, Trousdale, I can walk the length of in 5 minutes; the other one, Child’s Way, I can walk the length of in 12 minutes. Now, I am old and fat and out of shape–not a 20 year-old young healthy person. So students can get between classes even with being expected to walk their bikes.

Second, there are a lot of parallel routes. So it’s hardly the case that bikes won’t be allowed anywhere even if you did have short time between classes.

And the “ban” is in effect for all of 7 hours a day.

This isn’t much of a ban. This would be known as “expecting students to behave how anybody over 40 was taught to behave with a bike where there are lots of pedestrians.” That’s right. Before biking became a political idea about saving society and the planet, and bikers became activists who act like asking them to dismount for others’ safety is tantamount to making them sit in the back of the bus, kids on bikes were told that when you encounter a lot of pedestrians, you dismount, and you walk your bike. We didn’t have paths. We were simply taught to think about other people and their safety, and act accordingly.

LA Bike Blog’s point is that Copenhagen has found ways of accommodating high volumes of bikes. Note that the picture they choose to illustrate this point…has no pedestrians in it. None. That isn’t a picture of high volumes of pedestrians and bikes working together. That’s a whole a bunch of bike riders, all alone, at the center of the image.

And that’s kind of a problematic view of the bike-pedestrian world, don’t you think?

So the LA Bike blog’s answer is that USC should be educating bicyclists. Many students come from out of state and many come from outside the country. Teach them how to bike in a considerate manner rather than ban them.

Great answer. You know what? That’s exactly what the bike “ban” is doing. It’s teaching people how to behave with a vehicle in a place a critical mass of pedestrians. What my generation of bicyclists was expected to do out of politeness, the next generation of bicyclists is being normed into doing via formal rules because populations in play are larger, more diverse, and more transitory. They are thus more difficult to acculturate through informal means. So…people try to enact formal controls.

IOW, the formal rule is a sign of progress rather than failure; I suspect that this is leading to dedicated bike paths and new bike intersections as the conversation evolves.

As I say to my students in my transportation and the environment class, it’s a mistake to believe that pedestrians’ interests always align with bicyclists’. That’s only true when your focus is controlling cars. Otherwise, it will take negotiation and design to make things work between different groups. It always does.

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