Bicycle Unfriendly University
It isn’t rare to see posts on the UCSD subreddit from a cyclist ranting about pedestrians walking in the bike lane, or one recounting an accident between a pedestrian and someone on wheels. These forum posts reflect the daily occurrences between pedestrians and cyclists in the bike lanes and walkways of UCSD.
These incidents and frustrations are a result of the university's bike lane design. However in order to create a better environment for all students on campus, the cycling infrastructure needs to be improved along with the mentality of pedestrians and cyclists alike.
A Blind Turn
Bike lanes in several parts of the university are uncomfortable to ride due to high intersecting pedestrian and cyclist traffic. For example, just north of the University Art Gallery, the merging of the bike lane and the pedestrian walkway has cyclists exit into a blind turn where another cyclist or pedestrian may be oncoming. For this reason, many riders choose to ride on the pedestrian walkway to avoid collisions.
The picture above would be the view of a cyclist or pedestrian unaware of the bike lane exit hidden behind the corner.
Triple Threat Intersection
Another example of intersecting traffic is the merging of the Peterson Hill bike lane onto the walkway west of Library Walk in front of Geisel Library. This segment of asphalt is one of the most dangerous on campus due to its steep grade and frequent foot-travelers on the bike lane.
In the picture below, I've highlighted the bike, scooter, skateboard, and (often) pedestrian traffic from Peterson Hill in red, the main pedestrian route in blue, and a mixed path of both feet and wheels in green. All three routes merge into each other while traffic is traveling in both directions.
Library Walk Chaos
For many students, going through Library Walk is the fastest and easiest way to reach their destination on the other side of campus. However, according to UCSD's Bicycle Guidelines, biking is not permitted on Library Walk weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This rule, while clearly not being enforced, is another attestation of the university's bike unfriendliness.
During peak hours, Library Walk is a multidirectional muddle of pedestrians, bikes, and scooters. Those who choose to avoid the chaos are limited to a few long and difficult routes. The steep Voigt Drive is enjoyable to travel eastward, but only eastward. Another option would be the moderately-steep and uncomfortable bike path behind Geisel Library due to a hazardous blind turn. The eastward view approaching this turn is shown below.
Above is the westward view of the same turn.
The third university-approved method is via Gilman Drive, which is too long of a detour for many students.
The university also has roundabouts installed at cycling path intersections to control the direction of traffic. However, rarely do students respect the roundabout and travel through the marked paths. This is due to their impracticality—the turns are dangerously sharp and too narrow at regular speeds.
Another roundabout that is almost completely ignored.
Riding past the above roundabout, if a cyclist if traveling straight headed south, they have to cross through 4 consecutive pedestrian intersections. These poorly designed intersections only create a more complicated and dangerous experience for everyone.
Pictured above are the first two intersections, and below are the last two intersections before the bike path exits into the aforementioned blind turn (seen above).
Ride Into Nature
In another part of campus, the bike path exits straight into an area of shrubbery where pedestrians may also be unaware of incoming traffic.
Beyond the Bike Lane
However, the issues with UCSD's bike-ability do not end with the poor design of bike lanes. Friction between pedestrians and cyclists also contributes to the unfriendly biking environment. There are students who will often walk on the bike lane, even though the pedestrian walkway is around twice as wide as the bike lane. But there are also students on wheels who will dangerously weave through the crowds on pedestrian walkways where the bike lane is just adjacent to it. There is evil on both sides.
How UCSD Compares
In the 2021 Bicycle Friendly University Awards by the League of American Bicyclists, UCSD was placed in the lowest category of Bronze. For comparison, our neighbor UC in Irvine was placed in the highest category, Platinum, along with UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and Stanford. UCSD was not the only UC that placed among the lowest—UC Riverside also received the bottom-tier Bronze award.
Perhaps UCSD’s hilly nature may play a role in its placement, however the issues surrounding bike lanes and bicycle friendliness are largely independent of the terrain.
To make UCSD more bike friendly, bike paths must be designed with the whole university in mind, not just a particular segment. By working segment-by-segment, traveling by bike becomes confusing and unpleasant because the bike lanes are not consistent. In addition, cyclists, scooterists, and skateboarders need to respect the walkways and stay within their designated lanes (whenever possible), especially during peak hours. Similarly, walkers need to stay within their designated lanes and watch for students on wheels when crossing a bike lane intersection.
Recently, it has been encouraging to see UCSD building more bike lanes and improving bike friendliness to enable safer and more pleasant commutes. Hopefully this work continues in the right direction and transforms the campus into an enjoyable place for all bikers, scooterists, skateboarders, roller skaters (and bladers), and pedestrians.