Making College Park A Bicycle Friendly Community

Commons Bikes

The League of American Bicyclists, the nation’s premier cycling advocacy organization, recently released its list of Bicycle Friendly Communities, recognizing municipalities and states that have shown an across-the-board commitment to making their communities bikeable. In the Washington Metropolitan Area, many communities are dedicated to making cycling a viable form of transportation—the state of Maryland was ranked 11 out of 50 in terms of Bicycle Friendly States and Baltimore has achieved the bronze designation for its efforts. Other college towns like Bellingham, Washington, Boulder, Colorado, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina are rated. However, College Park seems to be getting left behind; it’s unclear whether or not the city has even submitted an application. Using the League’s criteria, let’s consider College Park’s prospects of becoming a bicycle friendly community.

Engineering. In terms of bicycle friendly infrastructure, the university falls short. The campus is nearly impenetrable by bicycle, relegating cyclists to sidewalks and paths better suited for pedestrian usage. There is a dearth of bicycle parking near campus buildings. Bikes are instead haphazardly locked to trees and fence posts, while the inconveniently located cycle parking in Regents Drive and Mowatt Lane garages goes unused. The university is making attempts to rectify this situation, allowing bike commuters to request new bike racks and incorporating biking into the update of the Facilities Master Plan, yet as Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Frank Brewer readily admits, “Biking hasn’t really been a part of the culture at Maryland because we don’t have enough paths, racks or storage areas.” It will take a great deal of work to change this culture.

Education. University officials are making big strides in education. First, the Department of Transportation Services is in the process of redesigning its website with a hearty cycling section, including information on convenient routes, safety regulations, and local bike shops. They have also launched bikeUMD, an initiative that uses social media and on-campus events to connect with and educate students. While bicyclists are becoming more knowledge about their resources and rights, drivers have been left out of this educational process. It takes two to share the road; without motorists being well-versed in cyclists’ rights, cyclists cannot safely transverse the city.

Encouragement. Through bikeUMD’s presence at on-campus events, including its first Bike Week last spring, the university administration has been working to encourage more students to ride their bikes. However, as The Diamondback reports, there is a gender gap in the on-campus cycling population; only 20% of riders are female. The university has yet to address this issue. Without advocacy efforts to engage half of the campus community, it is hard to imagine cycling on campus increasing.

Evaluation and Planning. The university has worked to make bicycling a priority of future development by hiring a new bike coordinator, working bicycling into the Facilities Master Plan, and funding the Campus Bicycle Study. Yet, there are still a few roadblocks to comprehensive bicycle planning in the city. The City of College Park’s strategic plan initiated much need collaboration between the university and the city government on smart growth initiatives. With plans for a “city-wide bike route,” it seems local officials are moving in the right direction, yet the strategic plan has been deemed “weak” and “vague” by some city officials. Without clear steps for implementation, the strategic plan will remain a “dream book.” Further, the university is known for taking one step forward and two steps back on cycling. While the administration originally planned to spend $1 million on biking over the next three years, it has only budgeted $100,000. As we’ve previously reported, despite the economic climate, the university must present a sustained commitment to making College Park more bicycle friendly.

Enforcement. While College Park has followed a few of the League’s enforcement regulations, such as increasing its use of bicycle patrol officers, its attempts to maintain the rights and responsibilities of all road users has come with mixed results. Cyclists are frequently targeted with harsh fines for unlawful behavior, yet much of this behavior spawns from poor cycling infrastructure that makes following laws unsafe. For instance, one student recalls receiving a ticket for running a red light to escape fast-paced Route 1 traffic. Instead of educating both drivers and cyclists on how to best share the road, local police have resorted to the easy solution of “threatening” cyclists. It seems that College Park has faltered in “[treating] bicyclists equitably.”

In terms of on-campus cycling, the university has made education and encouragement a clear priority. Their commitment is commendable, but if cyclists have nowhere to ride, increased advocacy becomes pointless. A commitment to advocacy must be matched with a commitment to infrastructure. Planning must be met with implementation. Until then, College Park will remain unfriendly for bicyclists, falling behind its local peers.

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