Cycling @ UCSD

People don’t like getting hit by cars. However, to the many students at UCSD who use bicycles as an alternative form of transportation, the threat is very real.

Melissa Chow/
Guardian

About 20,000 students attend UCSD, the population of a small town. Although not all students are on campus at once, the rules pertaining to bicyclists in small towns can be applied to our own campus. The number of students who bike on campus is small compared to the number of pedestrians, but cyclists still make up a significant portion, since they are spread across the campus.

One major problem for student cyclists are the roads surrounding the campus. Because of UCSD’s close proximity to Interstate 5, there are many major roadways, which means more cars, faster speed limits, fewer pedestrians and more danger.

The intersection of Genesee Avenue and North Torrey Pines Road is a very tricky to cross for some cyclists. Not only is there a banked incline on North Torrey Pines toward Genesee, but the bike lane from the right also crosses between the slow lane that turns left onto Genesee and the right-turn lane. For bikers with backpacks trying to stay alert, the intersection, with cars passing at high speeds, proves to be very dangerous.

Another extremely dangerous route is on La Jolla Village Drive, where cars can merge into Interstate 5. On both sides of the street, the bicycle lanes are nonexistent, which makes the road dangerous for commuting cyclists. Cars speed up to 40 to 50 mph to get onto the on-ramp, and student cyclists are in the middle of it. On top of this, in order to pass the on-ramp, student riders must ride between two car lanes for a distance before the on-ramp lane ends and the bridge over Interstate 5 begins.

A similar situation occurs at La Jolla Village Drive toward campus where a right turn lane goes toward Gilman Drive. Students are forced to take this road because of the steep incline of Villa La Jolla Drive that leads to the new parking structure near Eleanor Roosevelt College.

Other dangerous intersection zones for bikers are Gilman Drive and Voigt Drive, near the Scripps and Ximed Center. The T-junction is busy with shuttles passing through to the East campus parking lot, cars emerging from the Pepper Canyon parking lot and speeding cars on the straight-away from off-campus. The intersection may be a three-way stop, but with the traffic congestion, construction, uneven roads and drivers who take up the center of the intersection coming into one of the lanes, it proves to be dangerous.

According to UCSD traffic officer Jeff Cox, the various roads and intersections around campus such as the ones mentioned above, as well as others including Justice Lane and the three intersections of Gilman Drive with Russell Lane, Library Walk and Mandeville, are all quite dangerous.

Assistant Vice Chancellor of Campus Planning Jeff Steindorf provided much information concerning the various city plans for bicyclists.

“”Bike lanes already exist all the way up to North Torrey Pines Road to Del Mar and along old Highway 101 to Encinitas,”” Steindorf said. “”However, La Jolla Village Drive was not designated a bike route in the community plan. But Nobel, Genesee, Regents, Villa La Jolla and Gilman are all designated to eventually include bike lanes. The City of San Diego will be responsible for this funding, implementation and improvements.””

Also, the concern for “”smart”” traffic lights that do not require a person to touch the signal but will be automatically timed, is also a major issue since some cars, not to mention cyclists, run red lights. Whenever the school is made aware of traffic light mechanisms that are not tripped by bicycles, the city’s bicycle coordinator is contacted so that the problem can be fixed right away. Still, there are traffic lights that do not switch right away.

“”To be a biker on campus sucks,”” said sophomore Austin Leach. “”The motorists don’t give us any respect and see us as mere speed bumps.””

The school and city are not all to blame. If students see the number of cyclists on campus, they should try to count how many wear helmets. The result is disappointing. Wearing a helmet is required by state law for minors. That does not mean that people who wear helmets are simply too old to wear them. The old adage that it is better to be safe than sorry rings true in the case of bicycle helmets. Despite that, the vast majority of students on campus do not wear helmets.

Since November, there have been eight major bicycle accidents on campus. Five of the eight cyclists involved were not wearing helmets and resulted in serious injuries. The ignorance and lack of observance of this simple rule is baffling.

The fact that some student riders do not follow the rules also causes more problems. Last year, a collision at Voigt Drive and Gilman Drive occurred due to an unhelmeted student running a stop sign.

On Justice Lane, which goes from the shuttle stop to the Warren apartments (also another hazardous road because of the volume of vehicles passing through), a student with no helmet was not paying attention and slammed into a vehicle that stopped.

Two accidents within the last year happened on the intersections of Gilman Drive with Mandeville Lane and Matthews Lane, with both sets of students not wearing any protective gear.

The school’s history regarding cyclists is not a long one. UCSD was not originally planned to have a large student bicyclist population, and thus exclusive use of bicycle lanes was not implemented. The school, however, is continuing to implement a loop road shared by bicycles and vehicles, with interior loops for bikers to get to key parts of campus.

For those bicyclists who complain about constantly having to bike up a hill, they should take into account the several locations that the campus could have been located. Those include Balboa Park and Lake Murray, both of which would have provided considerably more hills for bikers to climb. Much of the present campus is located on a hill with a relatively modest incline, with the highest elevation being at Peterson Hall.