This Fall Quarter as part of the reworking of Peterson Hill, UCSD unveiled its first campus core bike path (the only bike-friendly arterial of its kind). UCSD has had an unhealthy relationship with campus cyclists. UCSD bike infrastructure has long been defined by an insufficient amount of designated bike parking throughout major areas of campus that remain virtually unbikeable during their peak hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., so the project was a markedly progressive effort towards improvement.
“If you want something done you can’t just make it illegal, you’ve got to take the adequate steps towards fixing it,” says Bike Mechanic Luke Chapman. As a “[L]ibrary Walk wheeled bypass,” the new bike path crosses the Eucalyptus Forest along Library Walk before heading uphill towards Peterson, while the old asphalt path over to its right was generously reworked into a wide handicap-accessible uphill pedestrian pathway.
The initial announcement of a bike path as part of broader campus redevelopment plans had excited many, as a significant stretch runs parallel to Library Walk, all the way up to Peterson Hall.
Peterson Hill was famous for its notoriously steep and poorly maintained asphalt path; a path so steep and poorly maintained that in 1996 UCSD student Gary Tillman died on his descent by skateboard as demarcated by an unofficial memorial to the former path’s right. Yet for many years thereafter it remained the best alternative to trekking up the dirt hill to Marshall, especially when compared with the spaghetti junction of worn footpaths heading franticly upwards.
The bike path was negotiated back in 2013 during the administration of former Associated Students President Andrew Buselt, whose platform promised to redevelop UCSD into a more bike-friendly campus. The Associated Students presented a revised campus Master Bike Plan report to the UCSD Planning Department by Summer 2013, under the leadership of Kyle Heiskala. After two years worth of surveys, studies, planning, and construction, cyclists were supposed to have their first bike path and pedestrians would finally have a safer and more efficient way to climb up a dirt hill.
But upon its unveiling, the promised bike path turned out to be another shared pedestrian/bike path, only disguised by name. With stark bolded black-on-white “YIELD TO PEDS” plaques posted throughout, it has since taken on a new role as another overwhelmed, appropriated pedestrian arterial. It’s quite hard to understand how this signage is effective or at the very least, there to promote path use. Or, as Director of the Design Lab Don Norman puts it:
The signage is horrible. Too many words. And nobody reads them anyway. There ought to be a sign on the bike paths that says “No pedestrians: use stairs (with an arrow point to them). [Don Norman]
Tony Hawk would be disappointed.
How a narrow asphalt sidewalk not even dedicated to bike traffic with its posted speed limit of 8 mph and traffic circles of radiuses so dangerously small can be called a bike path is beyond conventional understanding.
[W]ell any project can’t design to restrict walkers. That will take education and respecting the bike paths. They were never envisioned that no one would walk on them. It was anticipated that people would walk on them. [Kyle Heiskala]
“I definitely think they should be exclusively bike paths. I don’t think it would be this giant outrage to say that you can’t walk on them.” [Luke Chapman]
UCSD remains one of the three general campuses of the UC still not ranked as a Bicycle Friendly University. Even the University of San Diego has held a Bronze ranking since 2013, the same year students at UCSD began negotiations to create the new bike path. As a long time bike commuter to a campus in a city ranked not only as having the eighth-worst roads in the nation but also America’s Drunk Driving Capital, sixth place in the nation for pedestrian-involved crashes, and some of the worst traffic in the country, actually getting to campus is another effort in itself. Personally, biking on campus during the school day has always felt more dangerous and haphazard than biking in the city, so in premise the new bike path should be appreciated . However, in not only allowing but also prioritizing pedestrians, the newly designated bike path has quickly become just another pedestrian path, an alternative for pedestrians understandably looking to avoid the congestion on Library Walk.
I recently got into a bike accident with another fellow biker as a result of a group of pedestrians taking up the entire bike lane. If bikers can get cited for biking in non-biking areas, I think pedestrians certainly should be cited for walking in non-walking areas, such as the bike lane. [Emily Le]
Maybe an effort to make a little more designated footpath through the forest. Draw a path through the forest and people would follow that, no problem. [Luke Chapman]
[P]eople will walk wherever they want to unless there are repercussions. More people using bikes on the paths would discourage pedestrian use of the paths. If you look at the campus as a whole, pedestrians can go almost anywhere on campus. [Kyle Heiskala]
Despite being the most travelled pedestrian thoroughfare with thousands of crossings daily, Library Walk is no wider than a rural country road. The lack of adequate foresight in the design of Library Walk is however no excuse for the inadequacy of the new bike path. With pedestrians not only having the right, but also priority in choosing to slowly trot towards oncoming bike traffic and CSO’s being posted at major points of entry to scold oncoming cyclists, the new bike path has understandably become a source of frustration for many campus cyclists.
I think they should scold pedestrians like ‘Hey maybe don’t walk here, you might get run over.’ [Luke Chapman]
Pedestrians have the right of way throughout the entire campus, and yet they walk all over the bike paths with their ear phones on, texting on their phone, not paying attention at all. [Emily Le]
Our campus is suffering through a series of crises; perhaps one of the most under-emphasized being the lack of sufficient inner-campus transit infrastructure. Our overused and poorly maintained roads and pathways were designed for a much smaller student population. UCSD has a strong reputation of being a commuter campus, despite its now ironic self-designation as a residential college. Students approved greater shuttle funding and complete MTS coverage through a self-assessed transit fee back in 2014, a time when comprehensive public transit coverage had already been a longtime staple at most other UC campuses. Although previous Associated Students administrations have worked to address transportation issues, student interest and support for transit infrastructure is limited and generally only comes in waves. And these waves only seem to come during those rare moments when rising tuition and student fees, shrinking faculty ratios, and lower employment prospects aren’t already dominating the discussion.
While commuters now have better access to public transit routes converging with the few that come to the La Jolla campus, little has been done in improving the way that students navigate the campus once they actually get here. Our campus is sprawled and anti-riot, rather than grid-oriented, which means that access to the new campus center is limited via a small handful of overwhelmed arterials. The absence of an adequately sized school quad or any sort of centrally-located open space doesn’t help to relieve growing tensions.
The various new walkways did not appear to be designed with any understanding of people’s real behavior: they neglected what we call “Human-Centered Design. [Don Norman]
Campus planning needs to be informed by students, not just modeled around a notion of how administrators think students will interact within their new spaces. While many are hopeful that the extension of the San Diego Trolley’s Blue Line to University City could alleviate commuter traffic congestion, one must also consider not only the poor reputation of the system but also its slow travel times. Furthermore, the Trolley is in itself another a topic of contention because of the controversial, completely voluntary $30 million naming rights agreement that UCSD entered into with MTS as part of the extension of the soon to be renamed “UC San Diego Blue Line.”
If serious bike infrastructure is to be built at UCSD, students will need to make themselves a critical part of the discourse that shapes our growing campus, one that largely remains dominated by a small handful of administrators. With ambitious student population growth goals, including projected expectations of increasing campus enrollment by nearly another 10,000 students in years to come, students will have to organize to make sure that needed reform and sustainable planning are a reality.
[W]ith any new project, there will be an adjustment period. Yes, certain… designs would be better;the existing design wasn’t my ideal design. There were many constraints (costs, policies etc .) that restricted the project. [Kyle Heiskala]
The next several decades will see continued growth on the UCSD campus. Students will need to get involved with the Associated Students, on campus advocacy groups like the Student Sustainability Collective, and form their own advocacy groups and clubs if they want equitable planning to result for cohorts to follow. We should look to the Campus Master Plans of the past for inspiration, to our sister campuses like UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara with their impressive bike infrastructure and community integration.
Many students are frustrated with the new bike path not necessarily being what we wanted it to be. We must make the effort to voice these frustrations before they go stale and channel them towards productive efforts – lest we end up going down the wrong path… again.
Scotty Probert is the managing editor of The Triton.