Duke has released new guidelines for bikes and mopeds on campus—much to the dismay of some longtime cyclists.
Beginning this semester, bikes and mopeds are no longer allowed on the sidewalks of Abele Quadrangle or on the Bryan Center Plaza. In these areas, bicyclists are now required to walk bikes on sidewalks to the nearest bike rack. Four new bike racks were added near Penn Pavilion to meet demand, and bike parking areas are being added to Science Drive Circle and the Allen Building lot.
In response, Nikki Pelot and Mike Trumpis—Ph.D. students in biomedical engineering—along with Hannah Meredith, a BME postdoctoral student, created a petition urging Duke to reconsider the new regulations.
“On our stair-filled campus, there is only often a single route between two buildings that avoids stairs, construction zones and excessive detours,” the petition reads. “By closing off the main quad to cyclists, Duke is discouraging cycling and inciting frustration.”
As of Wednesday evening, the petition had 173 signatures from Duke community members.
Pelot noted that she created the petition because she was confused about where the new regulations came from, since she has never heard complaints about biking on campus. She has been biking to and from campus for the past five years and all of her bike paths cross the main quad, she said.
Many graduate students use biking as their main form of transportation since they live off campus, Trumpis explained.
“We were all surprised to see the new rule since none of us had seen any kind of dangerous riding on campus,” he said.
Alison Carpenter, transit planner for the Parking and Transportation Services department, wrote in an email that the high number of pedestrians on campus walkways during class changes has created safety hazards for both students and bike riders.
During the summer, a committee made up of representatives from Student Affairs, Facilities Management and the Duke University Police Department met to discuss how to make high-traffic areas more safe for pedestrians, she explained. They decided to designate Abele Quad and the Bryan Center Plaza as pedestrian-only zones and provide more parking for bikes and mopeds at common access points to those areas.
“We have been pleased with the increase in bicycle and moped traffic as a means of alternative transportation at Duke,” she wrote. “But we also have to be cognizant of the safety issues involved.”
According to a Duke Today release, mopeds and cyclists riding in prohibited locations will be issued warnings until Sept. 15. Additionally, Mopeds parked in the pedestrian areas will be ticketed.
Michael Gustafson, associate professor of the practice of electrical and computer engineering, said the issues with pedestrian safety among high numbers of bike and moped riders seem to have manifested themselves in the late Spring semester. He is a member of the Parking and Transportation advisory committee, but this group was not involved in creating the new bike regulations, he explained.
“My initial thought is certainly the notion of anything motorized being on those sidewalks seems like a bad idea in general,” he said. “Having restrictions on mopeds and motorcycles make sense. I think that’s very reasonable.”
However, Gustafson noted that the bike issue is tougher because he understands the perspectives of students who bike to class. If they can’t take their bikes on certain sidewalks, that can make their commutes longer, he said.
Complicating matters is the fact that Duke was named a “Bicycle Friendly University” by the League of American Bicyclists last Fall. The program recognizes colleges for promoting and providing a bicycle-friendly campus for students, employees and visitors.
Gustafson said that he imagines the new regulations will make Duke less biker friendly.
“There are generally still ways to get from major centers of campus to major centers of campus,” he said. “I don't know how much they will ding the University for putting in these dismount zones.”
He encouraged students who are dissatisfied with the new rules to work with PTS to craft a more satisfactory long-term solution.
Meredith noted some possible alternatives to the recently-issued bike guidelines. For instance, more education about biking etiquette could help students better share the walkways on campus.
Duke could also designate one side of Abele Quad’s paths for pedestrians, while the other side would be open to both cyclists and pedestrians, she said. In addition, there could be a speed limit for cyclists that would penalize only those who ride too fast, instead of inconveniencing all cyclists with the new rules.
Meredith explained that for some students, biking on campus is a necessity. One student she talked with has arthritis and joint problems, and her quality of life is better when she is able to bike to campus.
The group of graduate students plan to attend the next PTS meeting Sept. 11 to present their petition and explain their concerns.
“Durham has had a lot of initiatives to make [the city] more bike friendly, and we would like to see Duke moving in same direction,” Pelot said.