MSU has been gradually increasing the campus’ network of bike lanes, but one thing remains unchanged — bicyclists, for the most part, stick to the sidewalk.
Even though riding bicycles on non-designated sidewalks, footpaths and crosswalks is illegal because of an MSU ordinance and can result in a ticket, studies suggest cyclists’ fear of cars is keeping them off the streets. In a 2008 study conducted by Gallup on bicyclist behavior, 88 percent of respondents indicated they felt threatened primarily by motorists while biking.
But avoiding the roadways hasn’t left cyclists out of harm’s way. There’s a daily tangle in many students’ commute to class — a close-quarters dance between pedestrians and bicycles as cyclists weave between throngs of students on foot, a journey punctuated by quick side-steps, the squeal of brakes and the occasional collision.
In crowded areas of campus, students said it gets even more difficult to watch traffic.
MSU officials have said in the past they want to add more bike lanes to campus as part of the university’s land-use plans.
From 1993 to 2011, there were 392 accidents involving motor vehicles and bicycles, according to MSU police. At least 334 of them occurred because a cyclist was riding, not walking their bike through a crosswalk, accounting for about 85 percent of incidents.
General management sophomore Caitlin Van Ermen, who has experience as both a pedestrian and biker, said she’s accepted sidewalk collisions on campus as an inevitability.
“You always remember the crashes. … The bicycles, the people go flying. You laugh for half a second, then you rush to go help them,” Van Ermen said. “Every single person on this campus, before you graduate, you get in some sort of accident, whether you’re a pedestrian or a biker.”
MSU Bikes Service Center manager Tim Potter said the perception that sidewalks are safer than roadways is not entirely accurate.
“(The sidewalk) has the feel of being safer, but really there’s more conflict,” Potter said. “If they’re riding their bikes through the crosswalk, through an intersection, if they get hit, they have no protection (legally).”
To receive legal protection as a pedestrian if hit by a vehicle at a crosswalk, Potter said cyclists must dismount and walk their bikes across the intersection.
Ralph Buehler is an associate professor in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech and is an expert in transport policy and bicycling. He was perplexed why students would choose to ride on the sidewalks when bike lanes are available.
“(In a bike lane), the visibility for car traffic is higher for cyclists than if you are somewhere intermingled with pedestrians,” Buehler said, referring to bicyclists’ decision to remain on the sidewalk. “Why would they intermingle with pedestrians where they have to watch out, where they have to be slower?”
Potter has some simple advice for students who prefer riding their bikes to class. He advocates staying off sidewalks altogether.
“Just ride in the roadways, with or without bike lanes,” Potter said. “Be smart and predictable.”
Staff reporter Katie Abdilla contributed to this report.