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Sharing sidewalk space: The struggle between bikers and walkers on MSU's campus

February 24, 2023
<p>Busy sidewalks around Wells Hall on Jan. 23, 2023.</p>

Busy sidewalks around Wells Hall on Jan. 23, 2023.

Photo by Henry Szymecko | The State News

With a population of just over 50,000 students, Michigan State University’s sidewalks are often bustling with students on the way to their next class. 

Sometimes, problems can arise amongst the mix of walkers and bikers sharing these paths. Both bikers and walkers agree that there needs to be more communication on sidewalks. 

“A common courtesy that I don’t see a lot of people say around here is just (saying) ‘On your left,’ things like that,” finance sophomore and biker Liam Lyons said. 

MSU Bikes Service Center transportation manager Tim Potter said a lot of the crashes he sees are the result of a lack of communication. Sometimes bikers will ride into the grass to avoid a group of walkers, resulting in a loss of control when reentering the sidewalk, he said. 

Computer science sophomore and biker Chris Kocher said it can be hard to navigate sidewalks because walkers aren’t always paying attention.

“Just be aware of the people around you,” Kocher said. “Don’t be distracted. There are people and things can happen … be more aware of your surroundings.” 

BFA acting and film sophomore Mandy Marsili has been hit by bikers multiple times and said she has a “love-hate relationship” with having to share sidewalks. 

“Sometimes they’re not very aware,” Marsili said.

Dana Whyte, communications manager and spokesperson for the MSU Police Department, said MSU was awarded gold status as a bike-friendly university. Bikes are not allowed on sidewalks and should be used in the bike lanes. 

“We’ve put bicycle lanes in place all throughout campus in order to have a separate designated area for those bicyclists and just to keep everyone safe,” Whyte said.

However, Lyons said it can be hard to bike on the road in designated lanes. 

“I use what I call the ‘bike highway’ … that’s effective. It gets me where I need to be,” Lyons said, “(But) some of the roads don’t have bike lanes in the road and even if they do have bike lanes sometimes I’m not very comfortable driving in those.”

Arts and humanities senior Maddie Myers, who walks, said she doesn’t blame bikers for conflicts and agrees there is an infrastructure issue that prevents a safe separation between bikers and walkers.

“The bridge over the river, often they have smaller sidewalks … There’s not really any room for the bikes to go anywhere else,” Myers said.

In 2019, MSU held a pilot project that inserted a two-way bike path with a protective barrier separating it from the rest of the road into Bogue Street. Potter said the project was successful and almost all bikers used the lane instead of the sidewalk.

“We were going to put it in permanently ... then COVID hit, and it was back-burnered,” Potter said. “That I think is what needs to happen and what the future is.” 

In the meantime, Whyte said MSU Police is working to spread awareness on proper sidewalk navigation.

“Our parking unit has the signs that are in the middle of roads reminding people that they need to yield,” Whyte said. “Those signages that you may see around campus are big ways for us to educate our community.”

Furthermore, Whyte said MSU Police is open to incorporating more training in new student orientation and online to promote safety.

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