University should add bike lanes to Speedway

Ratnika Batra

By Spring 2018, UT will have a gorgeous Speedway Mall with an improved pedestrian experience and increased student activity areas. Having added more outdoor seating, trees and plants and bicycle parking, the project is already looking fruitful. However, construction is hindering the mobility for pedestrians and bikers alike. Even after construction is over, bikers will have to continue to ride slowly or dismount their bikes, as there are no plans for designated bike lanes.

At present, Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) has posted signs around the construction area asking bikers to dismount and walk their bikes, to avoid accidents with heavy machinery used in construction. According to Jeremy Hernandez, bike coordinator at PTS, these signs will be taken down after construction is over.

“Once the Speedway Mall project is completed cyclists will be able to ride in the area,” Hernandez said in an email.

But technically, bikers don’t dismount to avoid the machinery — they dismount to avoid crashing into pedestrians. Some others disregard the dismount signs and zigzag through the empty spaces between walkers or force them to move aside as the bikers come speeding behind the pedestrian traffic.

When the construction is over, there will be more space for foot traffic, but bikers will continue to have the same problem — they will have to ride slowly and swerve through the foot traffic. According to the Speedway project website, “bicycles will continue to be able to access the full length of Speedway, interacting at low speed with the ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic.”

Having to slow down is a problem as it defeats the purpose of biking instead of walking to classes — biking is much faster. Many of us have classes back to back with only 10 minutes in between them and sometimes from one corner of campus to the other. Walking from Jester to Moore Hall takes about 15 minutes at a normal pace whereas biking takes about seven. Our big campus needs to accommodate bikers to enable punctuality.

There is no current plan to add bike lanes or designated bike spaces on Speedway or on other streets across campus, according to Hernandez. But he hopes that “once the project is completed we can start a discussion about the topic. As far as the other areas of campus, we hope in the next few years.”

Many Austinites love biking and have prioritized biking as a healthy mode of transportation. As one of them, I believe that it’s not too early to start planning to aid bikers on campus. We should have a designated bike space on one shoulder of Speedway with lanes for either way to avoid crashing with pedestrians and other riders as well. As the main street of campus, Speedway should be safe, swift and accessible for all types of riders.

Batra is a computer science and rhetoric and writing junior from New Delhi.