A skull fracture and internal bleeding. Over $6,000 in medical bills. Two weeks taken away from his education. This was the price electrical and computer engineering freshman Michael Chen had to pay when his skateboard hit broken glass that littered 21st Street after a tailgate.
Chen went into a seizure immediately after the crash, but luckily, bystanders called for help. He was taken to the emergency room and spent the next few weeks in the hospital recovering from a brain contusion, temporal bone fracture and subdural hematoma. He was supposed to be resting, but Chen could only think about how he was falling hopelessly behind in all his classes.
“It took me over a month to get back into academics, and the health problems lasted until the end of the semester,” Chen said. “You never expect something like this to happen, but when it does, it can be really severe.”
Chen’s accident is just one example of many. In January 2019, Tony Diaz, a Fox 7 Austin news station employee, was fatally struck by a bus on San Jacinto while riding his bike. Hundreds of students regularly use bikes, skateboards and scooters to get around campus. They shouldn’t have to worry about their lives whenever they get on their bikes.
It is crucial that the University implement more robust safety procedures for student transportation.
Change should start with the roads. Potholes have been an issue for years in Austin and can be extremely dangerous for all commuters. Additionally, poor traffic management and even small amounts of litter can become disastrous for defenseless riders.
UT must address all of these points in order to maintain a campus that completely serves the student body’s transportation needs.
Avery McKitrick, an environmental science junior and director of the Campus Environmental Center, spoke about her biking experiences and dealing with issues like five-way intersections, dangerous traffic and debris.
“I’ve almost been hit several times walking and on my bike” McKitrick said. “By my apartment, the roads are just not good ... it looks like there was an earthquake.”
McKitrick also spoke about student-run projects like tailgate recycling, now managed by Texas Athletics Sustainability, which strives to create zero waste football games.
“We also do a lot of collaboration with the Campus Bike Alliance,” McKitrick said. “We always support the work they do because one, it’s safer to have better infrastructure, and two, it’s just more sustainable.”
Student organizations shouldn’t be the only ones shouldering the responsibility of making our streets safe. UT has made strides, such as adding bike lanes last year, but Chen’s accident proves that there is still progress to be made.
I urge the University to repair the numerous potholes that plague the roads of campus immediately. Better traffic management during rush hours would also benefit drivers and riders alike. Crossing guards stationed across campus during periods of heavy congestion could be the difference between life and death in some scenarios.
Beyond this, better utilization of the student body for litter management on roads frequented by bikers could be effective. Similar to the CEC’s Green Greeks Project Team, this could make use of capable students to tackle an otherwise unsolved problem.
While some of the burden lies on students to protect themselves with appropriate safety gear, it’s the University’s job to maintain a safe campus. UT could do so by enforcing helmet wear through crossing guards or hand out free helmets throughout the year.
Far too many accidents have occurred for riders to still feel safe in their everyday commute. I hope the University makes the necessary changes for students to be able to hop on their bikes without having to worry if that’s the last time they’ll ever ride.
Shah is an electrical and computer engineering freshman from Plano.