Alternative transportation gaining momentum at University Park

May 17, 2010

It's called co-mingling. And, on the University Park campus, it involves motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Officials estimate there currently are some 12,000 bicycles on campus and in the Centre Region. And there probably will be more as the University moves toward implementation of the University Park Campus Master Plan, which envisions a more pedestrian-friendly campus with less dependence on cars, better mass transit and more use of bicycles and walking.

Gordon Turow, director of campus planning and design, said bicycles are an integral component of the Master Plan's intermodal transportation concept.

"One of the goals of the concept is to encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation such as increasing the use of mass transit to and through campus," he said. "Another goal is to improve, expand and enhance accommodations for both pedestrians and bicyclists on campus and to improve connections to bicycle routes off campus. In these ways dependence on single-occupant vehicles will decrease as more members of the University community walk, bike and use mass transportation in their daily commuting patterns.

"We are striving to be comprehensive in our approach to alternative transportation modes. Our responsibility is to all user groups. Our goal is to develop a system that provides traffic management, alternative parking strategies, critical pedestrian safety and state-of-the-art accommodations for cyclists."

With emphasis in the future on alternative forms of transportation on campus, the effective co-mingling of pedestrians and bicyclists becomes even more crucial.

Co-mingling can be accomplished successfully and safely, according to Brian Dempsey, professor of civil engineering, and president of the Centre Region Bike Coalition (CRBC), an advocacy group that promotes bicycling as a source of recreation and alternative transportation.

"Effective co-mingling requires good communication between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians," he said. "If a car is a threat to a pedestrian or a bicyclist, the driver should be cited. Bicyclists who present a danger to pedestrians should be cited as well."

When it comes to bicycles and pedestrians, the law is perfectly clear: Pedestrians have the right of way.

Clifford Lutz, police supervisor in University Police, said bicycles are defined as vehicles under the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code and bicyclists assume all the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicle drivers.

"Bicyclists are subjected to traffic laws and must obey all traffic signs and signals," he said. "When cyclists are riding on a sidewalk or a bicycle path used by pedestrians, they must yield right of way. When a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, a motor vehicle must yield right of way. When bicycles and pedestrians encounter one another, the pedestrian always has the right of way.

"Major problems center on bicycle, pedestrian and motor vehicle conflicts because of not yielding the right of way and not obeying traffic control signs. In the conflicts, the pedestrian often loses against the bicycle and the bike loses against the car. Our goal is to keep injuries down and conflicts to a minimum."

Dempsey said there are instances where bicyclists travel too fast when sidewalks are crowded. In many cases, they should dismount as a safety precaution.

"We need to have more courteous behavior by cyclists, acknowledging, when a conflict is generated, that pedestrians have the right of way."

According to Lutz, the ultimate solution would be to prohibit motor vehicles on campus.

"That would eliminate congestion, noise, pollution and safety issues involved in mixing motor vehicles with students," he said. "Removing motor vehicles from the mix also would allow us to specify designated patterns on roadways to co-mingle pedestrians and bicycles safely."

The University is encouraging expanded use of bicycles for transportation, according to Bruce Younkin, manager of Fleet Operations in Transportation Services.

"The University Park campus views itself as predominately a pedestrian campus," he said. "We want to maintain an environment conducive to quiet, reflective study by making the campus as accommodating to non-motor vehicle transportation as possible through walking, cycling and mass transit. Our quality of life will be better by providing an alternative to motor vehicles."

A number of steps already have been taken:

* The University currently is reviewing its bicycle facilities with a view toward expanding the number of bike paths, lanes and signed routes across campus.

* In the past year, progress has been made on the following bike pathways to campus: The Blue-White Pathway from the west has been completed; the Bellefonte Central Rail Trail from the north has been cleared through volunteer work and currently is being designed; Millbrook-Puddintown Pathway connects from the east as far as Millbrook Marsh; Garner Street soon will have "share-the-road" and destination signs for bicyclists coming from the south. Another new facility under construction is a pedestrian/bicycle overpass across Atherton Street via the new IST building.

* Information Technology Services is providing bicycles for its employees to travel across campus. The program, initiated in August and detailed in an article in the Oct. 3 issue of Intercom, offers nine bicycles stationed at five campus buildings. They can be ridden anywhere on campus, provided they are returned in good condition to any of the five buildings.

* An inventory by Transportation Services determined there are more than 500 bike racks on campus. "Not all of them are where they need to be and some of the old styles can't accommodate newer bicycles," Younkin said. "We purchased 20 new style racks this year and hope to add an average of 20 new racks annually. We continually try to match rack locations to where they are most needed."

* On July 1, Transportation Services initiated a program to help cover the costs of a mass transit pass for University employees.

Younkin said that plans are being made to create covered bicycle parking on campus by converting unusable space on the ground floor of parking decks to bike rack areas. A longer-term recommendation of the Master Plan calls for creation of bicycle parking areas with dressing rooms and showers where cyclists can change attire for office or to attend class.

Tony Wagner, special assistant to the vice president for finance and business, gave up his parking permit last year and now bicycles from his home in the Greentree area of State College to his Old Main office. When he drove and parked at the HUB deck, it was a 20-minute trip. Now, it is a 10-minute bike ride, and he parks in a bike rack directly behind the building.

"I absolutely would recommend cycling or walking as an alternate means of getting to campus," he said. "I like the exercise. It's a good way to start the day. I've found winter to be manageable by dressing comfortably. There are not that many days of bad weather that would preclude you from riding a bicycle. You can make it work."

Bicycle registration, which is required in the Centre Region, provides an opportunity for distribution of information and a reference guide on state and local regulations regarding bicycles. When fall classes begin, University Police and State College Police conduct an intensive, monthlong law enforcement and public education campaign.

Education is a key, said Rick Gilmore, assistant professor of psychology and CRBC representative to the Bicycle Users Group, made up of University personnel, representatives of the Centre Region Planning Commission, and representatives of the bicycling community. The group meets monthly during the academic year and discusses, among other things, bike pathway location, surfacing and maintenance; rack locations; and security issues.

"This really is an opportune time to put forward a comprehensive plan to make Penn State a leader in alternative forms of transportation," he said. "I think pedestrians, cyclists and motorists can co-mingle and get along. But there is room for improvement in education and behavior toward one another. As the number of cyclists grows, there must be recognition that we all have to share roads and sidewalks."

Gilmore sees two main problems to successful co-mingling.

"Many motorists don't realize that bikes have the same rights to use roadways as do motor vehicles. Unfortunately, many bicyclists don't realize this either. Some consequences of this basic misunderstanding are motorists who drive unsafely near bicycles and cyclists who fail to observe the basic rules of the road."

He said the problems can be solved, but there is not a quick fix or a single solution.

"We have to be more involved in education in the future. All three -- motorists, cyclists and pedestrians -- have different responsibilities and guidelines that apply."

For more information about the Bicycle User's group or to suggest ways to improve bicycle facilities on campus, contact Bruce Younkin at bay1@psu.edu or (814) 863-0164. For information about the Centre Region Bicycle Coalition, contact Brian Dempsey at bad5@psu.edu or (814) 865-1226, or consult the organization's Web site at http://www.centrebike.org.

Last Updated April 29, 2009