This story was originally published by Lynsey Ng with the Iowa State Daily.
On a warm spring day, Iowa State’s campus appears to swell with people. Eager to enjoy the outdoors after a long winter, students pack the sidewalks and roadways as they head to their next class.
CyRide drivers carefully navigate the crowded streets, keeping a wary eye out for distracted students that jaywalk in front of their bus. Meanwhile, bikers intermittently zip past the buses and precariously weave through the throngs of students on the crosswalks.
This rush hour scene is a daily occurrence all around campus. It’s an accident waiting to happen.
“The current infrastructure doesn’t support the amount of traffic we have every day throughout campus,” said Lt. Elliott Florer of the ISU Police Department. “More students biking and walking only increases the chance for a negative interaction between the two.”
With enrollment at ISU increasing each academic year, more students are biking to and from class than ever before. Because of the lack of proper infrastructure on campus, these bikers often find themselves unsure of their place on the roadways and sidewalks. This confusion, coupled with increased congestion, creates a greater potential for incidents involving bikes, vehicles and pedestrians.
Iowa State tasked Industrial Design 592, a class of engineering, design and community planning graduate students, with developing a transportation plan that benefits bikers, pedestrians and motorists. They generated a multi-phase proposal to reduce crowding and improve transportation safety on campus. Additionally, Student Government is developing a website for bike information and is planning to submit an application to be classified as a Bike Friendly University.
The Transportation Committee was formed by Student Government to review the proposal and explore implementation options. The three-phase bid concentrates on increasing awareness, incorporating bike lanes and programs into existing infrastructure and connecting areas of campus through bike-specific paths.
The proposed changes in the first phase primarily focus on reinforcing awareness of others on the roadway. It would increase street signage across campus to remind people to be conscious of their surroundings. Additionally, it would more clearly define shared sidewalks and roadways by painting lanes or sharrows, which are the symbols of a double arrowhead above a bicycle.
The estimated cost of this phase is relatively inexpensive when considering the increase in awareness it would provide, said Tony Behnke, Chair of the Transportation Committee.
“[An infusion of] $25,000 would dramatically increase bike safety on campus,” Behnke said in a presentation at the Student Government Senate meeting on Apr. 22.
This phase is centered on the implementation of a bike share program that would make 322 bikes available to students, faculty and staff. The bike docking stations would be distributed throughout campus to be conveniently accessible to all users. Behnke said the program aims to provide an expedient and sustainable way to get around campus.
While the bike share program offers convenience, sustainability and safety benefits, it presents issues with time frame, cost and scope.
A program of this scale would take at least two years to implement, and the projected cost exceeds $800,000. The Transportation Committee is currently seeking funding from various grants, the Iowa Department of Transportation, Iowa State and student fees.
The final concern is that the program won’t be worth the cost and effort unless its scope encompasses all of Ames.
“No one’s going to want to ride a bus or drive their car to campus and then hop on a bike from there,” Behnke said. “Ideally, people could ride these bikes home, or to the store or just around Ames.”
The incorporation phase also proposes restricted delivery times to buildings along Osborn Drive and the elimination of street parking along this road. The restricted delivery times would limit outside vehicles to a specific window of time each day, therefore reducing the traffic on Osborn to buses and bikes for the majority of the day.
The removal of street parking on Osborn Drive would reduce crowding and increase traffic flow. It would free up the necessary space to incorporate two-way bike lanes in the middle of the road, with auto traffic on both sides. The design allows CyRide buses to access multiple stops along Osborn without interfering with bike traffic.
“The bike lanes in the center would help CyRide operate more efficiently,” Behnke said. “Right now the buses are entering and exiting lanes to drop off students, and we don’t want bikers riding through the high volume of traffic on the outside lanes.”
Increased efficiency and safety are paramount to CyRide, according to Sheri Kyras, CyRide director of transit. She said they make between 40,000 and 45,000 trips to campus every day class is in session, and that each increase in student enrollment subsequently increases the chance for incidents with bikers. Bikers would be safer in the middle of the road, she said.
However, the removal of this parking comes at a price.
“The current vendor and medical emergency parking out front would need to be absorbed elsewhere, which would then displace other parking availability,” said Mark Miller, program manager at ISU’s Parking Division. “It’s something we’re considering, but parking is already pretty limited on campus.”
The connection phase contains the most extensive and costly infrastructure additions. The goal is to make it convenient and safe to travel through campus for both bikers and pedestrians.
The main feature of the connection phase is the addition of bike-specific paths that cut through campus by linking new bike paths to existing ones. The current bike path from Wallace Road to Farmhouse Lane would be expanded across central campus to Bissell Road. Another bike-specific path will be added to connect Union Drive to Parks Library. These paths would include a pedestrian sidewalk flanked by a bike lane on both sides.
Some students oppose the idea.
“I prefer the open, natural feel of campus,” said AJ Boeh, a sophomore in construction engineering who bikes. “Bike paths might help, but I don’t want more concrete on central campus.”
Regarding the roads through campus, bike lanes and boxes will be painted on all roads that are wide enough to safely do so. These areas provide a defined place for bikers on the street with cars. The bike boxes will be located just before intersections so that bikers are in plain view of motorists as they wait at the light.
The final element in the connection phase would be the addition of gates on both ends of Bissell Road. They would operate similarly to the gates on Osborn Drive, restricting outside vehicles during daytime hours. This would reduce car traffic through an area that is heavily traveled on bike or foot, since CyRide’s 23 Orange route does not extend to this area.
With so many people affected by these proposed changes, no solution will be perfect.
“Lots of voices have to come to the table, and someone is going to have to make an uncomfortable decision,” Florer said. “If we really want to fix this broken system, all sides will have to make concessions.”
In a survey conducted by the College of Design, 79 percent of respondents said they have ridden a bike on campus. However, more than 50 percent of the total respondents indicated that they were unaware of the bike laws and policies at ISU. The Transportation Committee intends to fix that.
They are in the process of creating a website specifically for bike information. It would synthesize all the available education materials and resources into one place. The site would address bike registration, campus routes, repair stations and cycling clubs, among other topics pertinent to bike users.
Bike Friendly University Application
Iowa State is in the process of applying for classification as a Bike Friendly University. This designation would increase funding for transportation systems on campus and would potentially help students feel safer when riding their bike. The extensive application process provides feedback on areas of improvement and suggestions on further implementation.
While the fate of the infrastructure proposal remains to be seen, Dan Breitbarth, president of Student Government, said he already considers the initiative successful.
“We need to change the tone of campus,” Breitbarth said. “This proposal started the conversation on the infrastructure at Iowa State. Now we need to do something about it.”