Columns / Discourse / January 24, 2018

Bike Nice: Riding my bike from WAC to SMC and back

Once upon a time, when asked to describe Knox College in a few words, I said the college had a “human scale.”

While the Knox campus is manageable without wheels, it’s now bigger from east to west with the construction of the Whitcomb Art Center.

Perhaps you’ve hustled to get from WAC to SMC in the 10 minutes between classes. Have you thought about biking to get across campus more quickly?

More students riding more bikes equals a good thing.

But it’s not a good thing. As I’ve pointed out before, bikers don’t feel safe on the street when cars are too fast and too close. By the same token, pedestrians don’t feel safe on the sidewalk when bike traffic is close and fast.

Which brings us to the best way to get from WAC to SMC—0.4009 miles via sidewalks through campus. I measured it myself, down to five decimal places, on the Gmaps Pedometer website.

But what if bikers rode on South Street instead? Via South Street, WAC to SMC is 0.4596 miles. It’s about 260 feet farther if the biker takes the street instead of the sidewalk.

The problem, as far as bikers are concerned, is that traffic on South Street is too fast. I’ve suggested that when the speed differential reaches three-times, it feels too fast to share the lane. To a biker at 10 mph, a car at 30 mph in the same lane feels too fast. But to a walker at three mph, a biker flying by at 10 mph also feels too fast.

Neither South Street nor our campus sidewalks, as currently configured, can comfortably handle a three-times speed differential. Yes, they could be wider, but that’s not going to happen.

The solution is slower. Slower car traffic on South Street will make it safer—that’s for sure. And a slower South Street could draw away some cross-campus bike traffic, which would make the sidewalks safer.

Everywhere could be safer for everybody. But students will have to take the initiative.

Students need, students deserve, a more “neighborhood-like” feel to this neighborhood in which they live. The administration could ask for lower speed limits, but we don’t live here—we have our own neighborhoods. This is politics, all politics is local, and this here is your local.

If you, Knox students, are tired of feeling unsafe, if you really want a nicer, slower, quieter neighborhood—it’s up to you.

The precedent for lower speeds in the college neighborhood has already been established. The speed limit in the Carl Sandburg College neighborhood is 20 mph, even though few walk there. That same speed would be appropriate for several of the streets in your neighborhood.

Register to vote, contact your elected representatives and start petitions on the streets where you live and walk.

And even if you don’t win the battle against speed on the streets, it’s still possible for bikers to take unilateral action and ride a lot slower on campus sidewalks. The issue is your safety, the human scale of your campus and community.


Peter Bailley

Tags:  biking smc speed limit WAC

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