Cyclists and pedestrians clash regularly on Speedway, especially in the sections of the mall that are still under construction and are only half as wide. All it would take to fix this, bike lane advocates say, is some paint on the ground to give cyclists their own space.
Not so fast. Dividing up Speedway would defeat the entire purpose of the new pedestrian mall. Worse still, the proposed bike lanes would endanger students.
Let’s remember why we’re rebuilding Speedway in the first place: to create a more attractive and welcoming public space for students. “The Mall will be a place for students to gather informally, an area where student services and student organizations can be promoted, a place for campus-wide festivals,” says the project website.
If the completed section in front of Gregory Gym is any indication, the Mall is already a big improvement over the crowded, narrow sidewalks on old Speedway. There’s a constant stream of Longhorns strolling down the wide brick road with tables and room for students to meet friends, do work or just watch the people go by. Others check out the numerous student organizations setting up stands along the Mall’s edges.
“There’s a lot of foot traffic,” says Chau Nguyen, a public health sophomore. According to Nguyen, who was running a busy Panera Bread donation stand for the Lions Club, student organizations are more visible with the wide-open design of the new Mall; it shows students that “you have events going on, things are on campus,” Nguyen said.
Taking away part of the Mall for bike lanes would jeopardize the social atmosphere it’s created because the lanes would not be safe. “With literally thousands of students walking across the mall at dozens of random points along the length of Speedway, a dedicated bike lane would put students and others walking across the lane at risk,” said the Speedway Mall project team in a statement to the Texan.
They are right. Imagine crossing a pair of bike lanes to get to one of the many classrooms along Speedway. Imagine doing that each time you talk to a student organization or sit with a friend at one of the new tables. Every now and then, you’d probably forget to look both ways and almost get into an accident with a cyclist — and it wouldn’t be your fault. Speedway Mall shouldn’t be designed that way. Walking through the heart of campus should never be a game of Frogger.
So, what about the eternal feud between cyclists and pedestrians? Bryant Castro, an arts of entertainment technologies freshman, said something sensible. “I don’t mind the bikes,” he said, but “it’s their job to watch out.” Cyclists, already notorious for flouting traffic laws, need to get off their high horse and be careful passing people on foot. The completed mall will be more than wide enough to slow down and give pedestrians some passing room.
If we all cooperate and give each other the space we need, we’ll reap the benefits of the Mall while still being on time to class. And come spring, when it’s finally finished, we can all backpedal from our obsession with bike lanes.
Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @OldRyanYoung.