Cyclist

A police officer rides a bike down Guadalupe Street.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Who is right — the driver or the cyclist? Well, it depends. We’ve all seen it: a situation in which a cyclist gets cut off by a car and demands an apology. Perhaps the cyclist, in his or her anger, is right to yell and scream at the person within the vehicle blasting music and being completely oblivious to the outside world. Alternatively, perhaps the cyclist needs to take a step back and understand the moving parts in this sort of situation.

One morning last week, I went to fill up my car at the Chevron station across from Ken’s Donuts. At the pump, as the numbers adjacent to “sale” were regrettably moving a lot faster than those adjacent to “gallons,” I witnessed one of these battles of the machines. 

A Ken’s customer had just exited the store. She got into her SUV, paused and began to back up. If you have ever driven to Ken’s, you know that it is not the easiest place to safely back out of. Guadalupe Street curves right after the store, making it difficult to view oncoming traffic. Nevertheless, the SUV reversed and almost hit a cyclist; it cut off another. The cyclist that was cut off began screaming words at the car that The Daily Texan might not like to print. Who was in the wrong here, and how should we address the overall problem of the coexistence of drivers and cyclists on the road?

In this instance, it could probably be best argued that the SUV committed the offense. Although the bicycles were moving fast around the blind corner, the driver should have taken more care to check her surroundings. Of course, incidents like this are not representative of the typical driver or cyclist. However, tussles like this one are very common around campus. Who has the rightful claim to the road? It isn’t black and white.

According to Texas bicycle law, “bicyclists have the rights and duties of other vehicle operators.” Driving relies on trust and the respect of the law. It is a dangerous place, but you expect other vehicles not to kill you. Things run smoothly when people understand their role on the road and have a mutual respect for other drivers. I would argue that this needs to also apply to the relationship between drivers and cyclists. 

In this complex relationship, there are distinct roles for the two sides that must be recognized. First, the driver of the large vehicle clearly has the power to defy the cyclist. The driver needs to understand this power and use it responsibly. Cyclists may be annoying to work with, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect on the road. Secondly, the cyclist’s role is one of understanding and submission. You play chicken with two bikes, not a car and a bike. Nobody wants to run you off the road. It can just be difficult to deal with a cyclist on an already busy road.

Drivers have their lanes, and now cyclists have their own protected lanes on Guadalupe. When we encounter each other on the road, let’s be courteous and show mutual respect. Drivers, understand your power and don’t abuse it. Cyclists, hang in there and remember that the driver probably can’t hear you when you’re yelling at them. Oh, and remember that the kumbaya circle meets on the south mall tonight. Hope to see y’all there.

Olsen is a finance senior from Argyle.

The weather on Thursday was fantastic — 65 and sunny, with a slight breeze — an idyllic last day of class for many seniors on the 40 Acres and a perfect day to celebrate and encourage bicycle commuting as a sustainable, healthy and fun way of reaching campus through UT’s annual “Bike to UT Day” kickoff, part of the broader national Bicycle Month celebration. However, the celebratory mood soured as news of 47 cyclists receiving tickets in North Campus spread Thursday morning. The ticketing was part of the Austin Police Department’s “special assignment bike initiative” aimed at increasing pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular safety near campus.

When I perused comments on KUT’s piece about the incident in the late afternoon, it seemed that commenters were generally toeing along generational and socioeconomic divides, with older Austinites commending the ticketing and emphasizing that the large student and young professional population in Austin needs to ride with respect if they want to receive respect, while students protested that the ‘sting’ adversely affected those living on student wages and could have negative effects on cycling modal share to campus.

Specific comments I heard on campus throughout the day were that students regularly feel crowded by the small (and unsafe) passing distance afforded to them by cars and buses at the specific 5-way intersection where the ticketing took place, that the intersection was hard to accelerate through on an uphill in the northern direction, that cars, and the infrastructure that favors them, are the real problem at play across our city. Some said that APD should be out after “real” problems, like drunk drivers.

As a student, a cyclist and a lifelong Austinite from a cycling-savvy family, I think solution to this conflict lies somewhere in the middle, and I don’t really think these two generations of Austinites disagree as much as they think they do. I believe that APD was right in its statement that the areas around campus have become increasingly dangerous for everyone as density soars and pedestrians, cyclists and cars are left to mingle together. However, I also believe that ticketing is not the silver bullet. Protected bike lanes, clear pedestrian signals at busy intersections and enforcement regarding vehicular misbehavior are needed in tandem (no pun intended) with cyclist cooperation. This need for change is reflected in UT’s master plan, and in the city’s plans as well, but change is slow to catch up with a burgeoning population. As students and citizens, we need to stand up and demand that change. For ourselves, for future Longhorns, and for the ghost bikes that are locked up around town, tributes to too many downed cyclists — of the nine current bikes around town, six stand for clear victims of drunk driving, hit and runs, or vehicular negligence, with one the result of a tire blowout and the other two lacking clear information regarding cause of death.

It should be heavily weighted here that we live in a car-oriented, vehicle dominated world, and it is truly the ethical responsibility of the driver of a two-ton steel box to respect the rights of pedestrians and 30-lb bicycles to utilize our shared roadways. The share of trips being made by bicycle is increasing across the country with cycling billed as a $6.1 billion dollar industry in 2012 by the League of American Bicyclists. But just as our infrastructure is lagging, our social and legal culture hasn’t caught up with the increase of city cycling — according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012 4,743 pedestrians and 726 cyclists were killed by vehicular traffic — a 6.5 percent increase from 2011, indicating that the road is certainly not being shared well in many places across the nation.

The long-term solution to this completely unnecessary loss of life doesn’t just depend on infrastructure improvements and fair enforcement, but also hinges on education. Unpredictable riders can be just as detrimental to cyclist and pedestrian safety as the drivers who don't find it necessary to give us space, or see fit to use their turn signals—I’ve never heard of a cyclist causing an accident in which a driver died, but the opposite case is rampant across the country, and we can all do ourselves a service by giving vehicles the utmost reason to respect us—something that certainly won’t happen if they see us as a lawless bunch. In short, much needs to change on the “other side” of law enforcement, driver behavior, and street infrastructure—all this on an order of magnitude higher than cyclists coming to full stops at intersections free of traffic—but I don't believe we can conscientiously shout for changes quite as loudly if we're in the wrong as well. There’s only so much I can say to a non-cyclist when I’m advocating for improved bike lanes on and near campus, and they ask me if that will stop them from getting run down in crosswalks or at stop signs. I emphasize to them that walking down the middle of Speedway texting isn’t safe for anyone, but I also admit that I, and my cycling community, need to play our part to keep the road safe. On that note, again, tickets are not the solution, because while they can be purged from one’s record with an ACA defensive cycling course, warnings offer a much more conversational and productive learning atmosphere than the anger I heard from my classmates this morning.

The good news in all of this is that we as students are good at standing up for things that we believe in. I’ve seen it time and time again in my four years on campus, and I hope that the anger felt by the ticketed will become a productive conversation between the city, the university, and the population of both, about making better infrastructure and policies (such as Idaho’s stop law which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signals) as well as personal safety decisions that will protect our entire campus and city community. I believe that cycling is a social and sustainable good, as well as a positive personal health choice, and while pedestrians may not feel it at this point in time on campus, safe cycling streets are also safe walking streets, with ample space away from cars. Cycling is empowering in every sense, and I hope that the sense we can do something—anything, from riding safely individually, to being aware of where we’re walking, to getting involved in advocacy— is the takeaway from Thursday’s sting operation. Whether next steps for you mean attending a cycling course, visiting UT’s own Orange Bike Project workshop or attending a Longhorn Bike Coalition meeting in the fall, I hope that you stand in solidarity with those who received tickets Thursday by taking note of systemic problems, and then by working collectively to make our community a safe and productive place for all Longhorns.

Mixon is a Plan II and environmental science senior from Austin. She lives in Hyde Park and cycles to campus daily. Roland, also a daily commuter, is an environmental science senior from Midlothian. Roland assisted in the compilation of statistics for this piece. Both Mixon and Roland are members of the Longhorn Bicycle Coalition, and will be co-directing the Campus Environmental Center for the 2014-15 academic year.

Alvaro Bastidas, founder of Please Be Kind to Cyclists, is working with the Texas Department of Transportation to find a compromise for creating roadside memorials of cyclists. Since 2006, the local organization has been displaying ghost bikes to serve as a memorial for cyclists who were hit and killed by vehicles.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

A white cross on the side of the road is a universal message of a fatal car crash, but, in Austin and several other cities around the country, a white painted bike is a memorial used to represent the death of a cyclist. Lately, these memorials are at risk of being taken down.

These white painted bikes are called “ghost bikes,” which serve as a memorial for those cyclists who were hit and killed by a vehicle. The placement of these bikes is a worldwide movement that works to raise awareness of cyclist fatalities.

Within each city, groups independently contribute to setting up ghost bikes through local organizations and anonymous donors. Since 2006, Please Be Kind to Cyclists, a local Austin organization dedicated to the awareness and education of cyclists, has been displaying ghost bikes along the crash sites.

“[Ghost bikes] are a symbolic memorial,” said Alvaro Bastidas, founder of Please Be Kind to Cyclists. “We not only honor the lives of those we lost but also create a symbol of hope that drivers become aware of the lives we lost from a preventable crash.”

This organization alone has mounted nine ghost bikes around Austin and in nearby cities. Each time a fatality occurs, the group responds within days by holding a memorial for the cyclist, inviting family and friends to attend the ceremony.

While these bikes are intended to commemorate the death of a cyclists, the process can take a toll on the individuals putting up the memorials. Danny Gamboa, filmmaker and a member of the Ghost Bike Los Angeles Team, sees about 75 bikes placed annually. This has inspired Gamboa to make a hour-long documentary about the ghost bikes and the impact placing the bikes has had on the
individuals involved. 

“When I put up a ghost bike, I put myself into the person’s shoes,” Gamboa said. “It could have been me or my partner. It could have been someone I know, and, the thing is, it is somebody’s partner. It is somebody’s friend. When I put up a ghost bike for a little boy and I have a little boy myself, it hits me.”

Each time the ghost bikes are put on display, the bikes are decorated with flowers and pictures from family members of the victims.

In 2010, Genea Barnes saw one of these ghost bikes after visiting New York, sparking a small project of documenting the bikes that expanded once her Kickstarter campaign succeeded. Since then, she’s photographed 66 ghost bikes and personalized each image by photoshopping images of individuals related to the victims into the bike shots.

“The ghost bike represents the worst outcome of people not being conscious of other people,” Barnes said. “I feel like you can walk by a memorial every day and you don’t feel the impact of it anymore. You notice it once or twice, but then it goes to the background. I want to put a reminder that ghost bikes are real, and these memorials represent real people that are gone.”

Many ghost bikes are noticed initially but are forgotten after a period of time. For some bikes, all that’s left of the memorial is a white tire or frame because of the lack of attention and maintenance the bikes are given over the years. 

In response to the lack of maintenance, many cities have decided to start removing ghost bikes. This has upset ghost bike organizations that debate that ghost bikes hold emotional ties and, when removed, a memorial is removed.  

In Austin, Bastidas is working with the Texas Department of Transportation to find a compromise for creating memorials for cyclists. Within the City of Austin, different ordinances are in place, allowing the placement of ghost bikes, but, along the federal highways, where many fatalities occur, ghost bikes are removed.

“If they’re too close to the roadway, they fear that someone driving is going to hit the bicycle,” Bastidas said. “The metal from the bike can go through the windshield and injure the driver.”

About six of the nine bikes that have been placed around Austin have been removed by the city for this reason. In order to reach a compromise with the Department of Transportation, Bastidas will be hosting a ride this Saturday. During this ride, the first ghost bike placed for Gay Simmons-Posey will be taken down. 

Along with the ride, Bastidas will be creating a sculpture made of bike parts as a fundraiser for the maintenance of the ghost bikes around the city.

“The person that represents the ghost bike was loved by somebody, was somebody’s friend and was somebody’s neighbor,” Bastidas said. “That person had a family, went to school, and went to work, so for us to completely dismiss that is out of our human capacity.”

A student cyclist was transferred to the University Medical Center after being struck by an automobile on the corner of Whitis Avenue and 27th Street in West Campus.

Martha Rey, who was present as first responders tended to the victim, said the victim was struck by a female motorist. Rey said the motorist stopped to render aid. 

“I was coming from Dean Keeton when I saw people gathered around a person on the ground,” Rey said. “Her windshield was completely shattered. There was a gash on the side of his face and his arm appeared to be caved in.”  

According to Rey, bystanders tried to stop the victim’s bleeding before Austin EMS, the Austin Police Department and UTPD arrived at the scene. 

Cpl. David Boyd, an APD spokesman, said the victim was conscious and breathing at the scene. There was no indication that the injuries were serious.

Warren Hassinger, an Austin EMS spokesman, confirmed that the victim had “non life-threatening injuries.” 

UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said UTPD was able to confirm that the victim was a student but was unable to provide specific details. 

According to Rey, several bystanders at the scene took pictures of the victim with their cell phones. 

“It was heartless,” Rey said. “It absolutely disgusted me. They didn’t even ask if he was going to be OK. Five or six of them went up to the victim, took their pictures and left.”  

 

In the recent opinion piece “Vicious Cycling,” Amil Malik addressed the issue of Austin cyclists running red lights. This is certainly a conversation worth having — when a cyclist disregards a signal he endangers himself, aggravates motorists and delegitimizes everyone on two wheels. However, instead of exploring the impacts of the specific action of running red lights, Malik used one encounter she had with one cyclist as grounds to characterize and subsequently rail against all cyclists. It is true that too many cyclists in Austin do run red lights, but to defame an entire group of people based on the actions of a subset within that group is fallacious and irresponsible journalism. A more informative and less personally offensive approach toward airing her grievances would involve a detailed discussion of specific problematic actions, not broad-stroke generalizations about everyone who uses a particular mode of transportation.

If Ms. Malik insists on addressing all cyclists as one, she could do so by apologizing to them for the thinly-veiled death threats she made in concluding her piece.

— Chad A. Greene, graduate student
Jackson School of Geosciences

On a recent evening, due to no fault of my own, a rogue cyclist almost crashed into my car.

Here’s what happened: Around 8:15 p.m. my car stood still, waiting for the light at 35th and Jefferson to change to green. The street was dark and empty except for one car behind me at the stoplight. A few seconds later, the light changed to green, and I drove forward. I was halfway across Jefferson when a cyclist suddenly appeared in my car’s path. The cyclist was turning left on Jefferson from the other side of 35th. He had ignored his red light, and his poor judgment landed him right in the path of my car. I hit the brakes, he pedaled fast and we managed to avoid a collision.

But what if I had hit the cyclist? People would assume it was my fault as the one driving the car, even though I was not the one running the red light.

Cyclists see themselves as victims of the road. On the Austin Cyclists Association website, the group warns members that “in Texas, hostility is often encountered by cyclists when sharing the road with cars, SUV’s and Trucks.” The website also warns cyclists of the potential retaliation from drivers if they resort to “shooting the bird” when frustrated on the road.

I have some news for cyclists: More often than not, it’s you, the rogue cyclists, not us, the innocent drivers, who ignore the law. This is especially true at UT. When I asked cyclists around campus about the rules they follow while biking, many (though not all) replied with nonchalance: “None” or “Whatever I feel like.”

Prodding further, I asked how these cyclists felt about their lawless rides. Akos Furton, a Plan II freshman, replied, “No shame.” Asked whether he had ever hit anyone, he said, “Not really … Well, I hit a cyclist if that counts. I was texting on my bike.”

As an afterthought, he added, “Don’t text while biking. It’s bad.”

Really? Who would have thought?

Cyclists feel that they are above the law, arguing that because they are neither pedestrians nor motorized vehicles, no law code applies to them. This lofty attitude has swept the nation. Randy Cohen, former author of “The Ethicist” column in The New York Times Magazine, justified cyclists in Manhattan running red lights. He wrote, “The rule-breaking cyclist that people decry: that’s me. I routinely run red lights ... I flout the law when I’m on my bike.”

Cohen qualifies his recklessness with the claim that his riding is ethical (if not legal). He explains, “I roll through a red light if and only if no pedestrian is in the crosswalk and no car is in the intersection — that is, if it will not endanger myself or anybody else.”

In other words, Cohen believes his own judgment is sufficient grounds for disobeying the law. He even urges fellow cyclists to do the same.

But Cohen’s approach has two flaws. First, it is illogical. A cyclist is a person on a bike. When that same person is driving a car, he or she must obey the law. When that same person is walking on the street, he or she must obey the law. There is nothing magical about a bicycle that gives the person on it the right to ignore the law.

Second, the point that cyclists have no proper legal classification (and can therefore come up with their own version of the law) is not relevant to the realities of traffic. Reckless cyclists who run red lights, bike into oncoming traffic and weave between pedestrians all partake in dangerous behavior that threatens everyone around them. Being a threat to society is an issue regardless of what the threat-giver’s legal classification is.

By law, and according to the UT Police Department, cyclists have to abide by the same rules as motorized vehicles. So, I have some words of advice for the many riders wreaking havoc in Austin: Obey the law. I might have missed this time, but I can make no promises about what could happen next time you find yourself driving head first into my car.

Malik is a Plan II and BHP freshman from Austin.

Lance Armstrong resigned as the chairman of Livestrong, his foundation dedicated to fighting cancer, in a statement issued Wednesday amidst mounting evidence that the award-winning cyclist used performance-enhancing drugs.

“To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship,” Armstrong said.

On Oct. 10, the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a report outlining the drug use by Armstrong and 11 of his teammates when he won the Tour De France seven times from 1999 to 2005. In a statement accompanying the report, USADA CEO Travis Tygart said the team, which was sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, created a “professionally designed” conspiracy to “groom and pressure athletes to use drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices.”

The report includes statements from 26 people, including 15 cyclists with knowledge of the team’s drug usage and documentary evidence including financial payments, emails and drug test results.

“The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,” Tygart said.

Livestrong vice chairman Jeff Garvey will replace Armstrong as chairman, and Armstrong will remain on Livestrong’s 15-member board of directors, according to Armstrong’s statement.

Calls and emails to members of University of Texas Cycling, a student organization that is sponsored in part by Armstrong’s cycling store, Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, were not returned by press time.

A 19-year-old female bicyclist was struck by a white Nissan Wednesday morning at 7:42 a.m. at the intersection of West 24th Street and Rio Grande Street.

Police reported the bicyclist was conscious at the scene. Austin Police Department Corporal Anthony Hipolito said the bicyclist admitted to officers at the scene that she did not have the right of way when turning. The bicyclist suffered minor injuries to her head and face, police said. Her name will be released when a public report of the accident is issued within the next couple of days.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Bicyclist hit crossing on 24th and Rio Grande

Slopes and Cyclist

The UT Safe Cycling Campaign hosted an event Wednesday afternoon to gather input from students to better bicycle safety on campus.

Photo Credit: Shila Farahani | Daily Texan Staff

In order to avoid the sometimes inevitable collision between bikers and pedestrians, a group is working to make UT-Austin a more pedestrian and cyclist friendly campus.

UT students gave their input on cyclist and pedestrian interactions yesterday at an interactive mapping event called Mapping Conflicts Areas on Campus, which attempted to identify campus areas of conflict between different modes of transportation, said community and regional planning graduate student Jared Genova. The event was hosted by the UT Safe Cycling Campaign, whose current focus is gathering input and opinions from students in order to make the University more accessible to both pedestrians and cyclists.

Community and regional planning graduate student Beth Rosenbarger led the event and said she, as a researcher in infrastructure and design, along with the UT Safe Cycling Campaign, is hoping to improve campus for cyclists and pedestrians and create a more environmentally sustainable campus.

“The University has an opportunity to be known as one of the most excellent cyclist and environmentally friendly campuses in the nation,” Rosenbarger said. “With a campus redesign currently in progress, now is the perfect time to reach our potential.”

The event provided multiple ways to gauge University opinion on the good and bad areas for commuting around campus. A large campus map was on display where passersby placed various colored stickers on streets that were either good or bad examples of pedestrian/cyclist interaction. Many participants also took a cyclist survey and wrote their opinions on a comment board.

The information gathered will be aggregated and presented at a panel discussion on April 13 in order to plan, design and create bicycle and pedestrian friendly spaces around campus.

Music junior Ammon Taylor participated in the interactive mapping and survey and said he cycles to stay healthy, enjoy himself and for many other ethical reasons.

“I have a passion for urban design and have come to the realization that cars make cities really shitty,” Taylor said.

Having commuted exclusively by bicycle for six years, Taylor said he thinks the most dangerous place on campus for pedestrians and cyclists is on 24th Street near Speedway and the Tower.

“I have seen bikes hit pedestrians in this area numerous times,” he said. “Pedestrians, especially those who text while crossing the street, need to be more aware and watch where they are going, and bicyclists should slow down and take better notice of their surroundings.”

Advertising junior John Aquino said he mainly walks to class and there are times when he crosses the street and cyclists do not stop at all.

“They sometimes even ride on the actual sidewalks,” Aquino said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are good cyclists out there, but many need to read up on the laws and rules concerning bike usage on campus.”

Civil engineering senior Aloysha King said he chooses to ride bikes to and from campus because it is a fun, efficient way of commuting that allows him to be more environmentally conscious and reduce his carbon footprint.

King said Speedway is a major conflict area for cyclists and pedestrians, especially on weekdays during the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“People are walking down Speedway in both directions, and cyclists don’t seem to have a designated path,” King said. “That confusion added with the construction going on makes it a lot harder to commute for both parties.”

Rosenbarger said cycling can sometimes be intimidating for newcomers who have never cycled in urban areas. The best way to get accustomed to cycling is by riding in groups and with people who know how cycling around campus works, she said. The UT Safe Cycling Campaign is in the process of implementing a cyclist/pedestrian education training program into all UT freshman orientations so incoming students have a better understanding about commuting around campus.