University transportation coordinators are implementing new bike safety initiatives this semester to ensure that student cyclists travel to their destinations unharmed and with minimal danger along their routes.
As the summer weather persists into early September, students are continuing to ride their bikes to class. However, with the winter months looming, traffic congestion and slippery terrain provide ample hazards and causes for students’ concern.
Spencer Hurst emphasized the challenges he often encounters when biking on College Avenue.
“There’s no shoulder on College Ave., and I think technically bikes aren’t allowed on the sidewalks either,” Hurst (freshman - energy engineering) said. “Getting through downtown on a bike is really difficult.”
Dashiell Papula expressed similar apprehension regarding Penn State’s main road and added that he avoids it entirely.
“To be honest, I don’t bike on College Ave. because it doesn’t look that bike accessible,” Papula (senior – material science/engineering). “Pedestrians don’t look for cyclists at crosswalks – they’re only expecting cars.”
Penn State Transportation recognizes that various roadblocks can render bike rides around campus less than smooth.
Cecily Zhu is University Park’s sustainable transportation program coordinator and she addressed some of the new changes taking place – both on College Avenue and elsewhere - including the establishment of a new Bicycle Education and Enforcement Program (BEEP).
“Our sidewalks are pretty wide - there are some redesigns that have been in the works,” she said. “Especially with how many crosswalks are across College Avenue, a lot of [the redesigns] are focused on making those crossings shorter and safer and more visible for everyone.”
Zhu added that the early stages of the school year are particularly crucial for transportation safety due to the variety of students sharing campus space.
“There’s typically a cycle with the academic year - when we have new students coming into the area, we typically have a lot of new cyclists on the road as well,” she said. “Folks who maybe have biked before, but this is probably their first time using it as a mode of transportation, and not realizing that they have a responsibility to share the road.”
In terms of specific obstacles on local roads, Hurst said negotiating space between cars and pedestrians requires a great deal of effort.
“Avoiding cars can be difficult because sometimes you’re forced into the street by pedestrians on the sidewalk,” he said. “I know that’s where you should be – but cars make it difficult to navigate.”
Students agree that travel alterations to College Avenue would be a positive addition for all parties involved.
Zhu explained that while Penn State’s jurisdiction regarding such changes is officially limited to campus grounds, the university and the borough of State College still retain a close partnership where all transportation safety is involved.
“When we’re looking at College Avenue, the north is university property and the south is borough property,” she said. “While our direct jurisdiction is technically separated by property lines, the university works very closely with the borough and vice versa to make sure any changes benefit the community as a whole."
Hurst advocated for some of the changes he would like to see in the near future.
“Maybe making one side of the street’s parking into a bike lane would be good because that would make it easier for bikes to get around,” he said. “There’s plenty of parking as is downtown because of all the parking garages.”
Zhu said that under state law, helmets are not required for bikers over the age of 12. However, she strongly recommended wearing them and urged students to visit biking.psu.edu to learn about bike registration, route maps and resources, and more.
“Being able to have more education and enforcement around the policy is really changing the expectations of everyone sharing the spaces,” she said. “That’s definitely a big task, but we’re hoping that this program will help with it.”