Danielle Casillas still feels numbness in her leg from her collision with a truck last year.
Casillas, a material science and engineering graduate student, was biking her usual commute to UCLA when the accident happened. Now she takes the bus, though she said if there were more bike lanes in Westwood she would consider switching back.
In 2011, the rate of collisions involving cyclists on the stretch of Westwood Boulevard where a bike lane has been proposed was almost 32 times higher than the collision rate of Los Angeles roads in general.
Yet plans to add a bike lane to that stretch of road came to an unceremonious halt. In November, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the 5th District that encompasses UCLA, pulled the plug on a study to evaluate the traffic impact of the proposal, effectively bringing progress to an end.
UCLA’s massive population and institutional voice gives it the power to combat the minority of homeowners blocking the bike lane. The school can play a role in shaping the safety of its neighborhood by supporting UCLA groups that advocate for bike lanes and increased bike safety.
Koretz told the Daily Bruin in November that his reason for canceling the study was the “firestorm of opposition from the community.” He added, “Regardless of what the study reported, it would be unlikely that I would support (the bike lanes).”
Since then, multiple stakeholder groups have sought to draft Chancellor Gene Block as a champion for safer bike access to campus. Block and the UCLA administration owe it to these groups to respond to their call and use UCLA’s institutional weight to try and restart progress on the proposal.
UCLA, which makes up a large part of the 5th District’s community, needs to show its presence in the debate. By entering the ring as a political player in the bike lane debate, UCLA can help balance the influence coming from a vocal base of Westwood homeowners.
The 5th District contains a population of 260,000 individuals, and yet the decision to drop the bike lane proposal was the result of fairly narrow interests. Much of the opposition to the bike lanes came from groups such as the Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners Association, which organized against the project.
These groups cite issues like increased congestion and a decreased amount of street parking as reasons not to implement the bike lanes. Yet without a study, there is nothing available to verify these issues are real concerns. Koretz is making his decisions based on speculation, not fact.
While it’s unclear what a study would find, it is apparent that a bike lane would benefit the 5.5 percent of students and 3.2 percent of UCLA employees that bike to campus. It’s the responsibility of the UCLA administration to advocate for these people’s safety.
The need for a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard, a popular street used by cyclists going to and from UCLA, is obvious. For example, Google Maps does not consider the street to be a “bicycle-friendly road.
UCLA has played a small role in the bike lane debate. Although individual groups of students and professors have attended town hall meetings and organized through patchwork groups like the UCLA Bike Coalition, without administrative involvement and the full force of the UCLA institution standing behind these efforts, the attempts of individual community members will not hold as much weight.
The UCLA Bicycle Coalition, in conjunction with the UCLA Bicycle Academy, recently wrote a letter to Chancellor Block in which they proposed the creation of a“Healthy Campus Access Initiative with the goal of developing bicycle friendly routes to UCLA.”
In order for the letter to have substantial weight on the current bike lane debate, Chancellor Block needs to stand behind the coalition in its efforts, and look into the formation of a committee like the one outlined in the letter.
Steps like these will allow the mobilization of the University to become apparent to Koretz and other players, and bring bike lanes back into the spotlight as a pressing issue.
UCLA can surely muster the force to get more involved in an issue that affects so many community members daily. With the support of the administration, UCLA can create its own firestorm of support.