Cyclists are one of those rarities on the UCLA campus, like a celebrity sighting. And even if you were to force a fleet of bikes on the student body, this is unlikely to change.
Last week, UCLA announced that it would implement a bike sharing program by spring 2017, and that it has already ordered the needed equipment. The program will consist of 130 bikes across 16 hubs and is meant to make traveling across the campus and Westwood efficient.
David Karwaski, senior associate director of UCLA Transportation, said he hopes that the bike share program will make UCLA more biker-friendly. The problem is that things happen in a certain order. You walk before you can run. You cram for a midterm before you regret not studying. And you lay down sufficient infrastructure before expecting people to use bikes on campus.
Taking into consideration UCLA’s terrain and the infrastructure currently in place in Westwood, biking is not the best way get to your destination. Without a major change in how UCLA accommodates bikers, UCLA Transportation’s launch of a bike share program is futile and will have limited usage.
Fourteen of the hubs for the bike share program are going to be located on campus, but if you look at a map, there aren’t many areas to bike. The only feasible area to bike is the strip of Bruin Walk between Pauley Pavilion and Election Walk, a distance that would take only four minutes to traverse on foot. The area around Wilson Plaza is another spot cyclists can use, but it only goes uphill from there.
UCLA’s stairs and hills make it a naturally unfriendly terrain for cyclists, who would probably find themselves walking their wheels more often than actually cycling. Of course, one way to avoid stairs would be to go around the campus, but the effort wouldn’t exactly be a step up. Charles E. Young Drive would be one of the few ways to do this, but there’s also traffic on that street.
Most importantly, the bike share program requires students to pay a fee to use the bikes. College students, saving up quarters just for laundry, aren’t going to cough up money just to ride a bike 400 meters. Moreover, a form of this bike share program is already in existence. Students can rent a bike for $60 per quarter from the UCLA Bike Shop. Employees with a parking permit can turn in their permit to get a free bike package.
And the lack of infrastructure in Westwood only compounds this problem. The Los Angeles City Council recently voted to move a proposed bike lane from Westwood Boulevard to Gayley Avenue. Riders trying to get to or from class are unlikely to take the longer Gayley route when Westwood Boulevard is a more direct way to travel. The discontinuous bike lanes encapsulate how lacking Westwood is when it comes to biker-friendly infrastructure.
UCLA Transportation predicts that around 800 students, 500 employees and 50 Westwood residents will be using the bike share program. Those numbers are way too optimistic. In all, riding a bike in Westwood isn’t convenient enough to inspire that kind of culture here, even with the establishment of a bike share program.
If the implementation of this program would suddenly change Paul Koretz’s mind on the usefulness of a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard, then this would be a great idea. But that’s not going to happen, and for now, Westwood Boulevard will remain unfriendly to bikers.
UCLA Transportation has already gone ahead and placed an order for the equipment and bicycles needed to establish this program, which makes the possibility of low usage even more concerning. With student participation levels unknown, the returns on this investment are bound to be disappointing. In all likelihood, the entire student body will end up subsidizing bike rides for a handful of students.
Furthermore, biker-specific infrastructure takes time to implement. Even if UCLA Transportation puts this program in place with hopes that Westwood will one day be biker-friendly, it’s going to take several years before that can happen.
Certainly, some would say that the bike share program will get students to use bikes across campus. And yes, the bike share program will undoubtedly get a few students to use a bike to get to class. But the numbers it would draw would remain low, rather than attract the 800 students and 500 employees UCLA Transportation forecasts. As such, the usefulness of such a program is going to be limited to a very small sample of UCLA students.
While biking is environmentally friendly, Westwood and the UCLA campus are lacking in the required infrastructure. In order to create a biking culture at UCLA, the needed bike lanes and infrastructure would have to be created first. Only then would it make sense to place orders for a bike share program to get students to bike across campus.
UCLA Transportation has made an unnecessarily wasteful purchase by deciding to launch this bike share program. And without the appropriate space to bike, this hopeful endeavor is bound to crash.