Lack of bike safety in Westwood prompts protests
By Sonali Kohli
Jan. 6, 2010 9:03 p.m.
All Omari Fuller saw as he was thrown off his bicycle was the Mitsubishi’s green bumper rushing toward his face, screeching to a precariously close halt.
Fuller, a first-year urban planning graduate student, was cycling on Wilshire Boulevard less than two miles from campus when his bicycle was hit by a swerving car on his way to his second week of classes.
“I have this memory of the bumper coming towards my head,” Fuller said, “So I feel very lucky to be here.”
Fuller is one of many student bicyclists who commute to campus daily during rush hour on streets without bike lanes, such as Wilshire Boulevard. The street is commonly referred to as “the gauntlet” by cyclists because of its large volume of fast-moving cars.
“I think the university needs to consider that a lot of people get to campus on a bicycle, and we have to do things to make sure that those students get to school safely as well,” Fuller said.
UCLA Transportation Services set out to increase bicycle use and ensure cyclists’ safety in 2006 with the Bicycle Master Plan, said Transportation Planning and Policy Manager Dave Karwaski.
Karwaski said the university has been trying to improve biking conditions around campus for the past three years, yet people are not aware of its efforts.
“It’s not like we weren’t expending effort,” he said. “We need to toot our horn a little more and let people know what we’re doing.”
These efforts include increasing the number of bike racks on campus and updating bike parking.
Karwaski said an indication of the department’s success is that the number of bikers on campus has increased from 679 in 2006 to 1,219 in 2009, according to the university’s Bike Rack Utilization Survey.
“They’ve done a lot as far as getting physical, tangible improvements here,” said Allison Mannos, a fourth-year Asian American studies student and member of the UCLA Bicycle Coalition. “I think the problem is that one of the things the bicycle plan was trying to address was commuter students.”
Karwaski agreed improvements need to be made in terms of safe routes to campus.
As a result, Transportation Services has drafted a letter to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation on behalf of the university, supporting the development of increasing bicycle safety on certain streets, Karwaski said, including sections of Wilshire Boulevard.
The letter has not yet been sent, but he said it will be faxed today.
“I think there’s a lot of influence that UCLA could have on the city that it’s not leveraging,” Fuller said.
Karwaski said the university encourages students to become involved in appealing to the city and demanding changes.
“If you have a constituency clamoring for something, it carries as much weight as a letter saying this is what UCLA thinks,” Karwaski said.
Some students agree that bicyclists should advocate for better biking conditions.
Appealing directly to the city allows students to bypass the university bureaucracy, Mannos said.
“We definitely would want (the university) to support what we’re doing, but we have a little bit more freedom and mobility than they do,” she said.
The student group Mannos helped found in October 2009 has sent a letter to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, attended a public input meeting and met with Transportation Services.
The group has a meeting with a city councilman next week to discuss biking, said Herbie Huff, a first-year urban planning graduate student and founder of the coalition.
“It is the university’s responsibility as an employer to take care of bicyclists,” said Michael Cahn, founder of the UCLA Bicycle Academy.
The group, which Cahn established in 2008 to represent the interests of faculty and staff cyclists on campus, drafted a petition in November appealing to the chancellor to improve cycling conditions to commuters and give bicycle transportation a higher priority in the university hierarchy, Cahn said.
The petition currently has approximately 100 signatories, including two Nobel laureates.
“This is a place of employment that has a certain weight politically,” Cahn said, “and I want to use that weight.”
Members of the UCLA community who wish to voice their input on how to improve bicycle safety around campus can visit http://www.beagreencommuter.com/blog/