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Vantage Point


A Campus Commitment to Keep on Cycling

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With its wide streets, mild climate, and level terrain, Davis, Calif., has all the makings of a bicycle-friendly city. Add to that a university, within the city limits, that is not only committed to environmental sustainability, but also has a large population of young adults on the move to, from, and within its 5,300-acre campus. The result is that the University of California, Davis, is the only platinum-level bicycle-friendly university and business in the United States, as recognized by the League of American Bicyclists.

The pro-bike culture became firmly entrenched at UC Davis in the mid-1960s, when the city dedicated part of its streets to the nation’s first bike lanes. Following suit, the university built a network of bike paths to connect with those throughout the city and restricted motor vehicle traffic within the core area of campus. Next, the university revised its campus planning process to incorporate bicycle-related considerations. New buildings, for example, are always designed with an eye toward circulation routes of pedestrians as well as bicyclists, and feature bike parking areas near their entrances.

Increasing Participation

Since 1972, UC Davis has constructed more than two dozen roundabouts to improve the traffic flow and student safety at busy campus intersections. We also introduced “scramble signals” at places where high volumes of bikes and cars converge. Activated by pressing a button, these signals enable bicyclists (and pedestrians) to turn the traffic lights red so that they can proceed freely through the intersections without any interference from motor vehicles.

To encourage students to enjoy the health and environmental benefits of cycling, UC Davis employs a full-time coordinator for its bicycle program and operates a student-run facility in the heart of campus that offers bike rentals, sales, and repairs. The Bike Barn, one of the busiest full-service bike shops in the country, repairs more than 10,000 bikes each year. It also operates the Aggie Bike Buy program, which enables incoming students to place an online order and pick up their customized bike—complete with lights, accessories, and licensing—when they arrive on campus.

Nine years ago, based on the results of our annual travel survey, about 35 percent of our campus population reported that the bicycle was their preferred mode of transportation. By last year, that figure had grown to 45.3 percent, which means that we have about 21,000 bikes on campus every day. The boost in participation came after we increased investments in three areas of our bicycle program: education, enforcement, and infrastructure.

More Safety and Security Measures

On the education front, we promote the bicycle program during student orientation and conduct free programs on the basics of bike riding and repairs—helpful to students who may never have ridden a bike or haven’t been on one since getting a driver’s license. We also offer bicycle tours of the campus and the city for incoming students to become familiar with places they can visit and ways to get there.

Several years ago, transportation services partnered with the campus police department to produce the Bicycle Education and Enforcement Program (BEEP). The online course, which includes a quiz and takes approximately 45 minutes to complete, covers traffic rules and regulations, and ways to safely navigate the campus by bike. Most people take the course for educational purposes, although about 40 percent take it because they received a citation from the sworn police officers on campus. (Most citations are issued for running stop signs and riding on prohibited areas, such as sidewalks and landscaping.) Through an arrangement with the county superior court, we are able to offer BEEP as a diversionary program to first-time offenders, who pay $70 for the course rather than $200 for the citation.

Another partnership with the campus police enabled us to purchase small GPS devices for students. Once attached to a bike, the device can be tracked via a smartphone—not only by the bike’s owner, but also by other people using the same app—to locate a missing or stolen bike. The campus police, most of whom patrol on bikes, also help round up the nearly 1,000 bicycles that are abandoned on campus each year, usually by graduating seniors. After determining that the bikes aren’t stolen or wanted back, our program coordinator donates some to local charitable organizations, sells some for scrap metal, and consigns the remainder to a biannual auction. Proceeds from the auctions go back into the bicycle program, which operates on approximately $600,000 annually.

About 75 percent of that budget is devoted to maintaining the UC Davis bicycling infrastructure, including 29,000 parking spaces and miles of asphalt paths that must be resurfaced, striped, and kept free of potholes. Throughout the campus, we maintain numerous air stations for pumping up tires and several tool stations where bicyclists have free access to various wrenches for making adjustments and repairs. In recent years, we have invested heavily in new bike racks for many buildings, replacing the old “fenderwheel bender” models with high-security racks that enable the locking of multiple portions of a bike, not just the front tire. For long-term security, students can rent a bike locker or a bike cage that includes an air pump and tools. And, for just $20, students can safeguard their bikes when school is not in session through our summer storage program.

Fewer Cars on Campus

UC Davis now has nearly 36,000 students and 10,000 faculty and staff. As the campus has grown over the years, the business-as-usual scenario for transportation services would have meant building additional parking facilities to accommodate the increased demand. Instead, we have focused on encouraging people not to drive alone, whether that means walking, taking the bus or train, carpooling, vanpooling, or bicycling.

As one example, we created the goClub to motivate people to choose anything other than a single-occupancy vehicle as their preferred mode of transportation. Bicyclists who join receive incentives such as 24 complimentary parking permits for use on non-biking days, a 20 percent discount on bike locker rentals, emergency rides home, discounts on using the campus transit system, and free use of shower facilities on campus. Annual membership in the club is free to anyone who registers a bike with the university.

The 10 institutions that make up the University of California System have all adopted the goal of reducing the usage of single-occupancy vehicles by 10 percent by 2025. We recently hired a transportation consultant to help us create additional incentives to encourage and reward people to choose an alternative to driving alone. At the same time, we recognize the need to provide and continue maintaining the infrastructure that makes bicycling convenient and comfortable for our students, faculty, and staff.

SUBMITTED BY Cliff Contreras, director, transportation services, University of California–Davis