The annual national Bike Week event always provides a good opportunity to reflect on the state of bicycling where I live and ride. On the one hand, things are moving much too slowly in terms of the implementation of good, bike-friendly infrastructure where I usually commute. On the other, there are hopeful signs that change is in the air.
Campus bike week events at Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach, highlighted the continuing need for complete streets and improved campus access for bikes, pedestrians, and transit users. The campus transportation director has yet to embrace bicycling and transit as anything but last resort options and instead is spending more than $41 million on a new parking structure. Moreover, campus transportation officials were largely absent from the student-organized bike week events. Nevertheless, the LA County Department of Public Works (DPW) has recently proposed a road diet and protected bike lanes (!) for Temple Ave., a major thoroughfare that runs next to campus. The campus also has a new President and there are signs of a willingness to work with local transit agencies to possibly bring bus service closer to the heart of campus.
Bike week at Cal Poly kicked off with a roundtable discussion of alternative transportation visions for Cal Poly. The discussion was organized by the University Cycling Coalition and included representatives from Foothill Transit, the City of Pomona, the LA County Department of Public Works and LA Co. Dept. of Public Health, advocacy group Bike SGV, Students for Quality Education, Cal Poly’s sustainability coalition, as well as students and faculty from Cal Poly and Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC).
Attendees heard a presentation from students pointing out the desperate need for alternatives to exorbitant parking rates, the university’s lack of action on a bike master plan (called for during last year’s bike week), and marginalization of transit access and transit users. Despite the university’s own 2007 “Climate Action Plan” (CAP) that calls for reducing single occupancy vehicle use by 30%, the number of students who drive to campus alone has remained at 80% since the report was released. Clearly, what is needed is leadership that will help this university make good on its commitment to reduce its reliance on the automobile for transit to/from campus.
The major takeaways from the discussion were:
1. Improve transit access to campus. Currently, Cal Poly is served by 6 bus lines (2 Metro, 4 Foothill Transit), and working with Foothill Transit to establish a stop for the nearby Silver Streak express bus would make it 7. What the campus needs is an on-campus bus station that is conveniently located, has shelters and benches, and is well-lit for safety at night. Bus riders currently stand in the dirt on Temple Ave and wait for buses. A campus that has $41 million for a new parking garage surely has money for decent campus bus stops. Students for Quality Education (SQE) is calling for subsidized student bus passes, provided by many other campuses, including neighboring Mt. SAC.
2. Bike Lanes. Major streets on and around campus are designed to maximize automobile flow and speed. As a result, they are dangerous and extremely uncomfortable for cyclists. The County DPW has a draft plan for protected bike lanes on Temple Ave, a major thoroughfare near campus. The county is seeking the University’s support for the proposed Temple road diet as part of its grant proposal.
3. A Bike and/or Mobility Master Plan Committee. Campus activists called for this last year, with nothing to show for it from the previous campus administration. Without this, we are at the mercy of a car-centric Transportation department.
After the roundtable discussion, students led a rally and march to the campus transportation office to demand more transit, bike, and pedestrian access to campus. It was inspiring to see students take the initiative on alternative transportation issues.
On Thursday of bike week, the University Cycling Coalition hosted a well attended and stimulating panel discussion on “Cycling and Social Equity,” that featured several big names in the LA cycling advocacy community. Panelists Tamika Butler (Executive Director of LACBC), Erika Reyes (Ovarian Psyco Cycles), Maria Sipin (Multicultural Communities for Mobility), and Don “Roadblock” Ward (Wolfpack Hustle), all discussed the importance of cycling as a vital part of an equitable transportation system. Panelists agreed that investment in transit-friendly, bike-friendly, and walkable neighborhoods and streets is a social justice issue and that these investments should not be limited to upscale, or gentrifying communities. They also urged advocates for alternative transportation to get a seat at the table where transportation decisions are made. “If you don’t have a seat at the table,” LACBC Director Butler told the audience, “you’re probably on the menu.”
Not only was I inspired by the energy of the student advocates, I was heartened to see the continued growth of this vibrant movement on campus, even if it is currently being ignored by the University’s transportation officials. Change is in the air, even if car-centric attitudes remain stubbornly persistent.