Bicyclists: Rules Exist For A Reason

Photo by Tyler Meuter

There’s no denying that using a bicycle to get around campus is one of the fastest and most convenient methods of transportation available. There are bike racks outside of almost every building, if not just around the corner, and bike paths are present on a large portion of campus.

Overall, we’re a fairly bike-friendly campus. However, the issue lies when you combine bikers and pedestrians in a crowded environment. We must increase awareness of regulations, ensure enforcement and improve infrastructure to ensure the safety of bikers and pedestrians

In Georgia, a bicycle is considered a type of vehicle. As such, most vehicle codes and operation regulations apply to bikes just as they do to cars. This means that bikers are required to follow standard procedure at stop signs, traffic signals, yield signs and any other “traffic control device.” Another commonly unknown regulation is that per Georgia law and Tech regulation, bikes are not permitted to operate on sidewalks but may operate on shared walkways (path not immediately adjacent to roadway, or greater than 5’ wide) as long as they yield to pedestrians.

So by these definitions, the paths immediately surrounding Tech Green would be considered shared walkways, but other paths would be considered sidewalks. One of the problems here is that these are just a few of many regulations surrounding the operation of bicycles, and it’s no doubt that many if not most bikers on campus are unfamiliar with them.

While Tech’s Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) that was released last Fall has some long-term provisions in place for increasing awareness of regulations including distribution of literature upon mandatory bike registration and giving away cookies for stopping at stop signs (I’m not kidding), steps need to be taken as soon as possible to prevent further harm to all of us on campus.

One step to be taken that would go a long way towards improving everyone’s safety is strict enforcement of these regulations. I understand that the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) has a finite number of officers available to cover our sizeable campus, and, as such, it would be unreasonable to expect them to be present at every intersection at all times to catch violators. However, strategic placement of officers in identified problem intersections — such as Ferst/Hemphill, 5th/Techwood, and Tech Green to name a few — would be a vast improvement.

Just the other day, I was walking to class across the 5th Street Bridge and out of nowhere comes a bike right beside me zooming around me and the numerous other pedestrians. This individual sped past me not in the bike lane but on the shared sidewalk. Had I perhaps stretched my arm out or decided to stop briefly, I may have been hit by this individual, causing great harm to both myself and him. Instead of riding in his designated lane that a great deal of money was spent to implement, he chose to blatantly violate regulations and put himself and pedestrians in harm’s way. Had GTPD been at the 5th/Techwood intersection, they potentially could have noticed the biker not using the bike lane and addressed the situation appropriately.

While I am not a biker myself, I can understand why each side of the issue sees it differently. Bikers feel that they should have priority over cars, while cars feel they should as well, and pedestrians just want to get to class in one piece.

One thing that should help everyone commute safely is the BMP and its included intersection improvements. It designates troublesome intersections, such as 5th/Techwood, Ferst by Hemphill and the CRC as “priority” projects. The issue is that due to the substantial nature of the improvements recommended in the plan, they are many years ahead (due to the expense) and will take even more time to complete once started. Interim steps to improve infrastructure should be taken until such time that the major improvements can be made.

In a perfect world, bikers, pedestrians and motorized vehicles would live in harmony and would be able to flow in and out of campus in a safe and law-abiding manner. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

While Tech is working on plans for improving campus in regard to pedestrian and biker safety in the long term, immediate action is necessary to prevent further harm. Bikers need to know the laws that they are subject to, and those laws need to be enforced by the appropriate enforcement officers, GTPD or otherwise.

By increasing awareness, enforcing regulations, and improving campus infrastructure, we should be able to come at least a little bit closer to the ideal world where all methods of transportation can exist in harmony.