Group aims to make campus paths safer

Bikers meet for the Critical Mass Bike Ride at the corner of Green and Wright streets June 30. Critical Mass Bike Ride meets the last Friday of every month to raise awareness of how great cycling is in our community and how gross cars are, as stated by Beck Diefenbach

Bikers meet for the Critical Mass Bike Ride at the corner of Green and Wright streets June 30. Critical Mass Bike Ride meets the last Friday of every month to “raise awareness of how great cycling is in our community and how gross cars are,” as stated by Beck Diefenbach

By Brian Mellen

The extensive system of bike trails on the University campus was at one time considered state of the art. But years later, bikers in the community find the system to be neglected and largely obsolete.

Overgrown hedges invade the bike paths while others abruptly end and invite cyclists to ride on the sidewalks primarily intended for pedestrians. Design flaws place cyclists in potentially dangerous situations each time they use them.

For bicyclists on campus, following the bike paths is almost like playing with fire; someone could get burned.

Yet one organization aims to prevent accidents and looks to the future in hopes of improvement.

ChampaignCountyBikes.org began this last spring. The group connects cyclists from around the community on the Web in a joint effort to make Champaign County “the most bicycle friendly county in the Midwest.” Members are also placed on an e-mail list where they get the latest updates. Although the group’s goal of improving bicycle safety involves the entire County, fixing problems on campus are among some their major concerns. Rick Langlois co-founded ChampaignCountyBikes.org along with fellow cyclist Susan Jones. Langlois, who has been biking on campus since the 1980s, said he completely avoids the bike trails altogether.

“Campus is tricky,” Langlois said. “The way the bike path system causes interaction with vehicles is actually more hazardous to the cyclist and pedestrians than more modern designs which pretty much put the bicycles on the roads.”

Gary Cziko, also a member of ChampaignCountyBikes.org and professor at the University, would tend to agree.

“The paths have basically been neglected for the last 30 years,” Cziko said.

Like many people concerned with bicycle safety, Cziko’s main mode of transportation is his bike.

Cziko said that one of the most dangerous areas on campus for bikes runs north on Wright Street from Armory to Green. He said the combination of buses, students and bikes makes for a particularly chaotic environment for bicyclists. The possibility of an accident always lurks around the corner.

“There’s no way that a bike path should be sitting there between the sidewalk and the traffic,” Cziko said in reference to the bike path on Wright.

Cziko said he blames lack of improvement on what he feels is an emphasis on motorist needs in the community, not the interests of bicyclists.

“Automobiles are dominant,” Cziko said. “That’s how most people travel. Only a small percentage of all trips made in Champaign-Urbana happen in something other than a car.”

The other co-founder of ChampaignCountyBikes.org, Susan Jones, said there are forces already working against bikers. She cited an Illinois Supreme Court case from the 1990s, Boub v. Wayne Township, in which the courts ruled against cyclists and basically ended up penalizing municipalities for making better accommodations for bicyclists.