One early morning, Jessica Barrera, a University of Texas journalism senior, went through the steps of her daily routine; she parked in front of the CMA building, gathered her backpack from the passenger seat of her car and shut the door.
Then, she was slammed to the ground by a bicyclist.
“My first reaction was that I was so pissed off,” Barrera said. “I see bicyclists all the time. They don’t care and they don’t look around. I always knew I was going to get hit one day, and I was so mad when I actually did.”
Barrera’s story is common on the UT campus. In her case, Barrera said the cyclist and her agreed that he was at fault because he was not watching where he was going. In other cases, the opposite is found – the pedestrian is at fault for jaywalking.
Amidst growing concern over bike safety, UTPD recently implemented a new bike traffic policy at some intersections on campus that allow bicyclists to cross when pedestrians have the right away. UTPD also created an official bike patrol unit.
“The bike unit will be doing a lot of directive patrols,” Officer William Pieper said, describing when the police on duty target a certain issue around campus. “If we know that there is a specific problem in a specific area, they’ll be in that area addressing that issue. A lot of times at the beginning of the semester we hear a lot of bike safety concerns, on like 21st and Speedway, so as this team continues to work, when we start seeing problems that pertains to bicycle safety, they’ll be doing directive patrols focusing on that.”
In addition, Pieper said UTPD has been working with Parking and Transportation on a comprehensive bike safety and security program to implement among the dormitories.
Although about 10,000 bikes are registered at UT, according to Parking and Transportation Services, UTPD has only issued seven traffic violations to cyclists during the 2013-14 school year. University Operations’ director of communication, Rhonda Weldon, said the small number of citations can be attributed to the fact that accidents and law violations are under-reported. Barrera said that after she was hit by the cyclist, she did not report the collision because she was not seriously hurt.
Pieper said that although bicyclists must abide by all traffic laws, there are some intersections that are an exception, such as the one at Dean Keeton and Whitis. This new rule was implemented early this semester.
“Before, you had to dismount your bicycle and walk it across if you wanted to go when the pedestrians had the right away,” Pieper said. “Now, you can ride it across. I think part of the reason why we changed the rule was because a lot of bicyclists ignored the fact that they had to wait anyway. We’re trying to get pedestrians and cyclists to work together better.”
According to the Texas Transportation Code, “bicyclists have the same rights and duties of other vehicle operators” (551.101.) This means that bicyclists must stop at stop signs and red lights. Frequent bicyclist, Steven Tijerina, said he occasionally runs through stop signs.
“It depends if there’s any cars around, personally. If I’m the only one there, of course I’ll blow through the stop sign,” Tijerina said. “I do it to save time, mostly. If no one’s there, what’s the point. No cop no stop, you know?”
After her collision, Barrera said she felt bike safety was an issue on campus that needed to be acknowledged by UTPD.
“It’s gonna piss people off that I say this, but the only thing that could probably stop bike accidents would be for UTPD to get more strict on stuff like that, and start giving tickets out,” Barrera said. “If you get enough of them, you’ll learn your lesson.”
Officer Lane Brewster said that pedestrians need to realize that they can cause accidents, too.
“What people don’t realize, is that if you’re a pedestrian, the crosswalk doesn’t mean you always have the right away,” Brewster said. “If you are not in the crosswalk by the time the bike or the car gets there, you have to wait on the car or the bicyclist. Now, if you’re already started into that crosswalk, then yes, you have the right away.”
Pieper said he gives the same advice to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers of vehicles: “make sure that you’re following the traffic laws, that you’re being very observant, and never assume that somebody else sees you.”