Over 100 people filled the Shatner Ballroom for an open forum on cycling and pedestrian safety Thursday, September 23. The panel was comprised of students and staff and was moderated by Chemistry Professor David Harpp.
Associate VP (University Services) Jim Nicell presented a brief history of the decision-making process that led to the ban on cars and bikes on the downtown campus.
“We considered principles and collected feedback… It’s our objective to arrive at a consensus view,” said Nicell.
Barbara Lewis, Special Projects Officer for the Office of University Services, wrote in an email to The Daily that the University decided the forum “would be the best venue for…outlining the varied – sometimes competing – interests and constraints which all had to be balanced in coming to a decision regarding circulation on campus.”
Lewis said she hoped the forum would achieve a higher level of understanding.
The forum was a mixture of anecdotes, debate, and suggestions for how to successfully remodel the campus in order for cyclists and pedestrians to coexist. Suggestions included varying surfaces, speed bumps, and speed limits. Many in the audience spoke to the idea that bikes and pedestrians can coexist. “I just want to see some discussion,” said Joseph Giardini, a U3 Neuroscience student.
There were concerns from pedestrians about the campus becoming a city thoroughfare, and concerns about general personal safety. Several students demanded to see data and proof that justified the University’s decision and explained their safety concerns. The forum ran late because of the volume of people seeking to be heard.
One of the most impassioned comments was given by Associate Professor in the School of Architecture Pieter Sijpkes. He spoke about the hope provided by the increase of bikes and cycling on campus. He lamented that today, the very people at the forefront of the green movement, cyclists, were being separated from – and not integrated into – McGill’s new “green” initiatives.
Bicycling is “urban dancing,” said Sijpkes, and perhaps with the inclusion of varying surfaces and road signs, he hoped a compromise could be reached. Political Science Professor Jacob T. Levy pointed out that cyclists and pedestrians aren’t mutually exclusive, that people respond to their environment and that if allowed, cyclists and pedestrians could respond to each other.
The forum audience seemed largely in favour of allowing cyclists on campus, but Nicell said there was strong support for the ban on cyclists on campus.
“This happened to be a forum that mostly attracted people who had the perspective of the cyclists but there is a whole other contingent and actually an extreme contingent that says ‘Ban bicycles,’ and we’re not going there either,” said Nicell.
Nicell also stated that he wanted to get rid of the security guards stationed outside every campus entrance – asking cyclists to dismount their bikes – as soon as possible.
Randall Blom, a Faculty of Law student senator and panellist at the forum, said afterwards that while “it is a complex issue…I hope that [the ban] is reconsidered.”
The panel encouraged everyone to continue emailing thoughts and suggestions to the Office of University Services. Part of Lewis’ mandate involves reviewing and responding to emails regarding “changes to campus circulation.”
“I think it’s a little late for them to do something like this, I feel like this should have happened before they put anything in place, hopefully they’re going to listen to [everyone],” said Farid Rener, a volunteer at The Flat, the bike collective in Shatner.