There is something decisively anarchic about bikes. It’s not just the tattoos and the tank-tops and bandanas that I’m talking about: bikers ignore just about every traffic signal, we pull ridiculous moves to avoid putting our feet down at a red light, we flip off drivers at every available opportunity, and the whole bike economy is second-hand and DIY. Simply put, the bike has something that the capitalist car and the socialist subway lack, and I love that thing enough to get angry when it’s taken away from me. So my initial reaction to the bike riding ban on campus was that it was implemented not on the basis of the threat they pose to people’s safety, but because of what they represent: that the administration’s main objective is to transform campus into a postcard rather than a public space.
It has, after all, created an antagonistic relationship between students and security guards, pissed off most of my friends, and caused many of us to lose faith in the motives behind its traffic-reduction initiative. It’s bad enough that this campus is designed like a gated community to begin with; now each of its three access points are now monitored by someone threatening to knock you off your bike with a baton.
Bike traffic has been a thorn in McGill’s side for as long as I’ve attended this school. This was mainly the result of an faulty urban plan that led bikers from Mile End down the bike lane on Parc, then down Hutchison and along Milton to University, from which point they had nowhere to go but through campus to get to the downtown core. Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell told me in a recent interview that according to a study by Vélo Québec, on any given weekday morning, 3,000 bikes entered campus through the Milton Gates and 2,500 left through the Roddick Gates. Only 500 stayed on campus. This was the rationale behind the construction of a bike path along University between Sherbrooke and Milton. But the admin categorically refused to wait and see if things would improve, instead opting for a total ban within three months of that bike path’s completion.
Yet it wouldn’t be entirely fair of me to paint the admin as a diabolical campus-zoning tyrant. I do appreciate the expansion of bike parking on campus, and I applaud them especially for working so enthusiastically and effectively with the long-standing student campaign for a car-free campus. These are real and positive projects that the admin has undertaken.
(Most frustrating of all in my investigation of how this came about was the revelation that both of the admin’s representatives I talked to are themselves bikers. Will they never just let us remorselessly hate them?)
Nicell did convince me that the University’s primary concern here is student safety. He mentioned that in the three years he’s spent at his current job, his office has received several reports of pedestrians being hit by cyclists, and not a single one about a motor vehicle doing the same. He himself was clipped by a cyclist flying through campus earlier this summer – his computer was knocked to the ground and the guy rode on. And that does suck. Even I feel pretty confident that some day one of those oblivious bikers riding down the left side of the road will put me in crutches for a while.
What it comes down to is that the admin has lost its faith in the ability of the pedestrian and the biker to co-exist harmoniously. The admin’s online FAQ on cycling emphasizes the infeasibility of returning to the good old days more or less because “once pedestrians become accustomed to the reduced amount of vehicular traffic on campus, we believe the risk of such injuries would increase, should cyclists be permitted to circulate as in the past.”
These arguments scarcely affect my opinion that this approach is misguided, excessive, that we were not given adequate warning, and that they’ve dismissed certain planning alternatives out of hand. Speed bumps or a bike path would both contribute tremendously to controlling the flow of bikes through campus. Bikes are unwieldy animals from an organizational perspective, but they are not the inherent menace the administration has made them out to be.
Niko Block is The Daily’s Features editor and a U3 History student. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.