UBike program honored for cyclist support

Students walk and bike along the pathway on the University of Miami Campus. Chloe Herring//Contributing Photographer

The University of Miami was named a Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) in March, just months after back-to-back cyclist deaths a few miles from campus on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

The LAB recognizes universities that create a positive environment for cyclists as part of its Bike Friendly America program. The program also recognizes communities and businesses for their cyclist support. UM received a bronze award from the organization from the possible bronze, silver, gold and platinum distinctions.  UM is the first in Florida and one of 35 universities in the country to earn the Bike Friendly distinction.

UBike, UM’s bicycle program, applied to Bike Friendly America earlier this year looking for tips on how to improve bicycle safety and education on campus.

UBike hopes to prevent cyclist deaths like the one that occurred in February on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Driver Michele Traverso struck cyclist Aaron Cohen, who later died at Jackson Memorial Hospital after undergoing emergency brain surgery.

UM’s program will take measures to make both cyclists and drivers learn to share the road.

The university is in the process of installing “sharrows,” or shared arrows, which will be painted onto the road as part of a county-wide project. It will indicate to drivers that cyclists and drivers must share the road.

“Our goal in doing this was to get feedback,” said campus planner Ricardo Herran, who put together the application with other members of UBike.

The group was not expecting the recognition.

“It’s a great honor for us,” Herran said.

The LAB bases its assessment on five categories: engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation.

Herran said that the LAB commended UM for lowering the speed limit to 15 mph on campus roads.

The group also noted that UBike gives students, faculty and staff free locks for registering their bikes on campus.

Despite the LAB’s acknowledgement of the lowered speed limit, many students complain that they have not seen a change in campus road safety, including bicyclists’ respect for pedestrians.

“I haven’t noticed that it’s taken effect,” said Ph.D. student Luke Fitzpatrick, who bikes two miles to campus every day.

Fitzpatrick parks his bike immediately on campus rather than ride it around because of the lack of bike paths.

For those students who do bike on campus, the lack of bike paths is an issue. For sophomore Chloe Behar, having a bike on campus is “great,” but the struggle between pedestrians and bikers can be a problem.

“It would be great if they created a little path for bikes because people get in the way and walk so slowly that we can’t move,” Behar said.

Behar uses her bike around campus and often takes to the streets when the paths are too congested. She sometimes worries about biking in the road because of inattentive drivers.

“People are distracted so they don’t see us coming all the time,” Behar said.

One major suggestion from the organization was to extend bike paths into South Miami and Coral Gables for people who commute on bikes, and to expand bike safety education programs. The LAB also advised students to take advantage of the M-Path, which runs next to the Metrorail and parallel to US-1 in front of campus. The path is 31 miles and extends from Downtown Miami to Florida City.

“We’re evaluating all of the feedback we got back from the league and trying to figure out what we should be doing,” Herran said.

He said that UBike is looking into widening paths and adding signs to trails to indicate where cyclists can and cannot ride.

Fitzpatrick, however, did note that UBike’s lock program is beneficial.

“It’s a really good way to encourage people to ride,” he said.

For more information, email UBike at ubike@miami.edu.