A campus full of steal-able bikes at USC may be a sign of bigger problems

Just a small fraction of the bikes I saw on campus.

Yesterday, I found myself on the University of Southern California campus for the first time.

While crosstown rival UCLA has earned honors as a bronze-level Bike-Friendly University  (pdf) — which may have something to do with their dramatic decrease in vehicular traffic — USC has struggled with the issue of bikes on campus.

But don’t call it a problem, please.

Cars on and around campus are a problem. Getting students onto campus from outlying areas is a problem.

Bikes are a big part of the solution, by allowing students to leave their cars at home and still have the independent mobility they need to get to class on time. As well as to their jobs and other sites throughout the city.

In fact, a full 80% of USC students consider themselves cyclists. Which has reportedly led to the usual, seemingly inevitable conflicts as riders and pedestrians vie for space on a campus that has long considered bikes an afterthought.

If they thought about them at all, that is.

The good news is, the university is working on a bike plan as we speak, with the next workshop scheduled for April 19th. The bad news, I’m told the plan calls for building bike garages on the four corners of the university, followed by banning bikes from the campus itself.

So if you’re running late for class, you’d better plan on running.

Now there’s an intelligent solution for you.

Instead of designing well thought-out bikeways into the fabric of the campus, they may banish bikes while continuing to invite cars into a massive parking garage in the heart of the university. How about building parking garages on the edges of campus, and letting drivers walk for a change?

Of course, this is all third-hand information, at best. Maybe we should plan on attending that workshop on the 19th and find out for ourselves what’s really going there.

In the meantime, a simple walk around campus showed an abundance of bikes everywhere. As well as a decided lack of bike racks.

And many of those were the old-fashioned, minimally secure and often damaging wheel-bender type — all of which were completely full.

As a result, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes lying unsecured on sidewalks or leaning up against buildings and trees.

Many of those were unlocked; most that weren’t just had a U-lock attached to the front wheel, making them easy to pick up and walk off with. Even those that were locked to a rack were usually secured by the front wheel only.

Had I wanted to steal a bike — or a hundred bikes — I could have had my pick.

And then our guide mentioned in passing that bike theft was the biggest crime problem at USC.

Funny, I could have told her that.

While UCLA is far from perfect, they’ve made a point of building secure bike parking throughout the university, from secure U-racks and bike corrals to reservable bike lockers – something USC could accomplish before the end of this semester if they really wanted to do something about the theft problem.

While the lack of secure parking is a real problem, the students themselves need to learn to lock their bikes securely.

Your lock should at least secure your rear wheel and the rear triangle of the frame; ideally, it should secure the front wheel, as well. Especially if you have quick release wheels.

My approach is to remove my front wheel and secure it, as well as the rear wheel and frame to the rack with a sturdy U-lock.

Then again, it’s not just cyclists who seem to have issue with parking.

………

It looks like I may have been taken in.

On Monday, I published a guest post by a writer named Brooke Kerwin.

Now Kevin Jones of the SafetyAtWorkBlog reports that he has been approached by Kerwin, as well. And that she may not be who she seems — if she exists at all.

Rather, he suspects that it may be an attempt to promote a site about distracted driving run by a Florida lawyer. And notes that virtually every article she writes links back to that same site.

It has all the hallmarks of a particularly devious SEO marketing campaign. And I apparently fell for it, along with a number of other people.

I won’t include a link to that site here, because I don’t believe in rewarding such illicit attempts to use this site to market a product or website. But you can find it yourself at distracted driving help dot com.

I’ll leave the post up, since it has some useful information.

But I’ve removed the links she included, two of which just linked back to my site, anyway.

8 comments

  1. Far too many encounters over the years passing through and around the university have led me to believe the SC in USC stands for Stoopid Cyclists, both in the egregious ways riders behave, and the inconsiderate way they’re treated by campus personnel. Case in point: Tuesday afternoon I was riding through the school to get from Exposition Boulevard to Hoover. I pedaled north on McClintock through and around an entirely unmonitored section seriously obstructed by numerous construction vehicles and material. Then, when I stopped at the stop sign at 34th just south of Jefferson to allow some peds to cross, I was ordered off the saddle by a campus security fellow in a day-glo vest and told to “walk my bike in the area.” I toyed with idea of asking if he demanded motorists get out and walk their cars, but instead I dismounted, crossed the intersection on foot and climbed back on to resume pedaling.

  2. Nik Arkimovich says:

    Weighing in here: I have only recently gone back to cycling but I was both a student and later a teacher at USC in the 80s and 90s. When there, I was not a cyclist and simply walked the campus. I can’t even recall the number of close calls I had with speeding cyclists. Riders at moderate paces were no problem but some of the cyclists would be trying to navigate the crowded campus at near racing speeds and were a real danger to pedestrians.

    I would also caution about making comparisons between USC and UCLA, as the campuses are very different. There are places at USC where you can stand in the campus street and see the streets at the edges of the campus on opposite sides! USC’s campus is much smaller that UCLA’s. I would estimate that one can walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. Because of this, I wouldn’t be too quick to condemn their “no bike” bike plan. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old ex-teacher (which I am, I guess), I would suggest that students who want to get to class on time might set their alarms a little earlier or plan their schedules better during registration. Making USC an all pedestrian campus might not be such a bad idea…

    One note: I haven’t been on campus in almost two decades now, so things might be quite different than how I remember them.

    –Nik

  3. [...] USC: A Bike Thief’s Dream (Biking In L.A.) [...]

  4. boekelheide says:

    I’m a daily bike commuter and an employee of USC, so this subject is dear to my heart. I’m troubled by the talk of the bike parking garages. I think there’s an opportunity for USC to make some real progress in its embrace of bikes on campus, and I saw some good ideas in that direction in the draft Bike Master Plans circulated earlier this spring. I hope they make it further up in the process.

    Also, just a quick correction of your third-hand reporting: Currently there is no massive parking garage at the center of USC, and cars are indeed stored on the fringes of campus. In fact, the transportation department has done a lot to promote parking in the off-campus garages along Flower and beyond the 110 Freeway, and encourage drivers to catch shuttles or walk to campus after storing their vehicles.

    And, for the record — my bike stays right behind me in my office all day long. I lost one bike to a campus thief (locked as suggested in your article, but oh well) and I’m not about to lose another. The bike parking facilities at USC are really atrocious.

    • bikinginla says:

      The parking lot may not have been in the middle of campus, but there definitely was a multi-story parking garage on campus that we parked in, along with a street leading up to it.

      Unfortunately, because of my unfamiliarity with the campus, I’m not sure exactly where it’s located.

  5. Mark Elliot says:

    About five years ago, I complained mightily to USC Public Safety about the cycling hazards of students who rode against traffic and were repeatedly cited for it. And with so many international students, many without a car, a fair amount took a bike and found themselves with a ticket. And of course there is the obvious hazard.

    But the Public Safety folks were totally unimpressed – either about the safety implications (duh!) or the need to broadcast the ‘rules of the road’ admonition. Several increasingly strident complaints got me an invite to an ‘advisory’ group, which met informally a few times to make suggestions that went nowhere with USC PS.

    I’ve since taken my advocacy to another utterly impassive institution – Beverly Hills City Hall – but I’m glad at least there is some sign of movement by USC officials on the patently clear hazards of imprudent cycling and dangerous streets (a toxic mix).

  6. bdflatlander says:

    I am an avid recreational cyclist (and UCLA alum). Whenever I am riding where there are a lot of peds I always slow way down. People riding bikes on the SC campus should do the same and quit giving all of us responsible cyclists a bad name!

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