By Megan Rule | Staff Writer
As bicycle safety has become a more pressing issue, the Baylor Police Department has started an educational effort to help students who ride their bikes on campus learn the rules of the road.
“I can remember a couple of times where I would come up to the Third Street and Speight Avenue intersection to take a right to come towards the police department,” said Baylor Police Chief Brad Wigtil. “I look to my right to see that nobody is on Speight, and there are no pedestrians so I start to turn, and what happens is a bike that didn’t stop comes, and I lurch to a stop to avoid hitting them because they didn’t follow a basic rule of the road.”
The police department now has two bicycle police officers who ride around campus during the day to stop anyone who isn’t biking according to the law. Wigtil said they are handing out business cards with basic biking information for bikers who disobey the rules.
“I don’t think people are purposely disobeying the law on their bikes. I don’t think they know what their responsibilities are,” Wigtil said.
According to the business cards, Texas law says that bicyclists have “the same legal duties as a driver of a motor vehicle,” meaning they must stay on the right side of the road, stop at stop signs and red lights and have lights at night.
The other side of the card includes “Baylor Campus Bike Safety Tips,” which lists tips such as riding on the road as opposed to the sidewalk, locking your bike on designated bike racks and registering bikes with the Baylor Police Department.
Students seem to be openly accepting the education from the police department. “We bike people band together daily on campus,” said Peoria, Ill., freshman Lindsay Walton. Students who bike on campus must look out for one another as well as pedestrians, she said.
Wigtil said there have been six auto-bike accidents on campus since Jan. 1, 2015, and in all six, the bicyclist was at fault. Half of those accidents resulted in serious injuries for the biker. Wigtil also said there have been five auto-bike accidents off campus in that time period.
“We absolutely focus on crime on campus,” Wigtil said. “But another big safety concern that I have is bicycles and mobility in general because when you mix the vehicles, mopeds, long-boarding, pedestrians and bikes there can be some issues.”
Wigtil said the most important thing to do is educate the community first and then think about what the consequences would be for those who don’t want to comply, and the police department is still working on what those consequences will be. He said drivers trust that other drivers will follow the rules of the road, so issues arise when the bikers don’t comply to those rules.
“Helmets are helpful if you are riding near cars, but I also think, more importantly, a bell can be used to get the walkers aware of your presence,” Walton said. “Wear a helmet or get a bell, but the biggest safety feature we have to access today is our common sense.”
Wigtil said that the next step of this safety education is a policy that is looking to be rolled out in January or February. A lot of the policy includes more education, and the police department is working with the media and marketing departments on how to disperse it to the student population. He said the police department is partnering with William Lamb, who teaches biking liftetime fitness classes at Baylor, in order to make an educational film that will be online. In addition, the policy is working to determine what to do about congestion on campus, in particular on Third Street and Speight Avenue. The policy will also address pedestrian rules, a big one being that if a vehicle beats a pedestrian to an intersection, the vehicle goes first.
“You don’t really think of the police department as part of the educational deal, but I think that is part of our role — to teach safety principles — because those are things that are lifelong,” Wigtil said. “Once you leave Baylor, you can take those safety guidelines and principles. I feel that’s part of the total education experience: your degree and life skills.”