Last week many Mississippi State University students, faculty and staff may have been surprised to find a campus announcement concerning bicycle usage in their university affiliated email inboxes.
MSU’s Dean of Students, Thomas Bourgeois, who sent out the campus wide email announcement regarding bicycle rules, uses and safety, said he wants students to be aware of the university’s policies toward bicycles.
Dean Bourgeois said the email announcement was an effort to, “solicit feedback from students.”
One of the biggest complaints he receives from students is there are not enough bicycle racks
. He points out that while there are enough bike racks
, it is their location that is inconvenient. An example of this is the bike rack
by Lee Hall which few students use.
The use of bicycle racks
is mandatory and the university will enforce it, Bourgeois said. Any bicycle that is not chained to a rack is subject to impoundment.
Dean Bourgeois said the reason for being strict about the policy is because the university has a large student body with disabilities who need access to handrails and ledges.
A growing eyesore for Dean Bourgeois is the trail forming in the junction because of students riding their bikes through the grass rather than the road.
When asked about motorists not treating bicyclist as equals on the road, Bourgeois said it is a problem. He blames the problem on motorists not having proper education for the rules of the road. The problems between bicyclists and motorists are a, “double edged sword.”
Most motorists, Bourgeois said, come from areas where they do not have interactions with bicyclists sharing the road. The same goes for pedestrians who are not accustomed to seeing crosswalks.
Bicyclists, he said, should not ride through crosswalks which are for pedestrians only. They should first dismount their bicycles and then walk with their bicycles through them. It is extremely difficult for motorists to stop when bicycles fly through a crosswalk. Bourgeois said many students have the feeling of invincibility in crosswalks when, in fact, they are not.
Safety is one of the biggest concerns Bourgeois has for students. Starkville has a city ordinance requiring all bicyclists to wear a helmet, and he encourages everyone to use one. In addition, he said maintaining your bike is just as important.
“It’s not just wearing a bike helmet,” Bourgeois said. “It’s learning basic safety, keeping your bike maintained.”
Bourgeois encourages students to use bike repair stations across campus to help keep their bikes maintained and working properly.
David Harned is the president of Starkville in Motion, which is a local, grassroots organization striving for improved safety, development and education for pedestrians and bicyclists.
SIM, which has been in existence for 10 years, grew from the ideas of local business professionals and MSU staff who wanted to see improvements with walking and bicycling in the city.
Some of the many projects Harned’s organization has overseen include the project initiation for the recently completed Lynn Lane Multi-use Pathway and the federally funded grant to build the Safe Routes to School.
Harned said if you compare Starkville and Columbus, you will see many more sidewalks and bicycle paths
in the former. Starkville’s sidewalks and bicycle paths
are a symbol SIM has been able to achieve.
Harned said this past year, SIM began a partnership with Bike Walk Mississippi, which does many of the same things as his organization but at the state level.
Despite SIM’s many successes, there have been difficulties. One of the most difficult things he said is keeping up membership and getting enough volunteers for the volunteer-based organization.
Group-organized walks SIM tried in the past, have had middling success. More people like walking alone and when they want, rather than in organized groups.
However, he is positive about the future. In the next three years, Harned said an extension connecting Lynn Lane to campus will be built. The city, county and university all came to an agreement with the university agreeing to help fund its completion.
He said earlier plans for a path linking to campus were discussed. The proposed path would have started at the Sportsplex, weaving behind Loxley Way before connecting to Blackjack Road, but funding was cut.
Although Harned and his organization are not currently partnered with the university, Harned has been working with students living in off-campus housing who are petitioning to get pedestrian crosswalks placed on the Hardy and Blackjack Road intersection.
Harned ultimately hopes his organization will help get more people in the Starkville area outdoors. Simply being outside, he said, changes people’s perceptions about themselves.
“[It’s] interesting how people who spend more time outside are more aware of their environments and more appreciative too,” Harned said.
The benefits people receive by being outside extend far beyond appreciation, Harned said; it encourages healthy habits for life.
Hannah Howell, marketing and communications coordinator for MSU’s Parking and Transit Services, said the university encourages students to ride bikes on campus through its Bully Bike program, which is free and open to students, staff and faculty of the university.
Howell said currently there are 180 bikes available through the program, but one would like to see more.
“Right now, bicycles go out so quickly with the small amount that we have,” Howell said. “I feel like there’s room for growth.”
Bicycles are rented per semester. Howell said the university does this to keep the bicycles in good working order. For many college students, properly maintaining a bike is costly endeavor, but with the university’s bicycle program, those cost are eliminated.
“We want them [students] to have an easy way to get around campus without having to move a car to a different location,” Howell said.
On a recent conference trip to Portland, Oregon, Howell was able to see a city-wide bicycle rental program that allows anyone to scan a card to rent a bicycle from one location, and then leave it at another. This is something she said she would like to see at the university in the future.
A few years ago, Howell said the university experimented with a similar program but was unable to keep track of the bicycles they rented. One of the bikes that went missing in the program was later found in Georgia.
Howell also encourages bicycle owners to register their bicycles with the university. Registration for a bike with the university is free, and each bicyclist receives a decal. Registering a bicycle with the university can locate as well as eliminate any possibility someone could claim ownership of the bike as their own.