Monday, June 25, 2007

David Takemoto-Weerts: The collegiate cycling environment

The bicycle coordinator at the University of California, Davis since 1987, David Takemoto-Weerts first became hooked on cycling while an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1960s. Takemoto-Weerts has also worked in the retail and wholesale sides of bicycling and is a League of American Bicyclists (LAB) certified cycling instructor. He is the District 3 representative for the California Association of Bicycling Organizations, has served on the LAB board of directors, and is hoping to establish a bicycle museum in Davis. An amateur astronomer and an eager student of aerospace history, Takemoto-Weerts also enjoys sharing his zeal for all things space-related with others in his role as a JPL Solar System Ambassador. I recently returned to UC Davis employment, and reconnected with Ambassador Takemoto-Weerts to get his perspective on the challenges of bike planning in the "bicycling capitol of the U.S."

Bike Commute Tips: You are involved with the planning for the Walk Bike California 2007 conference, which will be presented in Davis on September 11-14. What inspiration can Davis offer the broader movement for bicycling-friendly communities?

David Takemoto-Weerts: Davis earned its (still unparalleled) "platinum" status as a LAB bicycle friendly community through its pioneering efforts to promote cycling beginning in the 1960s. I think Davis can be an inspiration to others as an example of what is possible. There were no bike lanes in the US prior to Davis' initial street striping in 1967. That was visionary and bold.

City officials and activist residents had to jump through many bureaucratic hoops to make that happen, including getting state legislation enacted to allow such a radical change to be established--not just on a few streets, but on virtually all arterials and collectors throughout the city. Bike lanes are commonplace around the US now, but we have some other facilities and policies that are unique or rare.

Bike Commute Tips: I've heard it said that you don't intend to retire until you've eliminated all the "wheel-bender" concrete blocks that pretend to be bike parking at UC Davis. There are a variety of bike racks on campus, reflecting the different eras of campus development over the decades. In recent years you have favored the Stanford racks designed by John Ciccarelli. What are the advantages of this rack? What are some of the problems with the other common racks at UC Davis (coat hangers, bar-hoop)?

Takemoto-Weerts: I first came to Davis as a grad student in 1971, and the concrete blocks even then were called "bike pods"--and they constituted almost all the bike parking on campus and in many city locations as well.

The Stanford rack, now known as the "Lightning Bolt" by its manufacturer, Creative Pipe, has the following desirable qualities: 1) it allows the cyclist to easily secure the bike frame and front wheel to the rack using any kind of common bike lock (U-lock, cable, chain). 2) The wheel channel at the bottom prevents the wheel from sliding to the side, helping to maintain the bike in an upright position, and 3) it's relatively "low profile", a feature favored by many architects.

The "coat hanger" rack, also made by Creative Pipe and others, is just as good at securing one's bike, but it lacks the lower support so you do see more "fallen down" bikes in those racks. It also has a higher profile. We have a few "inverted U" racks on campus, which are good for security but not great at supporting the bike (and are less space efficient). In addition to the aforementioned wheel-bending, hard-to-impossible-to-secure-to bike pods, we have a dwindling few "Park-Rites". They are difficult to secure to, don't hold the bike well, and can also cause rims to bend.

Bike Commute Tips: What is your best estimate of the number of bicycles on the UC Davis campus during a typical day during the academic year? How serious is the bike theft problem at UC Davis?

Takemoto-Weerts: We estimate, based on past surveys, that there can be between 15-20,000 bikes on campus on any given weekday in the fall or spring quarters when the weather is nice. We collect abandoned bikes year-round. I don't keep a close count, but at our two annual bike auctions, we always have more than 400 bikes at each. Knowing that a certain percentage of impounded bikes are returned to their owners, we must be impounding more than 1000 bikes a year.

Bike theft is definitely a problem on campus and in Davis generally. It's hard to get a real handle on the problem because so many thefts go unreported. I'd guess at least half the thefts are not reported, even when the owner has licensed his/her bike and can report that info to the police, who then enter the license and serial numbers into a statewide database of stolen property used by law enforcement across California. I hear of many unreported thefts because when we pick up abandoned, licensed bikes and then contact the owners, they often tell me that their bike was stolen and they never filed a report.

Bike Commute Tips: What are some of the most common locking errors you observe on the UC Davis campus? (I see a lot of bikes with only the front wheel locked to a rack.) What suggestions--besides the California Bicycle License mandatory on the UC Davis campus--do you have for theft prevention? What locks are most difficult to defeat?

Takemoto-Weerts: I think the most common error is not using a lock that is of sufficient quality and security relative to the value of the bike. For example, many students lock relatively nice bikes with cable locks, and, frankly, any cable lock is easily defeated with simple tools. U-locks, especially newer "bic-proof" ones, are still the best for most bikes.

One should always be aware that any lock can be defeated by a knowledgeable and persistent thief. Using a nice bike for regular commuting around Davis (or anywhere else) is risky. We're fortunate to live in a community whose topography, bike facilities, and short home-to-work-or-school distances combine to promote commuting on very simple, low-tech, and inexpensive bikes.

Bike Commute Tips: Davis attracts students from all across California and around the world. They often arrive with little prior cycling experience, or with poor skills, or with little understanding of vehicular cycling. Some international students come from countries where traffic goes on the left. What challenge does such a diverse mix of cyclists pose to a bike planner?

Takemoto-Weerts: In an attempt to get as many butts on bike saddles as possible, there's sometimes a temptation to build bike facilities geared to the lowest common denominator. I hear people ask, "Can my eight-year old bike on that street?" Well, often the answer is "no", and to try to make all roads and paths idiot-proof is a losing and expensive proposition. Just because an 8-year old can legally bike on a road (but can't drive a car on the same road), doesn't mean that it's feasible, practical or cost-effective to try to make it so.

In Davis, especially on campus, we do have a very diverse cycling population from many different cultures. Some students come from countries where utility cycling is much more common than here, yet those same countries have virtually no bike traffic enforcement and limited adherence to what we think are sensible rules of the road.

So, how do you deal with that group? Frankly, it's challenging enough to deal with young American adults, most of whom know traffic rules and that they apply to cyclists, too, but choose, for whatever reason, to ignore them the minute they transition from behind the steering wheel to behind the handlebar. I don't have any easy answers to this, but our program is going to be emphasizing bike education (not just safety, but cycling skills and knowledge, too) in the future. We'll see if that helps.

Image: Web capture. The much-loathed concrete "pods" at UC Davis.
Visit: Cycling in Bike-Friendly Davis
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

1 comment:

Erin said...

how are you even supposed to lock up to those concrete things? I see the kids at Davis haven't figured it out either, since all those bikes look to be unsecured...