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New Bicycle Advisory Council aims at UI infrastructure

BY MATT STARNS | SEPTEMBER 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa students and staff have formed a new council to advocate for improvements to existing UI bicycle infrastructure.

The Bicycle Advisory Council, which is affiliated with the UI Office of Sustainability and the UI Staff Council, held its first meeting on Aug. 31. The group, as of right now, is slated to meet once a month.

“Because it’s a Staff Council, I think we have a direct line of communication to the people that can help implement change,” said Mark Pooley, the president of the council and a UI master’s student in urban planning.

Pooley said one of the group’s first goals is to establish base statistics on bicycle commuting at the UI. He said once these numbers are available, the group can aim to increase numbers of students and faculty who use bicycles for transportation.

“What I’m interested in, and what I think could be a big driving force, is we don’t really have any hard data in terms of students and faculty who bike to campus,” he said. “If we can establish that, we can establish a goal.”

Pooley said one of the group’s long-term goals will be to help increase the percentage of bicycle commuters on campus. He said a major step toward this goal is improving bicycle infrastructure on campus.

Joshua Smith, the head of sustainability on the UI Staff Council, said one of the first things to address is bicycle parking on campus.

“It’s just not a top priority,” he said, noting that new UI construction has neglected to incorporate bicycles to the extent he would like. “There needs to be more future thought into how can we incorporate bicycling into the building itself — not just the sidewalk out front.”

Audrey Wiedemeier, a coordinator at the Iowa City Bike Library, said bike parking is a valuable asset when encouraging people to start biking to campus.

“If you don’t build it, they won’t come,” she said. “It’s inviting to walk up to a building and have there be parking available.”

Smith said he believes notable improvements to new campus infrastructure would be sheltered or indoor bike parking. He also said the group will fight for bike-repair stands stationed at strategic locations on campus. The stands — which would allow cyclists to pump air into their tires and perform minor repairs — would be maintained by volunteers affiliated with or sourced through the council.

“The public repair stand at the co-op gets used all the time,” Wiedemeier said, noting that the stands are another part of making cyclists feel welcome in Iowa City. “It’s just another thing that says, ‘We have taken into consideration alternative transportation.’ ”

Smith said that in addition to working with the university, the council will work with Iowa City officials to improve bicycle infrastructure around town. He said the group members believe this will be an important factor in encouraging students who live off-campus to bike to class.

Pooley agrees. He said the city’s planned median project for the Burlington Street bridge is an urgent target for his council.

“One of the specific goals is the Burlington Street and Riverside Drive intersection,” Pooley said. “That intersection is a huge barrier for cyclists. With so many dorms located near that intersection, it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Wiedemeier said 50 percent of the funding for the proposed project is expected to come from the university, with the other 50 percent coming from state grants — which, she said, are unconfirmed at this time.

City planner Kristofer Ackerson said the city is working on incorporating bicycles into the median plan, though he is not sure what bike-friendly accommodations will be made.

“The city recently met with representatives from the Think Bicycles coalition to talk about this very corridor,” he said. “The city staff is open to brainstorming ideas and trying to find a design that will meet everyone’s needs.”

Pooley said he felt the UI has a unique opportunity to assist cyclists with this project.

“The university can be a big player in that project in terms of making that project more bike-friendly,” he said. “I think that will be one of the important action items that we’ll start to formulate an approach [on].”


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