Bike Hazards on UBC Campus

Our campus has clearly become more bike-friendly and specifically more bike-commuter friendly over the past 4 years that I’ve been commuting by bike daily. The most concrete (literally in some cases) markers of this are the secure bike lock-up facilities and the great number of bike stands on campus.

Yet in striving to set an example for other employers and commuting-destinations, there are further improvements that could be made, mostly to do with roadways to/across campus.

1. The traffic circle at Wesbrook and 16th is a biking disaster even though it is of recent provenance and has presumably benefitted from careful planning given the decision for a traffic circle over traffic light.

Why a disaster? Markings on the road indicate that bike riders should go up on the sidewalk (presumably dismount) to cross roads. That is significantly worse than having to wait at a traffic light.

However, HUB discussions have suggested to me that the road signage here only refers to the option of walking across roads, not an injunction or even expectation. So, I ride through the traffic circle in the appropriate lane as any other vehicle would. I’m sure many drivers see the road markings and think to themselves, “What’s the bike doing in my lane, he’s supposed to be over there.”

Solution? Get rid of on-the-road markings, add signs “Share the Road”.

2. Passenger drop-off on campus roads. I usually enter campus on Main Mall, turn down on Thunderbird Blvd to head North on West Mall. The section of West Mall between University Blvd and Crescent Rd seems to be a particular favourite for parents, partners to drop off their loved ones. However, since this is a one-lane (in one direction) road, a car pulling over inevitably represents a hazard, particularly when slow-moving drivers (dropping off) seem especially prone to cell phone use.

The solution? Enforce “no stopping” gently and either mark entrances to campus with “no pedestrian drop-off on campus” or clearly mark locations that move a vehicle dropping off out of traffic, for example one spot in the Memorial Rd parking lot.

3. Tour bus traffic on campus. I see no reason whatsoever why tour buses should drive on campus roads. Yes, VERY occasionally a group of students may be getting picked up, but for the most part these seem to be tourist operations. Again, this is particularly common on the Northern end of West Mall, close to the Museum of Anthropology.

Solution? Outreach to tour operators that campus is not a place to be driving, nor stopping.

4. Main mall. This has turned into a real attractive feature in part because car traffic is gone (see 2. and 3.). However, tiling the road way has also meant that while bikes are meant to be allowed to use Main Mall, pedestrians are not paying much attention to bike riders, creating a real hazard.

Solution? Tough one. Even as a bike rider, I’d probably have to say, “Ban bikes on Main Mall”. This would be palatable if parallel routes were expressly dedicated to bike traffic. How about the Northern end of East Mall? There’s no through traffic there now anyway and the roadway still offers the opportunity to mark this as a space where pedestrians need to pay attention. This could also address 2. and 3. above as it would concentrate North-South bike traffic.

5. Bus loop on University Blvd in front of War Memorial Gym. This has been quite a saga from the original bus loop to the hard-to-fathom underground bus station plan, back to a bus loop. Clearly it’s all looking much more attractive now (along with improvements to Main Mall, these visual appearances do matter on campus, I’m convinced), but the arrangement with busses by the curb and the bike lane next to them, then another lane for rolling bus traffic (presumably) seems less than ideal. This is compounded by the anarchic pedestrian patterns and large numbers around here.

Solution? Again, this seems like it’s an area where a clear separation of different modes of transport might have been better. Maybe a centre bike lane demarcated by a curb of sorts? At least application of the bright green bike lane colour used in the city?


5 thoughts on “Bike Hazards on UBC Campus

  1. Thanks for this post, I’ve been riding to/from UBC and around UBC for about 8 years so I can relate to this very much!

    My own thoughts on the above items:
    1: Roundabout. I’ve been riding in this way to work since before the roundabout, and although I do like it a bit better than the old intersection, it’s the highest conflict point on my ride. I’ve collected quite a few conflict videos from my rides in through here, but the worst are probably this guy who did not want me in the roundabout at all: (reported to the police)

    And this near rear-ending:

    What to do to fix it? Perhaps sharrow markings in the middle like the roundabouts at the golden ears bridge exits, but better I think would be to legitimize riding through the crosswalks with elephant feet markings.

    2,3: Can’t speak to these ones, I never use West Mall except at lunch time maybe for some exercise

    4: I don’t think it’s realistic to have a ban there, there are a lot of destination buildings on Main Mall that would then be inaccessible by bike, plus I don’t think such a ban would be obeyed anyway. I think this will work just fine as a shared space once all the construction is finished.

    5: This exact concern was raised during consultation on the new bus loop – why was a more separated option not provided? After a few months of using it, I feel this entrance is working well though, even for a novice user the loops seems tame enough. I really think though that this was a missed opportunity to provide a great cycling entrance to campus.

    I have a few issues of my own regarding campus and getting on/off campus:

    1: Poor connectivity between UBC roads and City of Vancouver cycling network. Connecting from W 16th to Off-Broadway, or even just onto Blanca St, is not very inviting for all age and ability groups. University Blvd/Blanca is slightly better. A better connection between University Blvd and Off-Broadway would be a big improvement to bike-access to campus.

    2: Disappearing bike lanes on East Mall and Wesbrook mall. South of Stadium Rd, the bike lane on East Mall disappears just where it’s needed most. I suspect this will get put in when the roundabout at East Mall and W 16th comes. On Wesbrook, there are no bike lanes north of Agronomy, although again, I suspect this is coming as it’s shown on the future plan for the UBC bike network as having these.

    3: Slip roads encouraging high-speed driving, for example the slip road turning from Blanca onto W 16th gets treated as a merge lane rather than a yield, making riding west through that intersection a bit nerve wracking. Same with East Mall and W 16th, but worst is Marine Dr and W 16th where there are two right-turn slip roads to cross if you want to ride straight.

    Whew that’s a pretty long comment, I think I’m going to have to do a blog post of my own on this one day!

    – Alex

    • Dear Alex,

      thanks for comments and video postings.

      Do you have a camera filming your commute routinely? With front and back view? That’s pretty serious, but in both instances obviously useful documentation.

      If elephant feet markings would appear, would you get out of the traffic circle and use the crosswalks instead? Seems like that would really slow progress through the circle on a bike down, no?

      Ad 4. Sure, lots of destinations on Main Mall, but virtually all of them have some kind of back access, don’t they? Sure probably right though that a ban would be unlikely to be obeyed which is never a good set-up. Is this an area where it’s really incumbent on us bicyclists to change our ways (i.e. walk the bike when there are crowds?)?

      Poor connectivity: This is certainly true for getting from 29th Ave bike route to 16th (my usual route). Imperial is the connection, but it is not a bike route and in poor repair/no street lights.

      Slip roads: Yes, these are somewhat frightening to bicyclists most everywhere. At least the turn onto Main Mall of 16th is fairly clear and drivers see bikes here reasonably well. Onto Marine is much more challenging.

      • Yep, I used the front/rear cameras for every ride. They’re mostly for fun videos, and especially for documenting bike routes and making videos of urban riding in other cities, but they’re convenient enough to use so they run every ride.

        Yeah, that’s what I was thinking regarding the roundabout. But yes it would slow the trip around somewhat. I wonder how a dutch-style roundabout would work in a north american setting, one where the cycle track is separated from both the central roadway and the sidewalk/crosswalks, allowing riding in either direction around it. I don’t think we have any north american examples of this, but these were absolutely great to ride around in the netherlands I found.

        How is Imperial during rush hours? I live about a block from the W 16th end of Imperial but have only ever used it on evenings and weekends.

      • Traffic is not too bad towards UBC on Imperial, especially given the sense of relief at having survived the giant SUV line-up at St. George’s just prior to getting on Imperial. Because of the curve and then downhill most drivers also go relatively slowly here. The main hazard in the mornings thus are a) broken pavement on Imperial itself, and b) the turn from Imperial onto 16th. Traffic on 16th is obviously heavy, drivers travelling East are also going fast (downhill) where the parking cars on the South side of 16th offer limited visibility.

        At night, Imperial is a bit more hazardous because of the absence of street lights. As traffic is coming downhill their headlights (even lowbeams) makes it tough to see where the (broken) pavement ends. I’ve slipped off the road onto the shoulder here before.

        I really think that replacing the on-street marking of the bicycle at the 16th/Wesbrook circle and placing sharrow markings would do a lot since it would legitimate our use of the traffic circle..

  2. Very good comments!

    1) If I remember correctly C+CP was quite receptive to changing some of the markings around the traffic circle, but nothing materialized. I will try to dig deeper to figure out what the holdup is. Probably MOTI. There is a “Share the Road” sign when entering from 16th going east, but I think that’s the only one.
    2) In my experience, the best way to get changes about signage and get people not to stop is to contact Ajay Prasad, the UBC enforcement guy. He is usually quite responsive and gets things done way faster than C+CP.
    4) Absolutely agree with your assessment on Main Mall. C+CP still has no “cycling plan”, they don’t even know where they want cyclists to go. Designating Main Mall as also ok for cycling is just a cop out to absolve them to actually have a clear plan for cyclists and implement infrastructure to support it. It’s just kicking the bucket further down the road but not solving problems. If cyclists feel bullied by drivers then UBC invites them to get off the roads and bully the pedestrians.
    5) The bus loop is just symptomatic to how C+CP approaches cycling. The plans was to put bike infrastructure in because it is an important route for cyclists. The plan was to have a 1.7m wide bike lane between parked buses and driving buses. A number of cyclists looked at the plans and contacted C+CP to tell them that this is quite ridiculous. The response was that the bike lane is “up to standards” and just fine. When the construction was finished they realized (or were told by Translink, not sure which) that the bike infrastructure they built was not going to work. So they basically decided to ignore the bike lanes (at least the westbound one and parts of the eastbound one) and put sharrows into the bus driving lane. Much better than the plan they had, but basically a total planning disaster. At least they ended up changing the markings so that it is (I think) the safest way for cyclists given what they have built. But with that kind of mentality (or competence) in C+CP it will take a while until we get good infrastructure on campus.

    As an aside, Wesbrook Mall between Agronomy and Student Union is scheduled for a major update. We should try and get our hands on early plans to make sure they don’t mess up again on the bike infrastructure. My guess is that they are still planning on building in bus-bike conflicts by having the buses cross the bike lane to get to stops.
    And also, in the next months the intersection of East Mall and 16th will become another two-lane traffic circle just like the one on Wesbrook Mall.

    I was planning to set up an online document that links with google maps so that the cycling community can collaboratively collect and document issues and track progress. Or lack thereof. Still looking around for a good way to do this, I will probably take me a bit. But I feel like something like this would be useful to keep track of all the valuable input of all the people that deal with these issues as cyclists every day.


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