As one steps on the UC Santa Barbara campus, one of the first things noticed are the bike paths and filled bike racks scattered throughout. During rush hour, it is not uncommon to see numerous bikes locked to random poles or even on patches of grass unlocked due to lack of spots on the bike racks. In particular, the bike racks next to the under-construction Music Building are especially egregious, with bikes scattered in bushes, locked to the chain-link fence or just tossed aside on the floor.

Bike racks

Bike racks filled during rush hour (Nina Timofeyeva / Daily Nexus)

As UCSB enrollment has increased over the past 10 years, the different modes of transportation have varied and adjusted to the way of student life. According to UCSB’s commuter split data, in 2023, approximately 35% of students bike as their main form of transportation, which is a decrease from the 50% who biked in 2010. Additionally, there has been an increase in walking from 18% to 34% from 2010-23.

Adam Jahnke — Associated Students Bike Shop supervisor of nine years — noted the safest option out of the commuter modes on campus, based on the number of accidents that occur from bikes.

“You have your own experience with seeing and/or hearing people get into wrecks on campus with bikes, boards, etc. So I would probably say on campus, walking is probably the safest, and walking without your headphones and being attentive.” 

Jahnke added that there is a sense of fear among staff about the potential for riding vehicles to get stolen.

“There’s always been a struggle with giving staff and faculty to also feel encouraged to ride on campus, so I think that little anecdote points to that perception that cycling and skateboarding, e-bikes, scooters are perceived as dangerous on campus,” he said. 

It’s important to note the local riders’ perspective on commuters, as it can affect the attitude and behaviors of students toward each other.  

“The first three weeks of any quarter are always really hectic. UCSB’s overall age demographic skews on the younger side, and, again, this is anecdotal from my perspective, but I think the part of the danger that comes with the mobility on campus is that you might not have a terribly experienced ridership community.” 

There has been a spike in telecommuting after the pandemic. According to the UCSB commuter split data, a steady 3-4% of staff worked from home from 2013-19, but in 2022, it spiked to 32%. 

Michele Kunz — e-Commerce and Marketing Manager of the UCSB Campus Store — bikes to campus. She noted the various ways the campus could be improved to keep students and other faculty members safer when navigating campus. 

“Adding a dedicated bike lane on UCEN Road would create a safer environment for cyclists and help separate them from vehicular traffic. Paving the road would also improve overall accessibility,” she said in a statement to the Nexus. “Painting crosswalks with bright colors can enhance visibility and raise awareness for drivers that there may be pedestrians or cyclists crossing. This can help improve safety for all road users.”

Jahnke has a similar opinion on the ways UCSB’s bike infrastructure could be improved to create a safer campus for students, staff and visitors.

“More paths — we could use better bike stripings. Signs on the paths, I think, would very much help students navigate, and to that point, if there were certain paths that would be aided with the addition of cones or barriers — especially if there’s a space that’s shared within a parking lot or adjacent to a road — I think all of those things would encourage ridership rates overall.” 

Jahnke emphasized a list of behaviors that would improve the biking environment.

“I would say courtesy is at the top of that list, and in subcategories of courtesy, maybe no headphones on while you’re riding a bike, maybe no phone usage — those are big ones,” he said. “If you’re turning, use your bell, use your voice to make people around you spatially aware of your intentions on where you’re going.”  

Indeed, many students have personally experienced, or seen accidents occur on the bike paths.

“It’s been not surprising to get responses from students who say they don’t ride or skate or blade because they had had a really awful accident,” Jahnke said.

Additionally, according to Jahnke, the large cycling community within Santa Barbara has transported its culture over to UCSB. 

“[Cycling culture has] coevolved with the university over the years, and it’s an exceptional phenomenon we observe, where UCSB holds the highest ridership rate in America — given our population,” he said. Although meeting every individual’s needs seems impossible, a small enhancement such as repaving some roads or painting stripings can prevent an accident and improve accessibility.

Matt Porter, a mathematics lecturer at UCSB, frequently alternates between biking and driving to navigate the campus. He likes biking since he believes it is generally safer compared to driving. 

“I think [the car] is the most dangerous method of transportation there is,” Porter said.

Porter specifically criticized the infrastructure around the area near the Interactive Learning Pavilion at UCSB, noting significant concerns such as the integration of bike paths with vehicular traffic and the presence of potholes on UCEN Road.

“There are some [bike paths] … they put you on the road, and that stretch is pretty bad in terms of potholes,” Porter described.

Porter also shed light on the relationship between bike paths and pedestrian areas at UCSB. He stressed the need for increased awareness among all campus commuters to enhance safety.

Like Jahnke, Porter believes that a heightened consciousness about the shared use of these spaces can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and ensure a safer campus environment.

“It seems like people walking are just never completely aware that there’s bikes going by as well, so if we can improve awareness in some way, that will be good,” Porter said.

Regarding parking costs at UCSB, Porter offered a contrasting viewpoint, drawing attention to his experience at Santa Barbara City College. 

“It’s free for employees, which seems like it should be the case at any workplace, that you don’t have to pay to be able to park at where you work,” he noted. 

Additionally, the issue of bike security at UCSB can be a significant concern. As such, Porter brings his bike into his classrooms and offices, as a precaution against theft.

“I know that even when it’s locked, there is plenty of bike theft happening. I bring it into the classroom because I find with 10 [minutes] between classes, it’s really the only way that I can get between my classrooms and be able to be ready to start on time instead of walking,” Porter said.

“My bike is way too expensive and special to me to trust leaving it outside.”