A student crossing Main Street on her bike Feb. 14 was struck by an SUV coming out of the parking garage across the street even though the student had the signal to cross. Fortunately, the student survived. The accident serves as a reminder of the need for cyclists and pedestrians to remain cautious on and off campus.
“Even when you have the right of way, always stay vigilant,” said Rice Police Chief Johnny Whitehead. He noted that the Houston Chronicle recently reported that nearly 25 bike riders have been killed on Houston streets during the past five years.
Richard Johnson, who chairs Rice’s Bicycle Safety Committee, said a “heightened awareness” is warranted when students, faculty and staff are walking or cycling off campus.
“Once you go outside the hedges, the cars are coming down Main Street quickly, and pedestrians and cyclists need to give their full attention to the traffic,” he said. “Those drivers are not anticipating pedestrian and bicycle traffic like they would if they were on campus. In fact, they’re driving twice as fast, and some are visitors to the Texas Medical Center who are a bit confused about where to go. The bottom line is that you’ve got to be alert, because they might not be.”
Whitehead noted that the city has been working on intersection improvements, crosswalks and signal timing along the Main Street corridor between Rice and the Texas Medical Center. The intersection of Main Street and University Boulevard was redesigned with “traffic calming” features designed to slow down or reduce motor vehicle traffic.
Cyclists should obey traffic signs and signals and follow lane markings. They should avoid riding against traffic; motorists may not look for cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road. Cyclists also should avoid passing on the right, where a motorist may not be looking for a bike.
Although the city streets pose greater danger because of the volume of traffic and speed, pedestrians and cyclists should remain cautious and courteous on campus.
“We’ve been developing a culture that is bicycle friendly on campus,” Johnson said. “Cyclists should ring their bell or yell if they’re approaching someone from behind to alert them that they’re about to pass. And bikes should be walked – not ridden – in the covered walkways by Lovett Hall and similar buildings and on sidewalks marked with ‘no biking’ signs.”
Runners and walkers need to be extra cautious when crossing the entrances and exits around campus. Sometimes cars that have been waiting for a traffic light to change will rush through an exit, so pedestrians should make eye contact with drivers before crossing to reduce their chances of becoming a hood ornament.
If you’re involved in an accident or need to summon help for someone else, contact the Rice University Police Department and Rice Emergency Medical Service at 713-348-6000.