New bike safety video encourages safe riding

Student government, Rice University Cycling and Triathlon team up to teach cyclists their rights and responsibilities

Everyone can use an occasional refresher on road safety, even cyclists and drivers who have been commuting for years. That’s just one reason Rice University students teamed up to create a bike safety video now being circulated across campus.

In the aftermath of April’s fatal collision in which a cyclist was struck and killed by a truck while riding her bike through the crosswalk at Sunset Boulevard and Main Street, the Rice community knew more had to be done to address bike safety around campus.

“We needed to clarify some of the laws around biking and make sure people knew what their rights and responsibilities were,” said Mary Natoli, a bioengineering graduate student who also serves as president of the Rice University Cycling and Triathlon club (RUCT). Together with fellow grad student Jordin Metz, the sustainability director for the Graduate Student Association (GSA), and Student Association (SA) President Ariana Engles, a Lovett College junior, the students set out to create a safety video they hope will be shared — and studied — by everyone.

After that April crash, said Engles, “a lot of students were really upset and wanted something to change so that it was safer for not only us, but anyone who commutes to campus.”

Cyclists should always wear helmets when riding. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

Cyclists should always wear helmets when riding. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

In addition, Natoli said, “graduate students were hearing from international students that they don’t know all the rules of the road.” According to the latest statistics from Rice’s Office of International Students and Scholars, 11.5 percent of Rice’s undergraduate students and 40 percent of graduate students hail from abroad. Even if you’re intimately familiar with the driving and cycling rules in your own country, Natoli pointed out, that doesn’t mean the laws are the same here.

The video idea was conceived during Senior Week after discussions with the Rice University Police Department (RUPD), the Office of the President and the Mobility Safety Committee. Natoli wrote a script based on local traffic laws and her own cycling experience. She and Metz checked out equipment from the Digital Media Commons in Fondren Library and produced the video in three weeks. And although Engles was back home in Austin for part of the summer, the trio called and emailed faculty and staff to recruit familiar faces for the video.

RUPD Chief James Tate opens the short film with an introduction, and Officer David Anderson shares narration duties with Engles. Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman crosses an oak-shaded street with her husband and daughter in one scene. And in a segment that drew laughs when screened last week at the first Student Association meeting, Matt Taylor, associate vice provost for academic affairs and adjunct associate professor of humanities, sneaks off with a bicycle like the Grinch in a scene showing how to prevent bike theft.

“The bicycle safety video that Ariana, Jordin and Mary created demonstrates how passionate and entrepreneurial our students are about making Rice and Houston safe for cyclists,” said Richard Johnson ’92, director of Rice’s Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management and chairperson of the Mobility Safety Committee. “In my view, everyone on campus should watch this video, regardless of whether they are a cyclist or not.”

Bikes are a popular means of transportation on and around campus. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne)

Bikes are a popular means of transportation on and around campus. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne)

Though the video offers instruction and advice on plenty of Rice-specific roads and situations, Engles hopes the students’ message about traffic safety will spread beyond the hedges. “I’d honestly love to see even people who don’t have an affiliation with Rice but who live in this area also be able to see this,” she said.

“We hope this video helps people learn safe practices here at Rice and continue to use them throughout their lives,” said Metz. Like Natoli, Metz bikes to campus; they are among an increasing number of students who use alternative transportation methods, according to Johnson. (Also popular: Rice shuttles, Zipcars, public transit and ride-sharing.)

This attitude is indicative of how passionate Rice students are about transportation — and transportation safety in particular, Johnson said. A number of other bike and pedestrian safety projects have been undertaken by students as part of the ongoing GSA-RUCT Safe Streets Initiative. This summer, the groups worked with the Rice leadership to send two letters to the city of Houston — one penned by Rice President David Leebron and the other penned by Natoli and GSA President Jason Guo — proposing a series of improvements to bike and pedestrian infrastructure on the streets and intersections near campus.

“Both the GSA and SA have deeply engaged with campus transportation issues over the last couple of years, including appointing representatives to help select campus locations for BCycle stations and to serve on Rice’s Mobility Safety Committee,” Johnson said. “I’ve genuinely appreciated their partnership, commitment and contributions.”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.