U?s sidewalks can be a dangerous road

By By Ben Caballero

By Ben Caballero

The U has two great things going for it: gravity and TRAX. The combination has made the campus a great place for traveling downhill while letting TRAX take care of the pesky uphill part.

But I have noticed that a downhill slope, though nice for pedestrians like me, is much more fun for longboarders.

While watching them whiz by me, I realized two things:

1. They’re enjoying their trip to class a lot more than I am

2. I don’t want to get hit by them.

It’s not that I have ever been close to getting hit by (or hitting) a longboarder, but there is a potential danger that can’t be ignored.

To support this, I turn to Patrick Buckner, a freshman who bikes to class every day on campus and who made this fairly obvious but profound observation: “I have brakes.”

Brakes, I would argue in a very scientific sense, provide a far better means of slowing down or stopping than no brakes. Longboards have no brakes, which makes me nervous about sharing walkway space with someone traveling at speeds that can reach more than 20 miles per hour.

But Josh Bross, who has been longboarding on campus for several years, said there is a simple solution to the lack of brakes.

“Increase the ratio of distance you’ve traveled to the elevation lost rather than trying to utilize friction,” he said.

In other words, he said making many turns while riding down the hill keeps the speed manageable, so you don’t start moving so fast that you are unable to stop when you want8212;or need to. That way, when something or someone unexpectedly comes into your path, you’re prepared. And, dragging your foot on the ground to slow down using friction is a poor method because it reduces control of the board and the rider.

Bross has obviously thought about the sport and how it applies to campus, probably on his 15-minute cruises down the hill. His long hair, mustache and beard give him a philosopher/hippie/could-be-extra-on-Lord-of-the-Rings air that I find authoritative.

He raises some good points that indicate that longboards, when used correctly, can be safe on campus.

“Control,” he said. “As long as you’re in control…you’re able to stop at any moment.”

He said his technique is to not ride faster than he can run. That way, he can jump off the board at any time, come to a stop in a few steps and turn around to catch his board.

“I’ll go through big crowds, and I find it a blast, but I’ll creep through the crowd,” he said. “I think it’s entertaining for everybody, including myself.”

But, like it or not, weaving through crowds of pedestrians, whether it be on longboards, skateboards, or bikes has its potential for accidents that no university can ignore.

The U tried to help divide traffic on campus last fall by creating a two-lane bike path that runs through campus. The idea8212;a very logical one, I think8212;was to provide a safe way for bikers to move faster through campus without risking collision with pedestrians. The result, I would argue, has been insignificant.

Buckner told me that he and other bikers rarely use the bike path because nobody adheres to the lanes and their function for bikers. Too many pedestrians simply walk all over it. If this were not the case, he would use the bike path.

I would attest to this problem because I, as a pedestrian, both blatantly and absentmindedly ignore the lanes, as do others I see.

Alma Allred, director of Commuter Services at the U, is a biker and advocates the use of bikes and longboards on campus. Although he said the bike path has been successful in dividing traffic, he recognized that there are changes that should be made and said the U will work to likely make adjustments in the future.

For now, pedestrians, longboarders, bikers and the like are going to have to watch out for each other. To longboarders, I say ride on, but watch out for me, mostly because I don’t want to cause you to wipe out while avoiding me. That would be awkward. For those with brakes, use ’em if you got ’em.