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NMSU safety administrator works to create bike-friendly campus

Date: 03/08/2011

Riding the bike paths of New Mexico State University is thousands of miles and decades away from David Shearer's first ride in rural Pennsylvania as a 10-year-old boy, but his passion for two-wheel transportation is just as intense today.

David Shearer (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Shearer, the assistant director for NMSU's Environmental Health & Safety Department, is a cyclist with a mission: to make NMSU a safe place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

"We'd like to have a bike-friendly campus," Shearer said. "The City of Las Cruces is working toward being a bike-friendly city. We'd like to see our students, faculty and staff ride their bikes to campus or bring their bikes back and forth to use on campus."

One thing Shearer did not have to worry about back in rural Pennsylvania was traffic. As a safety official for the university, protecting cyclists and pedestrians is a primary interest. He says complaints from the campus community about pedestrian safety and questions about establishing bike paths or bike lanes on campus led the university safety committee to establish the bike safety subcommittee.

Shearer and other members of that committee have given a voice to the campus bike-riding community on issues affecting the university's master plan. Shearer also provided feedback from the group to the company engaged in a traffic and transportation parking study on campus.

"We have avid bikers who bike to campus almost every day," Shearer said. "And with campus vehicle reductions and sustainability efforts, we expect to see many more small utility vehicles, electric and small carts on campus streets as well as pedestrian areas. We are trying to improve pedestrian safety with campus street-striping, driver and bicyclist education and safety policies."

Shearer says NMSU's Environmental Health & Safety Department has been the driving force in arranging funding and direction to get Stewart Street upgraded for pedestrian safety. Staff and students saw the results after the holidays with new bicycle lanes from Arrowhead Dr. down to East Union Ave. The crosswalks and signage also were updated.

"There has also been interest in improving some of the facilities on campus for those who ride bicycles to the campus," Shearer said. "The Activities Center, of course, is promoting the use of bikes. They have bike rental, bike repair. It's moving along."

There's even a push to include information for bike riders on a university map. Several people from NMSU's Geography Department have shown interest in mapping campus routes, bike racks and facilities for cyclists.

NMSU's cycling committee has worked with other national cycling groups and the local metropolitan planning organization to help the city earn the Bicycle Friendly Community designation. The city expects to turn in its application Feb. 18. The university group also is working separately to attain the designation for the NMSU campus.

"I'd like to see people get out for scheduled rides around the campus," Shearer said. "I'd like to see trail biking and see the use of some of the property here or on some of the property BLM has. It would be minimal impact to the campus."

Cycling enthusiasts at NMSU also have been working with the League of American Bicyclists to become certified instructors. Shearer says there now are four instructors conducting traffic safety classes for local bike riders. The NMSU group held a class in October and says there are plans to host additional trainings in April and in the summer.

"We make bicyclists aware that there are things they need to watch out for," Shearer said. "We rode around the campus and basically went through start and stop maneuvers, teaching them how to signal properly among other things. It seems like a lot of it should be easy, but some of those missed cues can land you in the hospital."

As part of their efforts, the Environmental Health & Safety Department has a student working to produce a 10-minute video on bicycle and cart safety to show as part of the university's defensive driving classes.

As a child growing up, Shearer rode a bicycle almost every day. After he married and had his own son, they did 50-mile bike rides together so his son could earn a Boy Scout merit badge.

Shearer has been cycling at NMSU for the last 11 years on an off, but recently he has become a more serious advocate for cycling. He says the bike-friendly designation would be nice, but emphasizes his efforts are focused on helping others improve their quality of life.

"We'd like to see a campus that has routes where people can ride and traffic can go down smoothly without people worrying about their safety," Shearer said. "Get out and exercise. Enjoy the campus more. Don't just ride but walk across campus too. You'll feel better."

For more information on cycling at NMSU visit http://safety.nmsu.edu/programs/BikeSafety/index.html

Written by Minerva Baumann.

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