The danger of having wheels
Every day, nearly everyone at Stanford must travel through the campus’ most successful linear particle accelerator. No, not SLAC; I’m referring to the “Intersection of Death,” the infamous spot where Lasuen Mall meets Escondido Mall at the Clock Tower (MapGuide, Google Maps). At peak times when classes have just ended or are about to begin, the bicycles, skateboards, golf carts, scooters, electric scooters, construction vehicles, delivery trucks, and intimidated pedestrians mirror a scene straight out of New York City, sans the yellow taxicabs. To get through this gauntlet of hurried commuters is an inhuman feat of skill and bravery. Sometimes there’s just no way around the intersection, since the five minutes from one class to the next certainly isn’t enough. So you try weaving in and out of the stalled bicyclists, who are as stunned as you at the sheer volume of traffic. Sometimes you make it.
Wednesday I didn’t. I thought I saw a clear path through the intersection, one of those rare moments in life that makes your day. My day surely was made when someone attempted to turn left onto my rear wheel, sending me flying towards the pavement. Now my bike’s in the shop for repairs, and I’m stuck walking a full 15 minutes to some classes. This is exactly the kind of mishap that the Department of Public Safety and PT&S have been looking to prevent with their still-confusing ban on biking in the Arcades and their wonderfully quaint “Slow Down” signs posted as you approach the intersection.
Unfortunately, these measures only force people to look both ways when crossing the Arcades – watching for police, not for pedestrians – and slowing down at the Intersection of Death – only because of a traffic jam, likely caused by the influx of former Arcade users. Passing through the busiest intersection in a one-mile radius is still a major gamble.
The University should’ve taken a cue from the d.school students who successfully turned the intersection into a roundabout for a day. Unlike the students, the University has the clout necessary to make such a change permanent. As far as I can tell, the intersection has just enough room to make a traffic circle that could handle the peak volumes around lunchtime and provide enough room to maneuver around.
But, as usual, there’s no silver bullet. Even a roundabout would only solve one part of the problem – the current lack of a right-of-way system. There’s more, though. For instance, some people still find it sane to bike while talking on the phone, even though it’s going to be illegal to do the same while driving a car (arguably an easier thing to do). And some still find it cool to bike with both hands in their pockets, wearing a smug face until they realize the need for brakes.
Of course, they didn’t cause my accident. What happened to me on Wednesday was just poor timing, compounded by poor road planning. Instead of promoting traffic distributors to ease the load on this one intersection, the University has opted to funnel everyone through a 50-square-foot logjam. Rather than finding reasons for an arbitrary ban, can we please do something about this much-maligned intersection?