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Davis, California

Saturday, October 16, 2021

A rite of passage

LUCY KNOWLES / AGGIE
LUCY KNOWLES / AGGIE

UC Davis bike circles represent campus pride, history

On an autumn afternoon, bikes zoom around campus as students rush to-and-from midterms. Nina Sherwood, a first-year managerial economics major, entered the bike circle at the intersection in front of Rock Hall and the Student Community Center (SCC) on her way to class. However, she didn’t quite make the exit.

“It was so busy that I couldn’t get out,” Sherwood said. “I had to go around twice!”

At one point or another, all students likely hear the statistic that there are more bicycles in Davis than there are people. Inevitably, with so many bikes comes traffic congestion and accidents. Bike circles strategically placed around campus help deal with the extensive daily bike traffic.

Tales of embarrassing crashes and injured egos at campus intersections are hot topics the first couple of weeks of Fall Quarter. Rumor has it that hordes of upperclassmen congregate at the busiest bike circles to witness the accidents of new bikers navigating the roundabouts.

“I heard [that] the seniors always put out lawn chairs around the bike circles and stare at you the first week,” said Kimberly Dinh, a first-year managerial economics major. “People [tell me], ‘Don’t bike the first week or you’ll get in an accident.’”

Although notoriously anxiety-inducing to first-years, these bike circles have served an important role in maintaining efficiency on campus for almost 45 years. The first bike circle was installed in 1972 at the busiest intersection on campus — the same one Sherwood found herself stuck in last week.

“I was actually a graduate student here back in the early ‘70s when the first roundabout was installed on campus,” said David Takemoto-Weerts, newly retired campus bicycle coordinator for Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS). “[Now], the first time [a student] rides through a roundabout during class break [in] Fall Quarter is sort of a rite of passage.”

At the time, Rock Hall had a different name and the SCC was a congregation of temporary buildings. Takemoto-Weerts still remembers the first roundabout installation as if it were yesterday.

“It was pretty chaotic [before] — you’d have this bike traffic gridlock, essentially,” Takemoto-Weerts said. “So somebody […] thought about doing a roundabout there. [The campus] went in there with some old firehose from the fire department and laid [it] out [as] the center circle […] rather than […] putting [in] any permanent structure. Then they marked [the asphalt] with chalk arrows to tell the people ‘this is the way you go around the [circle].’”  

Even though these roundabouts are abundant at UC Davis, traffic circles and roundabouts are far more common on the East Coast and Europe than they are in California. Therefore, it’s not shocking that most students have little to no prior experience using traffic circles before coming to UC Davis. In fact, calling them “bike circles” is a misnomer.

“You sometimes hear them referred to as ‘traffic circles’ and […] ‘roundabouts,’” Takemoto-Weerts said. “What we have on campus [are] all roundabouts, not traffic circles. The ones on campus have no stop signs or signals [when] you’re about to enter [them]. If you have signals or stop signs at the approach to a roundabout, it becomes a traffic circle.”

Roundabout or circle, these mechanisms of efficient traffic flow help thousands of students safely bike to class every day. According to Takemoto-Weerts, the two basic rules to conquering roundabouts are to enter in a counterclockwise direction, and to yield to those already in the roundabout. Right now there are 27 roundabouts on campus, with more planned for the future.

Takemoto-Weerts pointed out that adding a traffic circle to an intersection is easier said than done, with multiple factors involved in planning, development and construction. One location of interest is the three-way junction at the top of East Quad Avenue and North Quad Avenue by Hickey Gym.

“That [location has] always been put off because [of] what we call ‘heritage trees,’” Takemoto-Weerts said. “There’s at least one huge tree […] that would have to go [in order to put in a circle]. There’s a real reluctance on part of the campus to do that, otherwise it would have been done years ago.”

Heritage trees” possess important characteristics or values for a community. They contribute to a sense of pride and camaraderie at UC Davis similar to bike circles. Whether looking up at the leaf-crested branches of heritage trees or down at the face of the school mascot painted on a bike circle, each is an important symbol of the UC Davis community.

Logos in the bike circles are familiar to students who attend the school today, but they are relatively recent additions. In 2007, during an effort to enhance Aggie pride, a team of students and faculty installed UC Davis logos in the most prominent bike circles on campus. The team included Greg Ortiz, now the ASUCD advisor to athletics and administrative advisory committees, Stan Nosek, vice chancellor for administration, Sal Genito of Buildings and Grounds and then-ASUCD President Kareem Salem.

“[The logos add] color [and] a sense of pride in the grounds on campus, and also in the university,” said Scott Judson, a 2009 graduate in political science and communication and Aggie Pack MC from 2005 to 2009. “The main idea was […] to get the marks that represent the university [out there] and get Aggie pride spreading across campus.”

When Dinh first researched UC Davis, the images she saw were aerial photos of Aggie-branded bike circles. Not only are bike circles a symbol of the school, but they are also a fundamental aspect of the Davis lifestyle.

UC Davis bike circles maintain safety and promote Aggie pride. Although bike circles may seem intimidating at first, riding through them a few times can start to feel like second nature for most students.

“I’m way more confident [now]. It’s like getting in a car every morning,” Sherwood said. “There’s bikes around you, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not a big deal.”

 

Written by: Marly Jeane and Jennie Chang — features@theaggie.org

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