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Sunday, September 26, 2021

A biking history of Davis

GENESIA TING / AGGIE

National Bike Month allows campus, community to reflect on Davis’ two-wheeled history

Imagine a small town with a laid back biking culture, where cyclists tend to be treated with respect. A place where cyclists and motorists share the road with minimal conflict. Does this sound familiar?

UC Davis is known to many as a “biking school.” The relaxed atmosphere and biking culture is what attracts many students to UC Davis, but many people do not know the rich history lying in plain sight on the streets of Davis. Taking a look back into Davis’ history of bicycling reveals that Davis truly is a gem, especially considering that May has been deemed National Bike Month.

Even before Davis was focused on becoming a bike-friendly town, there were factors which naturally boosted Davis’ bike friendliness. Davis’ fairly flat terrain accompanied by mild weather year round made it destined to become an ideal town for bicyclists, according to David Takemoto-Weerts, long-term Davis resident and the former bike coordinator for UC Davis Transportation and Parking Services.

“Davis as you know is a relatively small town in an area surrounded entirely by farmland and the causeway,” Takemoto-Weerts said. “So that means if you live in Davis and go to school or work in Davis […] your one-way commute is short.”

Davis is not only considered one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the United States, but city leaders were some of the greatest influencers of how biking culture is handled today across America.

In 1959, Emil Mrak, the second Chancellor of UC Davis, influenced the transformation of biking culture on the UC Davis campus. Most college campuses have only one main bike parking area for students once they get to campus, but Mrak had a different vision for Davis.

“[Emil Mrak] envisioned the campus with trees and people on bikes and the way to encourage the bicycling he felt was to install bike racks [on campus],” Takemoto-Weerts said. “He thought, ‘there is going to be bicycle parking at every building and it should be close to the front door because that is where people want to park’ […] so that was pretty radical.”

With more people using bikes as a primary mode of transportation, the City of Davis made an effort to minimize conflict between cyclists and motorists. In 1967, Mrak closed UC Davis’ campus to motor vehicle traffic as another way to encourage more students to bike. Davis also became the first city in the United States to create a bike lane. These first lanes were on Sycamore Lane, L Street and 3rd Street.

While creating a bike lane does not sound that astounding, the effort was much more complex than painting an extra stripe on the streets. According to Takemoto-Weerts, the leaders of Davis had to go through a legislative process make their proposed bike lane a reality.

“You have to know rules about how to use these things and put it in the California vehicle code,” Takemoto-Weerts said. “It’s not an easy process but it happened fairly quickly from what I understand.”

At the time, city leaders and community members fought hard for the city’s biking culture. Davis eventually became the example for many other cities around the nation.

The large number of bikes in Davis created a high demand for bicycle shops, so in 1971, a student-operated bicycle shop on campus known as “the Bike Barn” opened. According to Jack Zuercher, a fourth-year statistics major and the business manager at the Bike Barn, UC Davis not only sets the example for a bike-friendly campus, but it also is the model for student run bicycle shops.

“The Bike Barn is the largest on campus bike shop in the world, at any college,” Zuercher said. “The Bike Barn is essentially the model bike shop or rather the model university bike shop across the country.”

Many generations of students have worked there over the years as Davis continued to grow as a bike-friendly city. Before becoming the bicycle coordinator for TAPS, Takemoto-Weertz also worked at the Bike Barn.

“I often tell people that’s the best job I ever had, being a mechanic at the Bike Barn,” Takemoto-Weertz said. “It was just so much fun, I learned so much. It was just a great group of people.”

Those who have spent any time biking in other cities know how easy the City of Davis is to bike in today. Martin Krieg, an avid cyclist and Davis local — who has also biked across the United States twice — finds Davis to be a unique community for those who cycle.

“The infrastructure here empowers cyclists to not only travel safely but be able to know you can get to where you need to [go] with confidence,” Krieg said. “It also changes the mindset of the motoring public to where they have a respect for cyclists.”

Any Davis native or visitor knows how bike-friendly the city is, even when compared to other comparable cities in the United States.

“[Davis has] a better standard than I’ve been accustomed to,” Krieg said. “In San Francisco, you have train tracks that just are lethal in the middle of the road, you have trucks that have no patience for you, cars that have no patience for you. Here at least motorists at least understand to expect the unexpected from cyclists.”

Like Krieg, current UC Davis students know from first-hand experience that Davis lends itself to bikers. According to Zuercher, Davis has innovative ways of keeping cyclists safe.

“There are bike lanes everywhere you go,” Zuercher said. “There’s also specialty little buttons next to bike lanes at […] intersections so […] obviously you’re not in a car so you’re not going to be able to trigger the weight sensor that’s in the roads since you’re on a bike, [but] you can press that little cross button.”

Davis has always been a cycling friendly town, but over time, with help of legislature, supportive citizens and students, Davis is now defined as a cycling community.

“You have a lot of people who are conscience of cyclists. They know to expect us,” Krieg said. “I [have] felt embraced by the community.”

Written by: Elizabeth Marin  — features@theaggie.org

 

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