Two Anti-Bike Lane Narratives that Need to Stop

cleveland-randolph

Cleveland Avenue today.

So far, there aren’t a lot of obvious benefits to spending years of your life getting a PhD in geography and bicycle planning. You acquire a lot of debt, spend a lot of time alone in rooms reading and writing things that few people will ever care about, and generally end up thinking to yourself, “Why am I doing this?” The only living creature that notices your gradual aging and obsolescence is your cat.

That said, you do learn stuff and acquire credentials. And probably the best thing about having a PhD in bicycling and geography is that brief moment in time when someone says something about your slim area of expertise and you’re able to weigh in by making clear, concise statements backed up with data, research, and carefully chosen anecdotes. (Actually, you end up waiting months or years for these moments to come along, so when they finally do, you end up getting a bit too excited.)

Anyway, it happened just the other day when I again noticed flagrantly incorrect claims about the relationship between bike lanes, street design, and safety.

The Cleveland Dilemma

Saint Paul has seen more progress on bicycle planning in one summer than we’ve had in decades, combined, as the city has passed a relatively ambitious bike plan which includes potentially revolutionary routes along the “Grand Rounds” and connecting through downtown, and the county and city have striped bike lanes on Lexington, Front, Marshall, Oakdale, and Western avenues.

Pretty much the only sticking point was Cleveland Avenue, where a city-supported bike lane proposal ran into some neighborhood opposition because it involved losing or moving on-street parking spaces from Cleveland to nearby side streets.

The short version: the City-proposed bike lanes are one of the first examples of implementing the new city-wide bike plan, and a few business people got upset and organized  a campaign to complain to the City Council, City, and County staff. In response, the City Council proposed a one-year delay during which a broadly selected committee would work out a fair solution, and that’s where we are today. The committee (of which I’m a member) is hosting a public open house this Wednesday.

two-bike-routes-map-cleveland-prior

The two bike lane routes on the table at the last Task Force meeting.

Misinformation on Safety

That’s all politics. But the problem is that, during the debates, a few people have been spreading misinformation about street safety in an attempt to derail any bicycle infrastructure from being built.

Here’s the latest salvo, which was delivered to neighbors along Cleveland:

cleveland_antibike-WRONG

Click to enlarge.

To me, this is like when climate skeptics try to use data to convince skeptics that the planet isn’t actually warming. And as Upton Sinclair once said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.” If you believe that your career depends on a parking space, there’s no amount of research, argument, or kindness that will convince you that a bike lane might benefit Cleveland Avenue.

And to make a long story short, this flier represents a dishonest argument about street design that appeals to those invested in the status quo. On the surface, these objections might seem reasonable. But they actually reflect how inflexibility about street design and urban transportation, in order to cling to slight comforts, keeps a dangerous precedent in place for another decade.

Allow me to explain.

#1: “Narrow lanes are more dangerous”

Check out this comment:

bike-lane-thing

The problem with this line of thinking is that 11’, and even 10’ lanes, are statistically proven to be safer than 12’ lanes in cities.This is what  I call the “paradox of risk.” The more we design a street to be “safer” with wide lanes and fewer obstacles, according to traditional engineering principles of “forgiveness“, the more dangerous it actually becomes.

narrow mountain roadThis is why some of the seemingly most dangerous streets (think of narrow routes in Europe, downtown locations with tons of pedestrians, or intersections with few traffic controls) are statistically some of the safest, while seemingly safe streets (think of the typical strip-mall 4-lane street, or an arrow-straight two-lane highway on the prairie) are actually the most dangerous. It’s a vicious cycle: the less we “think” a street is dangerous, the less we pay attention, the more dangerous it becomes. And vice versa.

This principle comes into play on the Cleveland Avenue example, which calls for the reduction of the traffic lane width from 12’ to 11’ to accommodate bicycling.

chicago-avenue-buses

#2: “Protected lanes / off-street lanes are better”

minneapolis-low-stress

Minneapolis bike map with different types of routes.

The second big problem with the anti-bike narratives is that they often use the “perfect is the enemy of the good” routine, by saying “if we can’t do something amazing, then we shouldn’t do anything at all.”

One difficult concept in bicycle planning, especially for folks who don’t ride themselves very often, is that there are different kinds of riders. Often this gets broken down into “recreational” vs. “commuting” bicyclists, but the reality is a lot more complicated than that, with many trips falling in between those two categories, and many trips blurring the line. (Think of, for example, a couple who ride their bicycles to Lake Como to have dinner and a drink by the water, before returning home. Is that a “recreational” or a “utility” trip? The answer is “both.”)

And, just as car drivers aren’t all commuting to work, bicycle riders have all kinds of different motivations for being out on the street. What’s more, they also have contrasting comfort zones when it comes to where they’d like to ride, how much fast-moving car traffic they’re willing to tolerate, and what kind of bicycle they’re riding on. At root, it’s often a tension between speed and comfort, with some people opting  to ride more slowly on back streets and others wanting to go faster even if it means putting up with traffic.

That means that smart cities build infrastructure for the whole range of bicyclists and allow them to choose where and how quickly they want to ride. In the end, it turns into a spectrum of bicycle infrastructure. Any given rider might choose to ride on side-paths for most of their ride, but will inevitably end up merging onto more arterial main streets for some of the ride, where those narrower bike lanes will come in very handy.

bike-ride-map

An map of a ride from my dissertation research.

A good example is the River Road, where there’s an off-street mixed-use path for bicyclists who want to go slowly and avoid cars, and (at least in one direction) an on-street bike lane for people riding 15+ miles per hour who don’t mind a bit of car traffic. Having either one without the other would be bad planning.

That’s why good city bike plans offer an array of different types of infrastructure, to accommodate as many people as possible. Sometimes you can do this all in one go, with infrastructure designed for many different kinds of users. (The Midtown Greenway is the gold standard for this, but protected bike lane designs like Park and Portland Avenues in Minneapolis also do pretty well.)

bike-plan-key

From the Saint Paul bike plan.

The Saint Paul bike plan is designed to have off-street protected bikeways (Grand Rounds, downtown, maybe others in the future) for many kinds of users, on-street lanes for more utilitarian trips to directly reach shops, and low-traffic bicycle boulevards for unhurried people wanting a low-stress experience. All of these kinds of bike infrastructure work together and amplify each other.

(After all, even an “off-street commute” trip begins and ends with an encounter in a more congested area; see the example of one of the rides from my dissertation research above.)

I’m OK with people having different opinions about bicycling, parking, and street design. But I hate seeing misinformation dominate the discussions. Twelve-foot lanes are more dangerous than narrower designs, 5’ bike lanes are safe for many people and many kinds of trips, and anyone who says otherwise should do their homework and stop misleading the public.

There’s a public open house about the Cleveland bike lanes this Wednesday at 6-7:30pm at Coeur de Catherine Ballroom at Saint Catherine University where you can express your support or give written comments. You can also e-mail Public Works Director Kathy Lantry at: kathy.lantry@ci.stpaul.mn.us

If you’re in the area, come on over and weigh in. And if you see these arguments popping up in future bike lane debates, feel free to correct the misinformation. 

summitave

City staff striping a bike lane on Summit Avenue.


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40 Responses to Two Anti-Bike Lane Narratives that Need to Stop

  1. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn October 27, 2015 at 12:57 pm #

    Thank you, Bill.

  2. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel October 27, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    Great work. Excellent article.

  3. DK October 27, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    “. . . the county and city have striped bike lanes on Lexington, Front, Marshall, Oakdale, and Western avenues.”

    And also: a new bike lane on Minnehaha between Lexington and Dale as part of a repaving project. Actually, I would have been almost as enthusiastic about the new pavement minus the lane — the atrocious condition of the old pavement was much more unfriendly to biking than the lack of a bike lane. But I’m happy to have the lane too for my daily commute.

    Minnehaha now has a bike lane from Prior to Como with the exception of a gap between Hamline and Lexington.

    – DK

    • JC October 27, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

      The only frustrating thing is when they skimmed the surface of Minnehaha with new tar, they didn’t include the bike lanes. They’re still just as rough as they’ve always been.

  4. Emily Metcalfe
    Emily Metcalfe October 27, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    OMG! I so relate about your grad school experience. When I published my first paper in grad school, and even the title being incomprehensible to nearly the whole world, I sensed that all my effort was futile. So I didn’t finish my PhD. Congrats on persevering, Dr.

  5. Serafina October 27, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

    I like how you phrase ‘”the paradox of risk”: The more we design a street to be “safer” with wide lanes and fewer obstacles, according to traditional engineering principles of “forgiveness,“ the more dangerous it actually becomes.’

    I frequently bike and drive down Pelham from the bridge over 94 to Otis, and the kids are constantly harping at me for speeding when I’m in the car. It’s almost impossible to go the speed limit, even when I’m hyper aware of how nervous it makes me biking there with little kids when cars go whizzing by. I love the handmade signs by Desnoyer Park as a visual reminder of how that is a neighborhood.

    Conversely, I lived on Marshall near Fairview for about 15 years and used to joke with the neighbors that it was one of the safest neighborhood streets to raise kids on because not even a child would forget and run out into the street there to chase down a ball, unlike on Dayton or Igleheart.

  6. Nicole October 27, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

    Thanks for writing this piece. It’s a great message that needs to be distributed to a wider audience.

  7. Alex October 27, 2015 at 3:13 pm #

    Great job productivifying your frustration, Bill! Now you need to turn this post into a flyer.

    The local layer of government is one of the few in the USA with occasional democratic tendencies, but unfortunately it often degrades into mob rule in practice. There has been a sign up on a (lightly-trafficked but symbolically important) street in my town about how three-lane streets are more dangerous than four-lane streets, despite the opposite being proven true. Unfortunately that sign and the opposition it symbolizes may have delayed the planned conversion, and certainly influenced media articles about the project that have neglected to mention the very real safety benefits of the project.

    So St Paul is lucky to have an organ for debate and venue for facts in streets.mn. Keep up the good work!

  8. Keith Morris October 27, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

    I like how how the picture of busses successfully passing each other on two 11′ lanes with bike lanes on the sides clearly dismisses claims to the contrary from St Paul, but I’m sure they’d say that over there it won’t work and buses will only be able to pass occupying the bike lane. Why? Because we’re not Minneapolis!

    • brad October 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

      I’m guessing the people worried about 11′ lanes are the same ones who move left into the oncoming lane to pass a bike that’s in the bike lane. Cuz bikers have cooties?

      • AMH October 28, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

        I would hope they give cyclists some room–I don’t like being buzzed.

      • Justin November 11, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

        When I drive I give cyclists TONS of room if I can.

  9. Margot Higgins October 27, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

    Good article. You might enjoy Jason’s Henderson’s Street Fight: the politics of automobility in SF

  10. Harry October 28, 2015 at 12:48 am #

    Your reference article cited its sources in support of its claims, could you perhaps do the same?

    (Also, the reference article offered rather “statistically” weak support of narrow-lane safety, in my opinion; in fact, it seemed to conclude safety reduction or increase was negligible. A better source of support of your narrow-lane safety argument might be here: http://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/lane-width/)

    And careful labeling those that oppose bike lanes on Cleveland “anti-bike”. Perhaps “anti-bike lane on Cleveland Avenue” is more appropriate?

    I’m new to this conversation so do not have all of the facts nor do I have a firm opinion, but it looks as though there is an alternative proposed above that uses Prior and merges onto Cleveland only at St. Catherine’s? What do you think about that? Would narrowing occur on Prior?

    • Jeff October 28, 2015 at 8:43 am #

      Harry, your point (about this being about pro- or anti- Cleveland bike lane rather than pro- or anti- biker) is a good one. I know one guy who lives in St. Paul and owns a bike shop (and is a former racer) who is not in favor of the Cleveland lane.

      I don’t like the Prior alignment because it does not connect through to Highland Village (as you mention, it jogs back over to Cleveland) and because it does not go straight through at Summit you have to either ride against traffic to get across or turn right and then do a U-turn on Summit). My understanding is that there are already businesses lining up to oppose the Prior option, too.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell October 28, 2015 at 10:34 am #

        Jeff, there are many ‘serious cyclists’ who are against any infrastructure at all. They believe that everyone who wants to ride a bicycle should be a bicycle driver or vehicular cyclist and should always or nearly always ride with motor traffic.

        They come about this somewhat honestly because they do not want to be forced to ride on infrastructure that is poorly designed, not designed for speed, and in some cases more dangerous than riding in the traffic lane. The biggest problem is that this creates a bicycling environment for the 1%. It ignores nearly the entirety of our population — those who may want to ride to some place along Cleveland with their family to eat dinner. No matter how much they may want to, they’ll not do it without infrastructure that they feel safe and comfortable on.

        What is really sad though is that this internecine battle is completely unnecessary. The Netherlands has built infrastructure that serves all users equally well from pro racers on training rides to 8-year-olds riding by themselves to school. Experiments to provide people with the option of riding on the bikeways or on the roads resulted in just about zero people, including those on training rides or riding mopeds, choosing the street.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke October 28, 2015 at 8:46 am #

      Fair point about citations. I didn’t add them in here, because I got too busy.

      Lane width needs to be thought about differently in urban areas and on highways. the NACTO guide you point to is specifically for urban areas, so it’s a useful resource, but some studies about width focus on highway designs and don’t apply in cities with many people, intersections, etc.

      What I’m talking about here is lane width on urban arterials, precisely like the one on Cleveland (though traffic counts on Cleveland aren’t as high as many people seem to think, around 10K cars per day). Here’s a reference: http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/lane_widths_on_safety_and_capacity_petritsch.pdf

      For Prior vs. Cleveland, check out the two renderings at the top. Honestly, I didn’t say anywhere here whether I thought bike lanes on Cleveland were a good idea, or if they’re my preferred route. Only that I find arguments that suggest “It’s too dangerous, so we can’t build them” to be either misinformed or disingenuous.

      Anti-bike should be taken to mean, “anti-urban bicycling”. Lots of people like bicycles for kids, on trails, in parks, or whatever. What I mean by the term here is bicycling in our cities as a healthy transportation option.

      I often hear people saying they “are all for bicycling, but…” It reminds me of this funny article on how people are “pro transit” for others: http://www.theonion.com/article/report-98-percent-of-us-commuters-favor-public-tra-1434

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell October 28, 2015 at 10:36 am #

      Harry, one problem with the Prior option is that it doesn’t provide a way for people to ride to places along Cleveland.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke October 28, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

      here’s similr exmple fron NYC: “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_Weinshall#Bicycle_issues”

      Sen. Schumer’s own wife, Iris Weinshall, helped organize a group called “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” dedicated to fighting bike lanes.

  11. Michael Kuchta October 28, 2015 at 10:06 am #

    Wonderful article, Bill. Honest discussions about safety and about the different needs of different riders (or the different needs of the same riders at different times) are absolutely necessary to make any progress.
    I would suggest some other “truths” that we need to emphasize (or misinformation we need to point out) in any conversation about improving conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians.
    1. You’ve touched on safety. A frequent complaint at any public meeting about re-doing lane configurations is that traffic moves too fast on neighborhood streets. Other posts have made the argument for changing state law to allow cities to move below the 30 mph standard. However, until that happens (or until city police departments put massive efforts into speed limit enforcement), one of the tools we do have is that – with a bike lane in place – cities can drop the speed limit to 25 mph. Combined with narrower lanes for motor traffic, we can have a real impact on calming traffic. That is where we might find common ground with people whose initial instinct is to resist change.
    2. Another area of common ground: Motorists and bicyclists both benefit from well-maintained, well-planned streets. Especially in St. Paul, we will all benefit from a comprehensive approach to rescue our infrastructure from years of neglect during the “no new taxes” reign of Norm Coleman and Randy Kelly.
    Similarly, the St. Paul bicycle plan’s stated goal is to add lanes whenever the city or county reconstruct or repave streets. This is a logical, cost-effective approach. (It does mean some bicycle infrastructure may not be built as quickly as it could, but that’s another discussion.) This approach is why we have Cleveland, Front, Western, etc. this summer. We need to point out that delays like Cleveland only cost us more in the long run.
    3. A third area of common ground: Calmer traffic, people on bikes, and more people walking make for friendlier, more cohesive, and more human-scale neighborhoods. In other words, better neighborhoods. When you’re on a bike or on foot, you can make eye contact, have conversations, and actually make connections with people. That’s much harder to do from behind a windshield. Plus, bikes and walking keep you local. That should be something neighborhood businesses would want to encourage.
    As far as truths that are not so kumbaya:
    4. Motorists do not pay for local streets and street maintenance. Property taxes and special assessments do. That means if you’re a homeowner, renter, or business owner, you are the ones subsidizing that street. Which leads to the simple fact that:
    5. We are navigating in the PUBLIC right of way. Except in rare cases (such as North Oaks), the streets, sidewalks and other parts of the right of way belong to the public. They should primarily serve the PUBLIC interest, not private interests. If we can strive to serve both, wonderful. But there is no inalienable, constitutional right that guarantees residents or businesses a free parking space outside their front door.
    In most cases, motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all sorts (walkers, runners, skaters, strollers, children, dog-walkers, wheelchair users, etc.) should be able to expect a safe, comfortable space of their own. Especially in residential neighborhoods, no one use should not be so dominant that it squeezes out safe use by others.
    6. Finally. “Share the Road” signs are not bicycle infrastructure. Bicycles (at least adult bicyclists) should not be forced to ride on the sidewalk – or in the alley. And a bicycle system means not only building lanes, but sweeping them and plowing them – promptly.

  12. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele October 28, 2015 at 12:46 pm #

    Shouldn’t Prior *and* Cleveland have bicycle facilities?

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell October 28, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

      Potentially yes. Do you know the traffic volumes on different sections of Prior? It seems to me that only the portion north of Summit is really used as a through route and south of that it’s more local access. If so and traffic volumes are low enough then a protected bikeway north of Summit and make it a bike road (20 mph speed limit and maybe some calming) south of Summit. ??

    • Mike Sonn
      Mike Sonn October 29, 2015 at 8:46 am #

      If Cleveland is chosen, there is no reason why we can’t add sharrows and some other features to Prior. But it’ll remain a safe options for some cyclists.

      If Prior is chosen, nothing will happen on Cleveland and it will continue to be unsafe for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.

      • Paul Nelson November 8, 2015 at 11:49 am #

        If Cleveland remains the way is is now, with 11/12 ft wide traffic lanes, then the speed limit should be lowered to 25mph and signs should be placed at least every 300 feet that read: “Bicycle may take full traffic lane”. 14 feet is the minimum width by standard to accommodate both bike and car in a travel lane space. The proposed 11 feet plus 5 is 16 feet total, two feet wider than 14 and 4 feet wider than 12.

  13. Rachel Q October 29, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    Fantastic piece. Thanks for using your knowledge to educate!

  14. Paul Nelson October 30, 2015 at 11:32 pm #

    Thank you for writing this article – very informative. What I would like to see is a way to do a brief test with narrow orange cones, so that people can see how it works. I would recommend a shorter length for the period of the test like one or two weeks or a few days, so that any actual/real negative impact would not be be damaging to businesses that do not have off street parking. Part of the reason I think this would work is that I believe the problems of parking would not be too bad if the immediate and quick-easy alternatives for parking are implemented with the test. The problem with doing this kind of test now is we are moving into November and the months at risk for winter road conditions.

    Any way just a thought.

  15. Frank November 2, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

    I appreciate the attempt at a quasi-academic approach, but I’m pretty disappointed by this piece. I thought we were going to get a thorough, sophisticated analysis of the issues, but the few citations offered aren’t particularly strong. Most of them wouldn’t get published by serious academic journals, and almost none involve a quality research design. I support the reforms, and I’m not convinced by the article. I can’t imagine the opponents are impressed.

    Honestly, I think the thing that holds back alternative transpiration advocacy is the lack of quality data. Currently, it’s basically just pointing to work done by industry groups, a few state transportation projects, and ad hoc studies of hyper specialized sites. Not a good foundation.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 3, 2015 at 9:47 am #

      Big topic. You’re right that I didn’t pepper this post with links and citations, and that data is a persistent challenge for researching bicycling. (For example, traffic counts are very labor intensive, and only about half of crashes are reported).

      The best bicycling lit review I’ve seen is this one (https://cp298pedbiketranspo.wikispaces.com/file/view/Krizek_Forsyth_Walking_and_Cycling_Literature_Review_2009.pdf) done by a writer who writes on this site from time to time. It collects all the studies about bicycling safety and bicycling promotion/behavior change in one.

      As for lane width, there is plenty of data thanks to ubiquitous traffic engineering research. That’s not really my field, so I tend to trust others on this, e.g. NACTO: http://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/lane-width/ or this more recent study from Canada: http://www.ssti.us/2015/07/study-confirms-that-10-foot-lanes-make-safer-intersections/

      The question of bicyclist types and trends, though, was the focus of my dissertation research. There is a common trope in bicycle advocacy about “interested but concerned” bicyclists being 60% of the population. My research was meant to create a more nuanced look at this group of people, by using mobilities methods and qualitative interviewing. I’m working on getting it published. There’s a lot of similar work in the UK, published in this book (http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&isbn=9780754648444&lang=cy-GB) this book (http://www.amazon.com/One-Less-Car-Bicycling-Automobility/dp/1592136133) or by this UK researcher (http://rachelaldred.org/).

      For some reason, few people want to fund research into bicycling, so it’s difficult to find large in-depth studies.

      • Frank November 5, 2015 at 11:32 pm #

        Thank you for providing the links. I’ll review them in the next few days. There’s so little data out there, but people speak with such undeserved authority, even on streets.mn. I wish many of our advocates were more upfront about the problems with the data instead of glossing over them.

        I suppose I was particularly disappointed with this piece because you clearly identified yourself as a scholar, so I was setting my expectations higher. I guess I was just hoping for something that’s just not possible at this time. Thank you for the links. I’ll read them.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke November 6, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

          There’s also a fundamental tension on this site and in academia in general about “hard” and “soft” sciences, qualitative and quantitative research methods. Engineers (like many of our writers) and social scientists (like myself) have different approaches and ask different questions. The data will hopefully be complementary, but the standards by which they are judged will necessarily be different from each other.

          Researchers like Greg Lindsey at the U of MN focus on quantitative approaches to bicycling (https://www.hhh.umn.edu/directory/greg-lindsey) but my research tried to fill a gap about micro techniques of bicycling using video and mapping, subjective feelings about being in different spaces, bicyclists varied “concerns”, and why people ride in the first place (using interviews). That’s a lot harder to sum up with numbers, and this kind of argument will look and feel differently than a chart.

          That doesn’t mean the bicycling advocacy community should not try to get data, only that it’s a persistent challenge and the way that I’ve been trained to argue and study bicycling is not the same as that of engineering methodology.

          Are twenty videos of bike rides “good data”? I don’t know. I believe it’s useful. Here’s another research project that I drew on in the UK, that explains some of the justifications behind the methodology: https://justinspinney.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/a-chance-to-catch-a-breath.pdf

      • Rosa November 6, 2015 at 9:44 pm #

        Is there anybody studying the effects of short-term street changes, Bill? I was riding behind the (very solid and safe-feeling) concrete barriers at the Lyndale/Hennepin merge near Loring Park in the dark last night, thinking how great they have been, and wondering if anybody has looked at the impact on car traffic of taking away that lane and/or preventing turning cars hitting people at Oak Grove? It seems like a natural experiment in traffic calming and protected bike lanes.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini November 3, 2015 at 9:47 am #

      I’m sure you’re impressed by ITE trip generation science, or parking requirement science, or AASHTO design guidelines (& results) in an urban context over the past 60 years. How are any of these groups different than NACTO from a structural or advocacy perspective? What data is the opposition to a Cleveland Ave bike lane putting forth for comparison? How many city codes or design guidelines have been influenced by auto or trucking industry groups?

      Research (much of it peer-reviewed) and ‘data’ have been very clear for quite some time on the impacts of lane widths, street design, etc on driver speed. They’ve been pretty conclusive that bike lanes (and protected ones, in particular) make for safer streets. Policy and public perception are lagging data, not the other way around.

      • Frank November 5, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

        Alex, I guess you TLDRed my comment. If you’d bothered to read my post, I actually support the reforms.

        Even so, I’m more or less taking it on faith. There are a few European studies that suggest that particular kinds of narrower lanes calm traffic, and a few more that demonstrate that protected bike lanes reduce fatalities. None of them are referenced here, though. That’s about the only quality data I’ve identified in the alternative transportation world. But almost all transportation data are garbage, alternative and traditional. They’re almost all funded or conducted by advocates, few studies are peer reviewed, and almost none are actually experimental or even comparative longitudinal studies.

        For example, I’ve never seen a quality research design around the effects of bike lanes on local commerce, although there are a bunch of terrible ad hoc studies out there on it, and streets.mn and other advocacy sites are filled with references to poorly executed, short term quasi-experiments without controls as evidence for how great they are. Keep in mind, I think there should be more bike lanes out there, and there’s some reason to think they may help commerce in certain locations, there just isn’t evidence that they do what people say they do.

        But if you know of good sources, please provide them! It’d be really helpful for advocacy, and it seems like there are at least two of us who are interested in them.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini November 6, 2015 at 8:27 am #

          I would say that, in general, advocates of transit and biking and walking have done a much heavier share of lifting on the data and research. Yes, not every study or statistic parroted here or any streets-type-blog is a peer-reviewed journal-worthy paper. But there is still quite a bit! http://www.peopleforbikes.org/statistics I’ve referred back to those sub-pages, and there are plenty of findings from actual papers in actual journals.

          My point was that we went and spent billions upon billions of dollars reshaping cities and regions with massive side effects and equity impacts all on very little data of what the costs and benefits would be. At the worst, building bike lanes or better pedestrian amenities or anything else we may advocate here for is an experiment at trivial cost. At best we’re relying on mounds of research of varying quality and actual experience making cities safer & more equitable in other parts of the world.

          When a bike lane is up for debate, which side is bringing data to the table?

  16. Frank November 6, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Alex, of course we’re doing a heavier share of the lifting. We are the “other,” the challenge to the hegemony of car culture. I don’t know why this would be a surprise. My contention is that as a result of this position, we need to be “better” than those who seek to restrict alternative transportation. Not only do we need to be better organized, we need to have better data and need to present it in a way that is appealing to those who disagree with alternative transportation. Articles like this one that are thin on facts will only reinforce the beliefs of those who already believe, while at the same time reinforce the belief that bicycle advocates are basically simply making up evidence.

    For that matter, as much as I love PeopleForBikes and have actually worked on them on several occasions, most of the research they cite isn’t very good. Sure, it’s good on environmental impacts and other areas where there is real funding for research, but it’s really bad in areas where there is less interest, like the economic value of protected bike lanes.

    We need better data so we can actually bring data to the table. As it is now, we’re not so convincing because our data are basically garbage.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 6, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

      I tried to get funding, and never really did. I know a lot of other social science-type bicycle researchers that have struggled to get research funding, so it’s not just me. Few academic funding institutions seem to want to fund research on bicycling, and it’s not valued with sociology, anthropology, or geography disciplines. Many of the interesting PhDs that I’ve known have either quit academia altogether or moved on to different topics.

      • Frank November 9, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

        I’m sorry to hear that, Bill, although I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s not a lot of funding available for such projects. I imagine it would be hard to put together a piece that is both bicycle oriented and theoretically rich enough to be “valued” in those disciplines.

        I imagine the only areas where there’s any sustained funding for this kind of work is in planning programs, but they usually aren’t methodologists. I think that’s part of the problem. I suppose the research would need to be an independent project of a tenured faculty member, since she would have the time and ability do something right without significant external funding. Come to think of it, one can even imagine building an advanced research methods course around such a project. Something to consider…

    • Alex November 6, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

      This is an interesting conversation. Frank, can you point us to an example of research that would meet your standards? It wouldn’t have to be a transportation-related example, since apparently there are very few of those.

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