I recently had a chance to test out a contentious type of bike infrastructure, one much-discussed on this site.
One of my volunteer gigs is as the volunteer who coordinates volunteers for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. I don’t decide what the Coalition might advocate for, but I do end up telling people about protected bikeways. “We’re advocating for dedicated bike facilities with some sort of physical barrier between cars and people riding bikes.” That ranges from something like the Midtown Greenway to a cycletrack.
It’s been fascinating to watch people respond to the Bikeways for Everyone campaign, especially this year when most of the focus was on cycletracks on Minnehaha and Washington.
Mostly, people (the normal, on-the-street-kind) love the idea. Me, I’m confident enough on a bike that I can ride anywhere downtown Minneapolis during rush hour, although I’ll ride twice or even three times as far to avoid the unpleasantness. I understand the fear of having cars zooming past the bike lane, possibly from escorting my mom from Uptown to Downtown, or my niece to dinner. Or, because even though I do it with confidence, I also find it scary.
On the other hand, some very dedicated, long-term vehicular cyclists are ADAMANTLY opposed. I understand the concerns about being visible at intersections to turning car drivers. I’ve already heard predicted resentment about having to ride behind slow people. I’ve been unclear why the visibility problems can’t be solved with smart design, though. (I’m not very sympathetic about the “I’d have to ride slow!” argument, though – ride in the driving lane.)
Personally, I’d never ridden on a protected bikeway in the US, and I was unsure whether my Amsterdam experience translated to Minneapolis. Lucky for me, work took me to Chicago last week, so I grabbed a bike and went to test them out.
I was a bit overwhelmed trying to safely navigate somewhere new and busy, even at a slower-than-usual pace. Where are the lights? Can cars turn across the lane here or not? Where do I look for traffic with this curb cut? Where should I eat lunch? Is there right on red? Are those pedestrians crossing or just waiting for the light in cycletrack? Wait, why did this bike just shift on me? Where is Kinsey Street? It made for a pretty overwhelming ride.
Navigating that strange city, I managed to ride in one two-way cycletrack, and in one that was a lane each side of the street. I found that riding with a buffer space, a few plastic bollards, and a row of parked cars between me and moving traffic felt very civilized. Maybe it felt civilized because it gave me slightly less to keep track of. But the stress of riding next to zooming cars just wasn’t there, the way it is in bike lanes. I didn’t have to worry about whether cars were pulling into or out of parallel parking spots. Or whether someone was double-parked in the bike lane – it’s amazing how few bollards it takes to get compliance on that one!
All the curb cuts were thoughtfully marked in bright green, easy for me to notice. (I suppose that green might have signaled something to the drivers, too, eh?) The intersections had bike lights, with an extra light cycle to avoid conflicts between cars and bikes.
Where there weren’t lights, the parallel parking stopped a significant distance from the corner, the green paint- and bollard- area grew wider, and I felt plenty visible as all the drivers made eye contact with me as we neared the intersections.
Even knowing the concerns about cycletracks and looking for problems, I was impressed.
BTW, for those who don’t want to go slow, while the lanes on the two-way cycletrack were narrower than I would have liked, there was plenty of space to pass.
This is cross-posted at mplsbike.org.
Telling fast riders to “ride in the car lane” is not a solution because once a dedicated bike lane exists drivers become even more territorial about the street.
I guess you didn’t read to the end.
I’d also offer the fast riders the option to ride in the cycle track at a slower pace, or on a street without a cycle track, although I found plenty of room to pass in Chicago, even where lanes were very narrow.
Janne, great post. I’ve not ridden in Chicago, but have in NYC. While the cycletracks in NYC, perhaps like those in Chicago, are not nearly as well designed, easy to navigate, or as safe (feeling anyway) as those in The Netherlands, I agree with you that they are a huge improvement over unprotected lanes, shoulders, and much of what we otherwise call bicycle infrastructure. As Reuben has pointed out numerous times, intersections are the ticket to making these really work for the majority of people.
As to speed, throughout NL and in CPH and Stockholm, it’s rarely difficult to maintain an 18-20 mph pace if desired, except close to city centers. The bigger issue though is that the vast majority don’t want to—they’d rather go about 12-13 mph.
Thanks for the post Janne. I’ve always put the “I hate going slow” argument into the “Darling, we should have such problems” file as that would assume a dramatic increase in bikes on the street for that to be a serious problem. I just think bike congestion serious enough on cycletracks to slow people down seems way, way down the road.
I’ve always had a bit more sympathy for the “right-turn danger” concerns and like seeing how it was dealt with.
John, I believe the U.S. is the only country that generally permits right-on-red. I believe that in every other industrialized nation it is permitted only when specifically signed for it and those signs seem extremely rare.
Walter, I’m sure that’s true, and I believe NYC is an outlier in the states as the only city that prohibits it (I think.)
Jan Heine, editor or Bicycle Quarterly, published today another blog post expressing concerns about cycletracks and suggesting that well-made “greenways” or bike boulevards (better than the crappy ones in Minneapolis) might be the way to go.
He has safety concerns with cycletracks, of course, but also speed concerns.
Supporting him, I listened to a talk given last year by Copenhagen’s Bike Coordinator who suggested that speed and convenience are the main determinators for encouraging a particular travel mode and that cost and safety concerns follow.
Hokan, I’m well aware of your concerns, and your voice was in my mind as I rode around. I was looking for the problems you highlight, and I simply didn’t experience them, at all. I’ve spent plenty of time in bike lanes in downtown Minneapolis, the most similar environment to where I tried out the cycletracks in Chicago, and my personal goal was to compare the two.
I was very visible, and I believe the green paint at curbcuts made my presence more known to drivers than in Mpls. I felt much less likely to be hooked there (actually, not at all likely), unlike in Minneapolis. I typically am hooked every other time I ride in downtown Minneapolis, even though my ride is much shorter than the distance I rode in the cycletracks. Again, I credit paint, and signals. And, not one time was there a vehicle double-parked in the lane — refreshing as that’s something I experience nearly every time I ride through Mpls, as well. Have I missed a concern?
I also took a bit to have my mom’s voice in my mind as I rode around. I think she could have done it. She can’t do downtown Mpls.
Cycletracks are for you. They’re for her. And, there were plenty of other streets in downtown Chicago without them for the riders who preferred cycle-track-free streets.
Hokan, you need the right facility for the right situation. There are many instances where a bike blvd is a great option, but for this to work for more than just the most confident, primarily our children and older folk, motor traffic has to be low and slow, like less than 20 mph. Most people, of all ages and for good reason, simply do not like mixing with a lot of fast motor traffic and will not ride otherwise.
Every individual has their own thoughts on safety. Speed and convenience will not be important to them until their safety concerns are met.
Just remembered this post:
When I think of being held up bicycling, London and Germany come to mind (London because you’re in excessively slow motor traffic, Germany because I was on narrow poorly maintained bicycle tracks). I don’t think I’ve ever been significantly held up in NL, Copenhagen, or Stockholm.