Part I – Promote Vehicular Cycling. Really?
Part III – Vehicular Cycling: If It Worked, It Wouldn’t Work
There are a few reasons that vehicular cyclists give for their opposition to segregated bicycle facilities; they can’t ride fast on them, they have to stop too often, there are too many bumps and too much road furniture (signs, mailboxes, etc.) in the way, they are more dangerous than the road (like bike lanes in door zones), and sharing with unpredictable pedestrians and dogs is dangerous.
I mostly agree.
These though are issues of bad design, not of segregated bicycle facilities themselves being problematic. This is like saying that we don’t like cars because the Trabant we once had broke down every two days.
The bicycle network designed by Dutch Engineers generally doesn’t have these problems, except on some very old facilities. Riding 20-25 mph is not often a problem. There are actually fewer stops than on the motor network thanks to bicyclists ability to negotiate with each other through their own intersections. Pathways in The Netherlands are wide, smooth, unobstructed, exceptionally safe, and generally free of pedestrians, who have their own safe sidewalks and crossings.
Most bicycle facilities being built in the U.S. are not ‘best practice’. Even the newest recommendations of NACTO, AASHTO, and in MUTCD include designs that Dutch and other engineers abandoned years ago as dangerous or impractical. As well, these newest U.S. standards leave out many critical elements.
That cyclists don’t want poor designs is understandable. The answer though isn’t to accept a worse and more dangerous option that serves a minority quite poorly, but to strive for something better that serves everyone and serves each much better.
Reasonable people don’t like to tangle with 3000 pound cars.
I ride my bicycle a lot and have for my entire life. I was taught to ride as a vehicular cyclist in the 70’s, have taught people to ride as a vehicular cyclist, and have testified before government committees on the benefits of vehicular cycling. I still ride as a vehicular cyclist today when necessary.
I am in many ways a poster boy for vehicular cycling. I can ‘take the lane’ (or block the lane?) with the best of ‘em if required. I know that, statistically, riding safely on the road is little or no more dangerous than doing so in a car. But I still have a very strong preference for much safer and well-designed segregated paths.
If I, a frequent, confident, and bold cyclist doesn’t like vehicular cycling, what about the 98% of people who are not as confident and bold? Those who can’t or don’t want to ride 20 mph and make quick lane changes in front of faster and heavier cars? Who are nine years old and want to ride to school? Or eighty and want to ride to a cafe? Or a mom who wants to ride to the grocery store with her children? Or disabled and use a powerchair or handcycle?
Consider my neighbors. From a walking or cycling standpoint, my neighborhood is an island. There are four ways out of our 211 house neighborhood and all are on to Ramsey county roads with cars traveling in excess of 40 mph (64 kph) in 11’ (3.4m) wide lanes with no bike lane or cycle track, only a two foot (0.6m) wide potholed shoulder with mailboxes jutting in to it. These roads are posted for 30-35 mph, but the design says 45 mph.
Most reasonable people do not want to ride in such conditions. Nor do they want someone they love to do so. Riding on these roads with cars speeding by, often very close, is quite unpleasant. As one neighbor told me “I’d be a nervous wreck by the time I got to the restaurant.”
Having a cappuccino or online discussion with a bunch of vehicular cyclists is interesting. The primary topics are complaints about drivers, how awful it is to be on the road with them, and how cyclists can try to make themselves safe on the road. The basic requirements are a theatrical display of obnoxious bright flashing lights, monkey lights, special hi-viz clothes, cameras to catch scofflaws, helmets with more lights on them, multiple mirrors, flags, air horns, and other stuff.
It gets complicated. And what happens if you forget to charge your half dozen lights?
Even the cycling itself is complicated. When do you ride strictly as a vehicle and when something slightly different? Which cars will you cross in front of when you need to move over three lanes to get in a left turn lane? Which roads are safe and which not? At what age are you comfortable with your child riding to school by themselves and ‘taking the lane’ in front of a Ford F-350? What do you do about right and left hooks?
Life is much simpler in The Netherlands where paths and crossings are well marked, right-of-way is clear, and bicycles often have their own signals. School children ride independently by 9-years-old and even first time visitors figure things out quickly.
Vehicular Cycling is quite non-inclusive. In The Netherlands you see a broad cross-section of the population on their segregated bicycle network; every age, gender, and ethnicity, along with able-bodied and disabled. In the U.S., not so much.
Which brings up another favorite topic of vehicular cyclists—”how can I get my wife to ride on the roads with me?” Sexist? Reality.
If only there were no drivers on the road then vehicular would work and all these complications wouldn’t be necessary. And that is the point of segregated bicycling. In The Netherlands, Denmark, and elsewhere everyone rides their bicycles in normal everyday clothes and without a bunch of extra complications. It’s much simpler, safer, and enjoyable.
Interestingly, segregated bicycling will do more to help vehicular cyclists than promoting vehicular cycling will. In The Netherlands, Denmark, and countries with developing segregated bicycling infrastructure, nearly everyone rides bicycles at least occasionally so every driver knows about bicycling and is more aware of bicycle riders and more considerate of bicycle riders—including vehicular cyclists. Segregated bicycling will promote this environment, vehicular cycling will not.
So, while vehicular cycling may seem great for the confident 2% (minus one—me), it is not for 98%. It is wholly inappropriate for the average person riding 11 mph to the grocery store or children who want to ride to school. It leaves out the 12% of our population who are disabled and will benefit immensely from safer segregated facilities.
I don’t know about “easily kept clear,” but I AM hopeful that segregated paths (read: protected bike lanes) will at least be somewhat semi-clearable using the right technology. I view the U of MN as a good model for this. They are good at clearing sidewalks in all sorts of ways all year round.
Part of the trick is having enough of a physical buffer (curb, parked cars, planters, k-rails, etc) that splush from the road doesn’t get on the bicycle path. Most riders can handle a fair amount of snow, what seems most problematic is the splush from cars and trucks. Frozen splush is that much worse.
I’ve been in the U’s facility maintenance equipment garage and talked with the manager about snow removal a few years ago. Their range of technology for every situation is very impressive.
Sounds like a great subject for a video!
We have separate bike paths in Fort Collins (that are actually pretty decent) and when it snows, they are kept cleaner than the roads. There are crews with small tractors that can clear a mile of bike path in just a few minutes. Also, I’ve seen them use spinning brushes (kinda like a street cleaner) to remove snow on the CSU campus.
I’ll make this short since I’m all for doing them right if we’re going to do them and I agree many problems can be mitigated. But I still, still, still, don’t buy that they’re safer, only that they seem safer, since there still has to be intersections, the vast majority of crashes take place at intersections, and now the intersections are more complicated. (Consider: pedestrians have separated facilities and have a similar accident rate as cyclists, per-trip).
It’s also the case that those separated paths we do have were entirely, 100% impassable all winter. The *only* way to keep riding was to use the road. Once again, fine let’s do this right, but let’s not pretend it’s already done right or that it’s easy.
And finally, you give your neighbors as an example. But the thing about Shoreview is it’s rife with bad urbanism, straods, and fast-moving traffic. I agree: you DO need separated paths there. I’m not sure that’s the case in the city, where in many instances you could conceivably road-diet the streets, get traffic down closer to 20mph, at which point the separation becomes less and less necessary.
Compared to Europe we don’t do pedestrian very well either.
Junction design is as critical or more so than the paths between junctions. We don’t do them well. Junctions in The Netherlands, be they roundabouts, signaled, signed, or uncontrolled are much safer for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motor vehicles than junctions in the U.S. whether ridden vehicular or segregated.
The best explanation is: http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/junction-design-in-the-netherlands/
Paths being cleared goes back to my Trabant comment. Just because cities here haven’t cleared them well doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Many wintery cities do a good job of keeping segregated bicycle paths clear, we can to.
Which cities do you have in mind? The Danes and the Dutch definitely have a client advantage that means that snow removal is not a big problem for them, and those are the first places that come to mind for great cycling.
Not having a client advantage has been a problem here 🙂
Certainly Amsterdam, Assen, and other places in The Netherlands, but you’re correct that they don’t get the amount of snow we do some years (like this past year). Stockholm also does a good job but their climate is a tad milder as well.
Closer to home Montreal and Edmonton both seem to do a decent job (and Edmonton’s mayor rides to work many days and around town a fair bit). I think they both have climates similar to ours. Someone recently mentioned Calgary to me as having come a long way with their infrastructure in the past couple of years. Not sure how they do with snow clearing though.
Suburbs and urban cities both have streets that should be shared by all users and a need for roads to handle heavier traffic and allow higher speeds. What The Netherlands has learned is that sharing between pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles rarely works. Sadly (for me), they are undoing the shared spaces done by Hans Monderman because they haven’t worked over the long term. They were great for a couple of years but once drivers got use to them they took over.
The only time that bicycles and cars can successfully share is when a street is not a through-route for cars. IOW, when it is local access only and thus drivers are more likely to be able to drive 10-15 mph. That is the premise behind my post on St Paul: https://streets.mn/2014/04/08/st-paul-bicycle-plan-completing-the-local-mile/
Any through-route for cars, anything more than about 2 or maybe 3 blocks, will have higher speeds, impatient drivers, and should always have segregated facilities for bicycles—city or suburb. At least if we want to attract a wider population to ride.
Jeff, There are some rigorous statistical studies conducted by Harvard Univ and others that show segregated cycle tracks are safer by a statistically significant margin. In fact, the latest study, conducted by Dr. Kay Teschke at the Univ of British Columbia shows cycle tracks have about 1/6th the risk of death or injury when compared to in-the-street bicycle infrastructure. Overall, North Americans are 8 to 30 times more likely to be killed by a car than bicyclists in Northern Europe. Cycle tracks also increase ridership. A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found a 250% increase in ridership when compared to in-the-street bicycle lanes. The source of these statistics may be found in the references section here: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2013/07/29/community-voices-making-minnehaha-safe-biking
That anyone considers Kay Teschke’s work statistically or scientifically valid is beyond belief. She did not once consider that safety is a direct product of behavior, so she didn’t even offer driver behavior (as opposed to the far more common “edge-riding behavior” as a control group setting. There are many other problems in the data collection of her work that suggest more of a confirmation bias than actual scientific inquiry.
Apologies for not having the time to review the cited references more thoroughly to find this out myself, but do you know if/how any of these studies control for the biases inherent in existing protected lanes?
For instance, they make the claim that they are used much more than alternative bike paths, but presumably if you’re going to spend the money for a protected bike lane, it is going to go on a route that already has high bike traffic. Do we have any before/after cycletrack data that would actually suggest an improvement, or have we to date always been dependent on data comparing cycle track routes that were by definition singled out as fit for a cycletrack, to other “alternate” routes?
Here is the description of the routes used in the Harvard study. By the way, in addition to a 250% increase in ridership this study also documented a 28% reduction in accidents for cycle tracks compared to in-the-street paths.
“We studied six cycle tracks in Montreal that are two-way on one side of the street. Each cycle track was compared with one or two reference streets without bicycle facilities that were considered alternative bicycling routes. One reference street was a continuation of the street with the cycle track; the remaining streets were parallel to the cycle track with the same cross streets as endpoints and, therefore, subject to approximately the same intersection frequency and cross traffic as the cycle track.”
Here is a review of the Montreal study. http://john-s-allen.com/reports/montreal-kary.htm. Flaws include describinging stretches of paths in parks and away from streets as cycle tracks, selecting a comparison street 10 blocks away with heavy, faster traffic for a cycle track street which is small and has light traffic, giving the length of one of the paths as twice as long as it is, halving the reported crash rate. Do the people at Harvard School of Public Health know what they are doing? If so, they are intentionally biasing their work.
Oh noes! The evil cycle track lobby!
Are you suggesting the editors and peer-reviewers at the American Journal of Public Health don’t know what they are doing? In my experience these studies have a to be pretty darned rigorous to make it into a journal of this caliber.
I am suggesting that “peer review” of studies about transportation are outside their expertise in public health (and far outside whatever expertise Lusk or Teschke have), yes. There is also a well-known lack of rigor in many “peer review” processes with many such magazine companies, and this may be another example of such.
Tom, who’s behavior are you referring to?
In a perfect world with perfect drivers I would agree with you. The problem though is that we can’t seem to control drivers behavior or keep drivers from killing other people in cars, how can we expect to keep them from killing people on bicycles?
What other problems did you find with Teschke’s work? Can you please elaborate.
I don’t know if I want vehicular cycling or not. But I want a city bike.
They’re wonderful. You’ll enjoy it when you do get it.
Vehicular cycling works a lot better as safer cycling technique than public policy. It will be a long time before we have anything approaching Copenhagen or Amsterdam’s system of segregated cycling facilities. In the meantime, vehicular cycling offers a pretty decent set of guidelines for how to keep yourself safe when you have to go somewhere that doesn’t have a path or a cycle track. That would most places.
I agree with most of what has been argued here – when it comes to designing safe bike infrastructure, look at the cities that have already achieved very high levels of safe biking. And encourage people to be safe when they’re caught in the gaps in the system.
Tangential comment – I’m not sure whether vehicular cycling addresses what is in my view the best technique for staying safe on a bike: Pick your route carefully. You can generally pick a safe route from A to B that avoids busy streets and obviates the need for all the lane-taking, merging, and all of that. It does take some experience to find those routes, however. This is why I appreciate the trend towards creating “bikeways” – you can create a segregated cycle system on the cheap by just signing and mapping the routes that are already pretty good.
This is true, unless… you want to go somewhere in Downtown Minneapolis. Other than the trails that circle downtown and Nicollet Mall (which I find to be horrifically slow to ride on due to poor light timing), there is NO safe route to the most Downtown Minneapolis destinations.
1st Ave works pretty well. The bike lanes on 11th & 12th and 3rd are pretty decent. I don’t know if I’ve used the one on 4th, and it looks a little precarious being on the left next to oncoming buses.
Also other than rush hour, most downtown streets aren’t all that busy, and traffic isn’t moving that fast. I’d rather ride to downtown destinations than lots of places on busy arterials.
Of course, the perspectives probably a lot different if you don’t ride primarily on off-peak times for cars, as I do.
Brendan, I agree completely. We can get to where The Netherlands is and I think we should. The only way we’ll do it though is to focus on it and push for it. Part of the problem is that engineers and politicians in the U.S. have been told that we don’t need segregated infrastructure and that ‘cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as vehicles’ so they smile and say have at it.
I’m trained as an LCI, on a curriculum that is primarily vehicular in nature.
I want to know who the vehicular cyclists are who actively oppose separated facilities, because I genuinely don’t know of any. In my experiences at League Education events and on the listserv for instructors, and even locally, my experience of the vehicular cycling community is one of pragmatism. They don’t OPPOSE other forms of accommodation. However, they value the VC approach because it helps address network gaps, generally requires less argument for development and funding, and otherwise permits regular cycling activity TODAY, versus a hopeful in the future.
I agree with Julie. I just recently completed my LCI seminar, and we actually had a good discussion about this. Very, very few vehicular cyclists oppose segregated facilities. What they oppose are bad segregated facilities, as well as discriminatory laws that force cyclists to use those facilities.
You’ve written many articles with this same theme, Walker — the hotshot vehicular cyclist ignoring the needs of the general bicycling public. I’d encourage you to actually try some formal education in VC to see what it’s all about. There is a Traffic Skills 101 class coming up in June.
I doubt such a class will make you hate segregated facilities, or drive your bike lit up like a Christmas Tree. It hasn’t made me do either. But it may open your eyes as to what vehicular cycling is all about: riding safely in facilities that are mainly designed for cars.
You’ve hit the nail on the head. I wouldn’t identify as a “vehicular cyclist” before reading this article, but as a daily commuter who uses a combination of main arteries without bike lanes, downtown mpls streets with bike lane (hello left turn incompetence nightmares), uphill bike lanes on single-lane roads ini St. Paul and trails of various summer and winter clearance — I am in no way opposed to segregated bike facilities in general.
I AM opposed to the general enthusiasm for “protected bike lanes” alongside exiting roads as THE solution, rather than one tool (out of several options) that needs to be approached thoughtfully. I am especially concerned about this when the “safest” approach to intersections yet proposed is one that forces commuters to wait through two lights for a left turn (and at every intersection risk being even less visible to [and having less power to avoid] vehicles turning).
It also seems like bike advocacy groups gun for protected bikeways in areas based more on opportunism than good sense. Minnehaha was a prime example – not only were all those odd intersections problematic, but it’s a stone’s throw from an existing bike path that has dramatically fewer encounters with traffic. Why on earth was it a priority to put a protected bike path on Minnehaha? Wouldn’t even the most limited of users had been better served if that political energy and hypothetical spending had been used to help the Hiawatha Light Rail Trail better serve and connect to businesses on Minnehaha? It really seems like protected bikeways are being treated as a hammer and every road that comes up for reworking is a nail. Just because there’s an opportunity doesn’t mean a protected bikeway is the best possible choice for bike infrastructure on that road.
I am also concerned that the mania over protected bikeways in places where we already have bike lane infrastructure is distracting from more impactful changes. While the highest-profile debates and discussions have been surrounding protected bikeways on Minnehaha and other spots, there’s still no solution in sight for heavy traffic streets like Franklin and Hennepin which are legitimate death traps. Heck, I just had two blowouts today on Hennepin as I got caught in a minefield of curbside potholes while clinging to the shoulder to avoid traffic.
I read a report today in which 52% of cyclist fatalities on the roads were on roads that had NO bike facilities (I don’t know if sharrows were included in that or not, since they are effectively nothing). Are we directing too much effort to the new, shiny infrastructure and ignoring the more pressing matter — that before we go making roads that are currently usable for some usable for more people, we need to declare symbolic war on the roads that are currently safe for no one?
But ultimately design has to be key. If we really want bikeways “for everyone,” it can’t ignore that many of us have legitimate needs for efficiency in getting to work every single day. Slowing down the commute (which is already so much slower than driving) creates more barriers for those choosing between bikes and cars, and this is as legitimate a concern as helping would-be bikers who are afraid of being on the road with cars even when safe bike lane infrastructure exists. That’s worthy of equal consideration.
Your argument concerning Minnehaha Ave came up a lot in the public meetings. Please consider this. For bicyclists to use the LRT trail rather than Minnehaha requires them ride west for 1/4 mile, and cross four lanes of very busy high speed traffic. These are very slow, dangerous and intimidating intersections. Few riders are willing to go this far out of the way. Furthermore, the projected cost of a cycle track was about the same as the non-cycle track option.
Thanks for the context. I’m not sure what area you are talking about in terms of difficulty of using Hiawatha — I am assuming somewhere south, but am not sure. On Franklin Ave the two are very close indeed. I realize that although in theory Hiawatha could be better expanded to serve the riders you mention, this probably wasn’t a practical option at the time.
Ultimately the proposal was rejected because of the weird intersection problem (if I recall correctly from reading at the time). I feel this was appropriate. I understand that MBC has a stake in trying to get protected bikeways built as soon as possible, but since proposals to date for protected bikeways in MPLS have yet to address the intersection issue satisfactorily for even normal intersections, I do believe it was ultimately the right choice. I’m really looking forward to improved pavement quality and a nice bike lane on Minnehaha – I think it will be great.
The proposed cycle track on Minnehaha was from Lake Street to 46th street. The LRT trail that many people suggested cyclists should use instead of Minnehaha runs exactly parallel, 1/4 mile west of Minnehaha. The LRT trail has exactly the same “weird intersections” as Minnehaha, that is it has the same angled geometry, but in reality it is much more dangerous due to the complicating presence of the light rail and heavy high-velocity traffic from Hwy 55.
It’s interesting that somehow despite following the issue this is the first time I have heard your argument stated clearly — thanks for sharing.
I would say, however, that with a few notable exceptions (the intersection between LRT and 26th(?) just north of Sabo bridge is a veritable death trap) this really sells the trail short. I have actually found the light rail to be a protecting feature at most intersections, since it gives you a space when the trains cross to move freely without worrying about traffic. In my experience the greatest barriers to safety on that road are the horrible alignment of “ramps” to the crosswalks they are supposed to service — I am surprised I haven’t broken a wheel or crashed, but I learned to be extra attentive. Also, the sidewalk finish deters a lot of riders too because it is so bumpy. But it has assets, like not having parking next to it, so bikers and drivers are very visible to one another, and I can’t recall any close calls (though admittedly I haven’t traveled the southern stretch during peak hours). But these are improvable things, too. I think it’s important not to be too hasty to write off existing infrastructure in our effort to promote the new — just an observation, not an accusation.
In any event, it’s unfortunate that it seems there are still going to be some unmet needs, though hopefully even parents will feel safe enough using an improved bike lane.
I don’t really have a view on cycle tracks on Minnehaha, but I will say that riding through the area recreationally, I’d definitely choose the existing bike lanes on Minnehaha over the path next to the light rail.
At least at off peak times, the street is quieter, more pleasant, and, critically, often offers shade.
Michelle, you raise a number of good points. I’ll address them as best I can and I’m sure others will chime in.
As to Minnehaha, one major element, besides what D Maki mentioned, is how does a mother with two children access retail and other destinations on Minnehaha from a bikeway 1/4 mile away?
How does a mother with two children access retail and other destinations on Minnehaha from a bikeway 1/4 mile away? Well she waits for a green light, then crosses two southbound lanes and two northbound lanes of Highway 55, then continues riding east while traversing several sets of railroad tracks (careful not to let little Bobby catch his tires), eventually crossing high-angle intersections at Dight Ave, Snelling Ave before reaching her Minnehaha Ave. destination.
In reality, said mother gives up and puts the kids in the SUV because she has no reasonable bicycle route.
As an aside, independent of the Minnehaha discussion, it seems like many of our existing paths have serious problems with lack of accessible infrastructure to get *to* them. We can’t get the most out of the safe, effective paths we have if people have no safe infrastructure to get to them. I mean, seriously, many of our path entrances are connected by roads that only have sharrows or less.
Yes. Which is why the entire network is important and why EVERY street and road needs to be considered. Many local access streets can be calmed to less than 20mph so that bicycles, pedestrians, and cars can share them. Through routes with heavier or faster traffic then need facilities specific to bicycles and pedestrians and often these should, IMVSO, be segregated.
“But ultimately design has to be key. If we really want bikeways “for everyone,” it can’t ignore that many of us have legitimate needs for efficiency in getting to work every single day. Slowing down the commute (which is already so much slower than driving) creates more barriers for those choosing between bikes and cars, and this is as legitimate a concern as helping would-be bikers who are afraid of being on the road with cars even when safe bike lane infrastructure exists. That’s worthy of equal consideration.”
As I mentioned in my post, with properly designed facilities (and intersections), such as those in The Netherlands, this is not a problem. There it is often faster to ride on the segregated bicycle network than on the roads.
If you haven’t already I’d encourage you to peruse two blogs:
These contain a wealth of good information on how segregated bicycle infrastructure should be designed including what has and has not worked in The Netherlands and elsewhere.
Thanks for the resources. I think we are on the same page with regard to well-designed bike facilities. After all, one would be hard-pressed to find a die-hard commuter in Minneapolis who doesn’t avail themselves of our trail system whenever possible because they fit everyone’s needs better (safer, faster, and even more scenic!). Of course, following rivers/creeks, railroad tracks or other natural separations from traffic will always be an easier design problem to solve than finding safer ways for bikers to take common roads where no such landmarks provide an easy separation.
The subtlety I wanted to add is that I think the majority of people “opposed to protected bike lanes” have legitimate concerns about their implementation, and do not see adequate attention paid in the public discussion to whether the design of these bikeways is truly the best improvement for a given space, or whether it accommodates all types of bikers. I don’t think many people are wholesale against bike infrastructure (although one person on this thread does seem to take that stance, her concerns are still based ultimately on safety. The right design should be able to address those concerns better than existing infrastructure can).
If indeed we could pinpoint designs that work for everyone and address the concerns of both serious commuters and novice riders, I can’t imagine many riders accustomed to the road would object. But the kinds of discussions in Minneapolis and even the successful implementation are often far enough away from this “ideal design” to make some users nervous about the unbridled enthusiasm for protected bikeways in the bike advocacy community here.
Michelle, I agree with everything you said.
Dutch style bicycle facilities (paths, junctions, etc.) are what you’re looking for. They work quite well for 8-year-olds, novice riders, elderly, disabled, and speed demons. They are safe, efficient, and comfortable to ride on. Even professional bicycle racers use them and like them.
Elizabeth, thank you for the excellent points – My fear of “infrastructure” is poor design leading cyclists INTO crashes at pinch points – The Kathryn Rickson case in Portland being the leading indicator… I’m not “anti bike lane” but I AM anti-stupid. Most riders who choose to ride on the roads do so with full knowledge and awareness of the risks – and take steps to minimize risk.
In Ohio we have around 2000 or less “bike/car” crashes on the road each year – with 15-16 fatalities. As you might expect, cyclists are injured in a fairly high percentage of those interactions – regardless of fault. One surprising stat came to light a couple years ago – in a review of 5 years of data, over 10,000 “bike/car” crashes more than HALF the crashes involved… KIDS – under the age of 18. This was very surprising to me – of course, those crashes spiked in May-June-July-August but half was a big number. That tells me that all the adults I see are doing just fine –
Visit just about any discussion forum on commuting or advocacy and there are usually a wealth of vehicular cyclists opposed to any segregated infrastructure. The League or American Bicyclists (and as LAW) fought segregated infrastructure with considerable force for years.
Today many (most? all?) vehicular cyclists speak about their support for bicycling infrastructure. However, their idea of this is often infrastructure for vehicular cycling, bike boxes and easily exitable bike lanes, not infrastructure for regular people such as a cycle track on the pedestrian side of parked cars rather than on the traffic lane side.
I was a member of LAB for decades, and I don’t recall LAB ever fighting segregated infrastructure. Once, when LAB was a much better organization, it gave a higher priority to education, and to protecting cyclists’ rights to the road; but there was never a campaign against good facilities.
Yes, things have changed. LAB seems to have adopted a philosophy that “any bike facility is a good bike facility.” (For just one example: Door zone bike lanes receive positive points in “Bike Friendly” community evaluations, despite the obvious dangers.)
But competent cyclists do continue to argue against incompetently designed facilities, while incompetent cyclists continue to praise them. Can you imagine an analogous situation for motor vehicles, where drivers would say this about a new road? “It’s inconvenient, it’s dangerous, and the designer has obviously never had a driver’s license; but we like it because they did _something_ for us motorists. And someday designs may get better.” Such an attitude would be considered ludicrous; but it’s common among bike advocates.
Please consider that the supposed cyclist paradise being touted exists in one country (Netherlands) and parts of one other (Denmark). Both have a unique combination of historical, cultural and physical features that allowed intense investment in bike facilities: a long history of utility cycling, flat terrain, mild climate, very good public transportation, small and dense city plans, etc. And their public policies focus as much on dissuading motoring as on promoting cycling: extreme taxes on gasoline and car purchases, exclusion of cars from many city routes, expensive parking, very low city speed limits, high barriers to driver’s licenses, strict liability laws, etc.
Despite all the wistful campaigning, those factors don’t seem to have been duplicated in the other 200 or so nations in the world. Not surprisingly, neither has the public will to invest in such expensive bike facilities. I don’t see it happening in the U.S. or Canada, where bike mode share is currently about 0.6%, where the entire society relies on motor vehicle transportation, and where there is insufficient funding even to properly maintain the existing road network.
Therefore, those wishing to ride bikes for practical purposes will continue to encounter ordinary streets and roads. Why pretend that segregated facilities – even well-designed ones – will transform America into a place where one doesn’t need to learn competent cycling? In fact, why ignore the fact that Dutch kids _do_ get serious cycle training? Let’s educate Americans – both cyclists and motorists – about bicycling. Let’s enforce current laws, including those giving cyclists rights to the road. Let’s stop telling people that ordinary riding is highly dangerous. Let’s promote cycling on the road network we already have, before we try to provide an impossible parallel universe for bicycling.
This is an altogether amazing comment that needs to be heard in much broader circles than this one.
Frank, I generally agree with you about LAB and door zone bike lanes in particular. Every time I see one (and I see the one along Summit Ave in St Paul at least a few times every week) I get angry. Poor infrastructure can be much worse than no infrastructure.
I disagree with the rest though. Yes, The Netherlands is flat, so is Shoreview. And Vadnais Heights. And tens of thousands of other communities. Just because there is a hill in Stillwater doesn’t mean that people elsewhere can’t ride bikes to local stores and schools.
Weather is really not an issue except on the most extreme days and even then only for really long commutes. It is extremely rare that someone shouldn’t be able to ride a two miles to school.
More to come…
Frank also mentioned high density urban areas, good public transit, policies that discourage driving and widespread bike education/training as contributing factors in the Netherlands. I think it’s harder to argue that the TC is doing very well on all those fronts.
There are 6,000 people who live within about 1.5 miles of the Paninoes/Rainbow/DQ shopping in Shoreview and about 65% of students live within 3 miles of Chippawa Middle School. What impact will this low density have on them? Will it prevent them from riding to school or to Village Scoop for ice cream?
At a macro level our lower density may impact our ability to achieve the high work commuter modal share of The Netherlands, but will have little impact on local modal share of riding to school, grocery store, or wine bar (except for the increasing big boxing of grocery stores and similar stuff in our suburbs).
Can you tell me more about the interrelationship with transit? I know people who would like to ride their bicycles to the new Maplewood transit hub but don’t because of the lack of safe bikeways. That’s a bikeway issue though, not a transit issue.
Regarding transit, I think one interrelationship is it gives people added flexibility in getting around without being tied to cars, either to shift between biking and transit depending on the situation, or to combine the two for a trip.
I agree. Here though I think you can now carry a bicycle on any bus in the MTC system? MTC will even provide a bike locker at your favorite stop to store your bicycle (something my European friends think is funny since their average stop has rows of bikes locked up outside all year around)?
I agree that improving our transit system would help, especially when someone tells me that they’d have to leave home in Mendota Heights 2 hrs earlier to get to downtown St Paul by bus than by car.
Yes, I think of all the points raised here that this one is perhaps the most valid.
I lived in Japan and they also had huge areas for bike parking at the train stations.
The two purposes of bike lockers are protection from thieves and protection from the elements. So in the Euro/Japan example:1) Regarding theft, there is some safety in numbers since there are so many bikes parked in one place, mostly all like one another. Japanese bikes also often have an integrated lock. 2) Regarding the elements, these bikes are designed to be left outside (for ex, fully covered chains).
That said, when I would ride my bike from my small town to a neighboring city (about 5 miles) in Japan, people would think I was crazy. It seemed much more common for people to take transit or drive a car for trips over a mile or two.
Discouraging driving is a complicated arena. First, I’m not sure how important specifically discouraging is compared to making bicycling appealing which is my goal. Second, some discouragement is coming anyway as St Paul, Minneapolis and the Met Council discuss ways to reduce the increasing congestion caused by individual private cars (and the increasing parking craters?).
Finally, a lot of discouragement isn’t so much discouragement as calming and right streeting—getting people to use the right streets for each purpose; thru travel vs local access. That is the concept behind my posts on St Paul; Completing The Local Mile and Ripe For Ruin.
We very much do need better education and training, particularly in the schools. I’m not sure how much of an impact our lack of it has on current modal shares though. You can teach vehicular cycling to kids all you want, but most (all? nearly all?) parents still won’t allow their children to ride to school if it means sharing the road with cars going 45 mph.
Chippewa Middle School that I mentioned above has, I believe, one of the higher percentages of students who ride bicycles to school in the metro area. That is because of Shoreview’s paths, not because of any education. Still, many parents don’t want their children riding because the intersections scare them. And I don’t necessarily blame them. (And, some students choose not to ride because their parents won’t let them unless they wear a helmet.)
Perhaps the biggest role that education can play is in increasing mind-share. Many people don’t ride simply because they don’t think about it, it doesn’t come in to their mind as an option.
A related issue, of course, is that many parents also don’t allow their kids to walk to school, even where segregated infrastructure for walking (MUP/sidewalk) is available. Although there is a lot of traffic-related fear, there is often a disproportionate fear of kidnapping, child predators, etc. Segregated infrastructure doesn’t necessarily resolve that.
Sean, great point. I think some or many parents would be much more comfortable (from a kidnapping standpoint) with their children bicycling than walking. Their exposure time is much less and it is, seemingly anyway, more difficult to grab a kid riding a bicycle as one walking.
I also think that the whole kidnapping thing has been blown way out of proportion. http://www.freerangekids.com/crime-statistics/
That said, depending on the neighborhood I could see myself being quite concerned even if the probability is very low.
I’m not talking about teaching vehicular cycling or segregated cycling, just cycling. As far as I’ve seen kids don’t get much beyond a basic “use hand signals, wear a helmet”.
Like someone else in the comments mentioned, I’m riding with my kids on the sort of local errands you’re talking about, and talking about safe cycling habits as we ride (mostly related to being aware of your surroundings). Sometimes we’re both on the sidewalk, sometimes both on the street (usually residential), sometimes one on each, depending on how comfortable they feel. By riding with them, not only do I get to teach them good habits, but I also get to assess how they’re doing in applying those habits, so I can assess how they might handle intersections and not get automatically freaked out.
In general, if parents ride, I’d imagine it is more likely kids will ride, but if parents don’t, I think kids would ride more if they had more training/practice at school or somewhere.
My general point is this: Those advocating segregated bikeways very frequently point to one of a very few European examples with huge bike mode share. They see that city’s bikeways, and pretend that by mimicking the bikeways, we can get similar mode share.
But they ignore much. They close their eyes to the dozen or more other factors that not only contribute just as strongly to bike mode share, but also produce the public will to spend tax money on extensive bikeways.
I would argue that if all the other anti-car factors I listed were present in some American town, bike share would be extremely high, even with no segregated infrastructure. For example: If mass transit were super-abundant and everywhere accessible, many families would avoid buying a second car, and some would skip buying the first, thus greatly reducing motor vehicle density, making cycling more pleasant. If speed limits were as low as in European cities, those cars present would seem less intimidating. If annual temperature extremes were much less, people could ride to and from work without melting or freezing. If travel distances averaged just two miles, even rainy weather wouldn’t be such a discouragement. And given all this (and more), cars would no longer be the default, automatic choice for getting somewhere. People would consider biking.
On the other hand, absent all those factors, a wonderful network of completely separated bikeways would probably induce minimal bike use. For examples, consider Stevenage and Milton Keynes in Britain. Both were “new” towns, designed from scratch to incorporate bikeways everywhere. But motor vehicle traffic was not dissuaded. In those towns, as everywhere else, people don’t use bikes very much because the car is easier to use,. Bike mode share is down around 2%. It’s a lesson in “build it, and they won’t come.”
H.L. Mencken said “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” I think that for the problem of excessive car dependence, bikeways are that clear, simple and wrong solution.
Very well written and sums up the current mindset of many bicycle advocates in my area. Like me. I also consider myself a 2%-1.
Thank you. Where are you from?
I wonder the people who cite the Netherlands ever ridden in the Netherlands?
Importing infastructure is only one piece of the solution.
You stil have two ton tanks you will never be able to eliminate. You can change how people drive them. But so far the USA don’t even want to address that.
The reason I don’t drive on the sidewalk now is because it doesn’t remove the danger.
Some have, some haven’t. I’m in Europe at least once every year and have been to Amsterdam a few dozen times. I’ve spent a bit of time on most trips exploring local bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure throughout Europe and just returned from 2+ weeks in The Netherlands focused almost entirely on bicycle infrastructure and safety topics. I’m far from an expert, but have a pretty good idea about what they’re doing in various countries. I know of 4 streets.mn folks, like Betsy Buckheit who’ve spend considerable time in Europe and Kevin Krizek is there now. More people need to go though and I’d highly recommend anyone interested in bicycling to do a Hembrow Study Tour (http://hembrowcyclingholidays.com/studytour.html).
I generally agree with your comments. One of the great things about The Netherlands infrastructure is that it significantly reduces conflict between bicycles and motor vehicles and in cases where the two meet makes that meeting as low conflict as possible.
We have plenty of ROW space to easily slam out a bunch of protected bike lanes cheaply and quickly.
Also, great article. I’ve been here two months and I’m feeling really lonely in Saint Paul as one of the very few not decked out in a high-viz vest.
Thanks for the compliment and welcome to St Paul. Despite the current lack of decent bicycling infrastructure I think St Paul is a wonderful place and has an opportunity to be a truly great place.
In northern Europe the only hi-viz you’ll see is on children in bicycle school. They wear the vests, with big numbers on them, so that others will know that they’re learning and so that evaluators can take note of violations by the numbers to later report to the teacher so that she can instruct the kids on what they did wrong. It’s actually pretty cool to watch.
re hi-viz: Speaking for myself, I’ve had too many close calls with cars (whether due to driver inattentiveness, poor light/weather conditions, whatever). And since I really want to see my kids grow up and grow old, I do not care if I look dumb in a construction vest or run lights during the day if it increases the probability a driver will see me.
Without safer segregated infrastructure I wouldn’t disagree. Have you found that it makes a difference? Significantly fewer close calls?
Admittedly my subjective opinion, but I’d say yes.
And I’m in favor of more segregated infrastructure, but I also agree with what Michelle says above, that sometimes it doesn’t exist where people want or need to go.
And that is why we need to push for more of it so that it is where we need to go. It’s amazing riding around Dutch cities and how quickly and safely you can go ANYWHERE. I hope we get there some day.
Good to know that the hi-viz is working for you. Or at least seems to be.
One other thing about hi-viz: I think truck drivers in particular are used to looking for h-viz at construction sites, freight terminals, depots, etc, so it seems especially helpful for those drivers. Pretty sure there have been 2 or 3 bicyclist deaths in Mpls over the past five years or so in accidents with trucks.
I think the solutions are largely contextual and psychological. Can anyone cite an incident where a barrier protected a cyclist from an errant car? I did some googling and I can’t actually find one. And of course we all know the research date is largely inconclusive.
In general, I’d much much prefer buffered bike lanes like the Park and Portland bike lanes. They’re capacious, you can move quickly, and generally they provide some sense of psychological comfort without being as inflexible as a protected lane.
That being said, I do think protected lanes DO make some sense in places like a downtown where there’s the temptation for cars to use the bike lane inappropriately or illegally. I just question the Minneapolis Bike Coalition orthodoxy that only protected cycle tracks are worth building. It depends on the road, on traffic, on how cars use it.
To your first question, just look at fatality and injury stats in the U.S. vs Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, etc. There’s a reason they have so many fewer of both. That’s the important thing. Or one of them. And proves the point. Also, your question, as phrased, has a problem in that it’s impossible to know how often a car did not veer in to a bike lane because of physical segregation. A pseudo attentive driver who might have otherwise not paid attention to veering and done so is more likely to be paying attention when driving directly next to a k-rail or curb.
What is inflexible about a well designed protected lane?
I know I was one of few who rode along 29th across to County Rd C to Roseville in 55 MPH traffic. I felt safe and I took the right lane, only to be honked at occasionally even though the left lane was always clear, but given the choice I’d rather not. In fact, I haven’t done that since I discovered there’s a bike path south of there that goes out that way .
Problem is with parallel paths alongside streets you’ll more than likely have traffic moving much faster than in much denser European urban centers even if you design the path correctly. Instead of worrying about leaving safe intersections up to dubious politicians and planners we should expand the Midtown Greenway. If only that were a thick colored line on a map like we do with subways,LRT, and highways would we be discussing, insisting even, on adding more and more of these lines. The Midtown Greenway minimizes and in many cases totally eliminates intersection conflicts since bikes and motorized vehicles don’t cross paths: they simply can’t. This should be what we aim for since it is objectively superior to a path that has to deal with intersections and inevitable reckless/drunk drivers (a motorist sped in the Lowry tunnel away from police and flipped his car over: will a partially segregated side path make you want to bike with him?).
We need an expanded greenway system that eliminates several intersections for cyclists and pedestrians while providing access to our dense commercial areas outside of where it does now: Lake St and the southern ends of Hennepin, Lyndale, and Nicollet. We do have an elevated bikeway that goes *over* Lyndale and avoids heavy motorized traffic, but unfortunately it only brings you north of Franklin and Lyndale and just east of Franklin and Hennepin meaning everything else in between here and the Midtown Greenway are off limits as far as 98% of residents are concerned.
I am only a vehicular cyclist when there are no other options. The frank truth is I do not trust motorists and prefer to be segregated from them. What does skill level matter when a drunken or inattentive driver plows his car into you at 40 mph?
I have riding a bicycle most of my life and have had a automobile drivers license for 30 years–my fear does not come from inexperience, but rather the opposite.
Dave, excellent points. Especially when you consider how much more dangerous our roads are than those in other developed countries.
What is slightly missing from this discussion is that there are many different types of cyclist. Motorists have interstates, highways, 4 lane, 5 lane, residential streets, commercial streets, parkways etc. Why shouldn’t bikers have similar options? If separated facilities are too slow (or whatever) then don’t use them. You still have a right to the road. What European counties do well is encourage younger people to bike. And younger people who bike grow up to become not-as-younger people who bike. It’s easier to start habits when your young…
I agree. And when protected bike facilities are not optimally thought-out and designed, as even the OP acknowledges, they work for fewer users. This makes a “one size fits all” protected lane approach more concerning. I don’t think even the most avid of vehicular cyclists would be opposed to well-designed, well-placed separate pathways as part of a larger system. And if they’re not well-designed, or perhaps even if they are, we’d better hope we have safe alternative options. Having to choose between a badly designed protected bikeway and a road with no bike infrastructure at all is an unpleasant thought.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan does actually have a map of “Bicycle Functional Classification” which is traffic engineer speak for exactly what you’re talking about. It’s on page 180, in the Projects chapter, and is mostly for planning purposes at this point since a lot of the infrastructure is years off.
I read this article and my first thought was – what the heck is he talking about? First of all, none of us who choose to control the lane or drive their bike as they would they car want to be called a vehicular cyclist. That goes back to Forester and frankly it’s insulting. We have come a long way since “vehicular cycling” and for the most part anyone who really drives their bike knows that being called a VC is and insult and refers to something that we are not!
For the most part, we just want to regain our drivers rights. Segregating us on these unneeded facilities is taking more of our rights away.
All your talk about going too slow and stopping to much and running into “furniture” is really an attempt for you to distract folks from the real problems with these facilities. THEY ARE INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS AT THE INTERSECTIONS, DRIVEWAYS AND BUSINESS ENTRANCES.
And let’s be honest Sir, this is not Demark. We have not gone thru the cultural shift that they have and we won’t going thru it any time soon. We can’t build a cyclopath here and a cyclopath there and call ourself Sweden. That’s not the way it was done there and it won’t work here. We have a 2% buy in for all that. You actually think the 98% that is opposed or just doesn’t care about the 2% is going to pay for all that? So we will get half assed – and the ones who didn’t want it to start with will ultimately end up riding on those things – by law. That’s what happened with the bike lanes. They built them for our comfort and now most states require cyclists to use them. Thanks you facility advocates! I’d like to got to my office but I can’t get off the track cause it just goes straight thru for my safety! LOL!
What we need and what we can reasonably get is slower speeds, wider lanes, signed “friendly” bike routes and plenty of bike parking at businesses. THAT will do for to help us than any “protected” facility.
I found you article insulting sir. I’m not sure who you talk to about any of this stuff…the whole part of VC hating certian bike types is ridiculous.
Do you work for a cement or bullard producting company? Or People for Selling Bikes?
THANK YOU. I’ve been feeling alone in these concerns for some time… it’s so great to hear that someone else feels similarly strongly. Your points about SLOWER CAR SPEEDS and nice wide bike lanes are extremely well made — we need these things (which are often cheaper and more feasible, meaning we can have them for MORE ROADS!) as much if not more than segregated facilities. Having enough space to react to road hazards and vehicles and having cars obtain a dose of zen (please, stop trying to get to your destination 1 minute earlier than everyone else by putting others in danger) on many roads would do a lot more for safety than one protected bikeway … and would probably take the same amount of those precious “taxpayer dollars” drivers are always trying to claim we don’t pay…
THANK YOU. I’ve been feeling alone in these concerns for some time… it’s so great to hear that someone else feels similarly strongly. Your points about SLOWER CAR SPEEDS and nice wide bike lanes are extremely well made — we need these things (which are often cheaper and more feasible, meaning we can have them for MORE ROADS!) as much if not more than protected bike lanes. Having enough space to react to road hazards and vehicles and having cars obtain a dose of zen (please, stop trying to get to your destination 1 minute earlier than everyone else by putting others in danger) on many roads would do a lot more for safety than one protected bikeway … and would probably take the same amount of those precious “taxpayer dollars” drivers are always trying to claim we don’t pay…
I’m pretty sure she meant wider general traffic lanes to be shared by cars and bikes. Although, that does contradict the idea of slower car speeds.
Yeah, maybe I misunderstood. I definitely see no point to wider “shared” lanes; having a designated bike lane does wonders that a wide lane cannot. Nice wide or buffered bike lanes are even better. And “sharrows” are the most pathetic and dangerous excuse for bike infrastructure ever.
I agree completely with you here. I’d then add that well designed physically segregated paths and intersections are better than buffered bike lanes.
She thinks right hooks and left crosses are just part of riding in traffic. She doesn’t understand that doesn’t happen to bike drivers outside of the bike lane. Maybe one day she will figure it out but I’m not going to hold my breath. She and others just want to sit around and say “whoa is me…all the motorists want to kill me for riding my bike” Can I just get separated from them? Please Please Please.
And if they should get separated, they will find that their problems are even bigger. Then what will they whine for?
“Whoa” is right. Karen, when I talk to ordinary people about riding their bike in the city, they almost always say they’re worried about riding next to cars. Study after study has borne this out. I think the answer is more (well-designed) dedicated, protected space for people on bikes.
I do not agree that vehicular cycling is necessarily an offensive term (although I do agree that Walker is overly dismissive and closed-minded about vehicular cycling techniques).
I also do not agree with your statements about segregated facilities. Although the standard American MUP is quite dangerous, I do not believe all facilities (especially one-ways that go with the flow of traffic) are. I can’t imagine any way in which bike lanes are any more dangerous than the wide lanes you say would improve things. Both have the benefit of getting you out of the flow of motorized traffic, but the cost of reducing conspicuity at intersections and driveways.
About segregated facilities being more dangerous: In “Bicycle Tracks and Lanes; a Before-After Study,” Soren Jensen did a thorough before-after comparison of streets to which “protected” cycle tracks had been added. He accounted for the increased riding that the cycletracks generated (because yes, any new cycling facility will attract riders, no matter how bad the design). And yes, those riding did feel more protected.
But they were not! Crash rates per mile traveled increased very significantly. The authors excused this, claiming that even if cyclists were injured, it was better for society. Is that really what it’s come to??
Also, people may wish to read the article by Carol Szczepanski in issue 23 of _Bicycle Times_ magazine, titled “Staying Safe in Protected Lanes.” She begins by describing her bad crash in a DC “protected” lane, and gives much serious advice about staying safe – e.g. be aware that drivers and pedestrians might not notice you; always wear bright colors; be ready to brake at every intersection; look all around you for peds and turning motorists and always be ready to stop; obey all signals, even if bikes are stopped while motorists have green lights; sometimes you’ll need to use vehicle traffic lights, sometimes pedestrian ones, so look for signs to explain what to do; be careful around slower riders and pedestrians. Oh, and if you don’t want to ride slowly, pick a different route.
Szczepanski doesn’t explain how such a facility qualifies as “protected.”
Well said, Karen!
Umm… I can ride 11 MPH to the grocery store on my cruiser down the 4-lane 35 MPH arterial in my town. It’s easy. Granted, I’m male (accident of birth) and confident (experience and some education), but it’s not operationally difficult to do, and the motorists don’t seem to hate me for it, as many people think they will. I’ve never been fast and athletic. The hardest part frankly is overcoming the disempowering messages from the culture that it’s too hard and can’t be done, which this article contributes to with its parade of strawmen arguments — must ride fast, be “confident and bold”, probably male, 2% of riders, must change lanes in front of cars, must use hi-viz clothing and a dozen lights. Yeah, that all sounds scary, but it’s not all true.
Hi John, what town are you in? What are the traffic volumes on this street when you ride?
I’m actually in Maine, similar climate and characteristics to MN. My town is near Portland, the largest city in the state, and I ride in Portland a fair amount as well. My office is near the local mall, so I’m on similar roads every day, sometimes that slow, if I’m fighting a strong headwind. My more typical speed on a calm flat is 15 MPH, but my point is that 10 MPH can be done too. I only cruise at 20 with a tailwind.
OK, I am quite jealous. Maine and Vermont may be my favorite states in the U.S.
I think you’re one of the very few people in the U.S. who rides on a road like that and doesn’t have numerous problems with drivers. Maybe drivers in Maine are better than average. Outside of nirvana a road like that would be unsafe and unpleasant for most adults. No parents would let their kids or elderly parents ride on it.
It’s not difficult to learn to ride in all kinds of traffic without encountering “numerous problems with drivers”. I’m about as far from Maine as you can get in the continental US, San Diego, and have the same experience as Mr. Brooking. People all over the US have similar results. It’s Nirvana everywhere! Here are some testimonials:
While well-designed and properly maintained segregated bicycle infra can be nice, the notion underlying segregation advocacy – that segregation is required for safe, comfortable and enjoyable cycling – is not only untrue, it’s killing bicycling. Way to go. We are our own worst enemies. It’s so aggravating!
How is it killing bicycling?
And who said it’s required?
The notion that segregation is required for safe, comfortable and enjoyable cycling is killing bicycling because it conveys and reinforces the belief that bicycling in traffic is too dangerous. That discourages people from bicycling.
While there are many reasons people don’t bicycle, one of the top reasons is that they believe it to be too dangerous. Now this can be addressed in two different ways. We can agree and reinforce their fears and discouragement from bicycling, which is what advocating segregation does (and spending tons of money to not build enough to make a significant difference – they still have to risk their lives riding in traffic for at least part of almost every ride), or we can show them and persuade them that they are mistaken in a fraction of the time and for very little cost.
I’m so sure about that. If building segregated facilities increases ridership, as has been asserted and seems likely, that would seem to undermine the idea that it reinforces fears. Those new riders have to have at least partially overcome those fears. In particular where we don’t have a complete network of segregated facilities, which means you probably need to ride without them to get to one.
And certainly riding is one of the most effective means of reducing those fears.
Yet another study was released today, this one by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. The study examined five recently installed protected cycle tracks in Portland, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago and Washington, and found that within a year of installation, ridership increased between +21% to +171%. The cycle tracks in this study do not yet have accident/death rate data because they are newly constructed, but it is widely accepted that increased ridership results in increased safety due to the safety-in-numbers phenomena.
There does appear to be a modicum of correlation between facilities and increased bicycling mode share, but no study has proved causation. San Francisco numbers went up the most during a court-ordered multi-year moratorium on building bicycle infrastructure. If it had been during that time, it would have gotten the credit for the increased ridership.
This latest cycle track study is a farce. They observed (and videotaped) for a mere 168 hours, didn’t see any crashes, and decided that was good enough. Totally meaningless. Bike crashes just aren’t that frequent.
Thanks for the context on that study… it really seemed too good to be true. It would be great to see a comprehensive and critical review of the literature on protected bikeway safety…
It’s demonstrably false that: “No parents would let their kids or elderly parents ride on it.” I regularly see children riding on 45 MPH 4-6 lanes roads.
No, John is not “one of the few.” I ride busy streets every day and rarely have “numerous problems with drivers.” A 35 mph road is quite safe for cyclists. Your broad generalizations are most harmful to the rights of cyclists. How did you come by your belief? Is it based on actual data and experience or simple “intuition”?
It is a bad faith move to criticize something with which you are inexperienced. John is too nice to say it, but you are intentionally marginalizing him.
Bicyclists in the United States have very high fatality rates when compared with other industrialized countries, and this rate is on the increase. By way of example, please see the following conclusions from a recent study of pedestrian and bicycling fatality rates associated with distracted driving. Could you please explain how advocating for safer infrastructure that will also encourage more people to ride bicycles is harmful to rights of cyclists?
“We found an increasing trend in the rate of fatalities for pedestrian and bicycle rider victims of distracted driving crashes. Some characteristics of the victim and crash scene may provide useful insights into further research and policy efforts. The data from this study can be used by advocates of policies to reduce distracted driving or improve the safety of the built environment for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
There are 3 basic issues in play here and we would do well not to conflate them: safety, equity/rights/utility, and participation. The best way to avoid a bike crash is not to ride a bike, but since walking and motoring are more dangerous than biking, then safety is a relative concern.
Your basic assumptions on safety are incorrect. The fatality rate is not on the increase for cyclists. Do not group cyclists with pedestrians. It results in skewed stats–cyclist fatalities have gone down or remained stable in this country for years, and it has NOTHING to do with bike paths and bike lanes, which are installed in very few locations. http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/pedestrians-and-bicyclists/fatalityfacts/bicycles
Does bicycling-specific infrastructure make us safer? No. Sidewalk-style & parallel at-grade sidepaths are between 4 and 26 times more dangerous than roads. Totally separated paths are 2 to 4 times more dangerous than roads.
Protected bike lanes are incorrectly named, intentionally, I believe, to bypass AASHTO standards–this is an on-street path, and it increases intersection conflicts. If people were actually reading the reports coming out of Europe, they would realize that these so-called protected cycle-tracks in Copenhagen have radically decreased cyclist safety. Bike lanes themselves aggravate turning and crossing conflicts–the only conflict they address, at all, is rear-end collisions, which are a whopping .5% of car-bike crashes. These are feel-good measures that actually make things worse–and they most adversely affect the group they most purport to help: those who don’t know better, who are afraid of traffic, who don’t know to look for the heightened risks.
Does bicycling infrastructure support or detract from rights/equity/utility? When these BAD facilities are installed, they very often become legally mandatory, but even when they don’t, they become SOCIALLY mandatory, which means, now, cyclists like myself who ride 5-7k per year, every day, in all conditions, must put up not only with the slow, inefficient, inconvenient, more dangerous paint-and-path “facilities,” but also with harassment for not using them, which includes harassment by law enforcement officers. So, yes, these BAD facilities DO negatively affect cyclists’ rights. Roads go everywhere I need to go. Bike paths and lanes do not. I need my right to the road improved, not constrained. We’re the canaries in the coal mine–if you poison our experience, you’ll be left with only those cyclists who once or twice a year haul their bikes down to a path for a 30 minute toodle.
Participation? Let’s focus on those who already enjoy it. I’m not selling bikes, components, clothes, paint, or pavement. I distrust the advocacy of those who stand to profit through misinformation, who capitalize on fear and inexperience to push their agenda. I’m not selling or buying bad cycling advocacy. Those who want to participate are already doing so. We can educate those who suddenly realize they’re interested. We can convert narrow 2-lane roads into 4-lane roads to handle better passing. But who wants a bike lane on a narrow 2-lane road with lots of crossing and turning traffic? If you do, that’s BADvocacy.
In response to the article: I want vehicular cycling. I want to DRIVE my bike. Those who don’t know better are probably fooled by bike lane propaganda. Those who DRIVE their bikes know better.
How easy it is to teach somebody to DRIVE a bike. How wasteful, time-consuming, and ultimately useless it is to lobby for bike lanes and cycle-tracks.
Thanks so much for your contributions – it’s good to hear that there are data out there that support my gut fear that protected bikeways are more dangerous at intersections, etc.
I’m curious, though, about your reasons for lumping in bike lanes with protected bike lanes as a bad thing. I am a daily bike commuter in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and in city biking I find that even a small bike lane makes a huge difference in my comfort on the road. Especially given the perennial issues of ice/snow and potholes, having space to avoid hazards and knowing that I won’t be squeezed off a narrow road are a real improvement. And, of course, painted bike lanes mean that I have the flexibility to cross into a turn lane or take the lane if the situation calls for it, so that I can safely manage intersections as traffic rather than like a pedestrian.
Do you prefer to take the lane 100% of the time, or do you not see a benefit to having a designated lane? Do you have other reasons for finding painted bike lanes useless?
I’m not Brian, but I’d like to comment about ordinary painted bike lanes.
I don’t take the lane 100% of the time. When a lane is wide enough to safely share, I’ll share the lane with motor vehicles. But that’s based on the practical, rideable width of the lane. IOW, if there is lots of gravel, glass, potholes, etc. to the right, that doesn’t count in my estimate of rideable width.
In my experience, bike lane stripes often _reduce_ the rideable lane width! That’s because cars sweep away trash where their wheels touch (and a few inches beyond). Since cars almost never drive in the bike lane, any bit of trash that lands there tends to stay there until the next street sweeping cycle, which happens only twice per year in my city. Bike lanes become gravel pits. And motorists probably don’t understand why I’m not riding through the middle of the gravel.
If the total pavement width is the same, but no bike lane stripe is present, a car will occasionally pass closer to the curb and sweep the street, so to speak. The result, IME, is less road-edge debris and more rideable lane width.
I’ve often heard bike lane proponents praise the extra width a bike lane provides. But the actual benefit comes not from the stripe, but from the pavement width. ISTM the stripe itself _reduces_ the rideable width.
Another effect I’ve noticed (more on exurban highways with, say, 2 foot shoulders beyond the fog line): If I ride just right of the fog line, passing motorists come much closer. I think they feel I’ll never cross that line into “their” lane. OTOH, if I ride just left of the fog line, they seem much more likely to move much further left, probably because they’re uncertain about where I’ll be.
I know that many people feel more protected when that stripe is there. I’m not one of them. I prefer the same pavement width but with no stripe. I’m happy to share those wide lanes, and motorists seem more cautious around me.
There’s an art to unprotected bike lanes and I don’t think we’ve mastered it – some combination of width, visibility, other road factors, and enforcement makes each one different.
The ones on Hiawatha are pretty routinely used as passing lanes by cars that don’t even slow down or look before veering over, so they seem a lot less safe to me than just riding in the street; the old ones on Park & Portland were fine but suboptimal (like having to get out of them to get on the Greenway) but the new ones are pretty awesome even though the main difference is extra paint. Or maybe the real difference is the overall slower speed limit. The bike lane on the Franklin bridge looks like it should just cause massive problems, with the weird turning-lane-crossing thing, but it’s actually pretty sweet to ride, and I have no idea what makes it work. General car confusion = more careful drivers?
So it seems to me that they are so nonstandardized, it’s almost impossible to really study how effective they are as a general rule.
On Hiawatha? There are only unmarked shoulders, no bike lanes. Which indeed are used as an extra-extra long right-turn-only lane by motorists…
I agree the Park/Portland the new lanes are great (except at Lake St); despite not being technically a “protected” facility, they put me hugely at ease and allow me to maintain full speed. Although the posted speed limit was lowered, I don’t think the actual speed traffic has changed. In residential sections of Park Avenue, the 85th-percentile speed (the speed at which limits are theoretically “supposed” to be set) is 43 mph. I think that in itself says something: that despite being what might elsewhere be signed as a 40 or 45 mph street, it still feels like a safe place to bike.
Do you mean Minnehaha, not Hiawatha? I almost never see anyone bike on Hiawatha itself.
My bad, I meant Minnehaha, where you actually can ride in a marked lane (and I do a lot, was just at the Hub on Minnehaha yesterday and led a ride from the Free Space to the Falls last week! – though we got off onto side roads because of the construction) . Headed north on Lake the section where the lane is in the middle of the road is just too wide, cars plain drive in it, but even the parts south of Lake cars use it as a passing/turning lane all the time.
I used to commute on Park/Portland every single day, from 28th/26th to downtown. Quit that job in 2005, so that 10 year gap is my comparison. Average speed has definitely gone down some. It used to be like a highway and I saw some spectacular, SUV-flipped-and-bouncing-like-a-toy crashes at high speeds on Park.
But you’re right that at least part of it is just perception since the cars stay a few feet further away from you now and aren’t changing lanes as much.
Oh and the part about us being willing to let our kid “take the lane” in front of a Ford F350…. really sir – I don’t let my child drive my car – They won’t be driving their bike in traffic either. Children have no business in traffic by themselves. They do not have the maturity or decision making skills that are required to drive. That’s why they can’t be licensed to drive a car until they are 16.
And let’s be honest – parents today don’t let their chidlren out of their sight. If you actually think they are going to put them on a cycletrack and say “see this afternoon” you are delusional. Ain’t gonna happen!
Karen, exactly the point. Outside of the U.S., northern Europe in particular, kids can and do ride all over by themselves from about age 8.
As well, disabled in The Netherlands have massively better facilities than they do in Minnesota or anywhere in the U.S. thanks to their using the segregated bicycle infrastructure.
Why should we not provide the same opportunities for our children and disabled?
I’m guessing you missed my post about riding my bike all over town as a child. I did not have separated anything. I rode the sidewalk occassionally but even as a child I figured out that was where I was gonna get hit by someone backing out.
AND again…this is not the Netherlands. You might as well be talking about MARS! Everything we do, everything we are, our values, our interests are different than those in the Netherlands. Everyone who drives a car there also drives their bike. Their children go thru bike education starting in elementary school. They have huge penalities for hitting a cyclist regardless of who is at fault.
They went thru a major cultural shift to get where they are….we won’t get it until we do the same thing. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen. Well, you can if you want….don’t want to come off as pushy.
Trying to accomplish the Netherlands Nirvana piece by piece will not work! We have to learn to function in the culture that we have – and stop whining about it. :*)
I ride with my 8 year old on his own bike. I let him choose his own level of comfort most of the time but in general I encourage him to ride in the street, because the absolutely least safe place to be in our streets is crossing from sidewalk curb cut to sidewalk curb cut. Cars (especially really tall cars like the F350s!) DO NOT STOP before the crosswalk. They routinely stop where they would have already hit a kid shorter than their hood who was crossing at the crosswalk. Routinely. It is terrifying. So in general on neighborhood streets the street is much safer.
Also if not for the street crossings (or if they were protected by stoplights which drivers respected and at which drivers were not turning at the same time others are going forward) I would let him go places on his own on his bike now. In a few years he’ll be one of the many groups of boys I routinely see out biking together – the average age looks to be about 12 or 13 for the groups of BMX kids in South Minneapolis.
So in answer to the “show me where anyone is against segregated facilities” requests, I guess you guys have some prime examples now.
Karen, I’d love for my kid to have the option to bike around on his own all day to get to the library, school, and parks. That some parents wouldn’t is a matter of their parenting preferences and nothing more. And I don’t want to wait until he’s 16 to give him that freedom because then he’ll magically be safer on poorly designed roads.
You are comfortable with that risk. Stop insisting the rest of us have to be.
Um Colin… I don’t have kids. More power to you! I left my house in the morning and came home for dinner. I rode my bike ALL OVER TOWN from about 11 years old on. I don’t see why it should be different now. In my opinion there’s not more crime, etc. now than there was then…we just hear about it and it’s caused more FEAR.
Kind of like people afraid to drive their bike with the cars. Irrational FEAR!
And what you don’t understand is that separated tracks are NOT SAFER. They just seem safer to people who are clueless to the dangers of mixing bikes and cars together. Take a cyclist further out of relevance makes them less visible by other drivers. Not being seen by a car driver is dangerous. The only place I have ever had a close call was in a bike lane because they didn’t see me and since I wasn’t in one of their “lanes” I wasn’t relevant. If a cycle track ran thru the woods and never crossed another street they would be truly separated and safe… how is that going to help anyone? well, maybe people exercising.
Poorly designed roads? Really?
Oh yeah…phased signals. Let’s double the cost of unnecessary facilities!
Your argument that ” separated tracks are NOT SAFER” is contradicted by a growing body of research that has found separated tracks ARE SAFER by statistically significant margins. One caveat – the key to safe cycle track infrastructure is proper intersection treatments. Planners in Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have come up with effective intersection treatments that could easily be implemented here. A good summary of the literature may be found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457512004393
The stats seem to suggest that the fear is not entirely irrational.
And yes, many, many roads are poorly designed.
Colin, it is interesting when people prove our point for us.
I think you summed things up quite well: “You are comfortable with that risk. Stop insisting the rest of us have to be.” Thank you.
You are obviously UNAWARE of the risks that you are subjecting yourself to in any given situation. I am not.
How about this – Stop insisting that I pay for your training wheels while you learn to drive your bike with the rest of us.
Karen, I’m totally on board. It’s not just paying for their training wheels that concerns me: most bicycle-specific infrastructure defies the logic of our transportation system. I don’t want to pay for someone else to ruin a system that works by replacing it with one that barely ekes by. There are plenty of low-speed residential streets and vacant school/church parking lots (during evening hours) where novice cyclists can practice their skills.
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A comprehensive review of the scientific literature concerning segregated cycle tracks may be found here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457512004393
“The review indicates that one-way cycle tracks are generally safer at intersections than two-way and that, when effective intersection treatments are employed, constructing cycle tracks on busy streets reduces collisions and injuries. The evidence also suggests that, when controlling for exposure and including all collision types, building one-way cycle tracks reduces injury severity even when such intersection treatments are not employed.”
D Maki…the article costs $40 to view. Thanks but you are assuming that I havne’t read all that to start with…bad assumption.
See Josh’s comment below…
Also, google some of New York’s cycle track videos – watch as the cyclist bypass the “protected” intersections by joining the rest of the traffic to get thru the intersection.
This is not Denmark!
News flash – we live in a CAR CENTRIC culture! We can’t have Denmark with a 2% buy in! We’ll have to pry their cold dead feet from their gas pedal before we have Denmark. Ain’t gonna happen.
Walker can talk about what goes on in Denmark until he’s blue in the face. I’ll take him seriously when we get a 50% buy in.
Again Walker – please don’t hold your breath!
Sort of sad to see bike advocates so quick to defend destructive car culture. What’s going to happen when car culture completely disintegrates before our eyes over the next decade, but bike advocates don’t know how to advocate for solutions outside of that car culture? Honestly, I’m a fan of vehicular cycling, but far less than before thanks to these comments.
The “We’re not Europe” argument is so trite, in so many fields.
It’s the segregationists who capitulate to the car culture by insisting on, well, segregation from the cars.
Vehicular cyclists reject the car culture view that motorist rights trump bicyclist rights on the roads. Segregationists buy into it. They endorse it. It’s their basis for demanding segregation.
The vehicular cycling view is that we’re all drivers, with equal rights to the road, and, in particular, to full lane use.
As long as bicyclists retain the rights to act as drivers of vehicles., vehicular cycling is immune to the strength of the car culture. Whether car culture stays or disintegrates, vehicular cycling remains equally safe and effective. And again, vehicular cycling also rejects the car-priority aspect of car culture. The more cyclists we have using the full lane, the more motorists will learn and accept that cyclists are drivers with equal rights and responsibilities on the roads. To the extent that vehicular cycling affects the car culture, it diminishes it.
Segregation advocacy, on the other hand, is fueled by the car culture and strengthens the car culture. It’s symbiotic with car culture. It’s an unhealthy relationship.
D Maki. This comprehensive review is free and it is not nearly as affirmative as the agenda you’re pushing.
In fact, it seems the Germans, Danes, and Brits have found many, many flaws with the segregated infrastructure paradigm. Some of the critiques are braver than others.
I will grant you a concession: if you want to build bike trails out away from urban areas or bike lanes on rural roads where intersections are few and far between, I won’t fight you over anything but the waste of money (and who doesn’t like a good rail-trail ride out to the lake once or twice a year?). While I’d rather have a 4-lane road that serves all traffic than a debris-strewn, pothole-ridden gutter or shoulder, if you remove all the turning and crossing movements, these paint-and-path solutions aren’t quite as dangerous as they are in built-up areas. Just please stop trying to build them in urban/suburban areas. And maybe push for solutions that help more than contribute to all user groups’ convenience, safety, and rights, yes?
I really love that your solution for cycling is more traffic lanes.
As a scientist myself I tend to believe in the peer-review process. It’s perfect, but it does mean some consensus was reached amongst leading experts in the field concerning the topic at hand. Ian Brett Cooper’s opinions are interesting, but his blog is exactly as he describes, “my place to rant and rave about cycling issues as I see them.”
It’s not perfect, but it does mean some consensus was reached…
Regarding the peer review process: I believe it works reasonably well when the subjects being discussed are not closely related to economic interests, or to campaigns of advocates or proselytizers.
A new method of imaging metallic crystals? A new species of dinosaur? New archeology regarding the aboriginal colonization of Australia? There’s little motivation for data distortion or other skullduggery. Reviewers need not show much skepticism, nor dig very deeply into specialized data.
But when the topic involves saving the world (in this case, by getting everyone on bicycles, and helping to get the contracts that keep planning and design firms in business) the motivation for cheerleading is great. And when articles are published in journals not related to the task at hand (in this case, traffic engineering), reviewers may not ask the right questions. It’s easy for the peer review process to fail.
For an example of what has been missed by peer reviewers, see http://john-s-allen.com/reports/montreal-kary.htm
“Most bicycle facilities being built in the U.S. are not ‘best practice’. Even the newest recommendations of NACTO, AASHTO, and in MUTCD include designs that Dutch and other engineers abandoned years ago as dangerous or impractical. As well, these newest U.S. standards leave out many critical elements.”
ABSOLUTELY! But try telling that to “bicycle-friendly” Seattle DOT, which insists 2-way cycletracks should have only a 10 mph design speed, because giving people on bikes adequate stopping and sight distances encourages them to ride at dangerous speeds.
Nearly half of my commute is on fully-separated bicycle paths. The other half is on the streets of Seattle, and I have to plan my route to avoid the dangerous, noncompliant “facilities” the city says it’s building for my benefit.
Same issue here, though perhaps not quite as bad. I’m not sure how much of it is a not-invented-here syndrome and so they’re opposed to anything European or Dutch, or that they’ve been told so often that bicycle riders fare best when they act and are treated like vehicles and all they need are some bike boxes and a narrow lane occasionally.
Please don’t get me wrong with all the safety talk. I enjoy riding fast in vehicle lanes, jockeying for position amongst the 3000 lb vehicles. Oftentimes at night, sometimes after having a few beers. Dangerous and irresponsible, but smashing good fun! But I would also enjoy the opportunity to ride to the corner store on city streets with my grand kids. In civilized fashion. Something I’ve had the privilege to enjoy in both Canada and the Netherlands. I honestly don’t understand why so many bicyclists are passionately opposed to northern European style bicycle infrastructure. We will never get 30-50% ride share (as they do in many N. European cities) by forcing all riders to play daredevil in the streets with speeding cars.
But we can’t build bike infrastructure because we’re a CAR CENTRIC CULTURE which requires that all bikes ride on the same facility with cars. Because that’s what drivers want, apparently. Or something. And you can only build bike infrastructure after you’ve already got everyone riding in the street first! (Hm… where’s that post about induced demand…)
Leaving aside what’s actually safer (an empirical question that can be answered with study), there is value in hesitant riders feeling safer (even if they aren’t necessarily!) so they will get out and ride.
Good points. Actual safety vs subjective safety is fascinating. Riding on the road feels much less safe than it actually is. However, well designed segregated paths and junctions feel much safer and indeed are much safer.
Regardless of whether cycle tracks really are safer, I think everyone can agree that riders perception of safety increases when there is a physical barrier between themselves and fast moving vehicles. Given that fear of motor vehicles is the #1 reason more riders do not take to the road this perception of security would logically result in increased ridership. And increased ridership results in real safety benefits due to the “safety in numbers” phenomena as shown by Jacobson (2003).
Jacobsen, P L
2003 Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. Injury Prevention 2003; 9:205-209 doi:10.1136/ip.9.3.205
Makes sense to me. Thanks for the cite.
I’m working on my wife, who is afraid of riding in the street, and my plan is to get her used to some paths, them some bike lane and them maybe she’ll feel okay sharing the road.
Adam, what kind of bicycle does she have? My wife rode mtn and hybrids for most of her life and hated roads with any sort of traffic. She’s actually a bit (and that’s a small bit but a sometimes very important bit) less afraid on her city bike because it’s easier for her to see since she’s sitting upright and most importantly, she can put her foot down while still seated which makes her feel safer. She still won’t get near roads with even moderate traffic but we can go a few places now that we couldn’t before.
That’s my plan, as well. Last year ended in disaster almost as quickly as it began. She got a road bike as she was used to spinning and wanted to keep up with me. Never got used to it, started complaining about her bike, and then crashed on her third time out (into bushes fortuitously). Swore off her bike.
Lucky for me, my wife doesn’t quit easily. We’ve had success on bike shares in Paris in London, so I was able to convince her to get a Linus Dutchi. Now that she’s accessorized her bike, we made our way to the art museum yesterday (she in an ankle low summer dress, I in a buttoned shirt and shorts) and may go to the zoo tomorrow (in STL, so almost entirely park trails). The type of bike has contributed greatly to her happiness out on the paths. However, she’s also already said that she wants to avoid wearing a helmet as much as possible, so we’ll see whether we ever make it onto the streets.
Herbie, that’s great that she’s found a way to enjoy bicycling. Interesting that riding in London was considered a success. That can be a pretty nerve wracking for many people.
My wife is also hesitant to ride city streets without European style infrastructure. On the other hand my oldest granddaughter is absolutely fearless in traffic, though I’m not sure this is something to celebrate. Regardless of our personal experiences, studies have demonstrated a significant gender bias in bicycling commuter rates, with women showing a distinct aversion to sharing the road with high-speed motor vehicle traffic. Sensible “dutch style” infrastructure would eliminate this bias.
Garrarda, Jan, Geoffrey Roseb and Sing Kai Lo.
2008 Promoting transportation cycling for women: The role of bicycle infrastructure. Preventive Medicine, Volume 46, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 55–59.
Or reverse the bias. There are noticeably more women riding in The Netherlands than men. And when you talk to them they are quite enthusiastic about riding and enjoy it.
In the U.S., men’s cycling trips surpass women’s by at least 2:1. This ratio stands in marked contrast to cycling in European countries, where urban biking is a way of life and draws about as many women as men—sometimes more. In the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips are made by bike, 55 percent of all riders are women. In Germany 12 percent of all trips are on bikes, 49 percent of which are made by women.
Response is going up as a blog post on my site. Head over by Memorial Day to find it, if not sooner.
Some riders out there view their bike as if it was a car, and ride (or drive, either term fits in this case) nearly as fast as motor vehicles in city streets. Good for them, they add no wear-and-tear to paved roads, and reduce societal fossil fuel consumption. I would never try to stop you from your preference to ride/drive on the streets amongst the traffic. All I ask is for your side to understand that many of us will never be one of those riders.
A sizable percentage of bicyclists have no interest in competing with auto traffic. It is a frightening experience when your seemingly-relaxing (but still fully aware, of course!) ride is forced to play the ‘hope they aren’t looking at their phone’ lottery with a 3000 pound hunk of metal.
Or worse, if they are attentive, they possess anti-bike views like those found by several participants of forums like ‘Minneapolis e-democracy’ (no blame aimed at the medium, as there are numerous pro-bike people there, too)
On protected lanes like the Greenway, the Grand Rounds, and the multi-use path along the Hiawatha Avenue Blue Line, one rarely has to interrupt a meditative, relaxing ride to deal with aggro drivers (and when you do, there are stop lights permitting a safe crossing from one side of the path to the other). And if you mix in calmer, low-mph side streets, one can almost get everywhere in Minneapolis on a bike without having to deal with 30+ mph drivers. Almost.
Now if we can only add a few more protected lanes along commercial routes (5th Street downtown, along the light rail, perhaps).
Todd, great points and thanks for the link. Interesting and scary read, though folks on there seemed considerably more considerate than some drivers I’ve encountered.
I think the notion that you need to “compete” with motorized traffic is close to 100% of the problem. I ride on heavily traffic roads regularly and I don’t “compete” with anyopne except for the occasional roadie I might race. I cooperate with auto drivers. It’s not difficult. It’s not difficult when I’m cruising at 20+ MPH on my fast bike or cruising in the low teens towing 100 Lbs of traffic on my tricycle. Signal, merge, turn. Basic stuff. However, I grew up cycling for transportation, so I probably have a mental advantage there as I was never taught to be scared of automobiles, but to communicate with automobile drivers in order to facilitate cooperative traffic flow. It really works quite well.
Stated another way, we should just accept the fact that bicyclists in the US are killed at a rate that is 8 to 30 times higher than Northern European countries where they decided enough was enough and made the investment in safe infrastructure?
About American bicyclist deaths: According to data by John Pucher of Rutgers, Americans bicycle over 10 million miles between fatalities. That amounts to thousands of years of cycling for any individual! Fatalities per mile traveled are only one third as great for cyclists as for pedestrians.
And studies consistently show cyclists are at fault in roughly half of their fatalities, often due to gross incompetence such as riding at night without lights, riding facing traffic, crashing through stop signs or red lights. Many other fatalities could be prevented by avoiding edge riding (tempting motorists to squeeze by in too little space) and otherwise properly using our legal rights to the road.
Annual cycling fatalities in the U.S. (730) barely outnumber the deaths from falling out of bed (600). They are tiny compared to the deaths of pedestrians (4000) or motorists (30,000+).
Every study I’ve seen on the issue has shown that the benefits of cycling already greatly outweigh its tiny risks.
Seriously, if cycling is three times safer than walking, how safe must it get to stop the “Danger! Danger!” cries?
I believe that bicycling safely on the road is only marginally more dangerous than driving a car. It is not extremely dangerous, at least compared to riding in a car. However, we must also consider that we are talking about roads that are three to five times as dangerous as roads in Europe.
Pedestrians exposure is much higher than bicyclists. EG, at any given time there are many more pedestrians about than bicyclists. When you look at fatalities as a rate of exposure then bicycle fatalities are generally much higher, as is the rate for people in cars. I do not believe bicycling is three times safer than walking.
I heartily agree though that the benefits of riding, even on fairly busy roads, far outweigh any risks.
pedestrians are huge beneficiaries of separated trails, too. The Greenway during the day is full of families using different kinds of transportation, often all at the same time since little kids speeds are so variable. It’s a boon to the whole neighborhood, including people of varied abilities and income levels, in a way that purely bike infrastructure (like on-road bike lanes) aren’t.
To the commenter earlier who felt they were alone in defending vehicular cycling…this site takes a run at vehicular cyclists about once a week so it’s pointless to comment on every one.
Wow, so many comments! Is this thread dead? I dunno. At any rate I’ll throw myself into the ring. I’m a young, fit, male, cyclist and am fairly comfortable with vehicular cycling. I can cruise at 20+mph with the best of ’em and sometimes rather enjoy riding hard and fast for my commute. I’d love dedicated cycling facilities such as Walker is talking about. Both for my friends who don’t ride with me and my two daughters, 4 and 6, who are with me more and more.
For much of the 5th st bicycle boulevard I’m perfectly comfortable riding with them but the second we hit 1st/Central/Henn, or do anything near Broadway, and so on…well let’s just say I actively avoid doing that. Which is a shame because their school lies right on 5th!
*I* don’t “need* cycle tracks (though the boulevards are really nice, generally speaking), but for many many others, we do.
Keep up the good anti-auto fight, guys! I’m with ya.
Also the whole “we’re not Europe” thing is so insanely conservative, reactionary, and irrational I don’t even know where to begin.
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In Holland, car drivers are considered “guests” on the city streets. The priority goes to the pedestrian and cyclists. In most schools and when getting a driving license, there is a lot of education geared toward how to ride a bicycle properly and knowing the rules of the road for both cyclists and motorists. In most accidents that do happen between cyclists and motorists in holland, the fault usually goes directly to the driver. It’s a different way of thinking.
Yes, the infrastructure was there in Amsterdam since the early days for bikes, but they maintain it well and the rules are respected because bikes have right of way over cars. Also, there are facilities designed to separate them from street lanes most of the time.
If we were to adopt this simple way of changing the priority to cyclists and pedestrians, as well as putting more effort into making more separate infrastructure, we could emulate the safety and traffic calming that you see in some European countries. This is the answer. It is not complicated. The resistance to give priority to bikes over cars is the hurdle we face. Change the rules. And please watch this video in this article – http://goo.gl/vCW31x
Not only is bicycling far more dangerous in the United States when compared to northern Europe (due primarily to lack of safe infrastructure), but the majority of cycling deaths are caused by being struck from behind by a motor vehicle on urban arterial roads. These are the types of accidents that segregated cycle tracks virtually eliminate.
Worth noting, however, that many of the deaths profiled in the LAB report were people on a segregated facility of some kind — shoulder or bike lane. The report does seem to indicate that separation with some physical barrier may be preferable to a segregated facility without — but doesn’t necessarily indicate that segregated facilities are safer than sharing the travel lane.
I’m fine with using the report as a basis for advocacy for infrastructure. But I worry some people will hear these findings and think they’re better off riding in the door zone, in the gutter, etc.
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