Cyclists Need More Than Bike Lanes

Think bike lanes are enough to get people biking? WalkBikeCT would have you think again. A post on this Streetsblog Network member site today says that a more comprehensive planning approach is necessary to make most people feel safe on two wheels:

511799212_724dd43c28.jpgPhoto from BikePortland.org‘s photo pool on Flickr.

The reason cycling as transportation is not too popular in this country is that, as a policy, roads are optimized for recklessly fast automobile travel.…As you might guess, bike lanes, i.e. paint stripes and a bicycle symbol on the side of the road, are not going to help this situation much. A few people might feel safer and venture into the road, but at the end of the day you still have cars traveling fast enough to easily
and instantly kill a human being.

Designing towns optimized for pedestrian travel, where cars proceed slowly enough that they can safely share the road with pedestrians and cyclists — that’s a solution you can believe in.

From Ohio, we have two encouraging posts. Car Less Ohio writes about a new office park development in Wooster, OH, that is being designed with 8,000 feet of sidewalk and a bike path. And Xing Columbus reports that the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s stimulus wish list includes a light rail project, a bike path and a greenway.

  • Chris in Sacramento

    That’s right. How bikes are treated is less important for bicycling than how cars are treated.

    Better to have no designated bike facilities on street designed for 20 mph vehicular use than a network of bike lanes or paths on or alongside roads designed for 50 mph vehicular travel (Granted, that’s largely a matter of community, not roadway design).

    Amsterdam is a great place for bicyling less for the cycle tracks and more for the fact that it’s so difficult or expensive to drive (fast) or park there. Not to mention the coffee shops!

  • kmc

    I don’t think any of you understand why automobiles are more important that bikes. It’s true cycling, like running, is good aerobic exercise, but cycling isn’t a viable form of transportation. Therefor, cycling does not deserve much civic attention. If you want to cycle then share the roads. If you want equality on the roads then cyclist will need to fork over more money to use the roads. As in paying registration fees and being subject to fines like motorists.

  • Just bolting bike lanes to an otherwise untamed street – yeah, that’s a bad idea. Integrating bike lanes into a traffic-slowing “road diet,” though, has plenty of merit IMHO. We’ll be doing our first one here in Fort Worth this spring, when Magnolia Avenue (a prime mixed-use corridor) in the Near Southside (just south of Downtown) gets redesigned from its current configuration of four lanes, two in each direction. The new configuration will be two lanes, one in each direction, a center turn lane, and dedicated bike lanes. We expect it will have the effect of slowing car speeds noticeably and making the street safer for everybody.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “True cycling, like running, is good aerobic exercise, but cycling isn’t a viable form of transportation.”

    Given my extensive responsibilities, it is only by using a bicycle for transportation that I have, for the first time since before becomming a parent, get extensive aerobic exercise. Too bad I didn’t do it all along!

    If you’re one of those early retirees, don’t give busy people lectures about exercise. And if you are a young, relatively responsibility-free person with plenty of time for excercise, wait until you have kids!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “If you want equality on the roads then cyclist will need to fork over more money to use the roads.”

    Very well, you win. I’ll stay off the limited access highways funded by gas taxes, unless I’m in my car.

    Now could we discuss why parked cars are occupying such a large share of the local streets funded by general revenues, without paying any more in general taxes than people who don’t own cars?

  • Jason A

    “Better to have no designated bike facilities on street designed for 20 mph vehicular use than a network of bike lanes or paths on or alongside roads designed for 50 mph vehicular travel”

    And then you have nyc, where motorists *will do* 50 mph on the roads designed for 20…

  • Kevin is correct about the existing condition where so many road diets are needed. However, we also know from quantitative and qualitative evidence that simply designing new narrow streets is not enough for most bicyclists, or potential bicyclists. I am trying to convince new urbanists about this right now that skinny streets in new towns are truly more bicycle friendly than the arterial with a bicycle lane, however all one has to do is look at the example of Boston and Cambridge. Both HIGHLY walkable cities, yet Cambridge has been integrated a range of bicycle facilities for years, with Boston only trying to catch up now. As a result, Cambridge is much more amenable to bicyclists than Boston. Yet, both are highly walkable. Walkability does not equal bikeability.

  • Jason A

    “I don’t think any of you understand why automobiles are more important that bikes”

    And unfortunately I don’t think you understand what little future there is in using 2000 lbs machines to transport 150 lbs people.

    Clap all you want, but the energy isn’t going to be there to sustain your method of transportation…

  • “And then you have NYC, where motorists *will do* 50 mph on the roads designed for 20…”

    In theory that is what you have in NYC. The streets have posted speed limits of 20 mph, but most of the streets themselves in terms of lane spacing, sight distance, and street cross sections are designed like freeways not for 20 mph. That’s why the only really safe bike lanes in this city are the ones separated from automobiles or the integrated ones on smaller side streets. I think that the bicycle plan released last year does address some of those issues.

  • And kmc, that’s so far off base it’s almost laughable. Of course cycling is a viable form of transportation. I bike to work regularly and do so for most of my errands, too.

  • also if running is so absurd as well should it be horribly dangerous and discouraged in cities unless its on a treadmill?

  • Tommyr

    kmc you are CLUELESS. Cycling IS a viable form of transportation. Most errands are within’ 5 miles of home for example.

    Go back to sleep.

  • The issue is really going far beyond bike lanes towards a support culture and system to bring back bicycling, along the lines outlined in Pucher’s paper “Making Cycling Irresistible”. To extend the ideas of the paper, I wrote a vision document along these lines focusing specifically on DC. It goes far beyond a typical bicycling master plan. I recommend that other Streetsblog network members consider creating a similar document:

    urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2008/07/ideas-for-making-bicycling-irresistible.html

  • Fearful, would-be cyclists that I have spoken to mention dangerous intersections and other choke points along desired routes as reasons not to ride. Ordinary streets without cute signs or special stripes are not the problem. The unavoidable, narrow, traffic choked overpass, or left turn that requires brazen courage is the deal killer.

  • t

    In just about every other country in the world, cycling is a viable form of transportation. Comments such as kmc’s speak of a horrible ignorance that is leaving the U.S. so far behind many other countries.

  • For the majority of painted bike lanes, I’d rather just have the traffic lane have that space, and let me decide when its safe to allow cars to pass in the lane and when to take the lane … but, on the other hand, that is after getting over the psychological hurdle by starting to cycle commute in a city with a substantial cycle path network.

    People’s perception of what is (relatively) safe, before getting experience/training in effective transport cycling, and what is actually (relatively) safe are two different things … including the perception of some real dangers of cycling side by side with total psychological denial of the massive dangers of motoring to the motorist.

    Where I’d like painted lanes is in one lane, one-way streets that are wide enough for general traffic one way and a bike lane the other way.

    There is substantial room here for public education, but the danger is that the people selecting the information will misinform and reinforce untruths rather than help out.

    And as a regional economist, for the motorist whining about transport cyclists … if you are going to restrict yourself to places that do not get any funding from non-motorists, that’s pretty much US routes and Interstate Highways … everything else gets a substantial subsidy from the sales taxes and local income taxes that I pay.

    And for the US routes (outside of municipalities) and Interstate Highways, that’s fair enough … when riding across the countryside, I’d rather avoid the State Routes and US Routes anyway, and when forced onto those routes as a connector will be satisfied with a ridable shoulder that is included in winter road clearance … and I’m perfectly happy to stay off the Interstate Highway entirely, as long as your gas taxes pay for enough cycle bridges to restore enough of the public right of way paths that your gas taxes helped destroy.

    For everything off the designated long distance route system, bicycles should be included as one of their design vehicles. That should be a requirement of any roadworks funding that is handed out in the stimulus.

  • “Where I’d like painted lanes is in one lane, one-way streets that are wide enough for general traffic one way and a bike lane the other way.”

    Shanghai has these. They only work if there is something enforcing the separation, so that parked cars don’t force cyclists into wrong-way traffic.

  • Steve Faust

    Gary Fisher is unfortunately incorrect about the NYC speed limit. It is 30 MPH and not 20, even for single lane residential streets. Worse, 30 is treated as a minimum and not a maximum by many drivers. Typical is the Zero to 50 to Zero race to the next red light, that only averages the same 12 MPH that cyclists travel at when pedaling along steadily.

    There is a nasty meld of overanxious drivers and overpowered cars that reach these speeds quickly, so they are driven that way. It’s not fun being out in front of these “hotshots.”

    Bike lanes are only part of “good healthy breakfast”: cyclists need secure parking – both outside and with access into buildings; education for drivers, pedestrians and “even” cyclists; and a police and court system that will actually support the law abiding cyclists and pedestrians rather than abuse them further.

  • Another issue I haven’t seen addressed yet is the connectivity of the bike lanes. 8th Avenue is an example: there’s a fabulous protected cycle track for a few blocks, but how do you get to it from downtown? When you get above 14th St. you share a painted lane with pedestrians and double-parked cars, then there’s no bike lane above 42nd St.; then you have the deadly Columbus Circle to navigate to get to the bike lane on CPW (uptown only, although CPW is uptown and downtown for cars.) There are myriad other examples. If a visitor to NYC or a new cyclist intends to travel in bike lanes only, they’ve got something else coming to them…

  • “”Where I’d like painted lanes is in one lane, one-way streets that are wide enough for general traffic one way and a bike lane the other way.”

    Shanghai has these. They only work if there is something enforcing the separation, so that parked cars don’t force cyclists into wrong-way traffic.”

    I have trouble picturing this … in this part of the country, few people cross over to park on the left hand side of the road, from their direction of travel, leaving their car sticking partway into oncoming traffic. Even if there was just a traffic lane marking on the one way road and nothing indicating what the strip on the side is used for, I don’t see how its useful for parking.

    If double parking is a problem, its a problem, but its not unique to counterflow cycle lanes, and indeed if double parking became a problem on one of these streets, it would be in the shared traffic lane, not the counterflow cycle lane.

    Indeed, for a street with one parking lane and two traffic lanes, it would be possible to increase street parking by going to one angled parking lane, one one-way traffic lane, and a counterflow biking lane. And death cage riders always love more parking.

  • Bruce, as far as I understand, your proposal would be, from left curb to right curb (from the automobile perspective): curb; contraflow bicycle lane; forwards automobile lane; parked cars; curb.

    We have lots of streets set up like this in NYC, except that the bicycle lane is in the same direction as traffic, not the opposite. For example, Bleecker Street.

    Illegal parking in the bike lane is a constant problem on streets like this. The effects of illegal parking would be even worse with your proposal, because a bike would have to go into opposing traffic to get around illegally parked cars.

    You’d have to physically separate the bike lane to avoid having parked cars in it.

  • I’m still having trouble visualizing double parking on a street that is not three full car widths across … wouldn’t the cars crashing into the right rear fender of the parked car discourage it?

    But sure, in those locales where double parking is a problem, or where the counter flow lane approaches the width of a parking lane, some form of street furniture could be used to separate the shared traffic lane from the counterflow bike-only lane.

    There’s also the benefit of car speed … where the direction receiving the shared traffic reverses every two to four blocks, that acts as a natural traffic calming feature.

  • Bruce, have you ever even been to New York? Our awful drivers will park anywhere they physically can.

    There’s plenty of room in the moving lane for a car and a half, so the half-a-car that doesn’t fit in the bike lane sticks out a bit, but other cars (and most trucks) still get by just fine.

  • gecko

    Cycle tracks, or protected bike lanes, down the center of streets would stop u-turns and likely reduce double-parking since the typical aggressive actions (honking, etc.) of drivers will be directed at each other and basically ignore cyclists.

  • kmc, your ignorance is the reason most Americans believe the myth propagated by the motoring public that the so-called “bike lanes” and “bike paths” are safe when, in fact, they make things even worse.

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