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Posted by on Apr 29, 2009 in Uncategorized | 16 comments

Pushing the Limits of Absurdity

lakeshore

What does this road need? Here’s some context:

It’s in a Mayberry-like hamlet about the size of my neighborhood, with less population density, surrounded by empty rural land and lakes. We’ve really hit bottom when a place like this needs bike lanes to be “bike friendly.”

comparison

My neighborhood <|> Howey in the Hills

Mighk already wrote a post about this. I’m bringing it up again because it’s become an issue. It turns out that some homeowners want the money used for resurfacing the roads. And if you’ve ridden out there, you know why! But some bike lane advocates in Orlando are trying to encourage cyclists (who don’t live in Howey) to fight against them.

I’ve ridden on that road as recently as a few months ago. It’s as quiet as it looks in the photo. It’s a narrow road, so adding bike lanes will require adding pavement and a foundation for that pavement… unless they’re defining bike lanes as substandard tack-on shoulders, then they’ll have no foundation and a crappy, uneven surface. Either way, it turns grass into asphalt. It’s far more expensive than simply resurfacing the road. It’s not something that should be undertaken without a demonstrated need—meaning a high volume of automobile traffic, which would make bicycling unpleasant.

Where they are clearly not needed, bike lanes are a waste of tax money that could be used for something that benefits everyone in the community. Or at least something that actually benefits cyclists. How could that not be the logical choice, given that bike lanes won’t offer the slightest improvement to cyclists? Which would you prefer as a cyclist? 2 miles of bike lane on a road with no traffic or a lot more miles of smooth pavement?

Worse than wasteful, it sends a terrible message about cycling. If cyclists are perceived as needing bike lanes on a road like that, where can they ride without special facilities?

It’s a sorry state of affairs that “bike advocacy” has come to fighting for symbolic bikes lanes on quiet, low-traffic streets in towns that are already perfect for cycling. It’s especially disheartening when it’s pushed by people who have had ample access to good discussion about quality facilities and holistic advocacy.

Bike lanes are the most misused tool in the planner’s tool box. It’s time to take a hard look at that and how it affects the overall health and sustainability of a bike culture.

16 Comments

  1. Nothing new… unfortunately it seems that cycling advocacy is treated as an all or nothing scenario. In this case I agree that bike lanes would be a waste of money. However in other cases where I have been involved, we asked for bike lanes to assist cyclists in getting past bottlenecks where massive multilane roads have cut off the slower alternate routes, we were shown the MUP that had been built along the river and told that was where we should ride our bikes. Forget the fact that it doesn’t really go anywhere and is miles away from the problem areas.

    Aaron

  2. Keri, you’re right on the money here. I can see where some bike lanes make sense, but the current appetite for them in every and any context is stupid. It reminds me a little of the helmet debate, in that bike lanes are being treated like some kind of “magic bullet” for planning and cycling advocacy, just as helmets are often wrongly thought of as the most important factor in cycling safety…

  3. I was amazed at the attack returned by your comment on the Chain Gang site, Keri. It is absurd to consider that a quiet community needs to have “outsiders” show up at a meeting to promote something of such little value.

    When I saw the Google images of such a narrow roadway and recognized it as one ride I’ve attended years ago, the absurdity increased. By all means, resurface the roadway, but put bike lanes on it? Why make it more dangerous?

    Unfortunately, there are too many untrained people on bikes who don’t recognize that a bike lane does not make for a safer riding experience.

  4. Just a note: I wasn’t trying to re-launch helmet debate there… helmets are good, in my opinion. Just like bike lanes, however, they are not a substitute for riding properly and safely on the road.

  5. Bike lanes will not make cyclists more or less safe on that road. There isn’t enough traffic interaction to create a problem.

    Roadside facilities are warranted and can be useful and safe in some circumstances. Advocates have a responsibility to inform themselves of the pros and cons and best-uses of various facilities before demanding them. Unfortunately, too many have the immature mentality that any bike-specific thing is good (no matter how unnecessary) because it “validates” bicycles or “encourages people to ride.”

    It’s only mildly irritating (as a symptom of a systemic problem) when it comes from someone who has never thought about the issue. It’s infuriating when it comes from someone who has been repeatedly offered a broad base of information from people who have studied these issues and worked to make things better for cyclists.

    Rantwick’s analogy to overemphasis on helmets is spot on.

  6. Aaron said “Nothing new… unfortunately it seems that cycling advocacy is treated as an all or nothing scenario.”

    This is so true! The ideological divide ultimately leaves cyclists as the losers.

    It’s not hard to think through these issues, figure out what serves cyclists best and then map out a plan to achieve it. Ideologues on either side aren’t doing that. On one extreme we have people who want to coddle would-be cyclists with parallel facilities on every road in an urban core, on the other we have people who refuse to acknowledge that current land use and transportation design has created an undesirable, unfriendly and sometimes unsafe environment for cycling.

  7. No need for a bike lane –I see a nice, safe sidepath for all those roadies who are afraid of riding on the road …

    Seriously, not to say there aren’t situations where a bike lane can make sense and can be done right. But the reasoning behind this situation sounds a lot like “you have to have a bike lane in order to be safe” and “we have the money allocated, so before they take it away let’s spend it”. The first reason is not statistically true, the second is wasteful no matter how you frame it.

    This one is …. “bike-lame”

  8. AndrewP said: No need for a bike lane –I see a nice, safe sidepath for all those roadies who are afraid of riding on the road …

    Darnit! Missed my “tongue-firmly-in-cheek” after-quote ….

  9. The second reason is exactly what’s happening… they don’t want the residents to “hijack” the money and use it for something worthwhile because the money was allocated for the bike lanes. This is a special interest being territorial rather than thinking of the greater good.

    The homeowners’ motives might be completely selfish, like the ones who fought bike lanes on A1A in South Florida. Or they might be legitimately concerned about increased traffic speeds in front of heir homes (a side-effect of widening the road). Or they might want to see better pavement on a lot more miles of road in their town.

    Regardless of their motivations, logic and fiscal responsibility are on their side. Bike lanes on that street are a poor use of public money. There are busier county roads in that area where completing the shoulders would be of greater benefit to cyclists (I am not a fan of riding in the shoulder, but it is optional).

  10. Do “roadies”, as a group, favor bike lanes? If so – why?

  11. Andrew asked: “Do “roadies”, as a group, favor bike lanes? If so – why?”

    Good question. I suspect they do and probably because of their experience on the road — because groups are a larger visual presence, they don’t experience as many of the common crossing conflicts exacerbated by bike lanes. OTOH, they experience far more hostility from motorists than individual cyclists. Bike lanes make them feel “legitimate” and out of the way.

    Unfortunately, the debris that collects in bike lanes creates a greater hazard to groups than individuals. Due to the hazard of braking and the increased difficulty of merging, it can be more dangerous for a paceline to relinquish a lane control position than it is for a solo cyclist.

  12. Roadies avoid bike lanes as a rule. Their goal is to maintain an above twenty MPH average. The restrictive and narrow bike lanes become an impedance to that effort. They tend to avoid urban core areas as well, seeking long stretches of roads without signal lights.

  13. I suspect there are regional differences. Many groups around here will default to any marginal pavement to the right of a white line. I’ve seen them wind in and out of an intermittent shoulder at 20+mph.

  14. However, while roadies don’t seek out and use bike lanes, they are not very thoughtful about infrastructure issues. They tend to favor the mindless advocacy of bike lanes on a emotional level. It’s not really sociably acceptable to be against such a slam-dunk positive safety issue, even if it is for the newbies and commuters!

  15. When I visited Dallas a couple of months ago, I noticed the suburban club rides didn’t ride roads with bike lanes – they used the whole outside lane on multilane roads, police passing by didn’t seem to have a problem with it.

    But in my area, to oversimplify things, north Orange County (California) doesn’t have many bike lanes, while in south Orange County almost every main road has a bike lane. The roadies tend to be on the bike laned streets here – now that could be a function of the demographics, or that the bike laned roads have longer stretches with fewer traffic lights. But I know of many cyclists who live in North County who put their bikes in their cars and drive to South County to ride.