Stop the madness! We can do so much better.
The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.
Yesterday, I rode downtown with a friend to have lunch on Church St. We met on Highland and headed over to Orange Avenue.
I love riding on Orange Avenue. I love the way downtown unfolds as I ride… there’s something majestic about it on a bike that’s just not the same in a car.
As usual, we glided down Orange, riding side by side and chatting — sometimes traffic was moving our speed, sometimes it was passing quietly in the other lanes. No one bothered us and we were a bother to no one — just two women riding to lunch. We looked like a picture from a livable communities presentation. We might have even been cycle chic, if I had dressed better.
After lunch, we headed north on Rosalind. Since Rosalind has a bike lane, we rode single file. No more chatting. I resented that even before the trouble began.
At the first intersection (Pine), the light was red and a Chevy Suburban was waiting to turn right. We merged into the lane behind it. After the intersection, we went dutifully back to single file in the bike lane.
A few seconds later I was startled by a large, noisy vehicle speeding past my shoulder. It was a Lynx bus. Google’s satellite view of this street (right), shows a Lynx bus in the lane and how little extra space there is.
As if the buzz pass wasn’t enough, the bus immediately pulled into the bus stop on the other side of Central and stopped, blocking the bike lane. Of course, there were several cars behind the bus and we nearly had to stop completely before we could merge into the right lane to pass it.
I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting this, but I was startled again, just past Washington, as the bus buzzed us again. I am not used to being passed that close by large vehicles. I absolutely NEVER experience passes like that from trucks and buses while controlling a lane. I have lots of video showing many safe passes from both. Truck drivers will go fully into the left lane, while the Lynx drivers sometimes have their right wheels on the line. Nonetheless, they are still much farther away than when they pass me in a bike lane. Because changing lanes takes work, Lynx drivers seem to think twice and don’t pass me just before a stop when I’m controlling my lane. I have that on video too. The bike lane changes that dynamic completely. My avoidance of bike lanes might explain the reason I have fewer complaints with Lynx drivers.
At the next light, Robinson, we merged out of the bike lane again. Lots of traffic turns right on Robinson. The bike lane is striped improperly (solid to the intersection) AND has RPMs (a known crash cause for cyclists) on the line. After Robinson, Rosalind makes a curve to the left and a partial right turn lane continues straight toward Ridgewood and a one-way street that connects to Livingston. We remained out of the bike lane there, again, to avoid being hooked. But before we got to the turnout, a little red car rushed up to our back wheels and proceeded to tailgate us. As we signaled and entered the one-way street, the red car turned onto Ridgewood and its driver screamed “get in the bike lane” at us. Whew! Imagine what would have happened if we’d been in the bike lane. I have no doubt he would have hooked us.
From Livingston, we made a left on Highland. No more bike lanes. No more problems.
So tell me again. WHY are we striping bike lanes for novices? To subject them to THAT? To convince them of the myth that the roads are too dangerous to ride on by inviting them into constant conflict?
I’m not the only one who’s noticed bike lanes are scary.
In this cycletrack promotional video from Vancouver, the narrator notes that bike lanes are:
…OK for people who feel comfortable riding next to traffic (shows bicyclist swerving around a bus), but for others that feels intimidating, so they ride less or not at all.
Ha! It used to be that riding in the road was OK for the intrepid road warriors, but we needed bike lanes for everyone else. Now bike lanes are for intrepid road warriors and we need cycletracks for everyone else.
I wasn’t prepared for the skill, the reflexes, the 360-degree sensory awareness and slaloming abilities needed to navigate my way by bike between Atwater Ave and The Gazette offices on Peel St. I was no longer simply watching out for traffic or an occasionally inattentive fellow driver. I was now embedded in a circus. Pedestrians moving at one speed, cyclists at another and cars at still another, and each of the performers moving to a different set of rules and in different directions.
Of course, I had my own experiences with the one in St Pete, while riding on the adjacent road was exponentially easier at any speed.
The most comprehensive study of road safety — before and after bike lanes or cycle tracks were added — was done in Copenhagen in 2007. It proved that bike lanes and cycle tracks increased crashes for cyclists (and pedestrians). The study’s conclusion deceptively includes motor vehicle crashes along with bike and ped crashes and compares that with bicycle mode share. But car-v-car crashes went down while crashes involving bikes and peds went up. Sounds real bike friendly, huh?
Here is the study’s author, Soren Underlien Jensen, quoted in an Ottowa paper:
“I’ve been in this business for a very long time, and what we need is acceptance that (having) bicycle lanes does not improve safety in urban areas.… And therefore we have to look for other design elements that improve safety,” he said. “But it does make a positive impact in terms of our perceptions and in terms of the traffic volume of cyclists. And that is what we want.… We have to accept some facts and we have to focus on what else we can do to move on.”
I was once chided for using the word trickery to describe segregated infrastructure, but when perception is opposite reality and you pander to perception at the expense of the misguided perceiver… well, trickery is almost too nice a word.
I agree with Andy Cline at Carbon Trace. I have a real problem with end-justifies-the-means thinking. Making people feel safe while making them less safe is really a breach of trust. Especially when you consider an integrated cyclist is even safer than a person in a car! The very people these facilities are designed to attract are at the greatest risk of injury. We can make people actually safe and make them feel safe, too. For a lot less money!
Jensen goes on to describe the add-ons required to mitigate the safety problems created by segregated facilities… and the cost:
Jensen said that building segregated bike lanes properly was expensive — about one million euros per kilometre, but he added that bike lanes had a positive impact in encouraging people to cycle.
You want to spend how much of my tax money to build a few miles of conflict-ridden facility to solve an imaginary problem?
I question the ethics of anyone who tells me that a 30% increase in crash rates over what one would expect for a 20% mode share increase, could justify that increase.
My whole purpose in creating this album is because Jensen didn’t show the effect on bicyclists, he only showed the increases for all crashes (the 10% number), which, because it includes a lot of car-car crashes, effectively hides just how severe the safety detriment was for cyclists. If you read the captions I created for the images, you will see that I discuss his conclusions, where Jensen states that the decreases in cyclist safety were significant, yet he didn’t bother to show (with numbers) just how significant.
We all pay the price for this decrease in safety. Educated cyclists pay it with increased workload and/or harassment. Novice cyclists pay with injuries.
So where does this madness stop?
Let’s take a look at where it goes. The root cause of the problems for bicycling in the U.S. is the oppressive belief system about who the roads are for. We have car-culture amnesia about our public road system and who is entitled to use it. Enforcers of the culture of speed have used intimidation and fearmongering to subjugate the drivers of human-powered vehicles. The result is that most bicyclists ride in ways that increase their risk, leading to a spiral of increasing fear:
FEAR OF BEING HIT BY CARS
People fear being hit from behind, so they ride on the edge of the road or on the sidewalk
—> SELF-CREATED RISK
Riding on the edge of the road increases risk of being doored, sideswiped and hit at intersections/driveways. Riding on sidewalks increases intersection/driveway crashes and falls from pavement defects and fixed objects.
—> CONFIRMED FEAR OF CARS
Close calls and crashes confirm the belief that roads and cars are dangerous.
—> MORE CLOSE CALLS AND CRASHES
Bike facilities offer the same crash-conflict problems as curb-hugging and sidewalk-riding
—> HARASSMENT FROM DRIVERS
The belief that cycling on the road is dangerous is echoed by beleaguered cyclists and permeates the entire community. Selfish car drivers feel emboldened to harass cyclists for being “foolish” and “dangerous”
—> DEEPER FEAR OF CARS
The combination of increased conflicts and harassment deepen the belief that “cars” are predators and bicyclists need more and fancier special facilities to protect them
I’ve watched this dynamic play out for years. The tone of discussion on bike forums and blog comments exposes this pattern. I was even a part of it myself for a while. I got into advocacy to fix the problems that made parts of my commute a maddening gauntlet every day. Like most, I tried to fix it from the wrong end first.
Catering to these negative beliefs seems easier than challenging them. So that’s the road our bike advocates have chosen. It’s led to increasingly “creative” attempts to build attractive facilities and solve the problems inherent in segregation. While this may produce a temporary illusion of success, in the end, it will only make things worse. It amounts to poisoning the tree while you pick the low-hanging fruit. You cannot solve a problem while you reinforce its cause.
Reinforcing limiting beliefs is a counter-productive way to promote an activity as positive and freeing as bicycling!
There is a better way!
All along, bicycling has been safe, easy and fun. It only requires us to learn a few simple skills and, more importantly, be freed from the baggage of ignorance and fear. Imagine how many more miles we’d get for our money if we spent it addressing the root causes of incivility and ignorance and truly changing the belief systems that suppress bicycling in America. It’s not that hard, especially if you’re not making it worse!
I strongly support smart bicycle infrastructure as part of a holistic strategy for a cyclist-friendly community. The metro area has some very useful and pleasant trails, two of which serve transportation corridors and are used by many of our readers. I use that infrastructure whenever it serves my destination, because I enjoy it. There are many more untapped easements in Sprawlando which could be utilized for access to higher-quality cycling than the surrounding traffic sewers. Our readers have collaborated to indicate numerous opportunities to connect networks of pleasant, shady streets.
We need to demand more than marginal gutter lanes and symbolic segregated tracks that make cycling more difficult and frustrating. That stuff is a waste of money that could be spent doing something real. Let’s recognize where cycling is already easy and enjoyable and maximize it. Let’s address the problems with impatience, intolerance and car-centric beliefs about the roads. Let’s recognize that every type of road is as safe as the bicycle driver who is using it—yes, motorists do dumb things, but most of their mistakes are predictable and avoidable. Let’s be clear on the distinction between “safe” and “pleasant” — I don’t like to ride on 436 and 50, but I can do it safely… and you can too. Honestly, those roads would be much more pleasant to ride on without the specter of incivility from other ignorant users. Let’s focus on fixing that problem and make our roads better for everyone.
Let’s build bicycling mode share on a solid foundation. We can create a truly livable community with integration, cooperation and respect. We can build a renaissance — a culture of trust. Aim high.