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Posted by on Feb 28, 2011 in Uncategorized | 26 comments

Unfettered is Better

This video is the translation of “¿Qué es un carril-bici urbano?” Translated by John S. Allen.

Urban cycling is easy, but one can make it difficult.

Urban road riding is ever so easy.

Today I rode down Orange Ave with the flow of traffic. Sometimes I passed the cars that were in the other lanes, sometimes they passed me. I was casually pedaling a single-digit speed into the headwind. Just slow enough to pace the lights and glide easily from Robinson to Jackson. I experienced no conflicts or incivility.

On my way back to Robinson, I took Magnolia instead of Rosalind to avoid the bike lane. The signal timing wasn’t as favorable because of the separate signal phases for the Lymmo track.

At Church Street a guy on a bike turned onto the northbound sidewalk as the light turned green. I passed him. Approaching Central, he passed me on the sidewalk as the light ahead changed to green. The van in front of me was turning right. It pulled forward and stopped abruptly, part way into the turn, as the driver avoided hitting the cyclist who had ridden out of his blind spot into the crosswalk. There was enough room for me to ride around the van to the left. The car behind me had to wait behind the van as the cyclist crossed. At Washington, that cyclist pulled up beside me and rode in the street to Robinson. I just smiled and exchanged greetings with him.

An urban sidepath (now conveniently rebranded as a “cycletrack”) functions the same as a sidewalk with regard to traffic movements, unless you create separate signal phases at every intersection and eliminate all driveways.

Freedom from fear is freedom to choose.

While I enjoy riding on quiet residential streets, those routes to downtown funnel me onto bike lane streets like Ferncreek and Livingston. Those almost always offer some form of annoyance (today the Ferncreek bike lane was obstructed by organic debris, trash cans, trash bags and 100 feet of broken glass. I also had a drive-out from one of the side streets). To keep my sanity, I regularly ride from Audubon Park to downtown using bigger roads such as Maguire, Colonial, Primrose, Robinson and South. I never have conflicts or close calls on those roads and rarely get honked at. Anyone can do this, it doesn’t take any special physical skill. It just takes a little road knowledge, which we teach. It’s so easy, and it’s incredibly liberating. Plus, the more we ride on the those streets, the more we will normalize bicycling as a useful mode of transportation.

If you want to promote any activity, why wouldn’t you embrace a method that offers it at its best? Recognizing how safe and easy urban bicycling is right now offers bicycling at its best — the possibility of unlimited travel.

We’re in a crisis of economic turmoil, reduced tax revenue, backlash against any kind of government spending and we’re facing the prospect of $5/gallon gas. But the dominant bicycling advocacy organizations are pushing for facilities that:

  • can cost $3 million for 4,900 feet;
  • make cycling less safe and more difficult than just using the road;
  • reinforce the belief that cyclists don’t belong on the road;
  • pander to the fear that inhibits people from choosing a bike in the first place;
  • create dependency on separate facilities;
  • send a message that cycling of limited usefulness until cash-strapped governments build special facilities to serve every destination.

Urban cycling is easy. We can demonstrate how easy it is, or we can make it difficult.

26 Comments

  1. Why, we might ask, should the dominant bicycle advocacy organizations or even industry groups do such a thing?

    • Why? Because it has a proven track record of success.

      The methods Keri describes have a proven track record of failure. They have never, anywhere in the world, ever achieved any significant cycle mode share.

      The most that can be said about them is my little bit of doggerel: It’s “what to do, faut de mieux.” In other words, if you’re a crazy cycling enthusiast like myself, it is what to do in an otherwise hostile environment. Regretfully, the population of such people is somewhat limited.

      On the other hand, cycling in The Netherlands is 17 times safer than cycling in the USA. In major cities like Amsterdam and Groningen cycling is the #1 form of transportation. Yes that’s right. More trips are by bicycle than by driving, walking, public transportation or any other means.

      And it all costs the not-so-whopping sum of 30 euros per person annually. That’s all capital and maintenance costs together.

      Cycling infrastructure is far, far, cheaper than car alternatives. Those who believe in lower government spending should be pushing cycling.

      • The methods I describe have never been tried with anywhere near the enthusiasm of the paint and path agenda. Saying they have failed is disingenuous.

        The cities in the Netherlands are much more compact than the cities in the US… especially sprawling sunbelt cities.

        They have shorter trip distances, transit, much higher fuel prices, very high taxes on car ownership, a higher bar for educating drivers, universal education in cycling from childhood on, a completely different culture…

        • Well, let’s look at those excuses one at a time:

          1. “The cities in the Netherlands are much more compact than the cities in the US…”

          Not true. Dutch cities actually have very low density. When building on mud, it is difficult to construct skyscrapers.

          Even the epitome of car-dependent sprawl, Los Angeles, is over twice as dense as Amsterdam. And almost four times as dense as Groningen (bike mode share, 55%). There is a graph showing density vs. cycle mode share here:

          http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2011/02/population-density-vs-cycling-rate-for.html

          There is not much of a relationship.

          2. “They have shorter trip distances.”

          40% of trips taken in the USA are less than two miles. And 90% of them are by car.

          3. “…transit…” I don’t quite see the relevance here. Moscow, Manhattan and London have public transit majority mode share. That doesn’t make them great cycling cities. Groningen, Assen and most smaller Dutch cities have rather crappy public transit systems. So does the US city with the highest cycle mode share, Davis, California.

          4. “…much higher fuel prices…”

          So does the UK. At one point the highest fuel prices in the world. That didn’t result in high cycling rates. NL very slightly edges out the UK today. I have a link to a graph of gasoline proces vs. cycling mode share; I’ll post it seperately to avoid the spam robot. But there isn’t much of a relationship.

          As I previously pointed out, a toll road in Toronto, the 407, has toll rates that are the equivalent of gasoline at $20 per gallon. People pay it. Why? Because of the convenience.

          If cycling is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B, people will cycle instead.

          5. “… higher bar for educating drivers…”

          It simply is not true that people cycle in NL because they can’t get a drivers’ licence. The cycling rate among licenced drivers is well over 90%.

          6. “… universal education in cycling…”

          True, and a nice supportive measure, but so what. In the USA, high school car driving training has been steadily eliminated. Did this lead to people not learning how to drive cars?

          7. “… a completely different culture…”

          Not that different. To really get a completely different culture, go to Osaka, Japan (cycle mode share 25%).

          And culture can change. I vividly remember the “Jim Crow” culture of the US South in the 1960′s. That changed. Cycling is not as big a cultural change.

          In short, none of these excuses really hold up.

          Fundamentally, it is a deliberate political choice. Cycling can be easily and cheaply made the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B for the vast majority of urban trips in the USA. It is just a matter of doing it.

          • Here is the graph of gasoline prices vs. cycling rates. Not much of a relationship.

            In rich countries, people can afford to pay for convenience. If cycling is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B, people will cycle. If it is driving cars, people will drive cars.

            http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2011/01/petrol-price-vs-cycling-rate-for-range.html

          • Cycling is already the most convenient mode for most of my trips because I live in the urban core. This is not the case for people who live in the exurbs.

            There is no infrastructure that could make downtown trips easier. The kind of infrastructure you advocate would make urban bike trips in Orlando more difficult, slower and more frustrating.

            That’s the point of this post, Kevin. It’s already easy, we only need to help people see that.

            But instead of showing people how easy it is RIGHT NOW, you want to send the message that they must WAIT until we spend money our cities don’t have, to build something for which there is no political support. How the hell is that helping anyone?

            Jim Crow has a lot more relevance to acceptance of cycling on the road as a normal part of the transportation mix than to building expensive segregated infrastructure.

          • Orlando population density 519/sq mi
            metro area: 4,012 sq. mi. (10,390 km²)

            Amsterdam population density 9,080.5/sq mi
            metro area: 1,815 km2 (700.8 sq mi)

            “As I previously pointed out, a toll road in Toronto, the 407, has toll rates that are the equivalent of gasoline at $20 per gallon. People pay it. Why? Because of the convenience.”

            You’re only making the point that people would rather drive cars and will withstand tremendous cost and inconvenience to do so. That’s not an endorsement for bicycling mode shift, it’s an indication of the futility of building stuff to get people to trade cars for bikes.

            You can post as much obfuscatory nonsense as you want. It won’t change the political reality here. We can’t even get the city to give us more than half of a 4-lane road for 2 blocks on a Sunday to do a Ciclovia because they don’t have the political courage face a backlash from the motorists who would be inconvenienced by having to find another route home from church. Yeah, they’re definitely going to make the deliberate political choice to make motoring so inconvenient that people will choose to ride bikes.

            Meanwhile. Anyone can ride a bike in Orlando just fine RIGHT NOW. And in many cases it is the fastest, easiest and least stressful way to get around.

          • Keri wrote:
            “I live in the urban core…

            There is no infrastructure that could make downtown trips easier.”

            Kevin’s comment:
            That is simply not true. For example, you have repeatedly complained about “rat-running” cut-through car traffic in your neighbourhood. Semi-permeable barriers are a 100% effective way of bringing that kind of dangerous behaviour to an permanent end.

            And semi-permeable barriers are not even visible as a “bicycle” thing. They are simply a “safety for families” improvement that all residents in the the neighbourhood can support.

            This allows bicycle advocates to team up with all kinds of natural allies. Allies like neighbourhood associations, pedestrian groups, etc. Even gardening clubs, as a typical design for such barriers is raised flower beds on both sides of the road with a 2 M (6.5 foot) gap in the middle to allow cycle traffic through.

          • Keri wrote:

            “…you want to send the message that they must WAIT…”

            Where have I ever written anything like that? That is a serious misrepresentation of my writing. That’s not your normal style, which has always been quite respectful.

            The sad reality is that people tell themselves that. Including lots of people who have been cyclists their entire lives. People like my mother who lives in Naples, Fla. She says things like “At the age of 73 years, I’m not playing tag with two-ton lethal weapons travelling at 30-40 MPH.”

            In The Netherlands, people over the age of 65 make 24% of all their journeys by bicycle. What is the percentage in Orlando?

        • One highway is “a large motorway expansion program”?

          What do you consider a small program?

          • NE2 (whoever that may be)

            So what?

            Even at 55% bicycle mode share, how did you think everyone else was getting around?

            Although there are significant car-free zones in cities, NL is not a car-free country. And one unintended consequence of the success of bicycle policy is that public transit systems tend to be somewhat underdeveloped.

  2. But your average cyclist, or someone just starting to ride bikes in town, isn’t going to be able to ride the streets like this, and isn’t going to WANT to do this. You’re preaching to the elect here. :(

    I rode down a section of Jimmy Carter Blvd. last Saturday, one of the busiest streets in my part of the world. It was Saturday, so the traffic was relatively light. I stayed alert and maintained a good lane position/ I had fewer issues than I thought I’d have.

    But I didn’t enjoy it, and I’d avoid doing it again if at all possible. I can’t imagine a new cyclist riding that route.

    I know separate bike lanes have issues. My route Saturday also took me to one of the PATH lanes in town. Riding on it IS like riding on a sidewalk, and you have to be alert there too. But I saw many riders on the PATH lane. I was the only cyclist I saw on Jimmy Carter, aside from a couple of guys riding on the sidewalk.

    • Here’s the problem.
      It FEELS safer to ride on the sidewalk and to stay out of the way. Feels that way to me, too.

      But, I have to ignore my feelings. I have only had a few really close calls. One was on a cycle track in Germany when I motorist wasn’t paying attention turned into an unsignalized street which I happened to be crossing. Trees and bushes sort of hid me.

      And all the others were on a sidewalk in the US with people pulling out of driveways or turning into unsignalized streets.

      In fact, just last week, proper lane positioning kept me out of trouble. Because I was out in the two-lane street, I could see a potential problem developing with a guy trying to back a trailer into his driveway. He pulled right out in front of me, blocked the lane and I had to come to a full panic stop. He didn’t even see me until after I had stopped and he looked up from the mirror and then he was embarrassed. Had I been on the sidewalk I wouldn’t have had time to see things developing and react accordingly. I would have been too close and he would have been hidden by the trees.

      It’s these kind of stories you DON’T read about in the newspapers.

      • To be fair, it’s possible to be a safe sidewalk cyclist on certain roads without undue inconvenience (mostly suburban arterials surrounded by residential subdivisions). But it’s still not as convenient or pleasurable, especially if pedestrians are also using the sidewalk.

        As an example, have a look at Apopka-Vineland in Dr. Phillips. After you get past the tourist area and the older subdivision of Vineland (with the mosque), there are about three intersections per mile. When I ride here with my dad, I’ll use the road and he’ll take the sidewalk.

        Of course most sidewalk cyclists don’t understand the hazards and hence don’t watch for them.

        • “Of course most sidewalk cyclists don’t understand the hazards and hence don’t watch for them.”

          There is a guy who lives in my neighborhood who doesn’t own a car. He rides on the sidewalk and complains about how dangerous motorists are. I tried to convince him that the problems he described would go away if he rode in the street. But he insisted that motorists are required to yield to pedestrians so they should just follow the law. Aside from the fact that motorists are unconscious of pedestrians here, this guy was unwilling to recognize that he travels a lot faster than a pedestrian, which makes the motorist’s task of avoiding him more difficult.

          The gist of his argument was that he was going to beat his head against a concrete wall until the wall yielded. That’s fine, but you don’t get to be a victim about the bruises on your head.

          Unfortunately, the perception that cycling is dangerous is fed by the people wailing about their self-created problems.

    • Jimmy Carter Blvd looks like a suburban arterial. This post is about urban riding. Let’s stick with the context.

      Everyone who is able to ride a bike is able to ride on the same streets I do. I made that point in my post. What they want is due to an inaccurate perception which has been programmed into them by a dysfunctional car culture (and reinforced by dysfunctional bike advocacy). So here’s the choice: further the dysfunction by catering to it or heal the dysfunction by informing people.

      We can coddle people and keep them unskilled and uninformed, or we can work to bring them to a higher level of skill and awareness. In doing so, they achieve personal safety and empowerment to really use the bike, the traffic culture would change, the norms would change, motorist expectations would change. We would reclaim the diversity we once had on our roads.

      Bike advocates have shut down an entire alternative avenue by assuming what uninformed people want or don’t want and attempting to enable them to remain uninformed. It’s a race to the bottom and does a disservice to everyone.

      Motorcycling is exponentially more dangerous than bicycling. The motorcycle industry has had safety perception problems which limited their audience. But because they couldn’t have the government build special facilities for motorcycles, the tackled the problem with education programs and smarter marketing.

      It’s way easier to pander to emotion than inform (just ask the media), and so much easier to grab at the government tit than go out and do the hard work of changing the beliefs and behaviors (of bicyclists and motorists) that inhibit bicycling.

      • “Jimmy Carter Blvd looks like a suburban arterial. This post is about urban riding. Let’s stick with the context.”

        Sorry. I thought the post was about riding on busy urban roads, and that’s about as urban as it gets up here.

        • I was in atlanta over new years. The streets downtown looked like easy riding, but I didn’t have anywhere I could easily store my bike.

          They weren’t anything like 45-55mph suburban arterials. The suburbs and exurbs are real pits of hell

        • Maybe I was looking at the wrong one in the satellite. There are some sections that look like parts of Colonial that I ride. But while it’s busy, the speeds are low. I also tend to use sections of it to get from one preferred street to another. By exploiting signal timing, I am often on the road with only a few cars, even at rush hour.

          The thing about that type of road is, you can’t build a sidepath facility and make it safe due to the frequency of intersections and number of commercial driveways.

          • “The thing about that type of road is, you can’t build a sidepath facility and make it safe due to the frequency of intersections and number of commercial driveways.”

            Agree 100%

          • I wonder if any cities have attempted a sidepath between an arterial and a frontage road. That would be total hell at intersections.

          • Tallahassee has frontage roads along Apalachee Pkwy. They striped bike lanes on the right side of them. The frontage roads have continuous RTOL arrows in them. Check it out.

            We used that in our CyclingSavvy class up there on Saturday (with students from the DOT safety office).

          • Those don’t actually seem to be marked as bike lanes, however.

            I was thinking of a path between the main lanes and the frontage road (intended to avoid driveway crossings). Now that I think of it, there is one in Gainesville, but it’s there because a railroad used to run there. And it curves to end at the sidewalk before intersections: http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=29.631862,-82.361868&spn=0.003898,0.0103&t=k&z=18&layer=c&cbll=29.631915,-82.361767&panoid=cZPu1h88aWxfZiBX8rJChQ&cbp=12,26.34,,0,6.5
            If you had that with the bike path continuing straight across, no turn restriction on the frontage road, many driveways into businesses (hence lots of traffic going to/from the frontage road), and the frontage road and path tied into the traffic lights, you’d have the specific hell I’m getting at.

          • That’s correct, they are not designated as bike lanes, but they are intended as bike lanes.