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Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Safety | 13 comments

If you want to stop having this debate…

…stop trying to shut it down. We don’t hold an unpopular point of view for the hell of it. It’s the result of research, observation and practice. We’re not going to shut up just because you demand it. So if you want to stop having an endless debate, try actually listening with the intent to understand. Then maybe we can move forward.

You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen this, and the subsequent flack it inspired:

Yet many cyclists, including veteran Mighk Wilson, don’t think bike lanes are safe. And they worry about the trails, too.

“Riding along the edge [of the road] is the problem,” said Wilson, who teaches a cycling course. He also is a smart-growth planner with MetroPlan, which sets transportation policy in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.

Wilson said bike lanes can give riders a false sense of security when, in fact, they are shunted almost off the road, where drivers might not see them, and bike riders often can confront debris and crumbling pavement.

Even worse, Wilson said, some bike lanes run alongside parking spots, with Edgewater Drive in College Park north of downtown Orlando a prime example. Motorists open their doors in the bike lane, setting up potential collisions, he said.

“You need to understand the environment you are trying to modify. Will the bike lane hinder or help it?” Wilson said.

Bike trails, which also are shared with runners, walkers and roller bladers, can be dangerous when they run parallel to a road, Wilson said. The reason, he said, is that cars and bicyclists often are not looking for each other, which can lead to wrecks at intersections.

The text above is quoted from “Are bike lanes a safe place to ride?” by Dan Tracy in the Sentinel. Such articles are great at stirring up controversy, but they don’t contain enough information to educate anyone or resolve anything. The bold emphasis is mine. I highlighted it because it’s important. Mighk is calling for a more thoughtful approach to where and how bike lanes are used. That point is being ignored by those who are criticizing his comments.

It’s not helpful that the article has a quote from a lady who is understandably not comfortable in traffic juxtaposed against the advice that it’s best just to “ride in the middle of the lane.” Lane control is a proven countermeasure against common crash types. We know it’s counter-intuitive. That’s why we teach it in a supportive, experiential setting that helps people overcome apprehension.

However, it should not be presented as if it is an alternative to infrastructure improvements. I’m sure Mighk didn’t present it that way, but that is how Dan’s article made it come across. Opportunistic adversaries were quick to seize and run with it.

So here we go

Orlando is very fortunate to have a resource like Mighk—a person with integrity, who is willing to speak the truth, even if it isn’t popular. That takes courage, especially in the world of bicycling advocacy and policy where going against populist desires gets you ostracized, marginalized and even fired from your job. And so, within hours, came the temper tantrums and attempts to marginalize his point of view and silence any thoughtful examination of bike lane policies. Here’s one example:

Right now, we have a vocal few — including some in Central Florida’s transportation-planning circles — arguing against bike lanes and encouraging cyclists to ride in the middle of traffic.

Perhaps these guys have been strapping on their helmets too tightly.

Or huffing their CO2 cartridges.

Whatever the reason, this is full-on nonsense.

What we have here is the claim that an uninformed populist opinion is superior to the best practices developed by a professional who has read crash reports, studied crash causes and countermeasures, spent hours observing behavior and traffic interactions and researched, developed, tested and taught successful behavior.

I have a 12-year-old daughter who loves to ride her bike. And if you’re going to tell me that she should ride in the middle of 45 mph traffic rather than in a designated lane, I’m going to suggest you take a long ride off a short pier.

This is such a tiresome and asinine rhetorical tactic. Nobody is going to tell you your 12-year-old should ride in the middle of 45mph traffic. But do you really think it’s OK for your 12-year-old to ride in a door zone bike lane or a bike lane next to high speed traffic?

Reality check: if a child does not have the skill or cognitive ability for a given road, s/he definitely does not have the skill or cognitive ability to deal with the increased conflicts present in a bike lane on that road. Sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming to drown out discussion about this (as your column is attempting to do) does a disservice to your daughter and your community.

Why not throw my 72-year-old mom in the middle of Fairbanks Avenue while we’re at it?

north edgewater conflictsWhy not throw your 72-year old mother into the bike lane that is going to be installed on Fairbanks Ave? Or see how she does in this one on Edgewater (the Fairbanks one will have similar conflicts).

Personally, I want to ensure that my mother is able to ride on the connected quiet streets she prefers, and on shared-use paths that are designed properly—so that she isn’t subjected to manufactured conflicts. I’ve also taken the time to teach my mother bike handling skills AND traffic skills. I would never let her ride in the bike lane on Edgewater Drive—not that she’d want to.

Listen, I get that there are pitfalls and risks no matter where you ride — and that there are some serious cyclists who want to ride in the road to avoid car doors or whatever other reason. They’re welcome to do so.

Really? Only serious cyclists want to avoid being injured or killed by car doors and other common crashes? Non-serious cyclists are OK with it? Newsflash: lack of awareness of conflicts is not a magic forcefield against being hit.

But this notion of asking everyone to do the same — and ignore the network of bike lanes this community spent years and millions to create — is both foolish and dangerous.

It’s foolish and dangerous for me to suggest you might want to avoid the door zone or a high-conflict bike lane… because…? This community built those bike lanes, so we better damned well ride in them?

Personally, I don’t like to ride directly in front of things that can flatten me.

You are welcome to ride wherever you want. I don’t care. I do care when you ridicule honest, caring people in an attempt to shut down a discussion that aims to improve public policy and inform those who would prefer not to be tricked into a false sense of security.

Nor am I a fan of holding up traffic. (I’ve learned the motorists I hold up aren’t fans of mine, either.)

A little red meat for the rubes, eh? Is no tactic is beneath you? That inflammatory remark will do well to get the anti-cyclist trolls on your bandwagon… at the expense of bicyclists. Thanks. Do you really think a bicyclist creates actual delay, or are  you so desperate to “win” your argument that you’re willing to further a destructive lack of perspective that undermines civility and inhibits successful behavior?

And you know who agrees with me? Virtually every group in America that ranks cities on being “bicycle friendly.”

The majority populist belief has never been wrong about anything? As I recall, there are some causes you support that have not had populist support for most of history, and some that go against contrived government and institutional policies (that try to be a simple fix for a complicated problem and only make things worse). How is this different, other than it’s an unexamined belief you want to hold onto?

They tend to favor cities that provide bike lanes over ones that force families to ride in the middle of busy roads. Go figure.

You think that’s what we are doing? Trying to force families to ride in the middle of busy roads? There are no other alternatives, it’s either bike lanes or the middle of busy roads? If you had a clue how hard some of us work to promote real solutions to make things better for bicyclists, you’d be embarrassed by this column.

This isn’t about making cyclists “second-class citizens.” It’s about safety. And comfort. And something else biking was long before everyone started taking sides and causing stinks … fun.

I avoid roads with bike lanes because I love riding my bike and I want bicycling to stay fun. I don’t want bicycling to be a chore requiring constant vigilance or a drag due to harassment for driving defensively outside the lines. I also don’t want people to be turned off (or worse, injured) because they try bicycling only to discover conflict in a place they were told was safe. If I hadn’t learned what I now teach, I would have quit bicycling years ago.

Mighk and I, and many others, are working to make things better for bicyclists in Orlando. That requires criticizing bad designs and detrimental policies. It also requires thinking through real solutions and promoting good designs and policies. This is what we spend most of our time doing. It’s a shame the advocates and ideologues are so busy being defensive about bike lanes they are unable to recognize that, or embrace other ideas. They are also completely misguided about who they think they’re helping.

“You don’t care about novices”

Whenever this topic comes up the bike-promotion advocates accuse us of only caring about highly skilled riders. This elitist accusation is something that is hurled at cycling educators all the time. It’s unfair and a red herring.

Look at these photos of average, unskilled riders, and read Mighk’s quotes again with them in mind.

Taking chances

What could go wrong? Answer: this or this. Do you think he has any idea?

DC-right-hook

She’s just happily riding along in her safe space… right into a manufactured conflict.

drive-out-edgewater

Doesn’t that look inviting?

obstacle-course

Count the conflicts.

right-hook_missoula

Another manufactured conflict. The green paint in the intersection makes no difference.

turning-truck-edgewater

He was lucky he didn’t get to the intersection 1 second sooner.

swerve-edgewater

This rider never looked back, he just swerved in front of the van.

thomasville-ramp-swerve

Doing exactly what the facility design encourages… and the opposite of what we teach.

Wrong Way Weaving

Uninformed riders think bike lanes are a safe haven to ride against traffic.

ww-edgewater2

They cause problems for riders who are trying to follow the rules.

IMG_0491

These teenagers rode all the way down Edgewater drive and then turned right, swooping across the road. When I asked them why they had done that, they had no idea. They said the didn’t know how they were supposed to ride.  

Now look at these photos of educated riders.

brian right turn vw in bl

This bicycle driver won’t get right hooked because he knows to leave the bike lane before an intersection. 

IMG_0448

This rider is leaving space for a motorist to turn right on red. The motorist is encouraged to turn from the bike lane (as is required by law).

IMG_0454

This rider stayed in the queue instead of riding up the bike lane and into the blind spot of the turning motorist.

marcus-rh-avoidance

This rider would have been cut off if he had stayed in the bike lane.

parking conflict avoided

Not at risk of being doored or bothered by the double parked car, this rider keeps a predictable line in the lane.

pedestrain conflict avoided

Not at risk of being doored or hitting a pedestrian.

keri_ramp

Not fooled by a deadly bike lane.

Notice anything?

The educated riders are avoiding the conflicts, because they know about them. To the educated rider these bike lanes are annoying. They increase our workload. They inspire us to extend our routes to avoid them. We don’t have a false sense of security because we know what the risks are.

infographic_bl-hazards

The truth is, it requires MORE education to outsmart the manufactured conflicts. In his interview with Dan, Mighk pointed out that bike lanes have been sold to the public as safe but, in fact, are riddled with conflicts for which the unskilled, unaware rider is completely unprepared. How is that elitist or only concerned about highly-skilled riders?

alg-biker-killed-jpgIt is actually elitist to foist such a facility on an unsuspecting person with the false promise of being a safe place to ride… simply because you want them to ride a bike.

Bicyclists deserve better than to have advocates who settle for, or promote, dangerous facilities in the name of increased mode share and then try to marginalize those who are demanding better. Bicyclists deserve better than advocates who try to shut down criticism of poorly-thought infrastructure.

We can do better

We need to stand together to demand more comprehensive and thoughtful solutions.

Connectivity

Let’s work for connectivity of enjoyable streets. In the urban core, we’re most of the way there. Recently-added facilities like the Cady Way connector and the Dinky Line trail have enhanced the network. There have also been some great new wayfinding signs added to help people navigate quiet street routes. Farther from the urban core, it’s not as easy to find quiet routes. But there are plenty of easements in the disconnected suburbs that could be used to enhance connectivity of better routes. Our readers have identified many of them.

Path Networks

We have an excellent shared-use path system and it has become a high priority throughout the region to close the gaps and connect path networks. Also, with a little tweaking it could integrate seamlessly with the existing road system and connect to more destinations and neighborhoods. We are also working together to improve the way traffic controls are used.

Better Bike Lane Designs For Appropriate Context

best-practices_preferentialWe want to influence better bike lane design, where bike lanes are appropriate (high speed roads). We must discourage bike lanes where they are not appropriate (city streets with frequent intersections and driveways) and demand some thoughtfulness about whether bike lanes are going to help or hinder successful cycling in a given context. It does no good to anyone to keep on with a bad policy just because it’s popular with people who don’t have all the information.

Education

People need better information, most are operating on a deadly combination of mythology and bad advice. What they choose to do by default often puts them at risk of being hit. The impression that bicycling is dangerous is primarily fed by the results of default, unsuccessful behavior. Mighk and I poured a lot of personal time into developing a comprehensive and fun bicycling course to encourage and empower people to use their bikes to go anywhere.  I just wish all of the infrastructure was compatible with the successful behavior we teach, and we didn’t have to spend time teaching students to outsmart manufactured conflicts.

Civility

We need to work for civility and cooperation on the road as a foundation for building a healthy, sustainable bicycling culture. There is no place in our community for car-centric bigotry. That is the greatest hinderance to cycling participation. Shunting bicyclists into the gutter is not how we deal with that, that only makes it worse. Let’s take it head on with civility campaigns and anti-harassment ordinances that allow bicyclists to sue harassers in civil court.

Let’s Maximize Our Assets

In my experience, Orlando is a great place to ride. There are still a lot of things we can do to make it better. The only way to get there is for advocates and policymakers to listen to the concerns of people who have diligently studied the problems rather than knee-jerk sniping and trying to suppress information that challenges a belief they’ve unquestioningly accepted. Then maybe we could move on to some creative solutions for safe, fun, enjoyable cycling networks and a cooperative, friendly environment for bicycling.

 

13 Comments

  1. Sadly, even $&@! facilities are an improvement for riders of the ignorance level I typically see – riding down driveway-crossed sidewalks at high speed with the music turned up high and eyes fixed straight ahead even when running the red light. Is it really our societal obligation to protect such against their own folly, however? We ought to at least expect our facilities to be safe if used with reasonable care and many do not meet this standard. As Keri points out.

  2. I enjoyed this comment:

    “I have a 12-year-old daughter who loves to ride her bike. And if you’re going to tell me that she should ride in the middle of 45 mph traffic rather than in a designated lane, I’m going to suggest you take a long ride off a short pier.”

    As it happens, I have a 10 year-old daughter and on Friday I took her (as we do on a weekly basis) on a 45mph limit multi-lane highway perfectly safely, mainly because we both know to take the lane on such a road because doing so increases the level of safety of cycling on such a road.

    The problem this person has is that he’s assuming that taking the lane in heavy traffic must be at least as dangerous as riding in the gutter and must be far more dangerous than riding on the sidewalk. The reality is that gutter riding and sidewalk riding are both less safe than riding “in the middle of 45 mph traffic” as he puts it.

    The reality is that riding “in the middle of 45 mph traffic” slows such traffic to cycling speeds, forcing it to be safer. Riding in the gutter or on the sidewalk keeps traffic at 45mph, which is part of why it’s less safe.

    • Ian, I agree that it isn’t dangerous.

      Scott Maxwell wasn’t interested in having a reasonable discussion about safety or techniques for riding with/teaching children vital behaviors. He was trying to elicit an emotional reaction to the image of a child alone in the middle of a busy arterial and then associate the reader’s revulsion to Mighk’s comments.

  3. Keri,

    Fabulous post. Thank you.

  4. Right on Keri! And thanks to Mighk as well. Thank you guys for looking out for all of us.

  5. Wow. Very eloquent and well-argued. I’ve been considering whether to write a letter to LAB telling them why I’m not going to renew my membership this year, but this column is pretty much exactly what I would wish to say.

    Especially: “Bicyclists deserve better than to have advocates who settle for, or promote, dangerous facilities in the name of increased mode share and then try to marginalize those who are demanding better. Bicyclists deserve better than advocates who try to shut down criticism of poorly-thought infrastructure.”

  6. well some great idiotic quotes here “You know who agrees with me every group in america that ranks bicycle friendly cities” With that logic I am tempted to send that person a plate of horse manure with a note saying “bon appetite, A million flies can’t be wrong” Though my favorite quote is ” Personally, I don’t like to ride directly in front of things that can flatten me.” You Know I would rather be directly in front of such a thing visible than in it’s blind spot. As long as the driver is not a homicidal maniac being more visible gives me protection. Even the rudest drivers that might honk or curse will draw the line at purposely running another human being over.

    By The way Thanks Mighk and Keri and everyone else at commuteorlando.

  7. Bravo!

  8. Keri knocks the ball outta the park yet again. Thank you.

  9. Excellent post! I’ll have to remember it for next season “Bike Month” or “Bike Lane” luv fest!

    • Thanks for stopping by, JAT! It’s always nice to hear from you.
      Yeah, its too bad, but oh so typical. Calling out the problems with shiny objects is heresy in bike advocacy world.

  10. I’ve been meaning to compliment Keri on this post, so here it is. Bravo. And before I forget, we all need to support Mighk, who has done more thinking than a host of his adversaries put together.

    Having just seen Streetsblog blame male traffic engineers for making roads hostile to women cyclists (see link below), I wonder how long we need to be rolling the snowball uphill when faced with such an astounding lack of sound thinking such as seen in that Streetsblog post and in many of the examples of ignorance and ad hominem that Keri provides.

    http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/05/17/would-gender-balance-in-the-engineering-world-benefit-cycling-in-the-u-s/

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