Amplifying Dysfunction

Terrific video by ronconcocacola. Sent by John Ciccarelli.

I’ve been following the bike-v-car wars surrounding the rapid implementation of segregated bike lanes (or cycletracks, or whatever they’re calling them) in NYC. I haven’t commented on it much. While I don’t think bicycle rat runs are the solution to the larger traffic culture problems, I find the bike lane opponents’ arguments to be rather lame and selfish (IOW, car-centric). What’s been interesting, and completely predictable, is the anti-scofflaw backlash and the attendant overreaction by NYPD.

It comes back to the pyramid. If you have no foundation of respect and no education of bicyclists to be drivers when they leave the facilities (which don’t serve every destination and are slow and cumbersome to use), you can expect chaos, leading to frustration, leading to backlash.

This is not quality. It is a shortcut to quantity — increased bicycle counts.

The problem is, bicyclist behavior (throughout the U.S.) is a dysfunctional composition of inferiority/priority maneuvers that arise from bizarre, adaptive logic and follow neither vehicle nor pedestrian rules. Increasing the number of bicyclists without fixing the underlying problems, simply amplifies the dysfunction to the point where it becomes disruptive enough to generate a public outcry.

Shouldn’t bicyclists be more than objects to be counted, anyway? If, instead of fixating on the superficial goal of getting more butts on bikes, we took a deliberate approach to building a strong foundation for bicycling, we would see an emergent change in the traffic culture itself.

As our own Philip B. Crosby used to say: “Do things right the first time.”

24 replies
    • Keri
      Keri says:

      It follows the notes for that slide — If all traffic operated like bicyclists do, it would look like the India video.

  1. acline
    acline says:

    re: “The problem is, bicyclist behavior (throughout the U.S.) is a dysfunctional composition of inferiority/priority maneuvers that arise from bizarre, adaptive logic and follow neither vehicle nor pedestrian rules.”

    Well said.

    This would be interesting to represent in graphic form. One could incorporate a changing color system into that video showing the type of maneuvers based on the particular dysfunction. That would be cool 🙂

  2. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    To play devil’s advocate: Not disagreeing with anything you say about the cyclists, but it looks to me like it’s not just the cyclists creating chaos here. I can imagine New York City residents taking pride in “that’s just how we operate here”. Sure, bike lanes aren’t going to make it any better.

    • Richard C. Moeur
      Richard C. Moeur says:

      Likely reaction of some “bicycle professionals”: “See? Lots of conflicts, but no crashes! This _proves_ that the behaviors are safe, just like at intersections with 2-way ‘cycle tracks’!”

  3. David
    David says:

    If beliefs come first and then we look for supporting facts (“The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer) then what are the beliefs of those who engineer violations of the rules of the road onto our streets and how would bicyclists who value the rules get ahead of those beliefs? Thats something I would really value for my bicycling project, and a discussion I would like to join.

  4. Kevin Love
    Kevin Love says:

    Yikes! That video certainly shows an unpleasant environment for cycling and pedestrians. Nothing like designing in conflict.

    You may rest assured than my 74-year-old mother is not going to cycle in that kind of environment. Her comment about that type of situation? “At my age, I am not going to go play tag with two-ton lethal weapons.”

    Nor am I going to allow my children to cycle in such an environment. My comment? Mostly unprintable, but after one removes all the profanities, blasphemies, obscenities and descriptions of the ancestry of the person who designed that intersection we are left with the words “institutional child abuse.”

    Here is a video showing how to properly design intersections that feature safety for families.

    • Mighk Wilson
      Mighk Wilson says:

      Gee Kevin, I didn’t know conventional intersection design made cyclists run red lights, ride the wrong way, and infringe on pedestrian right-of-way. Maybe it causes cancer, too?

      • Kevin Love
        Kevin Love says:

        And yet, interestingly enough, when proper design is put into place, the exact same people suddenly start obeying the law. With, of course, a few rare exceptions.

        So why do you think that this is?

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:

            I’ve spent a lot more than 15 minutes in NYC cycling infrastructure. And I have seen with my own two eyes the “before” and the “after” of proper infrastructure when the daredevils calmed down and a lot more people took to bikes.

            Although a lot of New York is not quite up to Dutch CROW standards, much of it is. Obviously bringing all of the network up to standard would substantially boost cycle mode share.

            If you want 15 minutes, here is your first four. Notice how even the car drivers started obeying the law with a massiver drop in illegal car speeding offences.


          • NE2
            NE2 says:

            Note how Prospect Park West is not a typical sidepath, since it’s next to a park and thus has very little cross traffic.


      • Kevin Love
        Kevin Love says:

        Yes, seeing people get around safely and comfortably on a routine basis is rather boring, isn’t it. No emergencies, no panic, no daredevil experience, just routine, boring transportation.

        When former Ontario prime minister William Davis was accused of running a boring, bland government, his reply was:

        “Bland works.”


        I want a transportation system that works in the same way. Boring, bland, safe and effective. With a car mode share substantially less than 50%. And I know how to get it.

        • David
          David says:

          Thanks Kevin for showing us our future. I’ve been following the progression of bike segregation for years and had been just speculating on its possible directions and outcomes.

          But I do have a simple question.

          Which bicyclists do better with mobility and safety

          1. Those who prefer to learn the rules of the road and get in line with traffic going their direction? Also riding straight through intersections, or

          2. Those who make excuses for not learning the rules of the road and demand special treatment for themselves that violates the rules of the road, putting them into narrow confined lanes that swerve about the intersection?

          It looks so interesting but: What am I going to do when descending the hills in Seattle (25-35mph coasting and even braking) when I have to funnel down to a pint-sized lane, woggle-wongle into the intersection and then wiggle-waggle my way back out, all the while watching for conflicts from multiple directions? …When its dark, raining and the pavement is slippery on the slope? Snow, ice, post snow sand?

          Hmmmm…. just wondering how that wiggly waggly stuff is going to work. Now I think I know a 3 year old will be delighted and entertained. But what about a mature attitude with a developed sense of personal responsibility and a joy of efficient travel the bicycle can provide when free of arbitrary constrictions?

          Kevin, thank-you so much for the burr under my saddle of advocacy for personal responsibility and healthy thinking about facing and overcoming life’s simple problems.

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:

            I presume that your #2 refers to all the car drivers who demand special treatment for themselves that violates the normal rules of the road. In particular, segregated car-only highways with special car-only rules.

            They then, of course, demand grabbing billions and billions of dollars out of the pockets of the hard-working taxpayers to pay for their car-only highways. And also demand destroying neighbourhoods to ram them through cities.

            No, put me down for your option #1. I want to go safely straight through intersections designed to proper Dutch CROW standards. Or if I’m turning, to do so safely as well. No fuss, no bother, just bland everyday safe transportation.

            Here is another video of what things should be like. And can be!


          • David
            David says:

            Thanks for the video Kevin. Here’s one I did many years ago:
            That’s 1.2 miles in 3 minutes through downtown Seattle with No stops and No Conflicts! I have ridden streets with faster limits at 5-8mph when necessary with no trouble, and ridden faster down steeper hills with no trouble. This provides a wide range of options that includes all bicyclists in turn for the willingness to get along with other drivers and learn to use the rules of the road.

            Now, I’m wondering how long the Dutch bicyclists with their Stop & Delay, & Wiggly Waggly intersections would take on Seattle’s 2nd Avenue, perhaps 9 minutes? That would be 3 times longer and with vastly more conflicts to worry about! Watching your video, the Dutch spent most of their time sitting on their bikes waiting at intersections, getting going slowly when they could go, and I watched with great fascination comparing the speed of the walkers to the bikers — rarely going more than 2x the speed of pedestrians but mostly going a similar or slower speed than those I saw walking. Looks like it was the motorists getting around.

            If something is gained by the Dutch system, it sure looks like a lot is lost as well. We ought to discuss and evaluate these options before imposing the Dutch system on bicyclists.

            Again, What is the mobility and safety of bicyclists who look to their responsibility to learn the rules of the road and ride with traffic compared to the bicyclists who make excuses and demand special treatment?

          • Kevin Love
            Kevin Love says:


            Most unfortunately, the link that you posted requested that I download software from an unfamiliar site in order to view the video. Is it available elsewhere?

            One advantage of proper cycling infrastructure constructed to the Dutch CROW engineering standards is that it facilitates much faster cycling and much shorter cycle travel times. David Hemrow gives some examples at:


            This is an important part of building our transportation infrastructure to CROW standards to ensure that cycling is the fastest, easiest and most convenient form of urban transportation.

            I will admit to just a bit of schadenfreude whilst whizzing by car drivers going their average speed of 11 km/hr. See:


  5. JAT in Seattle
    JAT in Seattle says:

    I’m with David on this one (not literally in the sense of being in the video) I’d rather go straight down the road as a “proper” vehicle than wiggle waggle my way through each and every intersection hemmed in by a safety chicane ghetto.

    The assertion that Dutch style cycling sidepaths facilitate much faster cycling then linking to a site with video of fully faired HPV on a rural sidepath (forest in the background) or comparing Dutch TdF stage winners to English and American winners while begging off examining David’s video as it requires software from an unfamilar site (Quicktime from…) is spurious at best.

    There’s more than one way to skin a cat and while it may be endemic to the British Empire, using the word proper to describe your preferred method of transportation cycling carries with it the implication that to do so another way is improper (see synonyms at indecent, vulgar, indecorous, unfit, contrary to concsience or morality…); it feels condescending and rankles.

    Admitedly we’re fortunate in Seattle not to have a mandatory bike lane law – but really we’re fortunate not to be constrained by too much “proper” infrastructure as well.

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