15 July 2008

Originally posted at my old blog geekcyclist.blogspot.com

I made a mistake today. I read the newspaper opinion section which included a letter about bicycling. Then I compounded that mistake by going online and reading the comments.

Every time there is a plea in the paper for bicyclist safety you see the same arguments in the comments. From cycling opponents you see:

  • Cyclists don’t pay for the roads. (False, cyclists actually subsidize auto traffic)
  • Cyclists should get out of the way, not impede traffic, or get on the sidewalk. (False, we are traffic, not impeding traffic; riding on the sidewalk is significantly more dangerous than riding on the road.)
  • Cyclists are scofflaws who run every light. (I am sure no motorist treats Stop’s as Yields, nor do they speed, make turns without checking blind spots…)
  • Etc.

Each of those is a post or more. But one thing that frustrates me is when the cycling advocates plead for more bike lanes.

There are drawbacks to bike lanes The most dangerous place for cycling accidents are intersections. Bike lanes frequently complicate intersections and increase the conflicts between motorists and cyclists. A prime example is a bike lane that is a thru-lane, where there is a car turning right. The complications are even worse when a multi-use path crosses a road. Another drawback is that when a lane exists motorists sometimes believe that the cyclist must remain in that lane, so they don’t allow or accept it if a cyclist has a legitimate reason to move to the left.

Don’t get me wrong. I love some bike lanes. One of my commutes travels about 5 miles on a Class 2 (the kind that are striped like an additional traffic lane) bike lane. Bike lanes can be nice because they do separate traffic moving at different speeds, they may increase the passing distance when a car overtakes a bicycle, and I think they make novice “vehicular cyclists” feel safer.

At the same time, I am not sure people are really aware of what they are asking. I want to use my bike to ride to the library, Burger King, Subway, the grocery store, work. In short, I want to be able to ride everywhere I would normally drive. I recognize that I am not allowed on the major highways, but what these ‘advocates’ are really asking for is a bike lane on every road.

Clearly, that is not a realistic solution.

There are better alternatives. One is to advocate for and take advantage of vehicular cycling training. In Utah the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective teaches free courses that focus on riding in (becoming part of) traffic. You can visit the League of American Bicyclists education page to find similar programs or instructors in your area.

The other alternative is to advocate for Complete Streets. Complete Streets are designed and built with multiple user groups in mind; not just fast moving automobile traffic. From a cyclists point of view a complete street is a street with wider lanes and shoulders, rather than a marked bike lane, and includes traffic calming like median strip planters.

The movement for Complete Streets integrates well with the Safe Routes to School program. It also complements advocacy programs that highlight sustainable development and walkable communities.



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