Friday, May 29, 2009

Plain-Dealer Highlights Struggle Between Segregationist and Vehicular Cycling Advocates

My friend Matt Bernhardt (who I hope you'll be reading here soon with a story of his own) shared an article from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer with me. It's a very interesting look at the disagreements between the advocates of bike-specific infrastructure such as bike lanes and those of vehicular cycling.

For the record, I happen to be mostly the latter. I think a number of things happen when you have bike-specific infrastructure that are detrimental to cycling and city planning in general. Some of these are mentioned in the article, but for the sake of my arguments I'll mention them here as well.

1. Bike lanes give cyclists and drivers a false sense of security. What is a bike lane? It's simply a few feet on the right side of the road with a line painted to separate it from the car lane. That's it. There's no magic force field there that protects cyclists from motorists who get too close.

2. Bike lanes are natural trash receptacles. Think of the roads you see on your way to work. Where does trash collect on the road? In the center? In the middle of the traffic lanes? No. It collects on the side of the road. Most roads are built to rise in the middle and fall away from the middle of the road to a low point on the sides. And that's where they want cyclists to ride. So unless the municipalities are going to CONSTANTLY be sweeping out the bike lanes, cyclists are either going to have to risk riding OVER trash (possibly throwing their wheels around dangerously) or going around it - swerving out of the bike lane into the car lanes. Which leads to my next point.

3. Bike lanes lead motorists to believe that bikes BELONG in bike lanes. First, let's say that you're in a bike lane on a four lane road (two lanes in either direction plus a bike lane on the outside of the street on either side). You get to a point in your ride where you need to turn left. So you raise your left arm to signal that you need to get over. What's going to be be safer, having to cross two lanes of cars to get to the left-most point so you can turn, or having to cross one lane, as you're already riding in a manner that allows you to control the right-most lane?

Second, one of the frequent reasons you hear for cyclists receiving poor treatment from motorists is that the motorists don't expect to see cyclists in their lanes. Let's face it: cars allow motorists to drive as if they wearing blinders. Whatever they don't want to see, they ignore. And that includes a bunch of bicyclists in a bike lane. The presence of the bike lane takes the cyclists out of their way. So if a cyclist needs to make that left turn and suddenly (in the motorist's view) makes a left turn signal to change lanes, is that motorist even going to see it? Is that motorist going to accept that the cyclist probably just needs to make a left, which the cycling infrastructure doesn't provide for? Or is he going to get angry, wondering what that stupid cyclist is trying to do by leaving that bike lane, where he belongs!

4. What happens when the bike lane ends? Unless you're in Portland, Davis, Boulder, Madison, or one of these cities whose urban planning has revolved around both bikes and cars for decades, you probably don't have a lot of room to expand every road in town to accommodate bike lanes. So that means that the lanes will have to end somewhere. What happens when they do? When cyclists are suddenly thrust back out into the normal flow of traffic, you are looking at an accident waiting to happen.

5. What happens when your bike lanes are a success? Okay, let's say that somehow you're able to put in your bike lanes, and they attract countless more cyclists to the roads. In fact, they attract so many cyclists to the roads that the bike lanes are becoming more dangerous due to the problem of trying to cram tons of cyclists into a few very small spaces. We're seeing complaints of this in Portland now. Wouldn't it be better to have the cyclists in an already well-established path of travel, like a car lane, where there's plenty of room to ride and plenty of room for increases in the rates of travel by cyclists? Every problem above will be exacerbated by the small space that is available in a bike lane.

The answer, then, is not to build bike lanes. Instead, use that money on education and enforcement. The Plain-Dealer article missed that crucial second part of the equation. Sure - education is important, but if no one is going to enforce the traffic code, then all that education means precisely nothing.

What's the number one legitimate complaint you hear from motorists about cyclists (I say "legitimate" to disqualify statements like "They belong on the sidewalk")?

"They don't follow the rules of the road."
The problem is twofold: most cyclists don't know HOW to ride the road, and no one is making them do it via proper and correct enforcement.

All most cyclists hear is that they have to stay to the right, and occasionally use signals. They haven't been told that they need to heed traffic signals and laws. They haven't been taught that they have the right to take the lane if necessary. They haven't been taught that the law allows them to go at a speed that's acceptable for a bike and not a car. They worry too much about holding up traffic and not enough on their own safety. Or they worry too much about both issues and ride on the sidewalk.

They have no idea that there are proper techniques and rules for riding. Let's face it: the ratio of cyclists who actively pay attention to the bicycling community and media versus cyclists who are just people who said "I'm gonna ride my bike today" and hopped on and took off is very low. And these same folks aren't going to know how to ride in a bike lane properly, either.

So they hug the curb, allowing cars to pass them too closely. They run red lights and ride on the sidewalk, endangering themselves and others. They panic because they think a cop is going to ticket them for riding too slow. Or they ride on the sidewalk, which helps neither their fellow cyclists nor the pedestrians who DO belong on the sidewalk.

The answer is cyclist education. Make this part of high school civics or something. Or as a general lesson in traffic safety as part of middle school, or even earlier.

And educate the police, too. Let them know what's acceptable for cyclists on the road, and what they can and cannot enforce. Bob Mionske's article in Bicycling Magazine of a few weeks back shows this need clearly.

Then the police can go out and properly enforce the law. They can ticket people who buzz cyclists. They can force cyclists off the sidewalks and into the road where they belong.

Segregating riders from the rest of traffic is not the answer. It's a stop-gap measure designed to please paranoid cyclists and greedy drivers, and to make politicians look good by "taking action to improve things for cyclists and make our city green." If it gets more people cycling, it's doomed to failure. If it gets no one else out cycling, it's doomed to failure.

Educate and enforce, and you're on your way to a better community for cyclists, drivers, and everyone else.

People, not speed.

19 comments:

  1. I think the vehicular cycling style works well for advanced cyclists who can keep up a good speed, but I'm pretty sure most people aren't brave enough to get out on a four-lane road without bike lanes.

    As the Plain Dealer pointed out, there does seem to be safety in numbers. The more bikers that get out on the road, the more they are expected by car drivers, so the safer they are.

    So assuming bike lanes are just a feel good measure that doesn't actually improve safety (I don't agree with this), how do you get more people to feel safe enough to try bicycling without endangering them? I don't think education and enforcement alone will work, especially for the novices and children.

    I agree that bike lanes don't necessarily improve safety, but I think they are pretty benign. And they definitely do get more cyclists on the road, which does improve safety. I think bike lanes are a pretty good compromise between those who optimistically think they need fully separated bike lanes and those that think education and enforcement will get novice cyclists to try riding on five lane one-way downtown streets.

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  2. @John

    Quuote: I think the vehicular cycling style works well for advanced cyclists who can keep up a good speed, but I'm pretty sure most people aren't brave enough to get out on a four-lane road without bike lanes.

    - Vehicular cycling (VC) will work for anyone who tries to learn, John Allen wrote "Correct bicycling as described in Ohio Bicycling Street Smarts requires only a normal adult level of skill, the same as for driving a motor vehicle" VC has nothing to do with "keep[ing] up a good speed" or bravery, but understanding traffic principles. What is a "advanced cyclists", someone knowledgeable?-

    Here is VC Primer (sans spandex for urban hipsters)
    http://cycledallas.blogspot.com/2008/08/vehicular-cycling-primer.html

    Quote: As the Plain Dealer pointed out, there does seem to be safety in numbers. The more bikers that get out on the road, the more they are expected by car drivers, so the safer they are.

    - Safety in Numbers is a "dicey statistical justification”, what about the individual who does not understand a poorly stripped bike lane, aka coffin corner or door zone bike lane is potentially trouble. Must some be "sacrificed" for more bike lanes and persons on bikes? Sounds like a bad deal for society and uninformed person on a bike lured to the pseudo safety of bicycle specific infrastructure.

    Quote: So assuming bike lanes are just a feel good measure that doesn't actually improve safety (I don't agree with this), how do you get more people to feel safe enough to try bicycling without endangering them? I don't think education and enforcement alone will work, especially for the novices and children.

    - VC primary interest is safety, comfort and legal riding on road not numbers. Pucher has ideas on increasing the number of persons on bike: ”How to Tame Motorists & Restrict Car Use: Cycling For Everyone – Part 3" By John Pucher http://www.momentumplanet.com/how-tame-motorists-restrict-car-use Pucher ironically cites European's have "extensive training in safe and effective cycling techniques as part of their regular school curriculum". On the topic of law enforcement Portland motorists, cyclist and pedestrians are ticketed. For more information:
    - Learning to Share the Road By Stephanie Nollhttp://www.momentumplanet.com/learning-share-road
    - Share the Road Safety Class http://www.legacyhealth.org/body.cfm?id=1928

    Quote: I agree that bike lanes don't necessarily improve safety, but I think they are pretty benign. And they definitely do get more cyclists on the road, which does improve safety. I think bike lanes are a pretty good compromise between those who optimistically think they need fully separated bike lanes and those that think education and enforcement will get novice cyclists to try riding on five lane one-way downtown streets.

    - Benign, hardly, when Columbus agreed to built more cyclist specific facilities “mandatory use of the facilities” was proposed. Thankfully that did not happen, these facilities generally do not help competent cyclists. When a cyclist ignore a bike lane since it does serve their safety, motorist immediate, assume all cyclists MUST use bike lanes, etc. which is NOT the case. What about the principle, “First, do not harm” is that for good compromise?

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  3. Good comments John and danc. As you can probably imagine, I agree more with danc on this.

    I think the safety in numbers issue is pretty concrete. Look all over the country, and you'll see that while the number of cyclists on the streets has risen, the number of accidents has either remained steady or gone down. Anecdotal evidence would seem to indicate otherwise, but I think that has more to do with the way these things get reported (and how they're increasingly being reported) than any actual numbers.

    I agree that they get more cyclists on the roads, and that's been the primary argument that segregationist cyclists have used (at least from my reading) to get them implemented. But that was my purpose in stating argument #5 - what happens when they are a success? The normal thing to do from the mentality of the traffic system engineer, at least for cars, when things start to get more congested in a roadway is to increase the size of the roadway. But... are they actually going to do that with bike lanes? I sincerely doubt it, especially in some of these cities where putting the bike lanes in is more of a fight than it's been here in Columbus.

    On the other hand, if the police start uniformly enforcing the traffic code for both drivers AND cyclists, then three things will happen: 1) traffic will slow down and get safer, 2) cyclists (and motorists) will learn what's allowed, what's not allowed, and what's proper, and 3) more cyclists will get out on to the streets as they see traffic slowing and getting safer.

    But one thing I probably SHOULD have added is that the penalties for things like hit and run, vehicular homicide and manslaughter, and negligent operation need to be strengthened considerably. People need to be aware that hitting someone, whether in another car, on a bike, or on their own two feet is not acceptable and that you WILL be punished for it severely.

    Now let's return slightly to safety again. We already agree that bike lanes don't make anyone safer on the road. But then why would they be used as a measure to get more novice cyclists out on the road?

    And on danc's final note about "mandatory use of facilities": state law already forbids that.

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  4. Danc,
    I'm not opposed to the education and enforcement. Vehicular-style cycling would benefit a lot of people. But will enough people bother to learn.

    Other than that, it seems we disagree on whether or not bike lanes are safe (I think they are, especially if there is an education component so people know how to use them safely) and whether or not more cyclists on the road improves safety for everyone (I think it does).

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  5. Jamie,
    You should come to Chicago and see what happens on a street with a large bike mode share. Milwaukee Avenue is the best example. Our counts indicate that bikes are over 40% of the traffic on the street, at least in the summer. It goes without saying that this many cyclists can't really fit in a 5' or 6' wide bike lane all the time. So when one cyclist wants to pass another cyclist, they (should) signal, merge left into the car lane, pass, and then merge back into the bike lane. It's really not a big problem and I really think the success of the bike lanes have made cycling safer on the street. Very few motorists will unexpectedly right-hook, left-hook, or door a cyclist when they KNOW to look for them because they are ALWAYS there.

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  6. John, you just made my point for me.

    People frequently look at cities like Portland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and even Chicago as examples of how well bike lanes can work. But the other thing that people don't see in these cases is that it's been years, even decades, in the making, and motorists are more accustomed to seeing and LOOKING FOR cyclists simply because they've been doing it longer.

    I have seen a difference just over the past year in how much Columbus drivers are looking for and reacting to cyclists on the road, and we have no bike lanes to mention (other than some very poorly designed ones on Schrock and Morse Roads). Sure, we have a long way to go, but we've done this without having bike lanes on our major thoroughfares.

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  7. Are there any cities that have achieved a significant increase in the number of cyclists by only relying on signed routes, education, and enforcement?

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  8. That is an excellent question. Not having studied that particular issue, I'll have to find out!

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  9. Are there any cities that have achieved a significant increase in the number of cyclists by only relying on signed routes, education, and enforcement?

    No.

    This has been another edition of Simple Answer to Simple Questions.

    I don't pay attention to discredited theories, but bullet #1 struck me as...false.

    1. Bike lanes give cyclists and drivers a false sense of security.

    The reason cyclists flock to bike lanes is because they give cyclists a true sense of security. It is true because research shows us that bike lanes make for safer cycling, and even safer walking.

    Not sure what's confusing about this.

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  10. Peter - I'd be grateful to actual data to support either comment here.

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  11. link1: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080903112034.htm

    link2: http://www.portlandtribune.com/sustainable/story.php?story_id=122402296838932000

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  12. @ Jamie: And on danc's final note about "mandatory use of facilities": state law already forbids that.

    - There was some question if "home rule" might trump State Law, OBF is trying to fix that with 2009 legislation proposals.

    @ John I'm not opposed to the education and enforcement. Vehicular-style cycling would benefit a lot of people. But will enough people bother to learn.

    - Great, then try to learn VC? Did you ever take swimming lessons or motor vehcile classes? It's not that hard!

    @ John: Other than that, it seems we disagree on whether or not bike lanes are safe (I think they are, especially if there is an education component so people know how to use them safely) and whether or not more cyclists on the road improves safety for everyone (I think it does).

    - Part 1 I'll borrow a little PM Summer's quote: "The problem with bike lanes is NOT bike lanes (I have actually fought for their installation in certain situations), it’s the use of them for purposes they weren’t design for that’s the problem.

    The promulgation of the idea that they provide increased safety in unconscionable in face of the clear evidence that they do not (and actually increase risk in too many applications). The common idea that they make cyclists “feel” safer should never be promoted by a transportation professional as a warrant for their application.

    How someone “feels” about a traffic engineering application is an area for psychologists to ponder. How it “functions” in the real world is far more important, and the concern of traffic engineers and like-minded planners (some planners are closet psychologists).

    The more streets are striped off for segregation of bicycles away from other vehicles, the more both cyclists and non-cyclists come to believe that’s the only place where they belong. The unwitting complicity of cycling advocates to achieve the goals of motorists who don’t want bicycles on the road is very dangerous to both cycling and cyclists."

    - Part 2 Forester on "more cyclcist, more safety":
    http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/Social/JacobsenReview.htm

    @John: Are there any cities that have achieved a significant increase in the number of cyclists by only relying on signed routes, education, and enforcement?

    - Why yes, Copenhagen had bike modes near 70% in the 1950 without any form of education, signed routes (cycle tracks) or enforcement. Post WWII economics shortages would make anyone thrifty! Copenhagen declined into the low 10's in the 70-80's until the oil shock and then swung back to 36% mode. It's wasn't just facilities, read Pucher!

    Increasing cycling is not going to happen with "bike lanes", review Pucher again: discourage motor vehicles with strict licensing, high cost of motor vehicle ownership, restrictive parking, high oil taxes. Do you really think "bike lanes" or any other cycle specific infrastructure is to going to accomplish anything that dramatic? What about increasing mass transit? Use of motorcycles? etc?

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  13. @ Pete: link 1 and 2

    John Schubert, http://www.limeport.org take on "Safety in numbers" meme: The way it's put forth, is junk science. A quick look at most accident causes shows this. Most accident causes involve clueless riding, and simply increasing clueless riding increases accidents.

    So why do the numbers show increased safety?

    First of all, the math underlying the "safety in numbers" assertion is suspect. The assertion comes from Jacobsen's paper, which uses a bunch of equations to make the point. But the equations in the paper don't prove anything. One researcher plugged random numbers from the phone book into those equations and got a graph displaying results similar to Jacobsen's results. The equations give the desired result, no matter what data you plug into them.

    Second, increased numbers reflect increased experience among riders, and more cautious riders entering the ranks of cyclists. Thus, you may see better statistics, but the "safety in numbers" effect is NOT making any one individual cyclist safer.

    Why is this an issue? Because "safety in numbers" is used to justify the installation of some really dangerous bicycle facilities, such as some of the bikelanes that have led to fatal accidents in Portland, Seattle, Cambridge and Amsterdam. The proponents of those bikelanes dodge the questions about specific accident causes with the questionable assertion that the facilities draw more cyclists, and that more cyclists will automatically make the accident rate go down. This is sloppy thinking!

    Those of us who are annoyed by the "safety in numbers" junk science are certainly not opposed to more bicyclists. We're only opposed to junk science being used as an excuse to build unsafe facilities with demonstrated accident causes built-in. The level of safety engineering in bicycle facility design is often quite poor, and "safety in numbers" is used to make it even more so

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  14. 'a bunch of equations'?

    that's the type of answer one gets when watching Fox News talk about global warming. "it's just a bunch of equations by crazy liberals making up junk science."

    it's not important. vehicular cycling, like white supremacy, dies very slowly. and though it may never completely disappear, it is, and will remain, inconsequential.

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  15. I think between the two extremes, you can find a reasonable balance. You will never have a one size fits all infrastructure that works for every cyclist.

    What I don't like is the notion that somehow bikes are the be all, end all solution. As if some magic line will double the number of cyclists. Part of the issue is that many municipalities and the powers that be don't really know what a reasonable accommodations are. So we end up with lanes that can't accommodate a growing population of cyclists and are too narrow. We end up with cities unwilling to enforce the bike only aspect and we see cars double parked in the bike lane. So much for that keeping us safe when we have to merge back into traffic.

    VC will always have a use. That car example? VC in action when you merge to avoid the obstacle. Good bike lanes end well short of intersections to "force" cyclists to merge into the traffic lane, avoiding the right and left turn hooks. VC in action. We won't see the entire city blanketed with bike lanes immediately, so what happens when your lane ends? Either you cower in the gutter or you take on VC practices to ensure your safety.

    I think two things I am very much in favor of are bus and bike only lanes and boulevard systems. Both seem to be working quite well in the places where they exist (Portland, Berkley, Paris). Shared bus and bike lanes would provide the width needed to accommodate a growing number of cyclist. And given the amount of scrutiny and training (and the ability to adapt that training quickly to include cyclists) given to our bus drivers in Columbus, I would feel very comfortable "sharing" a lane. Boulevards have their limits in where they can go, but I think will do more to encourage new cyclists to pedal off the paths. They would also do quite a bit to fend off the impression that bikes only belong in a particular place. Bike lanes can play a role in the greater scheme, but are the roads here wide enough to accommodate them?

    Andrew

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  16. As a new Ohio resident, I recently took the 'written' (computerized) multiple-choice driver's test. I know the question selection is randomized, but it didn't have a single bike-related question on it. I wonder if this extends to the general new-driver curriculum. If not, that might be a good point of pressure.

    -John C

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  17. The drivers test and the drivers ed curriculum is something that has come up quite frequently of late on the Yay Bikes! message board.

    I think there is no question that cycling and cycling law should be included on the test. I am also very strongly in favor of motorists having to retake the test in it's entirety when they renew their license.

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  18. @ Peter "that's the type of answer one gets when watching Fox News talk about global warming. "it's just a bunch of equations by crazy liberals making up junk science."

    OK so math is not everyone's cup of tea, but the funny thing is everything I hear the "safety in numbers" mantra is does kinda remind me a cable new show which repeats the same snippet of video tape? Funny?

    @ Peter "it's not important. vehicular cycling, like white supremacy, dies very slowly. and though it may never completely disappear, it is, and will remain, inconsequential."

    Whoa, scientific thought isn't important, like that famous death white Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan ""Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact"

    Here are some better road ideas CommuterOrlando Blog:

    -- Facility improvements that benefit all vehicle drivers: maintaining good pavement/repair of pavement hazards.

    -- Safety improvements for bicyclists: Replacing parallel grates that catch wheels, fixing longitudinal pavement cracks and bad shoulder seams, addressing steep-angle RR crossings, and upgrading unresponsive traffic signal sensors.

    -- Facilities for bicyclists: When behavioral problems affecting safety are addressed, and when the institutional bias against bicycle driving is replaced with respectful understanding of bicycle drivers’ needs, infrastructure can be targeted to solve practical issues of connectivity and access. Intelligent infrastructure solutions are less expensive and less likely to have unintended consequences than facilities that are built in an attempt to bypass education or solve social problems.

    -- Land Use Policy and Transit: Better vision for land use really should be a foundational element, but for most of our cities, that ship has sailed—at least for the time being. However, as our growth has stalled, now is a good time to at least look at policies which would promote bicycle permeability through new suburban development.

    -- Another global asset to cycling is a complete, integrated transit system. When bicycle transportation is added to bus and rail, they complement each other. Public transit extends the range of the bicycle. The bicycle increases the service area of public transit. A functional public transportation system also makes it easier to keep dangerous drivers off the road.

    Peace Out!

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  19. Danc,
    I don't understand why this is "junk science." When more people bike, there are fewer crashes per cyclist. Why isn't that good?
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/06/05/safety-in-numbers-its-happening-in-nyc/

    And I don't think anyone is using these facts to advocate for unsafe designs. Of course the bike lanes should be built in a safe way.

    LO2W had some excellent points, including that there will always be a need for vehicular cycling. But the bike lanes can get people out on the street and willing to start learning.

    Thanks for the background on Copenhagen's bike mode shares. Of course, I'd rather have bike lanes to encourage cycling than a world war on our soil if those are the two options.

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