Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We need real bike facilities for real bike transportation

A comment that we hear all too often is that we need to do something about the renegade cyclists. They don't obey traffic signals, they speed on crowded trails, they pass too close without warning. Unfortunately the criticism is often true.

I just returned from a trip to Tucson, Arizona where there are bike facilities on almost all major roads. There's wayfinding signage, a good bike map, the right type of bike parking in most of the right locations. I'll write more about the trip later. One thing that was strikingly noticeable was that almost all cyclists obeyed the rules. They stopped at traffic lights, they were generally courteous, they wore lights at night. It was impressive. There were even buttons at cyclists' height at most intersections to allow them to trigger the light.

One conclusion you could draw is that if there are good bike facilities and cyclists are treated as a serious part of the transportation system, cyclists act appropriately. Conversely, when we have almost no bicycle facilities and the few we have are overcrowded with all types of users, bad things happen. As Ely Blue, a bike advocate from Portland, Oregon, notes in a recent article, "We need real bike paths for real bike transportation." In her discussion of recreational trails being used for bike transportation she describes the current situation on the W&OD Trail
It should be no surprise that these paths see a high collision and injury rate. A 2009 literature review of traffic safety studies looked at bicycle crashes and discovered that multi-use paths are more dangerous to ride on than even major roads.

Most attempts to address the danger focus on educating users to "share the path." This has been the gist of the most levelheaded responses to the tragic incident on the Katy Trail.

In effect, this is a way to blame the users. This becomes more clear when you brave the comment section on any story about the tragedy. The vitriolic finger-pointing starts immediately. Some blame bicyclists who ride fast and don't use their bells when passing. Others blame walkers and joggers who stop suddenly, don't hold their line, and let their kids and dogs run freely. Everyone blames people wearing headphones. Some simply blame everyone.

Meanwhile, few are looking to the real culprit: the increasingly common practice of building transportation facilities that cannot safely or comfortably carry the planned types of traffic, promoting them heavily, and then accepting easy credit for providing bike routes without having to take the political risks of encroaching on the vast amounts of roadways reserved for cars.

Shared trails are being heavily funded on the federal level, with politicians and advocates claiming major bike-friendliness points. This trend is likely to continue even post-election -- Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) in line to be the new chair of the House Transportation Committee, is already boasting that his state has the most such multi-use paths in the country.

Even if they were not shared, many of these paths would not be adequate for bicycle traffic. Sight lines are not good, there is often no lane to pass slower riders, and the number of users keeps going up, up, and up. This is not the fault of people who ride bikes on them. In most cities, as in Dallas, options are slim. A congested, shared off-road path is often the lesser of two evils.

Politicians, planners, and advocates need to step up. And disgruntled trail users need to stop blaming each other and demand real bike paths. Often there's room in the same right of way to have a walking path and bike lanes in both directions, all wide enough. Many cities are experimenting with these, including Vancouver, B.C., Manhattan, and Seoul -- though you can still see an inevitable amount of user error in each of these photos.

But a few token separated paths, no matter how wide, will never be more than a political compromise. We need suitable places to go walk and jog and relax.

And if we are going to fill the rapidly growing demand for bicycle infrastructure, we need the real thing. Cramming bikes onto serene paths is like putting a superhighway through a schoolyard.

We already have a wide-ranging network of paved bike routes, where people can ride as fast and freely as they need to, have plenty of room to pass each other, and can expect to encounter pedestrians and joggers at clearly marked intersections. We just need to take back some of that space from cars. And for the sake of the paths, we need to do it soon.
What we need are real bicycle facilities for real bicycle transportation.

Labels: ,

In you writeup of Tucson, don't forget to mention the off-street, bicycle-only "highways": http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/4434063201/

I discovered these by accident in 2009 on my first trip to Tucson.
I love the grid system!

Tucson is fantastic.

Post a Comment

Contact FABB via email: info@fabb-bikes.org

Subscribe to the
FABB e-newsletter

Subscribe to posts:
[Atom 1.0] or [RSS 2.0]

  Bike to Work Day 2015 at Wiehle Station

  Transportation choices

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?