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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Bicycle Infrastructure

 A friend sent me this note:
    Just thought I’d pass this along to you: http://www.economist.com/node/21528302

It's an article in The Economist pointing out how the U.S. has inferior bike infrastructure and (by some statistics) a higher rate of cyclist mortality than countries such as Denmark.

The article goes on to say this: "In much of northern Europe, cyclists commute on lanes that are protected from cars by concrete buffers, rows of trees or parked cars."

There's an implied link of causality here that may not be justified. Let's point out a couple of things:

1. Although it may not be obvious, there's a decent sized lobby for bicycle infrastructure.  This consists of cycling advocacy groups (LAB nationally, LIB and ATA locally) who love to see building projects. It consists of transportation consulting and design firms who love to see building projects. 

2. New cyclists in particular are likely to favor specific, special facilities. This phenomenon may be occurring to a random writer or editor at The Economist.

3. There's a school of thought that says bicyclists don't need some bike lane ghetto, but just a wider curb lane.  This is amply illustrated by Shermer Rd near me.  It was rebuilt with two wide lanes.  Later, a bike lane was painted at the edge.  It's a good route for cyclists, but it was a good route for cyclists before.  The main issue is the width of the curb lane, not the specific markings.

4. Bicyclists who are hankering for cheap improvements should get them.  A good example is proper settings of the metal loop detectors that trigger traffic lights. These are usually set so my big steel tandem bike will trigger them, but not my regular bikes. 

5. But bicyclists should be realistic. We're in a recession. Money is scarce. A whole network of separate pathways protected from cars is not going to happen.   Separate bike facilities (aka bike ghettos) make nice demonstration projects from a specific point A to a specific point B, but what cycling really needs is a way to get from any point A to any point B, and this is almost certainly going to  be through shared facilities (e.g. wide curb lanes) rather than segregated facilities.

6. There is a place for separate facilities as linear parks -- rails to trails in urban areas, for example.  These provide good recreation even if they aren't always that useful for commuting and chores.  Such linear parks also serve a wider constituency of walkers, dog owners, joggers and the occasional bird watcher.

7. As to why Denmark is safer (if it is): One of the big problems with being a cyclist in the U.S. is that you are likely to be riding where there are few other cyclists. Cyclists are safer where they are expected. The same is true of pedestrians -- much safer, on a per-pedestrian basis, to be in downtown Chicago than to be in the suburbs, where walking is not something people do.