‘Getting Real’ About Bicycle Infrastructure In America


Background Reading

♫♪Yes, there used to be a painted bike lane right here. ♫ (with apologies to Joe Raposo)

♫♪Yes, there used to be a painted bike lane right here. ♫ (with apologies to Joe Raposo)

I was both surprise and happy to see article by Erik Griswold that graced the front page of Copenhagenize today. Surprised because you seldom see much information that to my mind involves a clear and sober view of what is taking place in America versus what has been in place in places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam for quite some time. And frankly the two are miles apart in many ways that truly count.

When you see what resembles an honest appraisal of what we are getting it reads something like this:

Smart infrastructure recognizes the inherent risks in bike lanes, but applies them in appropriate situations.

Erik Griswold Tweets on two occasions as follows:

@JeffSpeckAICP Paint is temporary. Fades. Easy to destroy thru lack of maintenance and/or badly supervised utility work.#paintisnotenough

.@bikesaretraffic: Paint is NOT infrastructure! And cycletracks may not even be a TCD! pic.twitter.com/ilxOPNbS #VC #paintisnotenough

The aim here is to bring some sense of perspective to what is transpiring here. We are getting a very weak facsimile of the “real thing” when our municipal leaders, cycling advocates and transportation czars conspire to placate our demands with green paint. What they like to tell us is drivel that sounds meaningful when spoken in the context of Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but frankly has very little to do with what we are getting.

Our Cycle Tracks Are Not Like Their Cycle Tracks

I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.
— Carl Sandburg

I Am Traffic

I Am Traffic

Our cycle tracks are not like their cycle tracks. We are getting lanes that are difficult to clear of snow and debris and are jammed up against the curbs in an effort to simulate a truly segregated bike path. As a result we exchange a fairly limited sense of safety for a delayed bit of confusion and chaos as we enter and cross or turn through intersections.

There have been several situations in other cities than our own where cyclists were calmly waiting for their turn to enter an intersection in the green bike lane and got crushed by a truck issuing a “right hook”. One driver did not even know what he had done. This is of course something that could easily be remedied by having all trucks use secondary cab mirrors to provide visual contact with riders who are hidden by the hood of their truck cab.

To my mind “green paint” is a “mess of pottage”. It certainly looks good when it is newly applied but fades fast and is especially unwelcome when applied over already cracked and weathered pavement littered with potholes. We Yanks are far too eager to get something on the board that proves we are progressing. That really is not enough.

If the entire point of bicycle infrastructure is to provide safety to its users then we need to do better than merely give a “sense of safety” when in reality little exists. At present the best that can be said of our “pretty green bike lanes” is that they announce our presence as “intended users” of the roadway.

Fixed Gear Bikes With No Brakes ‘Do Not Belong’

We have seen at least one death and several accidents where riders on fixed gear bikes (without brakes) are falling prey to the “Door Zone”. The simple solution to this is to travel out of the “Door Zone” and if you simply haven’t go the room then slow down enough to stop in the event of a sudden door opening.

Easy Racers Ti-Rush 2.0 Model

Easy Racers Ti-Rush 2.0 Model

But that is more easily accomplished on my Long Wheelbase Recumbent than it is on an upright bike with rim brakes. Now oddly enough an upright tandem can do some really wonderful panic stops.

And with the right training even an upright can do something passable. But all bets are off when we are talking about fixed gear bikes without brakes. In panic stop situations a rider must either “lay the bike down” or “swerve to the left” to avoid a passenger exiting a car into the “Door Zone”.

But if there is traffic to the left of the rider into which he must lunge then injury or death are sometimes the result of the contact being made by the cyclist with traffic whizzing past. Ouch!

But cyclists are a stubborn lot. They simply ignore the obvious problem they are creating in favor of passing out stickers to motorists in an attempt to place the burden of care on them, when in fact our behavior is putting us at risk. Shame on us.