What Americans Don’t Get About European Cycling Gurus

Background Reading


We Yanks are a sorry lot. We are fascinated with what the cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam have done with their cycling cultures. And as with most things European we have decided to adopt it the way we do cosmetics made from mysteriously wonderful melons grown in the South of France that keep your skin from aging. We are slathering on the Colville-Andersen ointment as fast as our aging fingers can find a way to do so.

Never mind the competition between the CEOs of the two websites representing Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Each one claiming that they are the true Mecca of Cycling. This is in the final analysis all about the Euro. If you can convince the Damned Yankees that God Himself has passed down the tablets of bicycle infrastructure purity then you get to fly over here and spout all sorts of bullshit and charge a fortune and get paid.

Never mind that Americans (as a rule) are completely ignorant of the fact that Europeans think our League of American Bicyclists teaching on Vehicular Cycling are cultish at best or that wearing helmets is equivalent to a self-inflicted Mark of the Beast, we are eager to gain their acceptance. They have very little to offer the rest of the world in the way of pure inventions and business practices. They have never launched a rocket and landed humans on another planet (although there is a project in the offing that will use our technology to help colonize Mars). All that they have managed to do is get very heavy, clunky bicycles into the hands of their citizens and because their lands are flat as a supermodels chest nobody has a problem riding around on them.

So to begin with the notion that they have much to say about “safety” from an American perspective depends largely on whether we have decided to accept their judgments as binding. What gives Colville-Andersen the right to rank the top 20 most bicycle-friendly cities in the world is difficult to say. But heck, I would keep up the pretense were I him until someone “called me out” and then slink off with my millions to lick my wounds.

The real beauty of his scam is that he and we both know that what he is proposing is largely derived from ideas created by the Dutch. But we also know that Yanks are hardly willing to pay for segregated bicycle lanes of the type favored in Amsterdam. So this trashy and highly suspect thing called the Protected Bicycle Lane (PBL) has been yanked out of the “arse” of some European and set down dutifully on American streets and anointed with pretty green paint and PVC bollards. And then to add insult to injury we have come up with the most clunky of turning mechanisms, the Bike Box to allow lefthand turns (formerly executed in a single smooth step from the left turning lane) to be made in two separate steps.

The sad fact is that seasoned cycling commuters simply hate these Bike Boxes. Heck they hate stopping at intersections, let alone waiting for two sets of lights to change before completing a turn, so how in the world is anyone dumb enough to believe that this crap is really going to work? I better shut up before the lackeys at StreetsBlog decide to write yet another glowing review of something they know will not be used by anyone excepting a total newbie.

In fact the real problem here with all this pretty green paint is that its presence was predicated on its effectiveness at making our streets safer. At least that is the blather we here from the Active Transportation Alliance guys. But try riding along the more famous PBLs in our fair city and simply watch and learn. Riders routinely ignore traffic signals and stop signs. And like not wearing helmets the current tack is to offer up the fact that motorists also break rules and “so there”. But motorists did not ask for the pretty green lanes in order to bring about safer conditions, that was done by cyclists.

So the next step has been for folks to argue that despite breaking Rules of the Road cyclists are not contributing to less safe conditions on the roadway. In fact if you were to insist otherwise you would be branded as being “anti-cycling“. In fact all those waivers that Active Transportation Alliance have people sign before riding Bike The Drive, in which they agree to wear a helmet (because it is the safest thing to do), will in a couple of years be disowned as having been written by some underling who not knowing any better tried to foist those nasty dangerous helmets on us all.

And suddenly the cycling world as we know it will have been turned on its head. We will have essentially abandoned Vehicular Cycling as a cornerstone of our survival strategy in favor of a PBL design that no one wants to use because it is clumsy and actually slows down rider progress in busy city traffic. And then we will all decide that yes God Himself has ordained as he did at Joppa that our new Pope Melville-Andersen did in fact receive a heavenly memo relieving us of the burden of wearing the Unclean Headgear of Anti-Cyclists made of Styrofoam™.

The Problem Is That Melville-Andersen Is A “Hammer”

Imagine for a moment that a kid from the South Side of Chicago got the chance to fly over to Europe and explain to Europeans the best way to wear their hair. Before long you would see long blonde tresses in Copenhagen exchanged for corn-row braids and fade haircuts. And soon you might find out that Danish women had decided that having a flat derriere was not attractive and so to go along with their corn-row braids they began getting injections in their butts to mimic the genetic differences expressed as high large asses of some black females. Never mind that all of these things are “artificial” attempts at trying to look like someone else. Once a fad catches on it will be hard to tell people that this is so.

Pretty green bike lanes are the European version of roadway corn-row braids. No actually they are more akin to butt injections to make your ass larger and higher. And as with the current practice here in the States you sometimes end up with damaging physical consequences. What we want and really need is better expressed in venues like the Chicago Lakefront Trail and its soon to be developed Bloomingdale Trail counterpart. These devices should be doing the yeoman’s work of getting folks across town to streets from which Buffered Protected Lanes are available for the remainder of their journey.

The PBL idea is useless in actual practice. It is too slow and does not allow dedicated commuting cyclists to travel at rates of speed consistent with those they maintain just now. Only a truly segregated spoke lane could do that very well. That is because it eliminates most of the intersection interactions with traffic and lets cyclists focus on covering as much ground as possible with as much safety as possible.

Melville-Andersen is a “hammer“. Whether he admits it or not he would rather see most if not all automobile traffic eliminated in the central part of a city. I can understand his intentions because in a selfish way it appeals to the cyclist in me. But if I am given a segregated lane to ride upon my obsession with automobiles fades to near zero. They are no longer my concern save for the few blocks at the very end of my trip into the city that I must traverse before reaching my office.

I say “hammer” because his is a blunt force approach to an issue that really needs something a bit more subtle than a forceful blow (i.e. removing all cars). If he thinks he gets tired of hearing that there is little room to accommodate cyclists then he should know that I am sick unto death of hearing the crap about how bad cars are and all should either pitched down sinkholes and covered over or rocketed into the sun where they melt and disappear.

I Ride a Bike and Drive A Car

I Ride a Bike and Drive A Car

And I am certainly tickled that the cycling establish is trying to work both sides of the street. Take for instance the poster at the right. I like it. But I also realize that its message is in direct contradiction to what Melville-Andersen is preaching.

But it should also come as no surprise that somehow his dislike of helmets is a direct contradiction to what we teach on this side of the Pond. So I guess we have no problem with mixed messages.

We are indeed a thoroughly mixed up crowd. We want to be all things to all people and yet do not know how to be ourselves. The moment we stop and let ourselves be ourselves and stop paying folks to come and tell us what kinds of creme to put on our faces or injections to give our butts everything will fall into place.

In the meantime I am going to take another grumpy pill and find another target in the Urban Cycling Landscape to aim at. I can see now why those idiots in the NRA/Tea Party Camp like 30 round clips so much. For them there’s no fun in developing great aim with a single shot weapon when you can “zipper” the beast and watch it die slowly.

But frankly, rather than killing anything should we not be teaching ourselves how to coexist with vehicles in ways that serves everyone best? And should not cyclists decide that the purest form of sustainable transportation is not the bicycle but rather the walking show? That alone would be a great way to get down from our high horse and develop some humility.