Thinking With Our Hearts Not Our Heads…

Background Reading


Jan Heine produced a bit of a firestorm on the ChainLink. Hew has been running on series on his blog questioning the reality of “safety” when it comes to protected bike lanes. It does not take very long you come across a blog entry on the ChainLink like this:

Reply by David Barish 2 hours ago

I am torn on the issue of protected bike lanes.  I agree with the original author and Skip that cyclists are still at risk in such lanes. Further,  if the lanes make riders feel more protected that they are in reality they can be dangerous. That being said, I also understand Lisa’s perspective that as a newer rider she feels more comfortable in a protected lane. The reality may be in taking the truth of both statements. The lanes may not actually make cyclists safer, but it may get more  cyclists out on the road.  For this reason I support the lanes for cultural and political reasons but necessarily because I think they make us any safer. Once Lisa becomes the norm, once there are more and more  new and newly experienced riders in the lanes they should become safer. The volume of cyclists should make the autos more aware at those pesky intersections.  This is starting to work on the Dearborn PBL.

And when you do you will always find a rejoinder that tries to convince you of the exact opposite of what Jan Heine is talking about:

Reply by Thunder Snow 1 hour ago

For what it’s worth, the latest research–last year’s Canadian study on bicycle infrastructure and injuries, conducted by Kay Teschke, et al., suggested that separated cycle tracks actuallyare the safest place for cyclists to be.  Safety isn’t just an illusion.

Discussion of the study in Atlantic Cities:…

Bike Diagram

Bike Diagram

As an aside, I’ve read Teschke’s comments elsewhere (can’t quite find the reference right now) that one of the most dangerous places to ride a bike, was on a road with tram tracks.  Evidently, cycle wheels can easily get trapped in the space next to the track, or the track surfaces themselves can become slippery with rain or motor oil.  So, I have some misgivings about the current attempts to reintroduce streetcars and trams back onto our streets, and have them coexist with cyclists.

And you could spin your entire day looking for data that substantiates just about anything you wish to believe. In fact the Bicycle Movement has clearly taken its cues from the Political Movement here in the United States. Urban Cyclists behave more like Tea Party-types than even they can imagine. Anyone who disagrees with them (from their own GOP party) gets the “bum’s rush” for lack of purity of thought and chastened with a primary contest backed by money coming from the Koch Brothers some governmental agency that they have managed to “climb in bed with“.

Who are cycle lanes for? from British Cycling on Vimeo.

The Real Deal

Lies, damned lies, and statistics
— Mark Twain

After all the blather from the Urban Cycling Community about how the problem can be laid at the feet of motorists and the lack of bicycle infrastructure you have to wonder about one thing. What if we ignore all the “statistics” for a moment and take a look at what actually happens in a “laboratory“.

So you ask how would we go about setting up a “laboratory“? Well we would find a very nice stretch of roadway, say 20 miles in length with plenty of lanes and absolutely no cars. None whatsoever. Then we would allow bicyclists to ride up and down that stretch climbing off whenever they reached their destination but otherwise enjoying a Rush Hour free of cars. That should be the safest possible experiment. It would tell us exactly how well bikes interact with one another and just where the “safety sweet spot” really lies.

Bike The Drive Brochure (Graphic)

Bike The Drive Brochure (Graphic)

So without further ado let me introduce you to the “laboratory“. Chicago has one that they run each year along the Lake Shore Drive. It is a fundraiser for the Active Transportation Alliance and involves an almost 20-mile stretch between Bryn Mawr Avenue to the north and 57th Street (Museum of Science and Industry) to the south. And as I said there were no cars allowed for nearly 4 hours.

The mix of riders was as you would expect:

  • Families with young kids
  • Single males on fixed gear bikes
  • Middle-aged tourists with panniers and mirrors
  • Recumbent riders
  • 30 something females riding together and enjoying a leisurely pace
  • Roadie types trying to complete the round trip in the “fast lane”
  • First time riders on cruisers and in flip flops

In short this is what you should expect on Chicago city streets come the “revolution“. In that four hour span I personally witnessed at least two crashes that involved ambulances and any number of more minor crashes involving members of the entire spectrum of ridership.

So what does this tell me?

MB Bike The Drive Brochure Cover Shows actual rider density on Lake Shore Drive

MB Bike The Drive Brochure Cover
Shows actual rider density on Lake Shore Drive


Bicyclists are a “more mixed bag” than motorists. Because their vehicles are not similarly equipped you have all sorts of folks who cannot signal because they are unable to release their handlebar “death grip” long enough to let people behind them know that they are stopping or changing lanes or turning.

Rear view mirrors were virtually non-existent for the bulk of the riders. What was comical (to a very low degree) was watching people respond to the suggested greeting “on your left” actually printed in the Bike The Drive brochure. Generally the greeting was ignored. When it was heard and responded to half the folks who moved over did so to their left. It got to the point that you began to realize that the problems on roadways have more to do with lack of training than just about anything else.

One rider in the middle lane of the four lane roadway decided to stop. So they simply stopped and got off their bike. There was no signaling and no looking back to even determine if anyone behind them would be injured. This same maneuver was repeated at the end of the ride on countless occasions as people left Grant Park on their way back to their cars. It was essentially mass confusion.

Before we expect motorists to take us seriously we are going to have to get trained as roadway users. Adding in protected bike lanes with special things like “box boxes” is going to make things worse unless riders know what to expect from themselves and each other. Obviously putting them onto a 4-lane roadway devoid of cars and still having crashes is not a good sign.

We cannot simply wish the Bike Share experience into existence without some expectations that it will be a very bumpy ride. It failed in some European countries for various reasons. It seems to me more important to analyze the failure than to launch into the roll outs of even more of these without knowing why they did not work.

The same is true of protected bike lanes. Even amongst committed Urban Cyclists there is a mixed reception. I expect this to get worse with the increases in Bike Share riders who having flooded these lanes will make the bike-vs-bike conflicts ever greater. And I shudder to think what sorts of mayhem might befall pedestrians. Here’s hoping I am wrong.