For years groups like the League of American Bicyclists have been laboring to educate cyclists about the strategies for road riding best known as Vehicular Cycling. There is a voluminous book that was written and tons of materials developed by LCIs over the years. The need for this training never went away. Instead it was replaced in the minds of the Cycling Community by pretty green bike lanes with PVC bollards. Why?
In a word ‘money‘. Politicians love ‘funny money’ from Washington, DC. Why else would you suddenly have an impetus to push rental bikes that have a poor track record for collecting and displaying data from its users and is largely served by of all things motorized vehicles? Millions upon millions of dollars in ‘funny money‘ is making its way out of Washington, DC. Not only are bike rental systems being pushed but pretty green lanes and special frivolous turning signals are being purchased at steep rates with some more of that ‘funny money‘.
The politicians get to do lovely photo ops with their constituents and suddenly there is ‘proof‘ that something ‘vital‘ is happening. The activists and the Cycling Advocacy groups are nearly wetting themselves with anticipation that yet another few miles of pretty green lanes will be constructed and the PVC bollard industry is buying braces for its children at record rates.
If ever there was a ‘scam‘ this one is a gem. Consultants are flown in from Bicycle Heaven to sit in judgment over the quality of the lane designs. In fact Amsterdam and Copenhagen don’t quite see eye-to-eye over the term Dutch Bike Lanes when it comes to bringing in consultant fees. Every university organization that is willing to spin the safety figures in their state are busy pulling together data that prove that pretty green lanes are making bikers more willing to stop at red lights.
But the phony mathematics aside the real issues with these lanes is that they disappoint the hard core Urban Cyclists who are hell bent on going fast between points A and B. These guys are not going to ever stop for red lights. And they most certainly are not about to wait for a ‘two-stage Bike Box Turn‘. So in the meantime we sit and listen to lies about how wonderful things are getting and meanwhile it becomes obvious in practice that streets like Jackson where it intersects with Morgan are not well-suited for newbies who need to make right turns.
IDOT and CDOT are tussling over the collection of data to get things right. Again it is all about the money. You cannot get as much money for lanes if you are not building them at a record clip. So groups like Active Transportation Alliance are busy churning out petitions to be signed online to keep the memberships coming and the donations as well. And they hope to serve their masters in CDOT well enough to keep the Washington ‘funny money‘ flowing into coffers.
Eventually We Are Going To Have To Get An Instruction Manual
Vehicular Cycling is the strategy that helps riders deal with places well outside of cities where there are no pretty green lanes. All over the country bicycle tourists are plying the roadways of the country and for miles at a stretch there is no green paint. Yet they are reaching their next campsite in one piece. How is that possible? Without that green paint cyclists are in danger of losing their lives or being far too afraid to venture out on roadways, right? And yet it is happening.
Eventually people are going to have to pick up a book and learn the Rules of the Road and that will mean knowing what lies between the pages of the books on Vehicular Cycling. The Cycling Community keeps clamoring for parity with the Motoring Community. But it can never get there if it allows itself to be segregated into that ghetto we call the Protected Bike Lane. This is in essence like the Jim Crow Era brought back just in time to keep bicyclists in their place.
We need to decide now whether we are willing to allow politicians to shove us over to the curb ‘for our own good‘ or whether we are willing to teach ourselves and our children how to take control of the roadways. It is up to us to make that determination. There are of course spineless wimps who will tell you that you simply cannot be trusted to be safe unless you are riding over green paint separated from the traffic lanes by round plastic bollards. If you believe in that sort of thing then I have land for you in Florida.
The pretty green lanes are to my mind a bit like training wheels. They help you get started but eventually you have to remove the training wheels and ride without them. But we are being told by our Cycling Advocates that the training wheels are a permanent fixture in our cycling lives. A failure to keep them on is going to be catastrophic. And yet despite all of the new miles of lanes I still hear the fear and loathing in the voices of ChainLink Forum thread correspondents.
People are still dying in the streets from collisions with cars and the rental bikes are either too confusing for some or downright failing to work for others. Now how in Heavens Name are we going to trust folks with our lives and safety who cannot get a bike rentals system to work smoothly?
Put Me To The Test
As soon as the ‘funny money‘ dries up the emphasis on the pretty green lanes will die down. When that happens you will have to place greater demands on the politicians to find a place to get the money needed to finish what they began. But frankly when you are finding it nearly impossible to keep your schools open there are only so many photo ops you can hold on the South Side of Chicago touting new bike lanes on 31st Street when in fact the community that could have used those lanes to get children to school by bicycle no longer have buildings for that purpose.
As soon as the ‘funny money‘ dies Active Transportation Alliance and groups like it will have to find new projects to back. My guess is that once again trails and parks will get the resurgence in emphasis they need. After all if you plan to create a useful network between the city and suburbs you are going to need dozens of bike parks like the one being built on the north side from an old railroad right-of-way.
And eventually everyone in the Bicycle Community is going to have to either find incentives for getting people to ride to work on icy streets in the dead of winter or acknowledge the year round cycling is a ‘pipe dream‘. If you can grow the ranks of cyclists who ride all winter by as great a margin as the increase in bicycle thefts experienced in San Francisco I will shut up and bow to your wisdom.
But if you cannot increase cycling by 70% over a 5-year period then I would pronounce these figures a fraud. Nothing increases at this rate unless there is a demand for the product. And if there is a demand for the product you should see at least a 70% increase in riders reflected in the past 5 years of data.
So Chicago needs to get going to produce a sizable increase in ridership. Its city-owned bike rental is going to be a year round venture. So presumably all those commuters and tourists who visit in the winter months will keep the employees busy all year long. I expect to see and hear that there are log jams of riders who are plying Elston and 31st Street to reach the loop and all the enjoyable offerings we provide.
See you out there. Keep hoping that those pretty green lanes are the answer to your prayers. And make certain to stress the the PVC bollards being erected have reflective striping. See you in the lane!