Where Do You Want to Go?

05 MARCH 2014

Source: Copenhagenize

Where Do You Want To Go?

Where Do You Want To Go?

Things are changing, no doubt about it. All over the world. Like in every paradigm shift there are cities that move fast, cities that try to play catch up and cities that are still tying their shoelaces in the starting blocks.

One of the primary challenges that remains is the perception of who infrastructure is for. I meet many politicians and planners around the world who clearly think that they are expected to provide safe infrastructure for the few people riding bicycles in their city right now. They fail to understand that they should be building infrastructure for all the citizens who COULD be riding a bicycle if they felt safe on a complete network of infrastructure.

The Zeros to Heroes cities that are way ahead of the curve – for example Barcelona, Seville, Dublin, Bordeaux, Paris, Buenos Aires – have just rolled up their sleeves and built infrastructure. Infrastructure that actually reflects where the citizens want to go in a city. Which is basically the same as where everyone else wants to go.

In many other cities, bits and pieces of infrastructure are put in where it won’t bother the motorised traffic too much. Often such bits and pieces are launched with much fanfare. “See! We are thinking about bicycles!” Even though the bits and pieces are symbolic gestures that do little to reestablish the bicycle as transport on the urban landscape. Here in 2014, after seven or eight years since the bicycle returned to the public consciousness, there are only 370 km of protected bicycle infrastructure in all of the United States, compared to 1000 km in Greater Copenhagen alone.

What I often see around the world is attempts by cities to put cyclists where they want them to ride, based on false assumptions that this is want cyclists also want. “Ooh, those cyclists must really want to ride on quiet roads, away from traffic…. yeah… that’s what they want.” Then follows symbolic routes following all the vague principles of detours.

Citizen Cyclists are sent out of the way of basically everywhere that city-dwellers want to go. Shops, businesses, restaurants, cafés, cinemas, workplaces. The existing, historical Desire Lines of a city – aka roads – remain the domain of automobiles.

While Copenhagen may be “all that” these days, mistakes have been made. Lessons have been learned. Back in the 1980s when citizens were returning to the bicycle thanks to the reestablishment of cycle tracks, the City learned a valuable lesson. Cyclists were following the busy streets to get to and from the city centre. Normal behaviour for homo sapiens.

The City decided that this couldn’t possibly be what they wanted. They assume cycling citizens wanted quiet routes, even if it meant they would have to go a bit out of they way. They constructed a pilot project route roughly parallel to Nørrebrogade – along Guldbergsgade – that they were sure would please the cycling citizens.

It was a flop. A2Bism will dictate that people want to travel along the most direct Desire Line, regardless of transport form. To the City of Copenhagen’s credit, they respected this simple anthropological desire and started building cycle tracks along the pre-existing Desire Routes – the main arteries leading the city centre.

The rest is history.

If you live in a car-dominated city you might be pleased with symbolic municipal gestures like “bicycle boulevards” or whatever they call them, or bits of narrow “bike lanes”. You are, however, being handed the short end of the stick. Bicycle urbanism may be a phrase I coined but the principles have existed since cities first were formed. Best Practice is right there, for the taking. With a bit of balance you might be able to rest your weary bones on a two-legged chair. Definately better than no chair. But four-legged chairs are on the market. Demand them.


people want to travel along the most direct Desire Line, regardless of transport form

Mikael Colville-Andersen

Actually this is not only true, but it can be achieved overnight in every single city on the planet (with few exceptions). There are few cities which do not have streets which were laid down based on convenience for those who were traveling in days long past. Here in Chicago we have streets like Milwaukee Avenue which are laid out on a diagonal. This cuts down on the time it takes to get from one end to the other. What has cyclists upset however is that the street is both narrow and thus the traffic “feels threatening“.

The way to reduce the sense of threat and the reality simultaneously is to reduce the rate of travel along that street. The “Twenty is Plenty” movement makes a great deal of sense.

  • It means that in scientific terms you actually reduce the possibility of serious injury and death by slowing down ALL traffic.
  • When you add a bike lane you really do not get a chance to affect the mortality rates of pedestrians (who incidentally are far more likely to die on city streets than bicyclists) as effectively as simply slowing the traffic.
  • By using speed cameras (to enforce the speed limits) you help to earn additional monies for your city that aids in the maintenance and repair of roadways.
  • What is needed is for the heavily traveled corridors where this limit should be applied to be identified and marked as such.
  • Automobiles and trucks which do not wish to travel as slowly might have to choose other avenues for their convenience.
  • BTW, I would actually lower the speed rate to 15 MPH and keep it there for the length of the corridor.

If the overall traffic speed is lowered enough (I say 15 MPH) two things should be predictable:

  • It will encourage riders who fear being on streets to venture out, especially if these streets are marked as “Bike Routes“. Such a marking lets drivers know what to expect and act accordingly.
  • It will mean that the more expensive Protected Bike Lanes might simply be either obsoleted altogether or delayed in their construction until monies are available. But in the meantime you can count on what you have done reducing the death and injury rates along “Bike Routes“.

Streets Are Where The Action Is

One of the more disappointing aspects of the current craze to install bike lanes is that in their absence people get the idea that they “will have to wait“. But the worse unintended consequences of these lanes is that they create a very fuzzy notion on the part of both would-be cyclists and motorists about where cyclists can ride.

It is not uncommon in “bad weather” for a cyclists to do exactly what John Forester prescribed which is to “Take The Lane“. In this instance we are talking about the one just to the left of the bike lane where things are less messy. And of course drivers react (sometimes violently) to a slow moving bicyclist who is now impeding their forward progress (in the same manner that cyclists do when pedestrians cross their path at intersections).

But if the speed limit has been set to 15 MPH everyone is now moving at essentially the same rate. When that happens the lane a bicyclist uses is immaterial. So on “Bike Routes” you lower the speed to the point that all vehicles are able to ride without impeding one another.

Additional Benefits Of Speed Reduction

Municipalities where bike lanes are not in vogue have generally defaulted to the worst design possible which are “Sharrow Lanes“. They look as if you have bike lanes everywhere but they actually “create” new problems. Because some cyclists are afraid to “ride in traffic” they avoid “Taking The Lane” and end up doing something that is silly. They ride in the “Door Zone“. By virtue of their need to get off busy streets as quickly as possible they ride faster than they should (considering they are in the “Door Zone“).

Car mirrors do not pivot (in the manner of helmet mirrors worn by bicyclists) so if a motorist checks his side view mirror at any given moment it is possible that the cyclist riding alongside him is not visible. He opens his door and a lawsuit is the result. Slow down the traffic speed so that “Taking The Lane” is now an option for even the most timid of cyclists and everyone leaves their morning commute intact.

It also means that children and other pedestrians who might be crossing mid-block are less likely to die should a collision occur. It’s a win-win all around. It does not mean that you never install fancier (and more expensive) cycle tracks but it does mean that until you can afford to do so you have a positive impact on the safety of just about everyone.

Slowing down traffic in this manner is equivalent to putting the street on a “Road Diet“. But you skip the expense of all the construction.