The ‘Canary In The Mine Shaft’ Is Starting To Cough

Background Reading





CitiBike is probably less likely to succumb to a ‘bad winter‘ than it is to the fact that the Urban Cycling Movement’s narrative regarding year-round commuting by bicycle is simply not very realistic.

This is especially true in places like NYC and Chicago. Winters in these two areas (among others) are simply crappy at best. Unless you are a cycling activist for whom ‘making a statement‘ is more important than personal convenience and comfort, riding a bike, any bike around on frozen slush or worse yet thawed slush which forms dams of water at every single intersection is simply nuts! Sorry, but I do not subscribe to the dragon slaying approach to getting to work each morning.

As for the pricing being a cause of the demise of Citibike, try that the other way around. You raise your prices because your revenue is insufficient and your revenue is insufficient because your product is not generating sales and on and on and on…

So What Is The Problem Here?

There are two major flaws in the design strategy that we are using (as compared with the Dutch):

  1. We are not conservative enough in our implementation of bike lanes. The Dutch limit bike lanes to streets where the speed limit is 30 kph. I simply cannot recall being on a street of late where the speed limit was that low excepting perhaps in parking lots. And into the bargain most of those streets with bike lanes in Amsterdam have no on street parking. When they do it is the ‘slanted back-in type‘.
  2. But the ‘real missing link‘ in our bicycle infrastructure design is the nearly complete lack of ‘cycle tracks‘. These are essentially MUPs that intersect at something other than traffic grade level allowing the cycling public to completely (or nearly so) avoid interaction with automobiles at intersections.

Money Is The Answer

Building cycle tracks costs a good deal more than getting your brother-in-law a contract to sell the city some pretty green paint at a discount. And there is hardly anything to the cost of slathering this stuff down onto the pavement alongside some PVC bollards, all of which will be scraped off with winter plowing and will need reapplication the following year. And of course if you brother-in-law has the contract to sell the paint and PVC piping, who really cares.

Cycle tracks mean possibly acquiring land and raising its elevation or perhaps lowering it as it passes beneath the busiest street in the city to emerge into a beautiful park-like setting. This is the kind of infrastructure that actually invites people.

But again it costs lots of money and to date the Urban Cycling Community has been in the mode where getting anything at all is ‘good enough‘. The focus just now is almost always about ‘protected bike lanes‘. But there is precious little if anything said about ‘protected bike intersections‘.

Doing Things On The Cheap Is Going To Cost Us Plenty

One problem we have is that we have lied through our teeth about who pays for roads. The problem is that having tried to paint everyone as a partner in paying for roads we are suddenly seeing the Highway Trust Fund dry up to the point that little can be done unless the rate is increased. And of course the GOP would be well within their rights to throw our PIRG report back in our faces.

So the first order of business is going to be finding ways to convince the general public that a truly expensive undertaking that benefits less than 1% of the transportation landscape is really worth it. And that is made even more difficult when you realize that the people we are taking about are the ones who have been ‘poking the bear‘ and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

But learning a bit of humility would be helpful in the long run. Finding ways to convince people that they can save money and lose a few pounds riding to and from work is not going to be easy. What is far more accessible would be to create ‘cycle tracks‘ that get suburbanites across town or over to the shopping mall that is now surrounded by four lane roads. And if that can be done without having to encounter a single automobile, then all the better. And if into the bargain pedestrian lanes can be included then everybody wins.