The Limits of Bicycle Infrastructure Effectiveness

Background Reading


Cyclists in NYC are bemoaning the death of yet another cyclist at the hands of a drunk driver. And nearly every response to the Facebook page announcing this tragedy brings up the usual scolding that the city’s mayor and DOT for letting this happen.

Newsflash: There are some things that even the most robust transportation infrastructure design cannot defend against. Think a drunken motorist or cyclist who has been ‘mixing his poisons‘. Once you combine alcohol with painkillers or mood adjustment prescriptions you have the recipe for something as awful as what happened here in Illinois quite recently.

Inset photo of Sean Ryan (GoFundMe); photo of his damaged bike (RLJR News)

Alcohol gets its popularity because of its ability to reduce inhibitions in those who consume it. The problem here is a permissive society that wants to allow average citizens the ‘wiggle room‘ to consume alcoholic beverages while operating a motor vehicle or for that matter a bicycle.

That is why we have a BAC number! The theory is that you are allowed to drink a few beers or cocktails and then get behind the wheel (knowing your personal limits) and drive home without any adult supervision. In fact we have found that trying to shift the onus onto the backs of the bartenders to help keep drunk drivers off the roads, fails miserably. And you might be surprised to know that our BAC is four times higher than that used in most Western European countries!

Cyclists are as guilty of supporting this kind of culture of alcohol use with perhaps not as much negative effect on others. We routinely pose for pictures of ourselves at club-level bicycle outings where each one of us is holding a glass of our favorite poison aloft. And we often use #BeerIsTheAnswer as our salute!

The message we send is that despite often being the ones who die when a car vs. bicycle collision occurs we nevertheless support our right to drink poison while operating a bicycle in hot weather as proudly as a 2nd Amendment proponent does the right to bear arms.


Bicycle infrastructure is not generally designed to protect riders against motorists (or their own drunken behavior) so as to avoid personal injury or death. A truly drunken motor vehicle operator is beyond knowing just how dangerous he is when plowing down a roadway full of pedestrians or cyclists. And having a lawyer shove a business card into your face does not exempt you from the pain and suffering and months of rehabilitation that awaits you (if you are lucky to survive a crash).

In the final analysis you are alone. Sure there might be a ghost bike ceremony to honor your memory but even these do not restore you to life thus allowing you to support your family. Nope, you have to take ownership of your own safety!