Canadian environmentalist Lawrence Solomon believes that cities have gone too far in promoting cycling. Taking lanes from cars and giving them to bicycles may be good for cyclists, but are a waste of space because the lanes end up moving far fewer people per hour than they did when they were open to cars. Writing in the Financial Post, Solomon quotes a member of Parliament saying that London’s cycle superhighways that I found convenient when touring England last year have done more damage to the city than “almost anything since the Blitz.”
Solomon has a history of opposing “policies that discriminate against the bicycle.” But that is quite different from supporting policies that discriminate against cars and trucks. By increasing traffic congestion, converting auto lanes to bicycle lanes increases pollution, which is especially harmful to cyclists.
I’ve reached the same conclusions and it’s refreshing to see I’m not the only one. I’ve always contended that bicycles and automobiles were compatible and there was no need to favor one over the other. Like Solomon, I object when I find traffic signals that respond to cars but ignore bicycles and to bridges and tunnels designed for autos with no room for bicycles. But I don’t believe that major thoroughfares should be reconstructed to favor a few cyclists over the vastly more numerous automobiles.
I would like to see bicycle superhighways (or bicycle boulevards, as they are called in the U.S.) built in major cities throughout the country by taking local streets that parallel major arterials and collectors and optimizing those local streets for bicycles, while still allowing local auto traffic. This can be done at a low cost and with no increase in traffic congestion.
Instead, we see cities spending huge amounts of money on projects of questionable value. According to Solomon, Amsterdam is spending 120 million euros on 9,000 bicycle parking spaces. That’s close to $16,000 per space, which is roughly the cost of multi-level automobile parking.
In a follow-up article, Solomon blames increasing bicycle fatalities and injuries and cities that have encouraged more cycling without worrying enough about safety. The Netherlands is supposed to be very bicycle friendly, yet “Cyclists now account for 63 percent of all those seriously injured in road accidents” in that country. One problem, he says, is that cities encourage cycling by dedicating lanes to bicycles without doing anything to reduce accidents at intersections, where most bicycle-car accidents take place.
“A kind of ideology has swept over cities and bicycles are being promoted in ways that have become inappropriate,” Solomon said in a radio interview. “Instead of complementing other transportation modes they’re encroaching on other transportation modes.” This is the wrong way to go, and I hope more city leaders read Solomon’s articles.