Cycling Good and Bad

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.


10 thoughts on “Cycling Good and Bad

  1. prk166

    Having lived in a small city for awhile I’ve wondered if the things that would help encourage people to bike everywhere were mild winters and less density. Like much of the southeast, it’s a post WWII city. Yet I was able to bike all the time without much fuss. They had some bike lanes but really they were more about shareows. They had shareows everywhere like below.

  2. sprawl

    When I was a full time bike commuter in the 70’s, there were fewer stop signs on streets paralleling main streets and in neighborhoods. There were also fewer cars parked in front of homes in neighborhoods. Commuting was much better by bike.
    Now every other street has a stop sign, because the main streets are gridlocked and everyone is cutting through neighborhoods with their cars, to get to where they going.
    I had many different routes to visit friends and to go to work. Today decades later, most of the bike lanes would not help most of the trips I use to make and often takes away parking in some neighborhoods or narrowing traffic lanes and or put the bike in conflict with cars and car doors opening while parking.
    I never found bike riding in traffic pleasurable.

  3. TCS

    Mr. Solomon floats the idea of tolling all roads in a ‘user pays/market model’ and suggests cycling would not be economically viable under such a scheme. Where I live local streets and county roads are paid for with local sales and property taxes, and state highways are heavily subsidized by state sales taxes. It would seem that cyclists and pedestrians ~here~ are already more than adequately paying into the transportation system, particularly in light of our many bridges/overpasses optimized for high-speed, high traffic volume motor vehicle use with no provisions for non-motor vehicle users.

    I’m also interested in the more general question of where the line is between ‘paying for transportation infrastructure used’ and ‘required to purchase permission from the government to leave one’s property and go about one’s business’.

  4. CapitalistRoader

    Amsterdam has a well-deserved reputation as a bicycle friendly city. But woe to the pedestrian who gets in a cyclist’s way. I’ve been yelled at plenty of times by bike commuters both in and outside of Centrum. They can be very aggressive towards pedestrians.

  5. CapitalistRoader

    Where I live local streets and county roads are paid for with local sales and property taxes…

    Where I live roads are paid for mostly by gasoline taxes.

  6. prk166

    It would seem that cyclists and pedestrians ~here~ are already more than adequately paying into the transportation system,
    ” ~ TCS

    It’s possible. But that’s not taking into account all the services that depend on those roads. They’re not just for people to drive on.. They’re for first responders, school buses, removing garbage, et al.

  7. TCS

    Not sure I’m following your reasoning. Everybody pays the same sales and property tax rates. You’re suggesting pedestrians and cyclists somehow buy less but create more trash, thereby using up their contribution prior to ever setting out from their property?

  8. The Antiplanner Post author


    Just to be clear, I don’t think there are any states where local streets are paid for mainly with gas taxes. The states collect the gas taxes and share some with local municipalities, but most of the cost of maintaining local streets in every state I know comes out of other taxes, usually property taxes.

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