University of Wisconsin historian James Longhurst has written a book about the history of conflicts over cyclists’ rights to use the road. As Longhurst points out, cycling has gone through a number of “booms,” starting in the late nineteenth century, then during World War II, later with the growth of environmentalism in the 1970s, and most recently in the last few years. As a cyclist myself, I was familiar with most of this history except for the WWII part, and as near as I can tell Longhurst’s account is accurate.
However, as illustrated in the video below, Longhurst approaches the debate as an environmental issue, which leads him in the wrong direction. Treating cycling as an environmental issue leads to the conclusion that bicycles are morally superior to automobiles because they use less energy and pollute less. That leads to demands that cyclists be allowed special rights, such as the right to unnecessarily block traffic or use the middle of a lane even if it slows auto traffic. Continue reading →
Greetings from Frome (which rhymes with broom, not dome), Britain (which rhymes with ten, not plain). Last week the Antiplanner praised a “bicycle superhighway,” or what I would call a “bicycle boulevard,” that was set up in London. On Saturday, I got a taste of the rural version of this superhighway, but I was much less impressed.
The national cycle routes were set up by, or at least documented by, Sustrans (which presumably is short for “sustainable transportation”), a non-government (but partly government-funded) organization. On my ride from Brighton to Dover, I got to see and use some of National Cycle Route 3, one of more than 100 such routes in Britain.
Before describing the route, I have a bone to pick with Sustrans. The organization has a map of its routes on line, but it is made to not be easily copied, and is useless for detailed, on-the-ground directions. It sells paper maps, but as a cyclist, I don’t want to have to unfold a map everytime I come to a crossroads. It doesn’t make PDFs of its maps available, just paper. How sustainable is that?
On my way from my Airbnb to Victoria Station I found Cycle Superhighway 3, which has become very popular since it opened five or six years ago. Mostly marked in blue with lanes that were sometimes a bit narrow, it seemed to use mainly local streets (often punctuated by overly large speed humps) or parts of very wide sidewalks along arterials or collectors. It didn’t seem to take lanes away from existing arterials or collectors.
One of the less-busy segments of Cycle Superhighway 3.
After determining a route, the main cost to the city was paint and putting in bicycle-friendly traffic signals. The “superhighway” took me from east London to the London Tower; from there, another route followed the Thames River. Although this route was dedicated exclusively to bicycles, it was also interrupted by annoyingly large speed humps.
Most efforts to encourage cycling involve putting bike lanes on streets. But the lanes disappear at most intersections, which is where most bicycle-auto accidents take place. Now, some Dutch cycling advocates have developed a new intersection design that protects cyclists without unduly interfering in auto traffic.
According to Streetsblog, several American cities, including Boston, Davis, and Salt Lake, are installing such intersections on an experimental basis. A variation has also been used in Vancouver, BC. As a cyclist who has been struck by autos, both when they were turning right and when they ran a red light, I can imagine that these intersections could greatly improve safety, though I hope the cities do comparative before-and-after or with-and-without studies to prove it.
Some bicycling nut in London has proposed 135-mile “skycycle,” meaning a three-story tall exclusive bikeway, around the city. The headlines to the story say it will cost £220 million, but that’s just for the first four miles. At that rate, the entire 135-mile system would cost nearly £8 billion, or some $12.2 billion.
Meanwhile, the Washington Postreports that most American states are increasingly controlled either by people who think this would be a good idea or those who think it would be a bad idea. Red states are doing better economically, argues Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn argues that red states leave too many people behind.
The Antiplanner applauds California Governor Jerry Brown–who proposed and ultimately persuaded the legislature to kill urban redevelopment agencies–for vetoing a bicycle bill last week. The bill would have required motorists to slow down to 15 mph if they were passing a bicycle and unable to give the cyclist at least three feet of room.
Proponents argued that this was for cycling safety, but as the Antiplanner has previously pointed out, most car-bicycle accidents take place at intersections, while only a tiny number consist of the car hitting the cyclist while overtaking it from the rear. Thus, this bill would have imposed a huge cost on auto drivers–and, as Brown pointed out, could lead to more auto-to-auto accidents–while doing little for bicycle safety.
A Florida bicycling group tells its members to ride in the middle of any lane that is less than 14 feet wide. An animation explains why doing so is safer for the cyclist and notes that (in Florida, at least) “a cyclist is entitled to use the full width of a lane that is less than 14 feet wide.”
“We ride with traffic, follow the rules, communicate, and move predictably,” says another Florida cycling group. “We do not ride on the edge of the road.” (The two web sites are so much in lock-step with one another that they were no doubt funded by the same government program.)
I guess this is time for the Antiplanner’s annual bicycle rant. As an active cyclist, I am in sympathy with the notion that cyclists are entitled to use the full lane when necessary. But I would never suggest that anyone do so except in specific circumstances. In particular, I would only regularly use a full lane when traffic is slow enough (perhaps because signals are timed to 15 to 20 mph) that I can keep up without delaying other vehicles.