Can we declare a truce in the age-old ‘bike lanes vs vehicular cycling’ fight?

An excellent visual from a recent study by Kay Teschke of the University of British Columbia

An excellent visual from a recent study by Kay Teschke of the University of British Columbia

Study after study in recent years has shown exactly what might be common sense to the average person: Bike lanes protected from heavy traffic are safer. Not only that, but more people choose to get around by bike once a protected bike lane is installed.

The reason really is not complicated. There is something inherently human that tells us riding a bike in the same lane as fast-moving cars and trucks is dangerous. Biking with traffic can be learned, and it can be done with reasonable safety. But only a small percentage of people will ever want to try it, let alone make it a daily habit. Most people see someone biking down Rainier Avenue and think, “That person is crazy.”

But beyond the many people who choose not to try it, biking in heavy traffic is not an option for children or people with mobility issues that prevent them from being able to cycle quickly. If no other argument in favor of safe bike lanes convinces you, the need to make our streets safe for people of all ages and abilities should.

We know this very clearly in Seattle, where decades-old and well-established “vehicular cycling” education programs and cycling clubs were not enough on their own to get everyday cycling levels much higher than a couple percentage points. But they have been extremely successful at embedding safe cycling practices into Seattle’s cycling culture. They are also a huge reason why Seattle driving culture is so much more patient and friendly to people on bikes than most other US cities.

Be assertive, take the lane, ride your bike like a car. These are vital skills for navigating our city even to this day. But the number of residents cycling did not start to increase significantly until the city started calming traffic and installing bike lanes. The percentage of people using bikes as their primary mode of transportation to work has grown by two-thirds since the city adopted the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan. During the same time period, the collision rate dropped by more than one third. Once the city started to send the message that cycling is a real and valuable part of our transportation network by carving out road space for it, the people responded.

bike lanes commute map2But not everybody who bikes thinks bike lanes are a good idea. Some of the biggest forces fighting the installation of bike lanes in cities across the nation have not been freight, NIMBYs or angry car owners. It’s been from people who ride bikes and think bike lanes are more dangerous than simply biking like any other roadway vehicle.

This gets us to the old bike lanes vs vehicular cycling debate, in which people dug their heels into both sides of the argument, seemingly prepared to starve each other out. In the past decade, momentum has clearly and decisively shifted to the side of installing bike lanes and other infrastructure that has long been used in Europe and modern cities across the world. More and more, arguments from dogmatic vehicularists have become easier to simply ignore as support for bike lanes has become overwhelming among the general population.

That’s why I was caught off-guard by a recent blog post by Bicycle Quarterly’s Jan Heine. Heine isn’t some mindless drone following every word of John Forester’s Effective Cycling tome like it’s a holy document. He is a dedicated writer and randonneur who, in addition to the quarterly, has written several books about the history of bicycles and the art of handmade bikes. In short: I like his work and he seems like a nice guy, which is at odds with the phony Forester-acolyte archetype I have invented in my mind.

Heine, who lives in Seattle, is not a fan of the under-construction Linden cycle track. Basically, he says that the cycle track puts people on bikes off to the side and out of sight of cars. This, he argues, puts them in undue danger from turning cars. (To be clear, the cycle track is not finished. Still yet to come: Signage, green paint for driveways and crossings and completion of a still-missing section. It should be finished in June, according to a recent SDOT press release).

To support his argument, he cites an old study out of Berlin (1999 I think, though I admit I cannot read German like Heine can) and pulls out some vehicular cycling talking points I have heard over and over: Being struck from behind is the cause of a low percentage of cycling accidents, bike lanes are the first step to losing the right to bike in the road and, my favorite, that Nazis invented bike lanes to get bikes out of the way.

But dig deeper and you find that his opinions are more nuanced, as I suspect is common among the many people who still adhere to these talking points. In the comments, Heine moderates a great conversation that, I think, moves the conversation closer to points of agreement than the same old fight of yesteryear. For example, in response to one comment pointing to data from Belgium, Heine writes this:

That is interesting data. It supports my idea that with increasing car speeds on a road, the degree of separation should increase:

– On neighborhood streets, it’s safest with no facilities at all and speed limits of 30 mph or lower.
– As speed limits get higher, you first want a painted bike lane.
– Once the speed limit goes above 30 mph, you really need to separate bikes and cars.

I couldn’t agree more! In fact, it sounds a lot like this graphic. Elsewhere in the comments, he discusses the idea that infrastructure can be done right, but it often requires inconveniencing cars more than Seattle is politically willing to do. But stopping short of making a facility truly safe is not acceptable. Again, I agree.

A big sticking point that he mentions in his post is one that many people fighting against bike lanes voice: If we build separated bike lanes, we will lose our hard-fought right to bike in the road. I would not support such a law, either.

So, here’s my suggestion for vehicular cycling folks and those who fight against them: Let’s come up with a list of things we can agree on and work together. The fight is over, bicycle facilities are coming to Seattle. Let’s regroup, lick our wounds, let bygones be bygones, drop ALL future Nazi and KKK references, and see if our dreams don’t actually look more similar than different.

As a starting point, here’s a list of points I think just about everyone can agree on. Have something to add/modify? Discuss in the comments.

  • I dream of a Seattle where most residents find bicycling to be an effective and safe way to get around town.
  • Neighborhood streets can make for excellent bike routes, and we should work to make them better connected by continuing to improve crossings at busy streets, wayfinding signage and other key elements of neighborhood greenways.
  • We must ensure that laws continue to support a person’s right to bike however they feel most safe, even if that means ignoring an existing bike lane or biking in the travel lane to avoid a debris-filled shoulder.
  • We should support educational programs for people of all ages to teach safe cycling practices, including skills needed to navigate our many streets lacking in quality bike infrastructure.
  • We should advocate to make sure the city, county and state do not cut corners when designing bike infrastructure. It must be done right. Safety is the most important road design goal.
  • We should support social events that celebrate and encourage cycling, such as Bicycle Sundays and other street parties.
  • Accomplishing these goals will require investment by the city, county and state.
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50 Responses to Can we declare a truce in the age-old ‘bike lanes vs vehicular cycling’ fight?

  1. Peri Hartman says:

    To enhance Tom’s point “do not cut corners”, I think part of the problem lies in poor design. If SDOT (or whoever) designs a good bike lane or cycle track, I predict few objections from bicyclists. Bad ones are dangerous.

    For example, the bike lane south on 2nd through downtown (not the belltown portion) is crazy. You have car doors on the left and cars turning on the right. If you go over 10 mph, you’ll be smashed from one side or the other. Completely useless.

    Even 4th through downtown isn’t much better. No parking on the left, but the traffic lanes are narrow and truck mirrors often hang into the lane. You literally have about 12″ of space between hit or not hit. Way to close for me.

    Other problems are debris in the bike lane, expansion joints wider than my tire.

    For cycle tracks, I only have experience with Dexter so far. Uphill is fine. It seems to work fine downhill, too, as there is very little traffic turning right and it’s easy to merge with auto traffic if needed. I’m a little worried about peds crossing to the bus islands – nothing has happened to me yet but some cautions to peds might be useful (such as “look left” painted on the pavement).

    Sharrows do nothing for me, but I speak for myself.

    In summary, I think we need to insist on designs that reach a certain bar.

  2. M.J. says:

    Hear, hear. I don’t believe we’re very far apart in our vision at all. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Steve A says:

    Better facilities and educated cyclists about cover things. I must say I have concerns about cycle tracks with bad corner and driveway visibility. All that says is they aren’t a “one size fits all” solution.

  4. CL says:

    - We should ask our auto insurance companies who make “We like safe drivers” TV commercials and ask that they use jargon like: “Safe drivers look left, look right, and look for BIKES”

    – Ask our legislators to raise the fines on traffic violations: DUI, speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians and cyclists, talking/texting on cell phone… Then funnel the margin from raising fines into more bike infrastructure (as Portland has done) – And ask the state to add a driver re-education component focusing on VUL – make it required by the State if you get a citation – even if it’s just an online or mail-in course, it will raise awareness. http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2013/04/25/cascade-law-enforcement-is-often-unfamiliar-with-the-vulnerable-user-law/

    – Lobby for the elementary P.E. bicycle-curriculum mandatory – it’s already available for elementary physical education programs (and used at some public schools in our state). We’ll grow more cyclists, and perhaps more importantly, we’ll grow future drivers who are sensitive to safety issues of cycling,.

  5. Glen says:

    I vote Tom comes to work for the City of Bellevue. But that’s just my Eastside bias speaking.

    Great article!

  6. Anthony says:

    Tom, I both adamantly agree and disagree with this piece of yours! I won’t argue that separated bike lanes can be safer, but it the wholesale reality is that bike lanes are a miniscule fraction of the typical riding a daily commuter does.

    Worse, the argument of going for more bike paths actually hurts our cause for safer streets. You are unfortunately making the case for drivers when they say we should just be off the road, period.

    This week had to stay overnight at a friend of mines in Shoreline. The next morning I rode from his place to Ballard, it sucked. I rode 145th to just past the Interurban trail and made my way down 3rd and then 12th and 14th finally to Java Jahn’s espresso(no affiliation, just get coffee there).

    How in the heck do you propose someone ride that route on a bike path? Instead we need to make it more like Portland (gasp!) and make the side streets bike friendly like they do. Still have cars and bike, go figure.

    The first and foremost fight for cycling should be for vehicular cycling, which really is a vulgar term since bikes were designed inherently for that. Cyclists everywhere need to be safe, and the vast majority of daily riders have nothing to do with paths.

    Now if you had said mtn bike path, I wouldn’t argue in a heartbeat!

    • Al Dimond says:

      Riding from Shoreline to Ballard on 145th and 3rd doesn’t suck because of bike paths, it sucks because 145th and 3rd carry lots of fast-moving traffic. Even today, with our terribly incomplete cycling network (in particular, on the north end, going east-west) there are much better ways to make that trip that include lots of bike paths, bike lanes, and side streets.

      I consider my right to ride in the road, and my right to ride outside of bike lanes and paths when they aren’t the right choice fundamental. But I also recognize that we won’t build the cycling culture we need to build to overcome our vastly unsustainable transportation system without more comfortable routes. Today I didn’t use a bike lane on a road I was on (it wasn’t the Dick’s lane today, actually, it was on northbound Green Lake Way for a half-block north of 50th, where using it would have meant merging in and out of traffic). But it’s not the bike lane that’s the problem, it’s the fact that it ends into parking. Poorly designed bike infrastructure makes things worse but good infrastructure makes things better.

      • Charles says:

        Unfortunately going east-west sucks for most of the city in anything that isn’t a car. Even the new train system is almost completely focused on north-south travel.

        Having a few east-west bike lanes or bike tracks along a few fairly major streets would do a lot to improve mobility in this city. There are a lot of north-south options and bicycles could do a lot to fill in the west-east gaps, especially if transit options continue to be bicycle friendly.

        I particularly find it odd that we continue to repave streets like 85th with no bike access and instead preserve bizarre lane transitions, were two lane roads readily become one lane in the middle of an intersection.

        Maybe its just all the time I spent overseas in places that have working transit systems, but riding a bicycle to a connecting train seems like such a natural idea to me that I am surprised that there isn’t more talk about around here..

  7. Joseph Singer says:

    I really wonder about the installation and completion of bike lanes. A good example is that there’s a bicycle lane from 12th Avenue that goes _almost_ all the way into downtown. Once you hit 9th Avenue the bicycle lane is gone. Why do a half-assed bicycle lane and abruptly just end it? Do they figure that once you’re downtown you’re on your own?

    • Meredith E says:

      This drives me nuts on Eastlake too. No bike lane (but lots of bicycle signage directing you downtown from the U-district) until you hit the split with Fairview, then the bike lane lasts just long enough for you to climb the hill behind the Fred Hutch, then just dumps you into the active bus lane… Why not just run the bike lane the whole route?

  8. BobH says:

    Right on. The debate should not be about separate vs non-separate. Our shared vision ought to be a *complete* network of low-stress facilities so that anyone who wants to get from point A to point B on a bike is free to do so. Sometimes the low-stress facility will be a cycle track, sometimes a Greenway, sometimes a buffered bike line with no door zone, sometimes a full on urban trail like the BGT. The important part is that an average person is comfortable riding it.

    http://bobkhall.blogspot.com/2012/12/bob-halls-bicycle-master-plan.html

    Most importantly, read the Mineta Report.
    http://transweb.sjsu.edu/project/1005.html

  9. bryan willman says:

    “Can we declare a truce in the age-old ‘bike lanes vs vehicular cycling’ fight?”

    In a word, no. But not out of some item of philosophy or technical detail. It’s about money, politics, and miles of roadway. And for the rather large number of “us” who live outside of the Seattle City limits, there will simply never be enough “separate bike lanes” to make a viable network of routes. We can’t even maintain the roads as they are now.
    (Actually inside the Seattle City limits you likely have the same problems.)

    What’s more, many showcase fully separated bike trails, the poster child for “separation” have the interesting property that they go…. nowhere in particular.

    Commuters and utility users have to go from where they live (something often pinned by various issues) to where they need to go (work, groceries, etc. also often set by outside forces) and those needs will often be far away from any completely indepedent bike lane.

    On a technical basis, I think you and Jan both have points (and indeed, your chart at the top shows friendly side streets to be the safest of all!) On a political and economic basis, the cycling community as a whole had better find really cheap mechanisms that work in cash poor districts. Vehicular riding is one such.

  10. sean sheldrake says:

    This bike to work month, I’ve had auto and bicycle drivers alike yell at me to get INTO the bike lane (I was taking the full auto lane as the bike lane on dexter s. from mercer to Denny was moving far too slowly for my taste). Sight lines & high right/left hook potential are awful on most cycle tracks I’ve tried in Pdx, Vancouver, etc. really relegating the amenity to family riding, or those that have no problem with top speeds of 11 mph. I’ve got nothing against those folks (of which I’m one depending on the day and my mood, whether I’m cycling with my kids, a heap of heavy cargo and the like), but sometimes you need to hit the whopping speeds of 15 and above for reasons of schedule, workout, or just because. A variety of safe facilities are needed, and education for all kinds of drivers alike that cyclists are not “required” to use any one of them.

    As an aside, the Dexter cycle track downhill sections are really difficult–and downright dangerous at any kind of speed, which is why I implored the city to install railings along the bus islands to prevent ped. shortcuts. They did, eventually, but the railings are not long enough to slow peds exiting the rear and front of articulated buses. I saw one fellow cyclist wreck avoiding (successfully) a collision with a ped. dashing out from a bus without looking to see if bicycles were coming. I’ve seen other near misses there as well–I just take the auto lane going downhill since I’m going over 25 mph and just don’t feel the sight lines and escapes routes (e.g. if a car rolls past a stop sign near a bus island) are built for that speed. Personally, I would have preferred the dexter pseudo-cycle tracks for flat or uphill sections only, and auto lanes and/or standard bike lanes for downhill segments to give more lateral movement for often necessary evasive maneuvers. Now that it’s built, I’d sure suggest metro extend those bus island railings before the next “ped dash” wreck to mitigate what has already caused injury.

    • Al Dimond says:

      If the cyclist was going so fast while passing a stopped bus on the right that avoiding someone exiting a bus caused him to crash, the problem isn’t the facility, it’s the cyclist. If you’re going to blow by a bus making a passenger stop at 25 MPH, doing it on the side with the doors is stupid, bike lane or no, right-of-way or no.

      If you’re going 25 on Dexter, absolutely take the lane! If I’m going to go fast I certainly do (whether on Dexter, Fremont Ave, 45th near Dick’s, NE 65th heading toward Magnuson Park… look at all these nice bike lanes for me to not ride in!). But when I’m not in such a hurry, especially on a gentle decline like Dexter, it’s a lot nicer to not have to worry about speed pressure from behind — if I limit speed to what’s reasonable given the sightlines in that bike lane (that probably means a little braking sometimes). The worst problem is oncoming left turns, but even taking the lane is no panacea there (I’ve had close calls with oncoming lefts while riding in bike lanes… and I’ve also had close calls with oncoming lefts while riding in the left-wheel-path of the left lane).

      • sean sheldrake says:

        I’m with you Al! All good points. Also a good reminder to slow when a bus is loading/unloading, or on its way (“I better run if I’m going to make my bus” from the sidestreet). If a bus is anywhere nearby and I’m behind it using that Dexter bike lane, slow is the name of the game given the design.

        Unless my legs are spent, or I’m cycling straight into a meeting in work clothes or with the kids, the right lane in the roadway (not the parking lot) on Westlake has felt a lot safer over 12 mph, taking the lane and going a natural speed due to very limited cross traffic of any mode. The nice thing is cars realize they can pass in that left lane and have been pretty courteous about doing so thus far this year –likewise on Leary to avoid that BGT ramp construction.

  11. Conrad says:

    I think Jan raised a great point about separated cycle tracks. I ride Dexter on the way to work and I do think the separated sections are an improvement- but only because there seems to be very, very little traffic crossing Dexter in an east-west direction. If there was more east-west traffic I think the separated lanes would be dangerous at intersections. I still sometimes take the auto lane to pass slower cyclists or avoid construction obstructions in the cycle lane. No one has yelled at me for it and I hope they don’t because its my right to do so.
    The bike lane on 2nd Ave is ridiculous and a perfect example of why bike lanes don’t work in some situations.
    The cool thing about Jan’s post is that it generated a lot of intelligent, thoughtful responses and not very many pointless or inflammatory responses.

  12. Breadbaker says:

    Two points. One is that the real education that is needed is not cyclists, it is motorists. I’d love to see public service announcements on television and hear them on the radio explaining how motorists are supposed to deal with something new like the green pavement on the street for bike lanes. Driver education and the road test should include serious discussions of everything from the three foot rule to looking in your side mirror before opening your door to ensure that no bikes are coming.

    Second, what ultimately succeeds is critical mass, and unfortunately for some, that critical mass is going to mean slower speeds in congested sections. That works for both cars and bikes. But drivers will slowly come to accept bikes as they see them more frequently.

    The guy on Dexter who almost doored me last week is a good example. I called out “Watch out” and he stopped opening his door and then I could see his mental process as he thought about replying to me. No, he couldn’t complain that I was going too fast (I’m the old guy at the back of the peleton on a heavy Raleigh. No, he couldn’t complain that I was invisible (I had a headlight and a headlamp on). No, he couldn’t complain he was surprised there were bikes on the road at all (this is Dexter, after all). So he just kept a civil tongue in his head and hopefully reminded himself to look in his mirror next time.

  13. Don Brubeck says:

    I like the article and charts. Informative. I agree it’s time for a truce, or at least mutual understanding and respect for different abilities and ways of using a bike.

    On the disconnected and suddenly ending stuff: Mostly it’s money. We’re not funding it fast enough. It’s also engineering design — when it gets to the hard part and there’s not enough roadway, the heavy users win out.

    Being a designer, one thing I have been thinking about is roadway design, especially at intersections. We have workable, established design approaches for pedestrians, with sidewalks, curb ramps, crosswalks, push buttons and timed lights, and walking in the streets on lightly traveled residential streets where speed are low. We have clearly understood roadway design for cars, and allow them to move as they are designed to move, and have ways to make them go slow or allow them to go fast that respond to the way cars move. We have clearly understood road design for heavy trucks and buses, which move differently from cars. Trucks are expected and allowed to take two lanes to make a sharp right turn, for example, and get wider radii and lower grades on heavy truck routes, and runaway lanes on highways with long steep grades. But the state of the art for bikes as a significant transportation mode is still low on the learning curve, with very little good experience to go on in US cities. We need intersection design that works for the way people move on bikes, that let’s them keep up momentum going uphill at minor intersections (Idaho stops, etc), and anticipates their approach to stop lights on major routes, and neither puts them suddenly into forced pedestrian crossing mode, which will be ignored at considerable risk, nor forces all bike riders into vehicular mode for left turns on a busy arterial, which discourages all but a few percent of people from using a route. We have a long way to go in design and in funding. To create effective political pressure to get both we need to work together.

  14. kommish says:

    I’m happy to support a truce between bike lane advocates and vehicular biking advocates because I wasn’t aware there was much of a conflict. :) I figure since there’s not that many bike lanes, but there are some, that we all just do a combination of both.

    One amenity for bikes that I don’t hear much about, but really like on my own commute, is the designation of certain routes as bike routes – not necessarily with bike lanes or sharrows or what have you, but just routes that some bright person has ridden and determined is a logical and relatively flat and safe way to get from A to B. The example I ride every day is the Lake Washington Loop between the Burke at the Husky stadium to Lake Washington Boulevard. I see tons of bikes, because it’s on a major commute corridor between the CD/Cap Hill and the university, and it’s through a neighborhood where the drivers appear to be accustomed to seeing bikes and are respectful, and in comparison to alternate routes through the Arboretum or up 23rd, it’s very safe and relatively flat. The only investment in amenities is the signage leading you through the neighborhood. I love it, and I wish there were more routes like that, as when I’m going somewhere new I often struggle with finding a safe flattish route that doesn’t require that I cross a bunch of major arterials (the major downside to biking through neighborhoods, I find).

    • Al Dimond says:

      That part of the Lake Washington Loop route happens to go through a part of town without too many awful cross streets, because the Arboretum and then Lake Washington are in the way of anything going through! No section of the Lake Washington Loop is a particularly important drive commuting corridor today, and that helps — it mostly goes by lots of parks and doesn’t provide convenient access to highways it crosses.

      Generally in most of the city there are major arterials to cross, which means both side street routes (like the LWL from the cut through Harrison) and minor-arterial routes (like the LWL south of there) need more attention. For a side street example, the section of the Interurban Route on Fremont Ave from 110th to 83rd has to cross 105th and 85th. It does so in a pretty nice way! Actually, the worst intersection on that stretch is the one on 90th; 90th is used by a moderate amount of cut-through traffic but doesn’t have effective traffic control devices (either traffic calming or clear priority at intersections, since drivers on 90th, pretending it’s an arterial, just blow through the mini-roundabouts without actually following the correct right-of-way rules). Even that would be easy to fix in any number of ways. The minor arterials are a mixed bag — if there’s a clear formula that makes some minor arterials fine for biking and others nightmarish I don’t know what it is.

  15. Law Abider says:

    Can someone explain to me how a paved, multi-use path is less safe than an unpaved, multi-use path?

    • Al Dimond says:

      The chart isn’t based on theories, it’s based on studies of cycling injuries, so it’s probably not actually true that removing pavement from MUPs would make them safer. If I had to guess, I’d guess that unpaved paths tend to attract less traffic and slower speeds. It’s also certainly the case that the studies are based on real paths that exist in various places, not theoretical alternatives for a particular route. It may be that unpaved MUPs are more likely to be built in places with less cross traffic, and where difficult intersections are more common the path is more likely to be paved.

      An example of where this probably plays out is the difference between “bike-only path” and “cycle track” in the data. If you asked a designer to design a “bike-only path” along a specific corridor, and then to design a “cycle track” he’d probably give you the exact same design twice. But in the world of existing North American bike facilities, the ones called “cycle tracks” are likely to be newer, wider, and have better intersections (because they tend to be located along corridors that already have appropriate intersections, where trips tend to be shorter, where both cars and bikes are going slow). The ones called “bike-only paths” are likely to be outdated designs drawn up by people that had never actually used a bike to get anywhere in their adult lives, and located in places where traffic moves fast. And they’re likely to have lousy intersections because of the history of the corridors and the unwillingness to add traffic signals or slow down cross-auto traffic.

      On a further tangent… when someone like Forester rails against the safety of bike paths, well, look at the data. His formative experience of bike paths and MUPs came on infrastructure that’s no safer on average than riding in heavy traffic in a shared lane — and an expert rider like him could do much better than average on the major street without slowing down, where he’d have to slow down considerably just to have average safety on the bike path. He can both be right that the paths are poorly designed and the wrong choice for him, and wrong in his prescription to forget about them and build no more, since building better designs in places more amenable to shorter and slower trips in fact leads to really safe, really popular facilities.

      • Law Abider says:

        Makes sense. Would also explain how a paved multi-use trail is “less safer” than a major road, where you are more likely to have your wits about you and ride cautiously.

  16. I have always promoted protected bike lanes from the beginning on Streetfilms in 2007 and we’ve done many videos advocating for such. I’ve had harsh comments, emails and confrontations over the years with Vehicular Cyclists who accuse me of promoting unsafe riding. At one Streetfilms showing in Boston back in 2008, a certain someone there sent many of his buddies to outwardly question my film over and over in a Q&A. But of course he did not show up himself.

    The most annoying thing is I AM A VEHICULAR CYCLIST. I ride a bike as if I was a car wherever there are no bike facilities. I have since the mid-1990s. But I also knew that there was no way we were ever going to get many people riding without more facilities and especially more protected bike lanes. Wherever there are protected lanes I use them. Wherever there are not I follow the vehicular cyclist rules.

    I have never understood the unyielding point of view of the vehicular cyclist crowd which set back the United States for 10 or 20 years. And after all, even with the amazing bike boom in this country, we will never approach having a protected bike lane on EVERY road in the U.S. (we’d be lucky if one day we get 5%!) so there will always be a need for vehicular cycling.

    • spare_wheel says:

      This is not a debate between those who are against bike lanes and those who support bike lanes. Its a debate about whether cheap poorly engineered separated infrastructure is a better option than 2-3 meter wide DZfree bike lanes. The meteoric rise in mode share in Germany argues that wide buffered bike lanes are an option that we should be using far more often. Inexpensive DZFree bike lanes are also an option that would have a far greater chance of breaking that 5% barrier (especially when paired with road diets and traffic calming).

  17. Orv says:

    For me a big problem with vehicular cycling is it requires cycling as fast as possible, which is incompatible with arriving at work without being drenched in sweat. The thing is, even on separated facilities slow cyclists are not welcomed by the spandex crowd. Just in this article’s comments you can read complaints about cyclists riding too slow in the bike lanes. I think vehicular cyclists are exclusionary by nature; they don’t think people who are out of shape or not ready to go all-out, all the time should be riding.

    • sean sheldrake says:

      Orv, I have to completely disagree with the exclusionary comment at least for my part as a part time practicing “vehicular cyclist”– I don’t wear lycra, but I sometimes ride fast, sometimes not. My comment regarding the slowness of the design (and riding) in the dexter lanes this month are in no way meant to exclude. Quite the opposite. I was trying to take the lane to give these folks room to do their ‘thing’ (a natural reaction to high, aka good cycling volumes being shoe-horned into a tight space) as an illustration for a variety of bike friendly facilities–all of which I use in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver depending on my pace and mood. After all, giving fellow cyclists at least 3-5 feet of room and an announcement is just good practice when passing–this isn’t a peloton after all! I was just a bit surprised to hear a cyclist I passed erroneously saying that I had no right to take the auto lane to do ‘my thing’!

      All are welcome, but as you suggest it’s important not to judge. Sometimes people want/like to ride “slow” or “fast”(my fast is my wife’s slow, it’s all relative)–all are welcome and it’s all ok! And maybe it’s even a little ok to make fun of the lycra, even Metal Cowboy mocks it while at the same time riding in a lycra :)

      Keep up the cycling whatever the pace–you’ll pass me often I’m sure sometime when I’ve got an ugly trailer load with ease, where I sometimes can muster 7 mph at best on the flat, or when I’m riding to school with one of my kids.

      • Orv says:

        I don’t really care if people wear lycra, I just find that people who do tend to be the types who take umbrage at slow cyclists on the trail. My jean shorts, tee shirt, and mountain bike reveal my lack of seriousness about cycling.

  18. Gary says:

    “The bike lane on 2nd Ave is ridiculous and a perfect example of why bike lanes don’t work in some situations.”

    It’s not just ridiculous, it’s downright dangerous. The bike lane on 4th Ave completely dissapears at Spring St leaving in the left lane going North rest of the way through town, with cars backing up blocked from turning left, meaning to keep moving you have to merge right to the center lane. (my mirrors are all on my left side of my bicycle…ugh)

    http://goo.gl/maps/h8cSD

    And check out the door in the bicycle lane…

    Then, here’s the view of the other side other intersection… no more bike lane…
    http://goo.gl/maps/cTa61

    Nevermind that the “bike” lane is way too narrow for comfort except in rush hour traffic where the cars are all backed up at every light.

    • spare_wheel says:

      Mode share in Munich increased from 6% to 17.4% during the period where fully separated infrastructure was replaced with 2 meter wide bike lanes. I demand safe 2-3 meter wide bike lanes, not conflict prone bike sidewalks.

      • Gary says:

        The bike lane on 4th and 2nd feels like a 1 meter wide lane. Which explains why there is the door conflict.

  19. Gary says:

    “There is something inherently human that tells us riding a bike in the same lane as fast-moving cars and trucks is dangerous”

    This is the fallacy of the non-vehicular riding camp. You think that vehicular-riding means riding on EVERY street no matter what. Vehicular riding only works if the speed differencial is reasonable. That means, no more than 15mph difference. Otherwise there just isn’t time for cars to adjust to bicycles in the lane. And it the human in us tells us correctly that this won’t work, and you don’t see anyone riding on roads where the sight lines are poor and the speed differential is high.

    The answer to that is not to put cycle tracks, sharrows, or paint on fast moving roads, its to slow down the traffic. Traffic calming is exactly the right thing to do.

    What can we agree on? Fix the dang side streets so that they aren’t full of potholes and poor patches. http://goo.gl/maps/3S0Is Check out that cracked up pavement! Both cars and bicycles would benefit from keeping these neighborhood roads in better repair.

    Take some of these side streets and make them “one way except for bicycles.” with easier transitions at the turns. Like here: http://goo.gl/maps/7Ix4k Only with a better pass through. It’s a way to make it easier to make a neighborhood greenway.

    Build a pedestran/cycle overpass to let people get around I-5 from capital Hill to the South Lake Union neighborhood. http://goo.gl/maps/aXzIy Look at that barrier!
    Vehicular-cycling works going down Denny. http://goo.gl/maps/BmPsB but going up? hah! http://goo.gl/maps/sfpPj There’s no room for a car in the right lane to ease by a slow climbing cyclist.

    Stop putting trolly tracks in the right hand lane! http://goo.gl/maps/fXjJl If you ride in that lane, where can you go? Parked cars too close to the right, tracks in the middle of your lane that will cause you to fall and get hurt or worse, (with a car following behind, we are lucky no one has been killed here yet.)

    I love a good bike trail with low bicycle traffic on it. But it’s not the answer to commuting unless it’s wide enough.

    • JAT says:

      I agree with the first sentence here (actually I agree with all of it but I want to make a slightly different point)

      Tom, you propose a truce but the language of your post is overwhelmingly slanted against those who favor a vehicular approach. “inherently human”, putting vehicular cycling in quotation marks, calling its advocates “dogmatic”. Considering that you declare in a separate post you’ll be devoting yourself to Seattle Bike Blog full time I’m a little concerned about fair representation.

      Eventually the bike lane ends and we’re all, at that point, vehicular. Try not to sneer when you say it.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        “Vehicular cycling” is in quotes because it’s a term I’m not sure everyone who reads this blog is familiar with. So it’s my lazy way of letting them know they are not dumb if they’ve never heard that jargon.

        I used the word “dogmatic” to differentiate people who believe in vehicular cycling, but are willing to accept new ideas and compromises vs people who are unwilling to budge even an inch from the texts of John Forester. I have met many people like this, who believe it so strongly that nobody else’s opinions count. It’s less common today, but such a person can really shut a conversation down.

        As this thread and the thread on Jan’s post shows, most people are willing to embrace “good” cycling infrastructure and are mostly concerned about half-assed projects that put people in danger. I totally agree with that and it seems like a much more productive place to start the conversation.

  20. Ria Glas says:

    Bike routes (lanes, pathts, residential streets) need 5 qualities according to Dutch standards:
    1. Is should be a coherent web
    2. It should be comfortable. No bumps, potholes. Tarmac is super
    3. It should be direct, no detours, quick crossing of busy streets
    4. It should be safe. On busy streets you really need a path. that paths should be wide enough!
    5. it should be attractive. Green, not noisy, socially safe

  21. spare_wheel says:

    I think its pretty clear that Jan Heine has no problem with DZfree bike lanes. And neither do I. So who exactly is this blog post directed at? Will someone please identify the vehicularist who is against bike lanes that you lot are apparently arguing with?

    • Gary says:

      I’m concerned about the two way cycle track being installed on Broadway. I haven’t measured it out fully but it feels like the sight lines for turning cars is going to suck for bicyclists.

      • spare_wheel says:

        My experience with these kind of cycle tracks in Portland has been terrible largely due to pedestrian conflict and right hook risk at intersections.

  22. Pingback: Bike Lanes v. Vehicular Cycling? | Single Speed Seattle

  23. leo says:

    I don’t like it when I’m riding in the street to be safe, and a driver yells at me to ‘Git over where you belong’ and pointing at a bike lane.
    Those cycle tracks do prevent you from being hit from behind- but they do NOTHING for your visibility at intersections.
    Here, take a look at this short video and really think to yourself, is that where I want my self/mate/kids, to ride?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=CudJvSbS2aY
    I do not want and will fight any and all attempts to create a mandatory bike lane law in this state.

  24. Devin says:

    You nailed it RE: because of vehicular cycling, drivers in Seattle are nicer to cyclists than in other US cities.

    After moving to San Francisco from Seattle (where I learned to urban bike), I was struck by 3 cars in 6 months. One was from behind (on a sharrowed street), and two were people merging into bike lanes. It took me those 6 months to adjust my cycling behavior to fit around a more selfish road-use culture. Now I often find myself riding in the door zone, sometimes on sidwalks, and slowing down in bike lanes, because people here like to either use them as secondary parking lanes or they just drive in them. Looking back, learning to cycle in Seattle feels like I was learning to cycle in a fantasy-land, haha.

    It’s this weird double-edged sword, becuase on one hand, I did learn some valuable skills about riding aggressively and being aware, but on the other hand – I did this in Seattle. Seattleites are just way more polite overall on the road. Seattle cyclists stop at red lights (SF cyclists rarely do). Seattle drivers usually allow cyclists to take the lane (SF drivers rarely do).

    Providing real quality infrastructure is the only way to curb collisions. I think the new Broadway cycletrack will be doing it right. Even on typical bike lanes, people are still struck and killed. Separated lanes do make riding safer, and it does build a community around cycling (Hey Amsterdam! – or the Netherlands as a whole!).

    My only gripe with seperated lanes is that it’s easy to bunch up. Here, we have a few faux-cycletracks (buffered lanes with plaster bollards and crappy road conditions) and I have to leave the lane a lot just to actually keep a normal pace. Beyond that, it’s good for getting more people on two wheels. Greenways are also fantastic so, Seattle, you’re doing it right. The culture is in place already (people aren’t assholes). With more and more infrastructure, Seattle will be an even more amazing place to bike. Keep it up.

  25. leo says:

    I’m not against bike infrastructure, but I am against bad bike infrastructure.
    I’ve heard self-styled bike advocates say things like ,”That we will fix later, the important thing is to get people riding them”.
    I think that is very wrong. We have the right to our lives and to protect our lives, setting a death trap for the unwary in the name of bike advocacy is not advocacy, nor is it moral.
    This creates many problems.
    An unsafe and dangerous bike lane, that either cyclists get killed/hurt using, so experienced cyclist do not use.
    Which leads to the motorist yell, which don’t improve any relationships for Drive Nice, nor does it help other safe bike lanes to be built.
    Because to the uniformed, all bike lanes look the same, why should we tax payers build more when, “Those arrogant SOB’s don’t ride in the ones we’ve built.
    And it creates distrust for cyclists, when they cannot trust that a bike project is safe, that they do not trust their government to build safe routes for them.
    Better to back off before building, think twice, build once.

  26. bobs says:

    A truce would mean bilateral cessation of active hostilities.

    I have never insisted cyclists drive on roadways, though that’s what I advocate and teach and encourage, because driver behavior is the most safe and lawful and courteous and efficient way to use a bicycle.

    Facilities enthusiasts require me, by force of law, to engage in hazardous edge or pedestrian behavior in states like WA and OR and CA and all the others with mandatory bike lane laws.

    Where is the facilities side’s cessation of hostilities? Why keep building discriminatory, segregated facilities that we’re all required to use even though we know better?

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      It would appear you did not read the post very carefully, specifically this bullet point:

      “We must ensure that laws continue to support a person’s right to bike however they feel most safe, even if that means ignoring an existing bike lane or biking in the travel lane to avoid a debris-filled shoulder.”

      Washington does not have a mandatory bike lane law (Oregon or at least pdx does). I intend to keep it that way.

  27. leo says:

    Tom, bad infrastructure is the issue.
    And, as you say, the law doesn’t require us to use it, BUT… if you are not riding in a bike lane (try those wonderful 2nd Ave ones) and a cop tickets you, he isn’t going to ticket you for not using a bike lane, your ticket will be for not riding as far to the right.
    This puts you in a situation where you have to prove it was unsafe for you to use that bike lane or whatever.
    No other road user is required to prove why they may use the road.

    So, why have you not taken the city to task for all the unsafe bike lanes?

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I’ve been pushing as hard as I can for the city to replace the 2nd Ave bike lane with an actually safe facility. I even pushed back against the Center City Mobility Plan, arguing that we have enough plans and the city should be investing directly tin fixing the 2nd Ave bike lane instead of spending another year making plans. But it turns out they don’t always listen to me :-)

  28. ODB says:

    Speaking of bad infrastructure, I’d like to nominate the multi-use path that runs along the east side of Alaskan Way from the Sculpture Park to downtown. The northern part is relatively new, but avoided by the majority of cyclists, who prefer to ride with the cars on Alaskan Way. Whoever designs the bike facility for the redesigned waterfront would do well to ask why this path has largely failed–at least where bicyclists are concerned. I think vehicular cyclists’ insights that–(1) visibility (seeing and being seen) is critical to safety, (2) bikes can be fast like cars and (3) in that case they don’t mix well with pedestrians–are key to the failure of this section of path.

    First, cars and taxis turning in and out from Alaskan Way to access the hotel, parking and other businesses on the east side of the path are not expecting bicycles and can’t see them until the last second. These high traffic crossings with poor sight lines make for stressful and dangerous riding, leading to mass defection of cyclists from the path to the road.

    Second, approaching downtown and the aquarium, the Pike Place hill climb, ferris wheel and other tourist attractions, the path is regularly clogged with huge family groups from out of town occupying the entire path from edge to edge. These people don’t have bad intentions–they’re just out to enjoy the day. However, the user conflict in these situations is severe, causing bicycles to slow to a walking pace and politely ask, repeatedly, for room to pass each group in succession. Under these conditions, the path simply doesn’t work for cyclists, and again, they opt for the street instead.

    I’m very concerned that the redesigned waterfront will repeat the errors of the existing multi-use path, creating hazardous poor-visibility crossings and failing to mitigate user conflict with even larger numbers of tourists by creating clearly separated bicycle infrastructure. As cars dodge tolls, there will be more traffic on the newly-widened Alaskan Way, making vehicular cycling a less attractive alternative. Alaskan Way is a critical link from the Myrtle Edwards path (a fantastic piece of bike infrastructure) to downtown. If the Ballard Bridge is ever fixed, it will become even more important as a commuting link from the north to downtown. I think the bicycle community would do well to exert maximum pressure to ensure that the needs of cyclists are not overlooked in the waterfront planning, which means incorporating the insights of vehicular cycling in the path design so that actual vehicular cycling is not necessary.

    • When the (much-missed) historic streetcar still ran along Alaskan, right next to the multi-use path, it was hit about once a month by a turning car. Now if the huge trolley, with flashing lights, cannot be safe on that route, nobody should suggest that cyclists can.

      Unfortunately, poorly designed facilities turn urban cycling into “survival of the fittest.” Cyclists who assess the situation correctly ride on the street, in relative safety. Cyclists who trust the proclamations that “separate trails are safer,” or simply figure that the trail is where they should go, risk their lives.

      On the positive side, that trail is so invisible that no car driver expects cyclists to get off the road and use the trail.

      • Sean sheldrake says:

        You can say that again. That trail is a train wreck at any speed faster than single digits! My family and I felt much safer on Alaskan way today..even with cruise ship mayhem going on.

  29. Pingback: Bicycle Revolutions  | Worldwide Cycling Atlas

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