Cyclelicious: A United Front?

There’s a lively discussion taking place over at Cyclelicious on the subject of vehicular cycling versus separated bike lanes and bike paths. The author made the point that there is too much animosity in both camps, and that we’d do well to present a united front and work together for both.

For the uninitiated, here’s a little background.

Advocates for vehicular cycling believe bicycles should be ridden as vehicles on existing roads and that cyclists should be afforded the same rights and responsibilities as any other road user. They fear that increased acceptance of separated facilities may eventually lead to a complete ban of bicycles from our roadways.

On the other side, advocates for separated cycling facilities believe government should take the lead in developing infrastructure that separates cyclists from other road users as has been done in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. They believe that the fear of automobiles is one of the major obstacles to increasing bicycle use, and that bicycle use will not dramatically increase until more separated facilities are built.

For many years, advocates for vehicular cycling have dominated the conversation, but in recent years, advocates for separated facilities have gained ground, most likely due to the successes in Europe. I suspect that most cyclists in the U.S. haven’t given this much thought, and if asked, would fall somewhere in the middle ground between the two poles.

What are your thoughts on this sometimes hotly debated topic?


49 Responses to “Cyclelicious: A United Front?”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I think the vehicular cyclists have let that fear rule them too long. I really love rails to trails, bike lanes, separated bike lanes and other bike facilities. I lived in Munich and it was very bike friendly there and I was able to ride 20km (and back) to work every day. I also used mixed mode commuting and took my bike on the S-Bahn when I felt like it. I always biked the last 5km or so.

    Coming back to the states was a bit of a shock again. I missed my separated bike lanes and the general friendliness of Munich to cycling. My commute in Munich wasn’t all on bike lanes and I did fine, no honking or close calls while I was there. The same can’t be said of cycling in the US.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    BTW – great site link. Thanks for the pointer to it.

  • brad says:

    The problem I have with vehicular cyclists is that so many of them tend to be militant about it, deliberately taking up space and disrupting traffic. That’s not constructive behavior and it gives cyclists a bad rep. I lived for 10 years in the area around Concord, Massachusetts, where gangs of cyclists would take over the roads on Sunday mornings, blocking the lanes and making a lot of motorists (myself included) furious. I know not all vehicular cyclists behave this way, but enough of them do that it makes me uneasy.

    And the problem I have with vehicular cycling (as opposed to cyclists) is that, like it or not, North American roads are automobile-centric and thus not a very safe environment for a cyclist to be behaving like a car. Even setting aside culture and habit, the mass differences between cars and bicyclists are big enough that I always feel more secure riding on a dedicated bike path. About the only safety advantage I can think of in vehicular biking is that you’re less likely to get doored (one of the more common bicycling accidents) since you’re not riding in the far right of the lane near all the parked cars.

  • David Hembrow says:

    From what I can tell, animosity against cycle facilities is a feature of places which which don’t have any decent ones, and results from concerns that people have about the low quality facilities that they have seen.

    While I’ve known endless for and against discussions in the UK, and it’s clear that the same thing also goes on in the US, these are all discussions amongst people who in the main have never seen the benefits of decent cycle oriented infrastructure. There is a tendency to focus on perceived problems with imagined infrastructure, or with the low quality infrastructure that people have experience of, rather than considering whether

    While the English speaking world wonders and worries, the Dutch have got on with transforming their road system to suit cyclists.

    I’ve yet to meet a Dutch cyclist who has any major complaints. Even complaints about small parts are rare. This is very simple to explain. The infrastructure here is generally designed to give cyclists a good experience. It improves journey time and safety of cyclists. It does not do grossly stupid things like putting you in the “door zone”, for instance. Design standards here are rather higher than that. Just take a look at what I’ve detailed on the blog and you’ll see. Cycle routes here are for serious use:

    Why would anyone dislike something which has such a lot of benefits for them ? You can cycle as fast or as slow as you like, with remarkably few problems in comparison with the experience that I had of cycling on the roads (generally vehicularly) in the UK. It’s an altogether more pleasant experience. Not only do I cycle here without any bother, but it’s safe enough that I can let my loved ones, including my children, cycle too without any concerns. I can see no down side.

  • Gump says:

    I have given much thought how to separate low-profile vehicles (velomobiles, lowracer recumbents, etc.) from high-profile vehicles. I haven’t come up with any meaningful solutions. Any ideas out there?

  • Croupier says:

    My uncle was “doored.” It nearly paralyzed him. Luckily he’s since made a full recovery.
    Today one of our riders came into our shop with a rear wheel that was literally in an ‘L’ shape. Bent completely in half at the center. A sedan smashed into the back of him at about 30 mph on a somewhat narrow, parked car-lined road, despite the absence of any cars approaching in the opposite lane. He really didn’t slow down at all and the victim heard via rumor that this isn’t the first time that this man has hit a cyclist with his car. His partner on a trike was flipped and later had a negative MRI on his head.
    So, yeah… I’m a separatist (in terms of cycle vs. car traffic, not in the Canadian sense). But man, I’d to pay for it or be the sorry sucker who has to put it on the floor. It’s a big undertaking for any size government and on paper, if you don’t ride a bike, it’ll probably look worthless. Estimating the potential cost now it would have even me wondering if I could really afford it and I ride hundreds of miles a week. Too much other bullshit gets through and my opinion a lot of these recent construction projects in my area have been critically mishandled. It’s like Mr. Pink says in Reservoir Dogs: “Look, if you ask me to sign something that says the government [should] do that, I’ll sign it, put it to a vote, I’ll vote for it, but what I won’t do is play ball.”

  • Opus the Poet says:

    I’m a pragmatist. I prefer separate lanes on high speed limit roads, but I can say that for the most part all we need are drivers that will share the roads no matter what the speed limits are.

  • LJ says:

    There are many streets in my town that I will never ride. Even if I have the same rights as cars, I’m not stupid enough to put my life on the line to assert them. So I’m solidly in the separate facilities camp. I would be willing to give up my right to ride on some streets if I could reach every place I need and want to go via dedicated bikeways. I won’t shop places I can’t reach by bike (in theory, anyway) and if more people rode, more businesses would insist on being bikeable.

    I’m not sure how a big shift towards separate facilities would affect recreational road riding, however I am sure the Critical Mass types are doing far more damage than good.

  • Roland Smith says:

    The dichotomy between vehicular cycling versus separated bike lanes and bike paths is a false one; it is impractical to separate bicycles completely from other road traffic.

    Yes, in the Netherlands we have a lot of seperate bike lines etc. But cyclists are still full road users with all the rights and responsibilities that implies, and we do vehicular cycling in places where no separate lanes or paths exist. (country roads, old ciy centres etc.)

    The arguments against seperating kinds of traffic can easily be shown to be illogical. E.g, why have footpaths? certainly noone would argue that pedestrians should walk on the street, or that cars should drive on the footpaths? So why not have seperate cyclepaths where possible?

    A much more important factor is proper driver education and law enforcement. Over here, drivers are trained to be aware of other road users. If you so much as hinder a cyclist during your driving test, you fail. Our laws have even recognized that cyclists form a much lesser danger to others than people driving multi-ton battering rams (i.e. cars). So in case of an accident between a car and a cyclist, the driver of said battering ram is held responsible unless he can prove that the cyclist handled recklessly. With more potential for damage comes more responsibility.

  • Adrienne says:

    I am quite sure, that for the foreseeable future, that any discussion of major changes to the road structure of American cities is largely moot. With the collapse of our economy (which isn’t done yet) and the drastic downturn in state revenue from property taxes, there will not be money to maintain the roads as they stand, let alone substantially change them. That being the case, those of us on bikes are going to have to learn how to live with what we have for the time being. There is always a road that will get you where you need to get to without riding on the busiest roads at the busiest time of day. By law, in most places in the US, bikes are given the right to the full lane, so we don’t have to take the space next to parked cars, and if we are a bit slower than cars, they can deal with it (I have to when I am driving, so why can’t others do the same for me?) If there is no shoulder or lane, you have the right to take the whole thing, so take it. If there are two lanes in your direction, take the right lane. Cars have opportunities to pass safely in most situations, they can handle it. Cars in my city used to be horrid to riders, but we are now ubiquitous and we are getting more respect than we have in the past and are largely accepted as part of the journey, but this has only happened as a result of riders taking their rights in hand and lots of educating drivers.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Adrienne – I disagree. One of the big proposals to get us out of this recession, which promises to be long, is building infrastructure. This is designed as a cash injection into the economy and as a way to employ more people. Now more then ever we need to get people in power to make roadways that are considerate of all modes of travel on them, bicycles, automobiles and pedestrians.

  • Adrienne says:

    Duncan- we just OK’d a billion dollar bailout of the auto industry. I would love to see bikes take a bigger piece of the pie, but the government doesn’t have us in their sights in the way I think they need to for us to be a priority. Local governments end up taking the brunt of the bill for all of this, and in California, where the housing collapse is at it’s worst nationwide, the need for schools and bridges and earthquake retrofitting will trump it all as we have less and less money to spend. The Federal Building in San Francisco can not have secure indoor parking because they can not get the funding to install 1 electronic lock. How do we get segregated bicycle infrastructure with that as an example of what we are up against?
    I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t keep trying for these things. I just think that there is so much that has changed so rapidly, that we should be prepared to get significantly less than what we need for the next while.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    States can’t do deficit spending. The Federal gov’t can. Check out Krugman – the biggest mistake we can do is go too small on the stimulus programs.

    Obama specifically called out for increasing alternative energy and reducing our dependence on oil. I believe cycling falls directly into that.

  • Sean says:

    I too fear that the current economic downfall will hurt the development of cycling infrastructure. In New York City, where I live, the city government has made some progress in installing separated and buffered bike lanes. But, with tax revenues way down I fear the expansion of these projects will be put on hold. It’s a shame as these lanes do make a difference in convincing people to try cycling as a form of transport.

    Vehicular cycling may make a small minority of cyclists feel empowered about being “traffic” and using the “real road.” But, around here, it just makes the majority of people scared, and keeps them from riding a bike.

  • David Hembrow says:

    Gump, if you want to see recumbents and velomobiles in particular in large numbers, the Netherlands is again the place. This is where an awful lot of them are built and used. Here’s a video of the recumbent riding group I went out with last weekend:

    It’s taken on a mixture of minor roads (speed limit 60 km/h = 37 mph), cycle paths (it’s mostly cycle paths, many of them beautifully smooth but a long way from anywhere) and bumpy muddy ATB tracks – we were in no hurry.

    What Roland says is right. We’re not separated all the time. Almost never in residential areas, for instance, where the speed limit is 30 km/h (or walking pace if a woonerf). This city has around 400 km of roads, but only about 180 km of cycle path, so clearly a lot of it is shared. However, if a busy cycle route is on roads you’ll generally find that the driving route is along different roads because the cycle route roads won’t be a through route for cars. As a result, sometimes there is effective segregation without a cycle path. “Bicycle Roads” are the most clear demonstration of this:

    You can see this principle demonstrated even more vividly in the countryside, and this is one of the reasons why even cycling on little roads in the country is also remarkably car free, and stress free. Very few drivers pass the way of this road. They are encouraged onto other roads instead (which are busier and have cycle paths), taking a longer way around, but leaving us cyclists in peace:

  • peteathome says:

    The issue with us VCers isn’t just right to the road. It is that these facilities are less safe than riding on the road. VC people have for years analyzed the bicycle traffic accident statistics, as well as used traffic engineering common sense, to identify where the risk is. The risk is mostly at intersections, not getting hit from passing cars. . Bike lanes and sidepaths address only passing cars and actually make intersections, where the real risks are, more dangerous for bicyclists.

    Copenhagen recently analyzed crash statistics on streets in their city before and after they added bicycle facilities. All the facilities increased accidents (hey normalized for the number of users and all that). What was interesting is that the facilities that bicyclists said made them feel safest ( separated side paths) had the biggest increase in car/bike collisions.

    The change in crash rates by type of facility matches what we VCers have been saying for years.

  • David Hembrow says:

    @Peteathome. I know you mean well, but you really do have the wrong end of the stick.

    How do you reconcile that the safest cyclists in the world should happen to be those who cycle where there are most segregated facilities. I can’t speak for Copenhagen, but I find that the Dutch experience for cyclists simply doesn’t have a downside.

    The problem with the “statistical” approach you’re claiming to take is that your view is much too narrow. By completely missing the big picture you are not only helping to preserve conditions in which cyclists are unsafe, but also preserving conditions in which people simply don’t cycle.

    What’s more, the statistics that you (plural VCers, that is) are often quoted out of context. Those things which have been found not to work are not a blueprint for future design, but printed as a warning of something not to be repeated. It really helps to be able to read Dutch (or Danish, I guess) and understand what the world’s foremost experts in designing for mass cycling are actually saying and doing.

    You ought to get out more. Literally. Instead of staying “athome” and evangelizing against something you don’t fully understand, why not come over here and actually see the infrastructure that you are criticising ? You could see how people use it, and see for yourself how safe it actually is.

    You’ll also see _what_ it is. “Sidepaths” as VCers typically describe them are a straw man. I’ve seen the diagrams typically trotted out and they don’t resemble what is on the ground here. Those situations which are represented as being the norm are at the very least not all common. Junction designs are not like the simplistic design that is often criticised.

    I think it highly likely that by visiting you would find that the real infrastructure is rather different to your imagination of what infrastructure in a far off country looks like. I can only offer a tiny glimpse on the web, but at least it is of the reality:

    Design here is intended to allow vast numbers of cyclists to be able to make journeys by bicycle both as quickly as possible and as safely as possible. That’s why cyclists get to have shorter routes, get to avoid traffic signals altogether, have traffic lights which default to green for cyclists, get green lights twice as often as motorists if at the same junction etc. It’s really very well designed:

    You’ll also perhaps be amazed by the sheer volume of and the variety of cyclists using it and be able to go home wondering how the same thing could be achieved in your own country.

    That the infrastructure which exists isn’t the same as what you (plural, meaning VCers in general) criticise perhaps goes some way to explaining why cyclists are actually very safe here, despite your attempts from a distance to “prove” that they are not.

    There are a very large number of very experienced cyclists in this country who do not share your view, and they do not share it for very good reasons.

  • Alan says:


    There’s one important detail that’s mostly ignored in these studies: what is the experience level of the riders involved in the accidents? Here in the U.S., it seems intuitively obvious that the most experienced and skilled cyclists ride faster and are more likely to be out in the traffic lane, whereas young people and beginners, who are less confident and ride slower, are more likely to be on separated paths and sidewalks. It begs the question, how do these varying skill levels play into the statistics?

    In regards to Copenhagen specifically, they’ve done a lot of work to reduce collisions at the points you mention, including blue boxes, bike-only lights, etc. The fact that they have very high cycling trip shares as well as very low accident rates speaks volumes. Ultimately, the one thing that will undoubtedly make cycling safer is to get more cyclists on the road. The irony is that we’re unlikely to see a significant increase in bicycle use in the U.S. until people see cycling for transportation as a safe activity. In my mind this is a strong argument for building out cycling-specific infrastructure.


  • Tim says:

    I rode safely and slowly for 1,000 miles around south India in 2005. Lane striping was non-existent, lane discipline was unknown. Cows, goats, pedestrians, drying crops, taxis, trucks, and bicycles all shared the undifferentiated roadway. The saftey factor was that everyone was seemed to look out for everyone else. There was no “ownership” of the lane, or expectation that there was a right to unimpeded travel. I’m not recommending this as a model, but lowering the expectation for sole use of the roadway may have some benefit. There has been historical controversy among pedestrian planners over the efficacy of marked crossings. Do they falsely increase the sense of safety for pedestrians? Perhaps, but they are getting safer with increased driver awareness and better design standards.

    I don’t think that we need to choose between vehiclualr or separated cycling. Both are appropriate, and both require good judgement.

    Keep pedalin’

  • brad says:

    I will say that in my city (Montréal), the intersections are dangerous in that people turning right when there is a separated bike lane off to the right frequently don’t look to see if there are cyclists coming up behind them. The cyclist should have right-of-way since he or she is going straight and the car is turning, but because the cyclist is in a segregated lane the driver doesn’t see them until it’s too late. Most of the near-brushes with death I’ve had on the bike paths here have occurred in such intersections, and I approach them very carefully now, being sure to slow down, make eye contact, etc., before proceeding. The problem with that is that the cyclists behind me don’t want to slow down and that creates its own safety problems as they swerve around me to barrel through the intersection.

    Getting the intersections right does seem to be key, and it seems Amsterdam (and maybe Copenhagen) have figured this out; we could all learn from those solutions.

  • peteathome says:

    First to David – I HAVE seen these facilities and their many variations and understand them very well. In the Netherlands, as well as Canada, California, Washington and Oregon. Alan – when you look at accidents caused by passing cars vs. accidents in intersections, the difference in frequency by type is so huge that it is unlikely skill level has much to do with it. Especially when you analyze collision probability from the point of view of potential conflict of vehicle paths.

    I have spent well over 25 years studying the facts and looking at designs to deal with these facts. Have any of you actually LOOKED at the bicycle/automobile collision studies? Most people I see writing here and other places are basing their statements on gut feels and not actual observation and data.

    Back to safety in Copenhagen and the Netherlands – most of the cities there are ancient by American standards, with cars traveling much slower due to the pre-automobile streets than we are used to. This is probably the major reason for the lower accident rate. You also see lower pedestrian-fatality rates in cities in those countries, even thought their pedestrian facility design is very much like what you find in US cities.

    The facilities have NOT been shown to increase safety. Many are nonsensical from a reduction of vehicle conflict point of view. For instance, in both the Netherlands and Denmark, bicycles are suppose to travel to the right of right-turning cars. Unless there is a separate light phase for bicycles ( which you find only on some streets, for the obvious reason that adding too many lights or light phase slows everybody, including bicycles, down too much), you obviously are going to increase the right-hooking of bicycles by right-turning cars. They try to fix that with things like bike boxes and blue lanes, but at best they are only going to approach but never reach the safety level you would have if you avoided this conflict in the first place.

    IF your concern was safety, the answer is a redesign of our cities to imitate these Medieval towns. There’s a lot of downsides to that but I’m fine with that if that is what people want. But putting in facilities that give the ILLUSION of safety is unethical in my opinion.

    If you want to travel safer and in a less stressful and more efficient manner, learn VC. Very simple stuff, trust me. But I can’t support groups that make me less safe while claiming they are increasing safety.

  • David Hembrow says:

    Pete, you claim to have seen, but what, and when ? What you say is simply nonsensical. I can think of no example here where I am required to “travel to the right of right-turning cars” in a way that is dangerous.

    And no, you’re wrong about the pedestrian facilities being the same. They’re not. Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are all treated rather differently here. Conflict is designed out.

    You’ll find that at traffic light junctions cars heading in different directions get their own phases so that, for instance, conflict is avoided between two cars heading towards each other both turning left. Pedestrians have their own phase and cyclists have their own phase. That’s not uncommon, it’s normal.

    I can’t think of a single example of a traffic light junction in this city which doesn’t have a separate phase for cyclists. I can, however, think of several where cyclists altogether avoid the traffic lights, and any delay that they may have caused, and also of lights where cyclists get greens twice as often as motorists.

    You can see that here, especially in the second video. It’s in Dutch, but concentrate and you’ll probably understand what is being shown. There are separate phases for each conflicting direction of motor vehicle traffic, separate phases for pedestrians and (twice as often) all green phases for cyclists only which gives an advantage over everyone else:

    The other thing you’ll see from the video is one of the reasons why the infrastructure has to be good. There are really a lot of bicycles. All the time.

    You’re still arguing against something other than what actually exists. Still hacking away at the same old straw man of your own invention. It isn’t as you think it is and the way in which infrastructure here has improved safety in this country is plain for all to see.

    I’ve looked at plenty of statistics – which consistently show that this country is the safest in the world to cycle in. You may dismiss them, but gut feelings are extremely important if you want a mass cycling culture. Very few people other than those of us with an interest will ever read statistics. Instead, decisions are based upon those gut feelings. If cycling feels dangerous, people won’t cycle. Happily, the statistics and the gut feelings coincide nicely in this country. It not only feels safe, it is safe.

    You have evidence for the truth of this in the low cycling rate of any English speaking country you wish to choose (including my home country, the UK) vs. the cycling rate here.

    Tim, India has one of the the worst death rates on its roads of anywhere in the world.

    Brad, yes the intersections are pretty well sorted here. Take a look at the links I posted before for examples with photos and video of real situations here. BTW, I’m not in Amsterdam, but in Assen about 200 km away so that’s where most of the photos come from. The cycle network here covers the entire country, not just a few city centres.

    Alan, you’re right to ask about experience levels. Obviously when virtually the entire population cycles regularly (residents of this city, regardless of sex or age, make an average of just short of 1.2 cycle journeys each per day) they’re not all cycling enthusiasts and they’re not all well trained. Virtually all children cycle to school, to visit friends and for other purposes, including the ones who are too young to have completed any sort of traffic education. All teenagers cycle, and teenagers don’t necessarily concentrate too hard on what they’re doing. Disabled people cycle, including those with mental impairments which may reduce their reaction times. Old people cycle, often a little less energetically than they did in their youth (over 65s make 24% of all their journeys by bike).

    Far from all cyclists have lights after dark, black clothing after dark would appear to be virtually compulsory, no one wears helmets, a remarkably large percentage never look behind or signal before changing direction or crossing a junction, carrying an umbrella while cycling in the rain is pretty common and holding large objects (such as crates of beer) with one hand on the rear rack or on the handlebars when cycling is quite a normal way of bringing home oversized shopping

    However, it makes very little difference how they cycle as they are safe anyway. There is a huge degree of passive safety built into the infrastructure here and minor errors in cycling therefore rarely result in death. The statistics for safety in this country speak for themselves, even in one of the most dangerous cities in the Netherlands:

    There are also a lot of serious cycling enthusiasts (a group bigger than in most countries, but a minority compared with the masses here), who are more predictable, probably take more care and who maintain their bike well. I suspect that these are a little safer than the average.

  • peteathome says:

    David – please read more carefully what I wrote before criticizing me. Especially what I said about separated bike light phases. Indeed, there are separate phases, where there are lights. But in say, Amsted, there definitely were not lights at every junction, nor in Amsterdamn.

    And please compare the fatality rates in dense American towns that are much liked most in the Netherlands to those in the Netherlands, vs. fatalities in cities like London of “modern” design, with and without bicycle facilities. I think you will immediately see why the Dutch have a somewhat lower bicycle fatality rate than in the US.

  • peteathome says:

    Sorry, meant Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Must of been thinking of beer :-)

  • brett says:

    The facts speak for themselves. Where cities have physically separated bike lanes (cycle tracks), ridership vastly increases, especially among women and older people. Regardless of our rights to the road, the majority of would be riders in American cities do not feel safe sharing the road with cars. (When we traded homes with a Dutch friend last summer, he refused to ride even in bike friendly Portland for this reason, even though he spent a lifetime biking in Holland.) If we build separated cycle tracks along major commuting routes, we’ll have millions more people getting out of cars and onto bikes, just as happened in all the other cities that have done so.

    Go to Copenhagen or Amsterdam and see what it’s like when bike riders have safe, separated lanes — it’s transformational, and a better return on investment in terms of reducing greenhouse gases, auto gridlock (as more people bike), etc. etc. compared to building more auto centric infrastructure.

  • David Hembrow says:

    Pete, I don’t think all junctions anywhere have lights. However, your choice of Rotterdam and Amsterdam is quite interesting. Rotterdam has one of the lowest overall cycling rates in this country. Amsterdam has one of the lowest child cycling rates in this country. Only 53% of children in the first year of secondary school cycle to school. That’s really low for this country and things are afoot to deal with the situation. They’re both big busy cities with too many cars and some quite old and not quite good enough cycling infrastructure. The required level of subjective safety is not quite there. People are hesitant to cycle. I wrote a post a few weeks back about this:

    Back in 2006 we organised a meeting with council representative in Den Haag, a city where just 30% of all journeys are by bike. That’s “low” by Dutch standards and the planners and cycle officials there are quite apologetic. It was very interesting to hear the many things planned to get the level up to be competitive with other cities. The condition of cycle paths had been a big campaigning issue in the recent local elections.

    Remember that I am a British person who has moved over here. I know London pretty well and have cycled there. There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, in London which compares in quality with what is commonplace here. That’s why London is still stuck with around 1-2% of journeys by bike.

    1-2% is a figure which crops up anywhere that the cycling experience is not good enough. It’s basically the number of us who like cycling enough that we will cycle whatever the conditions. I used to cycle “vehicularly” when I lived in the UK. There’s no choice. However, advocacy it isn’t. I’d be one of just a few who cycled to work and others who didn’t cycle would simply think I was mad. There was no way whatsoever of encouraging them to do as I did. As for encouraging them to let their children cycle to school… No chance.

    Vehicular cycling is simply a way of making the best of being a minority cyclist. It’s not a bad way of achieving that, but it’s nothing more than that.

    What happens here is entirely different. I have yet to meet a Dutch non-cyclist and cyclists here are not a minority but a majority.

    Road planning here happens on a completely different plane. Cyclists come first in the plans. The crossing I pointed you at before is in Groningen, where 60% of all journeys are by bike and only around 20-25% by car. It would be a brave, foolish and not particularly career minded traffic planner who designed a place like that around cars. Facilities here are not designed to keep cycles out of the way of cars, but to keep cars out of the way of cycles.

    Many Dutch cities are indeed ancient in the centres, though completely modern as you near the edge. Some, such as Almere, which is built on land which was reclaimed in the latter half of the last century, are completely new so there’s nothing ancient there at all.

    Nevertheless, both old and new are planned around bicycles these days. They use the most modern town planning techniques and that’s how they got to where they are today:

    The change in attitudes started in the early-mid 1970s, and there has been a continuous process of improvement and refinement of method over the last 35 years. You didn’t say when you visited. If it was as much as 15 years ago, then you will only have seen half of it – including nothing really modern.

    Brett, You are absolutely right.

  • michael says:

    Having separate facilities encourages non-cyclists, ie. normal folk, to ride. I think that in-turn makes them more likely to be accepting of cyclists on the road when they are driving.

  • peteathome says:

    I mentioned Amsterdam and Rotterdam as these, plus the Haag(didn’t spend enough time to bicycle there), are all I know about. I’ve seen them recently so know what the current facilities look like.

    American cities, even really old ones like Philadelphia, are very sprawled out compared to what I’ve seen in the Netherlands, even Rotterdam which you feel is atypical. The sprawl here seems the biggest problem. It makes trip distances too far for most bicyclists, plus the sprawl requires high-speed automobile traffic to get around, which most bicyclists feel is a disincentive.

    The average trip distance, by bicycle, in the Netherlands, is less than 2 miles. Plus, in the city centers, where most of the bicycling takes place according to reports I’ve read, the traffic is slow and the roads fairly small.

    There are many disincentives and impediments to driving in the Netherlands. Car ownership is very expensive. Parking is almost nonexistent in the city centers. So bicycling looks very attractive there for short distances.

    There was also a strong bicycle culture in the Netherlands long before any facilities were built. This culture never went away, even as traffic increased.

    Short travel distances, difficulties in using private automobiles, very flat terrain and a mild climate ( yes, it can be cold and rainy there, even snow, but it is seldom very hot and seldom extremely cold) and an preexisting bike culture account for the main difference in bike usage int he Netherlands vs. the US.

    Very few places in the USA match these conditions. And even London is a great sprawling city compared to anything int he Netherlands.

    Bicycling did start declining int he Netherlands as people could start affording more cars in the ?late 60s. The question is whether it is the bicycling facilities that stabilized this decline. That is an interesting question that I’ve not seen an answer to. But even when bicycling at the lowest level, with car traffic in the cities about equal to what it is now and no facilities, Dutch bicycling exceeded by an order of magnitude cycling anywhere in the USA.

    Then there is the question of safety. Right now, per mile, the bicycle fatality rate in the Netherlands is about double what driving is there. The Dutch motor vehicle fatality rate is very similar to the USA. People seem OK with that. I would think they would want facilities that make them safer. Instead, most studies show they make bicycling less safe at the same time they slow down travel speed. But apparently, people prefer the feeling of safety to actual safety.

    In any case, I am not putting down Dutch facilities. They seem to be what people want there. But I can’t see how something similar would work in the USA when conditions are so very different here. I’ve heard people say that facilities would be the start to redesigning our cities to be more like the Dutch. But I don’t think that is how it works, that is putting the cart before the horse.

  • brett says:

    There are plenty of American cities that have had the good sense to resist sprawl (like mine, Portland, Oregon) or are small enough to make biking a realistic option if it were safer. 40% of all American car trips are 2 miles or less. If we could replace most of those car trips with bike trips by installing separated cycle tracks along or parallel to major travel routes, it would have a major impact on climate change, urban livability, and infrastructure costs.

    No need to revamp the entire wasteful suburban sprawl model all at once, although that’s going to happen in most places eventually and is already starting in cities across the country. Let’s just start with major commuting routes and those short trips. For longer distances, we can combine bikes with light rail mass transit (that’s what makes it work so well in Europe), nodal development (so people can walk or bike to most of the things they need regularly), urban growth boundaries like Portland’s, and other pieces of the puzzle. Bikes are just one part of reducing global warming and transportation costs, but a critical part.

  • MikeOnBike says:

    Alan said: “young people and beginners, who are less confident and ride slower, are more likely to be on separated paths and sidewalks”

    In places that already have sidewalks, which cyclists are already using, aren’t those de facto “separated paths”?

    So what is it exactly that we need to build to attract cyclists who aren’t already using the roads or the sidewalks? A parallel sidewalk that prohibits pedestrians?

    So we’re not really talking about separating cyclists from motorists. We’re talking about separating pedestrians from cyclists. Which is something that would require sufficient numbers of both pedestrians AND cyclists to be worth doing.

    Meanwhile, a Class I Multi Use Path is just a sidewalk without a parallel road. Those facilities are shared by pedestrians and cyclists, and they seem to be a favorite facility for many cyclists. Why is it that when we build a road next to a sidewalk, we now need to separate the pedestrians from the cyclists?

  • brett says:

    I don’t know about your city, but in mine, cyclists are prohibited from using sidewalks in most cases — and for good reason. It’s dangerous and certainly inefficient to have bicyclists whizzing by people who are walking, especially when you include kids in the mix. Bikes and pedestrians don’t mix.
    It’s likely that many American cities don’t yet have sufficient pedestrians or bicyclists to justify the separate cycle tracks — but that’s putting the cart before the horse. When we build the separate infrastructure, we WILL have dramatically higher numbers of walkers and bikers. That’s exactly what has happened in every city that’s tried them. In fact, that’s what happens anytime you build transportation infrastructure, which is why those colossally expensive highways fill up with cars within a few years and gridlock returns to what it was before billions were spent on them.
    I don’t understand why so many commentators refuse to look at the demonstrated experience of cities that have tried building separated bikeways. This isn’t theoretical — it’s demonstrated fact that if you build them, many, many more people will choose to ride bikes for many trips rather than driving. Maybe it’s because Americans are notoriously ignorant of other countries’ experiences; and maybe it takes going to Europe and seeing it with your own eyes, as I and many others have.

  • Alan says:


    “In places that already have sidewalks, which cyclists are already using, aren’t those de facto “separated paths”?”

    No, not really. In most cases, sidewalks are half the width of MUPs, the have no lane markings, they have no intersection safety measures built into them, and they often dead-end or disappear into thin air. They may be the only alternative in situations where riding on the road is out of the question (6 lane, 50mph parkways for example), but they’re no replacement for the types of sophisticated cycling facilities we see in the Netherlands and elsewhere.


    PS – And, of course, in many cities riding on sidewalks is illegal.

  • MikeOnBike says:

    If bikes and pedestrians don’t mix, why are Class I Multi Use Paths so popular?

    What’s the difference between a sophisticated cycling facility, and a sophisticated sidewalk? I assume it means pedestrians are prohibited, but that gets back to the previous question.

    What does it matter if there’s a 5-foot sidewalk on each side of the road, or a 10-foot path on one side of the road? Or do we need both the pair of sidewalks AND the path to attract vastly increased numbers of cyclists?

    Sidewalks don’t have intersection safety measures? What are those signs with the orange flashing hand? Or those two wide paint stripes across the intersection? Bikeways never dead-end or disappear into thin air? You’re comparing well-designed bikeways with poor sidewalks.

    Would you ever build a separated bikeway (pedestrians prohibited) without ALSO having a sidewalk alongside it? If so how would you prevent pedestrians from using it? What if the cyclist has to dismount and walk for any reason?

    We all agree that some cyclists do use sidewalks today, illegal or not. If a separated facility is used by cyclists, but it’s not officially a cycling facility, it doesn’t count?

    I don’t mean to sound argumentative, but I genuinely don’t see much difference (other than cosmetic) between a separated bikeway and a sidewalk or MUP. Nor do I see why it’s perfectly acceptable to mix bikes and peds on a MUP, but not next to a roadway.

  • brett says:

    I think it depends on the density of pedestrians and bikers. I remember in a far flung suburb of Utrecht, bikes and walkers did share a wide (12 feet or so, if I remember rightly) multi use path, because it was so far out in the country, there wasn’t much risk of conflict, and the path was wide enough for bikes to pass in both directions and still leave plenty of room for peds. But in the cities, and certainly in most of central city Portland, there are way too many pedestrians and bicyclists to safely share a sidewalk. In other American cities, I’ve seen too many bicyclists frightening pedestrians as it is, usually because a lack of safe bikeways forces t hem onto the sidewalk, sometimes with dangerous or unfortunate consequences. We want to encourage people to walk or bike as much as possible, and they won’t do it if they’re worried about hitting a ped or being hit by a bike or car.

    As for what prevents pedestrians from using the bike paths in Holland, the answer is: self preservation. You’d be crazy to walk in the bike path in Amsterdam because you will likely be hit by one of the many bicyclists zooming by. Yes, there are that many bicyclists. Tourists who cluelessly stray into a bike path quickly learn not to do that, either because of a ringing bike bell (all bikes have them) or shout, or a collision or near miss.
    So yes, as so many European cities have proved for decades now, you need separate facilities for peds, bikes, and cars in order for everyone to feel safe enough to use them all. That’s why the bicycling rate in cities such as Copenhagen is so much higher than here. And with so many more people using bikes and walking for short trips, there’s less gridlock for cars.

  • MikeOnBike says:

    I can understand pedestrians being afraid of being hit by cyclists, though if this fear were widespread enough, any sidewalk with sufficient numbers of cyclists would scare the pedestrians away. I think it’s inconvenient walking distances, not cyclists, that tend to scare pedestrians away from sidewalks.

    But the opposite, cyclists afraid of hitting pedestrians doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying motorists are afraid of hitting cyclists. If that were the case, motorists would be scared off streets where cyclists are present.

    If any location reaches a point with enough of both cyclists and pedestrians that the sidewalks are clogged and collisions are common, then I can see the point in enlarging/splitting the sidewalk into separate bike and ped zones.

    But I don’t see how enlarging/splitting a sidewalk, by itself, attracts large numbers of cyclists. That’s getting cause and effect reversed. It’s like saying Holland had American-style levels of cycling until the sidewalks were enlarged and split. Then suddenly they all started riding bikes.

    This summer, we had a huge spike in cycling, that tracked almost directly to the rapidly rising gas prices. But I don’t remember seeing many sidepaths built this summer. So what are the real causes of increased cycling?

  • brett says:

    ” It’s like saying Holland had American-style levels of cycling until the sidewalks were enlarged and split. Then suddenly they all started riding bikes.”
    Yes, that’s exactly what happened. After WWII, most european countries rebuilt along a parallel path to the US, so you got these big ring suburbs, and bike riding dropped drastically because of the auto-centric development patterns. Then came the oil price shock of 1973-4. In response to that, countries like Denmark and the Netherlands decided that they needed to prepare for a future of expensive gas and develop accordingly. They imposed high gas taxes and invested in rail, buses, and bike infrastructure. Over the next 20 years, cycling rates boomed. It’s true that some of the old cities are small, and have narrow streets and not much parking, and the high price of gas and taxes are all disincentives to drive. But everyone who’s studied the history of transportation in Europe has concluded that it was the provision of safe separated infrastructure that was the primary cause of the huge boom in cycling there over the past two generations. There’s nothing in the Dutch or Danish character that makes them more amenable to biking — all the surveys say they bike not for “green” reasons but because it’s the most practical way to get around. They didn’t bike much more than we did before the infrastructure was there. You might check out the work of John Pucher, who’s studied this extensively.

    High gas prices and lack of parking are the stick — safe separated cycle tracks are the carrot. Together, they produce a 40% bike commuting rate, and 80% bike usage (at least once per month) in Holland and higher in Denmark.

    Certainly the big spike in the US this year was caused by the high gas prices. They’ll come down for awhile, but most observers think we’re headed for a future of higher prices. We already heavily subsidize (often in hidden ways) cars and gasoline in this country, and those subsidies aren’t sustainable, regardless of when peak oil arrives.

    Oh, and yes, I am terrified of hitting pedestrians. When I was forced to ride on a sidewalk in a less bike friendly city than portland, I saw kids suddenly veering across the sidewalk without looking, pedestrians with cellphones doing the same thing, people using wheelchairs who can’t avoid cyclists easily, etc. and I dreaded hitting them almost as much as I dreaded riding on bike-unfriendly streets.
    And why do we want to “scare pedestrians away'” from sidewalks? A livable city with “complete streets” is one that’s safe and inviting for people who want to walk, shop, go to a cafe, run errands etc. We want people to walk and bike and take public transportation more because those means are much more sustainable and less costly (in both environmental and financial terms) than driving, especially where short trips are involved. And the quality of life in a walkable city like Copenhagen or Utrecht is much greater than barren American downtowns that were designed more for cars than for people. That’s why so many cities like New York and Paris are actively studying ways to make walking and biking safer and more inviting. It’s worked great in Amsterdam, Copenhagen et al and there’s no reason it couldn’t work as well in other cities.

  • Adrienne says:

    It is interesting to note that the SF Bicycle Coalition has estimated a 15% increase in bicycling in SF since the beginning of the year, with no infrastructure improvements made (the City is under an injunction that prevents any cycling improvements until next year). The economy, people’s waistlines, seeing people cycling… all of it contributes.

    Here is something interesting. People find it hard to believe that I feel perfectly safe riding the streets of SF without a helmet, with my kids in tow. Today, ,I rode a bit around downtown Walnut Creek after going to Rivendell bicycles (interesting spot, you should go). In the short time I was there I encountered more bad driving( swerving, sudden lane changes, mid street U-turns..), near misses (2 occurrences), close call doorings (3 instances) and poor street planning than I would have thought. I found it more difficult and dangerous to ride on N. Main street than in downtown San Francisco in rush hour.

    The difference between these cities seem to be two things- 1) Walnut Creek is built to shuttle everyone on or off a freeway. Every street that is not residential leads to a freeway and the drivers drive accordingly. 2) It also does not seem to have much cycling (I saw 1 person out on a bike despite the glorious weather) so the drivers never learn how to interact with cyclists.

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  • Dean says:

    I am in favor of physically separated bike lanes and here’s why:

    Profile of bicycle fatality: male 88%; 85% of fatalities were 16 plus males; males age 50-54 had the highest age/gender category with 7.1% fatalities. US Department of Transportation 2006.

    Time when most bicycle fatalities occur: June-September; 6 pm – 9 pm. US Department of Transportation 2006.

    US National Average 2.7 deaths per million residents per year – according to the US Department of Transportation 2000.

    New York City 2.8 – according to the NYC Department of Transportation 1999.

    UK .44 deaths from bicyclist accidents per million residents per year. 136 in 2006 out of 60 million. Great Britain Department of Transportation National Statistics

    Netherlands 1.1 deaths per 100 million km cycled.
    Denmark 1.5 deaths per 100 million km cycled
    Germany 1.7 deaths per 100 million km cycled.
    UK 3.6 deaths per 100 million km cycled
    US 37.5 deaths per 100 million km cycled *

    US Department of Transportation says wearing helmets will reduce fatalities by 85% – 2006.

    Yet Netherlands, Denmark and Norway authorities discourage helmet use as do other European countries. They say helmets are unfashionable and reduce the number of people who want to bicycle.*

    If the Dutch and other Europeans are not wearing helmets – less than 2% actually do*, then why are their fatality rates so low?

    Cities and countries that have the highest percentage of physically separated bicycle lanes have the lowest fatalities and the lowest helmet use.*

    Copenhagen has a 97/3 ratio of off-road paths to on-road lanes and 34% of commuting trips by bicycle, and the Netherlands with a 90/10 ratio with 28% of all trips by bicycle. **

    * Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany by John Pucher and Ralph Buechler; Transport Review, Vol. 28, 2008

    ** A Fair Modal Share for Cycling: Twenty Percent by 2020 in Orlando by Elisabeth Sommer, Ed.D. May 5, 2003

  • Adrienne says:

    There is no doubt that well designed infrastructure improves safety. I am less likely to be hit by a car on a trail in Yosemite than crossing my busy street. All of us recognize the need for more time, money and effort being put into getting all of us out of our cars. These are long term goals and we need people out now.
    That being said, here in San Francisco (the only city I can speak on with anything close to knowledge), I have noticed a tremendous change in the way people drive in the last 5 years. Drivers have become better accustomed to cyclists (I will not call them ‘bikes’ and ‘cars’ because we are talking about people here) and I have fewer and fewer issues with cycling around town. There have been efforts at traffic calming, some quite good ones, but really it comes down to exposure- the more drivers have to interact with cyclists, the easier it gets for everyone. We start to be able to read one another and the ‘language’ of crossing the city, by whatever means, becomes universal.
    I have decided to start taking people I know around town by bike and try to teach them how to make it work. While I am no ‘expert’, I ride an average of 15 miles a day through all the parts of SF and I feel comfortable showing ‘newbies’ how to do it. That, more than one day improvements, will get people out on two wheels- people who already do showing the willing but nervous how to do it themselves.

  • brett says:

    Agreed — I’ve become a much more careful car driver since I started riding my bike everywhere, and I’m sure one reason Portland drivers are generally so bike friendly is that they’re also bike riders. In many European cities, there’s a, uh, critical mass of bike riders that makes drivers constantly aware of them, so I imagine that safety would improve geometrically as ridership increases.
    Congrats on being a bike guide! Portland has a Bike Buddy program in which anyone who wants to commute by bike can sign up for an escort by a volunteer (affiliated with local bike groups, I think, not city employees) who’ll show newbies the best and safest ways to get where they need to go and back.

  • Blake Terzini says:

    I just started attending the Rochester, NY Critical Mass this past summer with the hopes of becoming more accustomed to riding on the road, as opposed to the sidewalk. While it has given me much more confidence in that respect, many of the people taking part seem very anti-establishment. I find this disconcertingly ironic, as it is supposed to promote (from what I have read) the awareness of cyclists to drivers. The group I ride with seems to do more to antagonize drivers and befriend pedestrians. It is not necessarily the most common occurrence- we often get shouts (and honks) of praise from oncoming traffic, while drawing prolonged honks and enraged acceleration from the drivers behind. If they want stricter enforcement of traffic laws and such to the benefit of cyclists, a more pragmatic (possibly more publicized) approach would be more effective.

    I after that criticism- which I hope should any of the fellow Rochester CM’ers be reading would take constructively, I must say it is a fun group of people!

  • Cycledad says:

    I’m uk based VCer. A lot of the fear we have of the off-road path lobby is that we only recently succesfully defended our right to ride on the road (the only safe palce in the uk as our cycling facilities are poorly designed and maintained) .

    That said, we all know more cyclists means safer cycling.

    More cycling facilities means more cyclists.

    Of course speaking as a sedentary. middle aged desk bound male, road safety worries are totally null and void. I cycle or i die of cardiovascular disease. I’m plumping for bikes not strokes :-)

  • Cycledad says:

    oh and one more thing….. Clearly cyclepaths arent the only thing that helps cycling levels, Cambridge Uk has ~25% trips by bike. The majority is on road although there has been a lot of recent spending and investment. The cycle campaign is aiming for 50% trips by bike using a congestion charge and cycling demo town funding.

    In cambridge its culture, congestion and space factors that make cycling popular.

  • Tom says:

    I know I’m late to the party here, but here goes. The Netherlands would be a zillion times safer than the US even if they didn’t have one inch of bike lanes or separated paths. Its all about the cyclists and the drivers.

    The cyclists mostly are just going somewhere and are not training for their next triathalon. So they are not hunched over the front well trying to squeeze every last bit out of the ride. They generally ride safe and sensibly.

    Drivers on the other hand don’t feel ownership of the road and respect other users. I’m guessing that you could ride your bike on the busiest roads in the biggest cities and and the drivers would patiently wait until its safe to pass at a reasonable speed.

    The facilities may be wonderful, but they are just the icing on the cake. Mr. Hembrow, I invite you to try some of the grade separated bike paths here in Reston Virginia. After some close calls with non attentive drivers, you might be willing to explore the merits of vehicular cycling.

  • John Boyer says:

    Raw statistics tell the tale very well and seperation works the best. See the Amsterdam/Copenhagen models and the growth of the bike as the prefered mode there.

    Antogonism to the motorist will creat more losses and fear(staying inside cars)and less converts

    We must win our opponents over with persuasion of a better life style. Never force the issue.

  • Some Jerk says:

    Spend the same money on buses and trains that would be spent on cycling infrastructure, and on increased driver testing and licensing and traffic enforcement. And raise the price of gas, artificially (taxes, whatever) because then the public transit will gain ridership.

    American drivers are poorly skilled and inconsiderate but they can be easily improved which is better all around for all road users. Why pave more to save the planet?

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  • Blake Terzini says:

    Something I forgot to mention is that around Rochester, NY which gets a decent amount of snow, the few MUPs we have do not get plowed, and it seems silly to put the money into the infrastructure, then not support it. To be fair, they have a hard enough time keeping up on the roads, usually because they just throw salt at the problem until it accumulates, then its just awful till they plow.

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