NYT The Year in Ideas: Bicycle Highways

The New York Times has included an article on “Bicycle Highways” in their 9th Annual Year In Ideas piece. From the article:

In October 2008, an association of U.S. state-highway officials approved the concept of a national Bicycle Routes Corridor Plan —the first step in potential American bike Interstates. But this amounts to little more than a go-ahead for states to put bike-route signs on existing roads.

As much as it sounds like an appealing idea, bicycle infrastructure expert Jan Gehl says building bicycle highways before providing proper infrastructure at street level is backwards. Again, from the NYT article:

“Some cities will go for the bicycle highways and let people fend for themselves once they reach the city,” he says. “You get off the highway, and then you’re in the desert. In Copenhagen we have first irrigated the desert, then built the highways.”

Read the article

5 Responses to “NYT The Year in Ideas: Bicycle Highways”

  • mike says:

    a similar argument can be made with high speed and light rail. yes, it would be great to have all these places interconnected – but if there is nowhere to go, or to get to on foot or by bike when i step off the train… why not just drive?

    airports know this – hence the rental car kisoks and lots that are so intertwined with most US air travel.

    someday we might see plane + train + bus + bikes + cars in a real matrix of transportation options. but in then end it should be about moving people, not a particular type of mode. if we start there – first making cities friendly and easy to use on foot, then to bike, then to bus, train, car, plane… we might get somewhere.

  • J.. says:

    Living in the Netherlands, I’ve got relatively little to complain about the basic network of bicycle infrastructure, although I will from time to time (we’ve different standards here).

    Now we have a “bicycle highway” scheme going here, but so far, I’m not impressed. Basically, there’s a number of designated routes deemed “bicycle highway”, and they’re souped up with extra right of way and devices attached to traffic lights that count down to green light, so you know how long you have to wait. Turns out I’ve been riding on something called a “highway” for over a year, and I never noticed (except for the countdown machine).

    As it turns out, the whole thing is a bit of a sham. “Highway” basically means it’s a normal bicycle path that is well-maintained, which is the least I would expect from any bicycle path.

    A real Bicycle Highway is a bicycle path that is at least 3,5(m) wide (12 feet), as bikes round here can legally be 1,50(m) (5 feet) wide, and two bikes should be able to pass eachother safely at any time. It should have smooth tarmac, sufficient lighting and cycling-bridges (with reasonably ascendable steepness), rather then then traffic lights whenever possible. And it should not be placed right next to an actual highway (as is planned between the cities of Zoetermeer and Den Haag) because cyclists need to breathe. It should connect larger towns over larger distances in order to accommodate actual commuter traffic (aka not recreational cycling, but people who need to get to their place of work).

    Long story short, even in the Netherlands, we’ve got a long way to go….

  • David says:

    In response to J

    Your “long way to go” looks like heaven to me, even here in East Coast North American La La Land, Martha’s Vineyard.

    A fraction of what you have in Holland could make this place a cycling paradise.

  • Alan says:


    “A fraction of what you have in Holland could make this place a cycling paradise.”

    I have to agree. We’ll take their “long way to go” any day. :-)


  • J.. says:

    OK, OK, I’m spoiled. I admit it!!

    But there’s a serious note to my complaints. Most of my info I get about the situation in other parts of the world (i.e. the US) is from blogs like this one. And I sense the progressive forces that fuel the investment in cycling infrastructure, are aimed toward serious commuting. The Ecovelo blog itself embodies a kind of serious approach to cycling (through environmentalism) that seems to be sorely lacking in my cycle-friendly neck of the woods. The approach in many places in the US seems to be: “We have no cycling infrastructure, so let’s start with some bikepaths for commuters.”

    In the Netherlands, we have cycling facilities everywhere, but the philosophy seems to be something like: “Everybody’s using bicycles, so let’s make sure they can get to their local shop safely and conveniently and let’s not worry about anything else.”
    This is the single most bicycle friendly country on the planet and all official government policies are based on a maximum cycling distance of 15(km). That’s 9 miles (For the love of all that is holy, would you guys please go metric. I mean, seriously… ). All policies are based on the assumption that cyclists will not commute further then 15(km). And if you think that’s a one way trip, think again. 15(km) means 7,5(km) back and forth. I don’t even break out the lycra for anything under 15(km), let alone 7,5. I don’t even ride my recumbent if it’s only 7,5(km). I’ll save myself the hassle of packing my sidebags and just grab my backpack and hop on my single gear (dutch-style) grannybike.

    For all the investments in recreational and utility cycling, long distance bicycle commuting is not yet taken seriously in our halls of government. It’s changing, slowly, but I get frustrated when I see such false commitment. The willingness to score political (green) points by calling for bicycle highways, is not matched by the actual commitment made.

    I know that I live in (arguably) the best place for cycling in the world, but the awareness of bicycle commuting as a serious option that needs to be facilitated, seems to be greater in other places, like Portland etc.

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