Studies have shown that the number one reason people don’t ride their bikes more frequently is the fear of cars. Considering this, the most obvious way to help newcomers feel more comfortable is to provide high-quality, separated bikeways. While it’s unrealistic to hope for a 1-to-1 ratio of bikeways to roads, even short stretches of bikeways that connect adjacent neighborhoods and road networks can encourage newcomers to give bicycling a try.
Consider the above beautiful piece of bicycle-specific infrastructure in my hometown. It’s part of a relatively short trail network that connects four neighborhoods with a shopping area and a school. Just this morning I needed to run an errand to the shopping area. The direct route would have taken me along a two lane, 50 mph road. I’ve ridden the road many times, and though I find it safe, I can imagine it would be intimidating to an inexperienced rider. By instead taking a longer back route through a neighborhood that leads to the bikeway, I reduced my exposure to high speed traffic by approximately 75% while only adding about 5 minutes to my travel time. I suspect that for many people, just having the option could mean the difference between taking the bike or driving the car.
For the foreseeable future, bicyclists here in the U.S. will need to depend upon existing roadways for much of their route planning, but strategically placed separated bikeways can serve as safe havens for novices in the process of developing the confidence and skills they need to share the road with cars, while also providing a pleasant respite for those already out there mixing it up with traffic on a regular basis.