Bikeways as Bridges to Sharing the Road

A Bridge to Sharing the Road

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.

14 Responses to “Bikeways as Bridges to Sharing the Road”

  • Jonathan says:

    Have not posted before but read your blog quite often and enjoy it immensely. Thanks for being a great advocate for utilitarian cycling.

    I could not agree more with what you say in your post and my views are essentially parallel to yours. I can ride in high volume traffic and can use the rules of vehicular cycling if I need to but vastly prefer to cycle on a cycle path that is dedicated to bicycles. I lived in Amsterdam for a while and it was simply incredible. Anyone who has experienced riding a bike in a city like Amsterdam (or for that matter practically anywhere in the Netherlands) can appreciate the value of cycle paths (fietspad). Most importantly, they are fully integrated into the entire transportation infrastructure and when they are not available the Dutch ride on the roads and as far as I can tell have essentially little to no fear of cars and trams and trucks. I think this is because every truck driver, tram driver, cab driver, car driver is also (and perhaps first and foremost) a cyclist (given that bicycles outnumber residents by 3-1 in Holland). Of course the amazing network of bike paths and cycle routes did not happen overnight but was driven by years of dedicated infrastructure development and policy. The U.S. is in its infancy in terms of achieving what the Dutch have in Amsterdam (or the Danes in Copenhagen), and while we may not expect to or find it practical to do it everywhere, there are many cities where a good bike network that includes separated bicycle paths is viable and should be built. Unfortunately, I have found some cyclists in my own Bay Area community to be almost militant in their opposition to cycle paths (not unlike John Forester), and I think this strong opposition has set us back years in terms of getting more cyclists on the road. But the tide seems finally to be turning. Just this past year in San Jose (where I live) the City Council approved a new master bike plan that will add many more dedicated routes that includes signage, addresses problems with light signaling, adds many more bike racks to city streets and at city facilities, initiates a bike share program, and will build dedicated cycle paths and bike boulevards (of course all this takes funding and grants won’t pay for all of it). Most importantly, and little talked about but hinted at in your post, the new bike plan addresses connectivity. This I have discovered from talking to many would be cyclicsts is also a great impediment.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Mike says:

    I must agree with Jonathan’s post. I just returned from a trip to the Netherlands and cannot imagine why someone would oppose dedicated bike paths or separation of cycles from traffic such as the Dutch have. After falling away from the “cycling church,” I have decided that come what may I will be commuting to my university this fall. It will not be easy. My city makes no apparent effort to calm traffic or facilitate cycling. But inspired by your blog and by the Dutch, I’ve thought through the least trafficked way to the office, not the fastest. I CAN ride in traffic, but much prefer not to. Cycling is enough of a rush as it is; I don’t need a car or truck inches from my shoulder to make it more exciting.

  • Moopheus says:

    Unfortunately, Americans like to turn it into an either-or proposition, thinking that if we get bicycle paths, we’ll be expected to stay off the roads (and some noncyclists think that way too). Obviously, there’s no real reason we can’t have both except for people’s attitudes. I live in Cambridge, which is relatively bike-friendly, and the only “bike specific” infrastructure we have really is marked lanes in the street. We have multiuser paths and rail trails, some are nice, but they aren’t really bike-specific–they’re shared with joggers, dogwalkers, rollerbladers, etc. I use them, but they don’t go anywhere in the direction of my commute to work. Personally, I’d be glad if some of the streets around here just got some new pavement.

  • Frits B says:

    @Moopheus: “if we get bicycle paths, we’ll be expected to stay off the roads”. Not just the American idea but exactly what is the situation in Holland, Germany and Austria. If cycle paths are available, use them and don’t mix with cars. Safer for all concerned – you wouldn’t dream of walking on a highway either.

  • Moopheus says:

    I don’t know about that, Frits. The only accident I’ve ever had was on a crowded path, trying to get around a jogger, hitting another bike going the other way. Now I don’t like using the MUP after 9:00 am. Some of the MUPs do make for pretty pictures, as above, but they aren’t necessarily safer. Yeah, I wouldn’t walk on the highway, but most city streets aren’t highways. I’m not anti-bike-path, but I’m not going to stop using the streets, either.

  • s0fa says:

    I agree with Moopheus.

    The situation that I see existing in the American sububs is infrequent, narrow, unlit and ultimately inadequate bike lanes. To be a transportation cyclist, like it or not, one has to put themselves on the road with cars, which is legal and there’s no reason it should not be. The attitude I witness people confirmed within the car culture, including those who ride bikes, still see a bicycle in the road as an obstacle. What I hear is a chiding voice of the car culture saying that there exist bike lanes, bike paths and bike facilities somewhere, and if you’re not in one of those you’re taking your personal safety into your own hands.

    I wholly support the construction of bike facilities on the road and want to live in a community that is bike friendly, but I do not think that cities will invest in bicycle infrastructure until they see the demand. While I’m out there on American roadways expressing that demand I would like to be respected by other people in cars on the road as a legitimate source of traffic.

  • Frits B says:

    Moopheus: agreed, but I was talking about real bike paths, the ones we have here. For bikes only, separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians. Signposted as such. Nirvana or whatever you want to call it. But as they are dedicated to bike use only, everybody expects you to use them, even the law.

    There is some discussion over here about allowing, or even forcing, recreational group racers (a number of racers for fun) to use the road as they don’t mix well with the regular transportational cyclists. Jury is still out on this radical idea – we have for decades tried to keep cyclists away from drivers.

    Don’t forget: drivers benefit as much from separated cycle paths as cyclists. It works both ways.

  • Nate Briggs says:

    There was a brief discussion of Vehicular Cycling over on Copenhagenize, recently. And the consensus opinion was that it had more than a hint of testosterone poisoning, and it is a concept that can now be thoroughly dismissed.

    Hair raising anecdotes about encounters on bicycle paths are still in circulation. But the statistics are in, and the vast majority of potential riders prefer separated facilities. (In other words, people who are now Drivers have absolutely no trust in Other Drivers once the Old Drivers become Riders. Ironic, huh?)

    We need them. We want them. Every community should be thinking about them.

    As for the old Vehicular Cycling materials, I believe the Yucca Mountain operation is available. We could put them there.

    – Nate (SLC)

  • Battling anti-bike bias in the ‘Bu « BikingInLA says:

    […] Bob Mionske says adding better bike infrastructure helps create more riders, while EcoVelo says more separated bikeways could help beginning riders feel more comfortable. Paris proves it takes more than a bike share […]

  • randomray says:

    I don’t know of anywhere around me where the bike paths actually go to anything . We have several that just end randomly . We have roads that go places so I use them . Unless you are jogging ours are useless .

  • Jonathan says:

    @Moopheus: I agree with you. Multi-user paths that don’t get you where you need to go are useless–a waste of money. In the Netherlands, it is really pedestrians who are truly separated from all other traffic. Important to point out once again that the Dutch DO have it both ways (they ride comfortably in heavy traffic and on separated bike paths) and the cycle paths are NOT multi-user paths. No Dutch person would ever be seen walking their dog or jogging on a cycle path. Around Centraal Station in Amsterdam the tourists learn quickly to get out of the bike path or get run over. You will get dinged mercilessly and yelled at vociferously if you occupy the bike path for more than a few seconds. The bike paths are very integrated with the whole transportation infrastructure. The same priority is given to them as to all other forms of vehicular transport when it comes to development and/or modification of roadways and intersections and in any new development or construction. It’s quite hard to describe without experiencing it but I see it a bit like the tram systems there. The trams frequently have a separate route and physical barriers that separate them from other vehicular traffic, but as one moves into city center the trams, buses, cars, and bikes all share the same space and the tram tracks go right down the street, and it all works. At the risk of repeating myself though, I think this is because everyone, no matter what they may be doing in traffic at any one moment, is also a bicycle rider. Of course the Dutch would never refer to themselves as “cyclists” as if they were some alien creature apart from everyone else, which is the view that prevails here. And this is the paradox of cycle paths. Changing attitudes requires getting more motor vehicle drivers out of their cars and on bikes (i.e. more people generally, since the overwhelming majority of Americans never get on a bike again after they get their drivers licenses). To reiterate what Nate Briggs said: study after study shows what people want in order to get them on their bikes–i.e. separated cycle paths. It does not matter if people’s views are shaped by perception rather than accident statistics (which do not accurately reflect safety for all would be cyclists in my view)–just give the people what they want already and lets get more people on bikes. But we don’t want “multi-user” paths.

  • Jack says:

    I ride on the Cary, NC greenways on my commute. I love being separate from the cars. I just posted a summary at VelowReviews. If your area has something similar I would love to hear about it.

  • Brian C says:

    Interesting discussion. We have many multi-user trails in our area, which are used by commuting cyclists, joggers, people walking their dogs and elderly strollers. And during peak commuter hours it leads to conflict – the good news is that the new sections of our trails are being made wider and incorporating separate sections for pedestrians. The bad news is that most of the trail system is unlikely to see these upgrades any time soon.

    Personally I do get to use some of the trail network, and do when it meets my needs. I also will bypass it with some of our on-road bike lanes because they get me to my destination more quickly. And in winter, when the maintenance is non-existent. When we occasionally get snow there is no snow removal, which can lead to the trails being unusable for weeks, until we get rain to remove the snow/ice. And I do wish that in our urban areas we could persuade them to light the trails so that our female population did not abandon the trails until the spring.

  • randomray says:

    I just had the pleasure of riding across Illinois ” with Bicycle Illinois ” and using bike paths in 3 cities and the Shore path in Chicago seemed to work . I’m not sure how it would work for a commuter though ? There were a few others in the Chicago that were nice I just don’t know if they were effective for riders . The other two kinda stunk . The one in Champaign was confusing and disorganized . ” and must have been really expensive ” It didn’t work very well at protecting the cyclists . The other was in Rantoul Ill. and was down right dangerous .

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