Mionske on Infrastructure

First it was Tom Vanderbilt arguing for “bicycle highways” in Slate, and now another prominent blogger is powerfully advocating for bicycle-specific infrastructure, this time in Bicycling. In his article titled, Adding Bicycle Infrastructure Creates More Riders, Bob Mionske, author of Bicycling and the Law, convincingly argues that providing more and better bicycle-specific infrastructure is the most effective way to increase bicycle ridership. Consider this excerpt:

And the absence of infrastructure discourages most people from riding. In Portland, Oregon’s Bicycle Plan for 2030, the demographics for Portland’s citizenry is broken down into four categories : (1) the 33 percent of Portland’s population which, for various reasons, will never ride a bike, “no way, no how”; (2) those who would like to ride a bike in town, but are afraid to ride with automobile traffic; this “interested but concerned” demographic represents 60 percent of Portland’s population; (3) those who are already riding in Portland, because of Portland’s efforts at improving bike infrastructure, despite the incomplete status of much of Portland’s bike infrastructure; this “enthused and confident” demographic represents 7 percent of the population; and (4) those riders who are “strong and fearless” and would feel comfortable riding in (and may even prefer) a complete lack of infrastructure; this demographic represents less than .5 percent of Portland’s population.

I’m guessing the regular readers of EcoVelo mostly fit into the “enthused and confident” minority mentioned above. Some of us are “vehicular cyclists”, while others are advocates for bike-specific infrastructure; either way, we’re already riding and need little convincing to continue to do so. The way Mionske sees it (and I totally agree), we need to focus on creating infrastructure that caters to the “interested and concerned” 60% majority who are not currently riding, but who might if the conditions were right. Providing facilities that assuage the fears surrounding sharing the road with motor vehicles is arguably the most effective way to increase bicycle use. Again, from Mionske:

As Portland’s research has shown, most people in Portland do not currently ride a bike because they have fears about riding in automobile traffic—but these same people are interested in riding, and would ride if they felt safe. And as European experience has shown, addressing this concern about safety is the key to getting more people on bikes. When cycling feels safe for everybody, from young children to the elderly, more people ride, and when more people ride, the roads transform from feeling safe to being safe—and not just for cyclists, but for everybody.

I think Mionske is right on target with this article. It’s worth a read…

Adding Bicycle Infrastructure Creates More Riders

18 Responses to “Mionske on Infrastructure”

  • kanishka says:

    if this fad disappears, kind of like the 70s and energy conservation, my best hope is for the on the road lanes to be maintained just piggy backing on normal road maintenance, while the separate facilities slowly deteriorate. of course, hopefully this won’t fade.

  • Doug R. says:

    Old friend, I was very concerned about infrastructure today! I rode from Rancho Cordova on the nice bike trail to Fair Oaks to visit my good friend Jennifer. As I crossed from the old Fair Oaks bridge into the hills of Fair Oaks things got dicey! I got onto Beautiful/hilly Winding way and “Boy” there is no bike lane to speak of! There is a tiny skinny shoulder and one little white line before the drainage ditches etc! I was concerned as trucks and fast cars came up behind me around the bends etc! I know the economy is bad, but this is a beautiful area to ride in and my friend lives there. I don’t know how to go about getting Fair Oaks to pony up the money to expand Winding way, but they need to! A great bike lane would increase commuters and tourism! Just my thoughts, Dougman.

  • Derek says:

    Actually, I would guess that most of your readers fall into category 4 and feel comfortable riding in a complete lack of cycling-specific infrastructure.

  • Alan says:


    For the most part, the feedback I receive from our readers is that they support the expansion of bike-specific infrastructure, and that they prefer riding in areas with bike lanes, sharrows, and separated bikeways over riding in areas with zero bike infrasatructure.


  • townmouse says:

    yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! This is exactly the point about bike infrastructure – it’s not for ‘cyclists’, it’s for everybody. I’m confident enough in traffic but I don’t enjoy riding in it – all the moments of real happiness I’ve had on the bike have been either on quiet rural roads or on separated infrastructure of some sort.

    I hope this sterile debate will be put to bed soon and we can get on with engaging the 60%

  • Jay says:

    Absolutely. Hopefully Portland can be the testing ground for such cycling policies, so that other cities can learn from them, with minimal cost. I’m also confident riding in traffic (in Boston and DC), but if I could still get where I needed to go and not have to risk being so close to cars? That would be ideal. I CAN and DO ride with cars, but I’d sure rather have a curb or something separating us.

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Bikeway or the Highway? says:

    […] Jay in Mionske on Infrastructure: "Absolutely. Hopefully Portland can be the testing ground for such cycling…" […]

  • Brad says:

    There is a downside to dedicated bike infrastructure, specifically, separate bikeways. It gives rivers, non-cyclists, the idea that bikes belong there and are not allowed or should not be on the roads. Separate bikeways will never exist everywhere so this can cause problems when cyclists must venture onto other roads.

    This is evident where I’m from stemming from the nation’s largest Rails-To-Trails project, the Katy Trail in Missouri. I’ve had motorists yell at me to “get off the road, that’s what the Katy Trail is for”.

    Many non-cycling motorists don’t consider that cyclists may be commuting and not just riding recreationaly.

    However I think dedicated bikeways are great and we should build more of them If this makes more cyclists. There should also be more work spent in driver and Law Enforcement education, Complete-Streets, and share the road signage.

  • peteathome says:

    I feel a tirad coming on. I want to propose that instead of just supporting “infrastructure” in general, we start supporting infrastructure that is actually safer for bicyclists, as well as convenient for transportational cycling.

    Sadly, most infrastructure development, including places like Portland, is guided by a very inaccurate understanding of bicycle/automobile collisions. They seem guided primarily by a fear of being hit from behind.

    But the vast majority of car/bike accidents, in urban/suburban areas, occur in intersections. Side paths, for instance, if there are frequent intersections, dramatically increase accidents.

    Even bike lanes would increase accidents if people rode in a safe fashion, as they often put bicyclists too close to the curb as they cross minor intersections ( such as driveways and shopping center entrances) making it harder for motorist to see bicyclists. But since most newer bicyclists hug the curb anyway, out of a fear of getting rear ended, I doubt bike lanes cause a significant increase in accidents. The statistics are unclear.

    I would definitely support more infrastructures if the standard designs actually reduced accidents instead of increased them, or did nothing for safety. This increase in accidents was recently demonstrated by the Copenhagen before and after study – all the standard designs increased bicycle ( and pedestrian) accidents to some degree. But people don’t seem to want to design these things from a safety engineering point of view. Instead the designs are approached from “what is easy” and also from the incorrect fears of beginning bicyclists, primarily making these bicyclists more comfortable rather than safer.

    The unsafe facilities can get more cyclists out and about by make beginners feel more comfortable by increasing their separation from cars approaching from behind. But they actually increase their risk by complicating intersections or putting bicyclists in a bad position in the intersection, increasing right and left hooks, the real cause of most car/bike collisions.

    Of course, a lot of lot of people claim the “safety in numbers” effect makes even somewhat unsafe changes safer as they make bicyclists FEEL more comfortable, and this gets more bicyclists out. Supposedly the more bicyclists you have the safer you are overall. I have my doubts about this correlation, suspecting that areas with a lot of bicyclists have calmer traffic for other reasons – safe as old, dense cities in Europe where you can’t drive fast – and the slower traffic reducedsthe frequency and severity of car/bike accidents. In any case, even if the “safety in numbers” pans out, getting bicyclists out by making them feel more comfortable but actually ( initially at least) increasing their dangers is kind of a “cannon fodder” approach.

    I say why not design the infrastructure to actually be safer in the first place, using actual traffic engineering principals so even if an area won’t support enough bicyclists to get a “safety in numbers” effect, we still get something people will like and actually be safer on. Plus, it’s just more honest.

    As an example of safe infrastructures, I almost always like the rail-to-trial type infrastructure. These linear parks serve a lot of needs and often even serve transportational bicycling if they happen to line up with urban orientations. And since the rail line has very few road crossings, the side path problem is minimal. Of course, this sort of design is too expensive in most urban/surburan areas if there isn’t already a abandon rail line right of way, as making overpasses over all the intersections is extremely expensive and requires tearing down a lot of existing buildings. It can be done if there is already an existing barrier to intersections, like a lake or river, or sometimes even a limited access highway cutting through an area, limiting intersections. We should definitely develop infrastructure in such situations ( with overpasses over interstate ramps, etc.)

    Anyway, I wish we more experienced cyclists here would all agree to support infrastructure that is actually safer, rather than infrastructure that just gives the apparent of safety.

    Who here is in favor of doing it right?

  • Sharper says:

    @Alan and @Derek

    There’s another option: I lean towards being a “strong and fearless” rider, but since separated facilities tend to be picturesque and serene paths, I have no trouble supporting their creation.

    Urban bike lanes, on the other hand…

  • Alan says:


    While I too am concerned about motorists who believe bicyclists have no right to be on the road, I see this as an issue with driver’s training and education, not an issue with bikeways and separated facilities.


  • Brad says:

    @Alan read my last paragraph…

    “However I think dedicated bikeways are great and we should build more of them If this makes more cyclists. There should also be more work spent in driver and Law Enforcement education, Complete-Streets, and share the road signage.”

  • Frits B says:

    Seen this latest video by Mark Wagenbuur?

  • Doug R. says:

    Ok, the solution to all of this is: Gasoline goes to 50 bucks a gallon! WE will all have our nice, big bike lanes already in place! As Stan Lee says: “Nuff said!”

  • Brad says:

    talk about timing…

    Check this out: http://stlbiking.com/forum/index.php/topic/23158-proposed-county-ordinance-to-ban-bicycle-on-hwy-d-hwy-dd-hwy-z-hwy-f-hwy-94/

    St. Charles County Missouri near St. Louis is proposing a BAN on bicycles on these specific roadways because the Katy Trail is near by.

    I spoke to Joe Brazil the councilman that is proposing the bill and he said “we have spent millions on parks with bike paths and the Katy Trail, we can’t have the cyclists on the road” he went on to tell me that cyclists are posing a danger to the drivers that have to swerve out of the way to keep from hitting the cyclists on the side of the road.

    There is a provision in the bill for organized rides with “safety cars following with flashing lights” and the ban will be lifted after shoulders or bike lanes are put in.

    They just got $10 million to build the shoulders but it has yet to be seen if it will simply be a gravel shoulder and when I asked if $10 million would be enough to build all the shoulders he flatly said no. There is also no timeline yet.

    This is the downside to dedicated bicycle infrastructure. It does give the false idea to motorists and ill informed politicians that bicycles do not belong on the road

  • Lynn Fang says:

    I am still new to street riding, and the lack of sufficient bike infrastructure definitely deters me from riding my bike out more frequently. I would love more bike infrastructure. I believe in Germany they changed the law to include better bike infrastructure, which immediately encouraged more people to start cycling.

  • Traci says:

    I definitely think that more bike infrastructure would encourage more people to bike, even if the infrastructure wasn’t safe. Most people I know perceive bike lanes as being safer, even if they are barely a foot wide and almost always in the door zone in my area.

    Better education for motorists would be wonderful, as most of them also assume that anywhere they see a white line painted on the right side of the road, if there’s any room other than the gutter then that means it’s a bike lane. There’s a specific street near us that has a solid white line down the ride side of the road – it’s there simply as a lane guide and varies from large enough for a bike to fit to an approx. 2 inches from the gutter. However, drivers think that it’s an actual bike lane and my husband has even been yelled at about “staying in the bike lane” – totally ridiculous.

  • Jack says:

    “This is the downside to dedicated bicycle infrastructure. It does give the false idea to motorists and ill informed politicians that bicycles do not belong on the road”. True but that attitude is omnipresent in areas where no bike lanes or trails exist too and is typically voiced as “roads are for cars, not bikes”.

    The entitlement attitude is pervasive in St Charles. Drivers, whether in a car, SUV, pickup truck or tractor, believe that the road was built for them and not designed to include “slow moving” (inconvenient) cyclists. The concept of “safety” dominates conversations. Trouble is we now require motorized vehicle to have so many safety upgrades that drivers can behave irresponsibly and still remain alive. Irresponsible driving dominate these roads in St Charles as the speed limits are too high (most drive even faster than the posted limits), traffic volume is much higher (population and tourism have grown dramatically) and the numerous bars-wineries are packed (and so are their parking lots). The lots are so crowded that now school buses are used to chaperone the inebriated patrons between the bars-wineries but they still have to drive on these roads to get home.

    Shoulders would help (very expensive and take years if not decades) but alone they won’t stop or prevent irresponsible driving. What is definitely needed are lower speed limits, better law enforcement and education, especially for drivers (start with STR signs).

    The Katy Trail is nice and so are the hills nearby… both have attracted cyclists to the area as did ToM. The residents and political leadership are enjoying the large increase in business cyclists have brought to the area and now is the time to highlight such. Emphasize the importance of how STR benefits everyone instead of vilifying an asset.

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