Bikeway or the Highway?

In the follow-up discussion to yesterday’s post about Bob Mionske’s article on bicycle infrastructure, there was a question about whether our readers prefer to ride in areas with bicycle infrastructure such as bike lanes, sharrows, and separated bikeways, or whether they prefer to ride in areas with no bicycle-specific infrastructure at all. The feedback I’ve received seems to indicate the majority of our readers prefer riding in areas where there is well-developed infrastructure, but in all honesty, I don’t really know. So, I ask the question: Given the choice, do you prefer to ride in areas with well-developed bicycle infrastructure, or do you prefer to ride in areas with only legacy roads and no bicycle-specific infrastructure?

Given the choice, where do you prefer to ride?

View Results

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42 Responses to “Bikeway or the Highway?”

  • Andrew says:

    Hahah, I can’t believe anyone would prefer to ride where there is no specific bike infrastructure, unless they happen to be a brakeless fixie courier who just lives for the thrill of dangerous traffic, maaan.

    Whenever I have to bike or run on public roads and end up sucking exhaust fumes at all hours of the day, I wistfully imagine a world without cars…

  • Randy says:

    Depends on the traffic, obviously. Any road can be a great cycling road if the traffic volume is not too high…

  • Brad says:

    Mmmmm, I just love 45mph expressways with seven lanes lined with big box stores and plenty of parking. Nothing warms my heart more than that.

    Within the hierarchy of roadways with no bicycle infrastructure there are a few gems. For instance, rural freeways aren’t as bad as one would think as the shoulder is guaranteed to be wide and the trucks pull you along with their draft. They are noisy however.

    Here in Seattle, we have embryonic BRT lanes that create defacto 10 foot bike lanes. I just claim them as my own and the cars don’t bother with it.

    I spent a week however in Lakewood, WA where the predominant roadway are the converted farm roads with 4-5 lanes (two in each direction plus left turning lane) with either low rise business or labyrinthine residential that triples the commute time. The one example of bike lane is 2 ft wide and only goes for 4 blocks. I led some family bike rides but we just had to own a lane and it was extremely scary for the uninitiated.

    In my own commute to work, I have slowly gravitated to a route (there are three main ones with all the same distances and times) which features bike lanes and boulevards for 90% of my distance. Funny how that works.

  • kit says:

    This question seems a little ambiguous. The shot above with your bike on a lovely rural road is wonderful. However in an urban settling infrastructure increases the feeling of safety and in some cases can replicate the quiet calm of an empty rural road.

  • Rex says:

    I’m not a brakeless fixie thrill junkie but my favorite environment to ride is regular streets that happen to be well designed for cycling, meaning that whether or not they include designated bike lanes they are wide enough for even confused drivers to operate safely, lower traffic, high vis and they go where I want to go. Phoenix is not known for being a bike-friendly locale but it turns out that our main grid contains an almost identical set of in-between roads that match the above description and go everywhere the main arteries do (with a little creativity required to get over/under freeways).

    I do enjoy the pleasure of riding on car-free paths but they are kind of like train tracks—if they don’t go where I want to go they don’t do much good. I also don’t like the notion that I have to separate from everyone else just to get to the same places.

    At the end of the day I am happy as long as both options exist, but if I had to choose one at the exclusion of the other I would say don’t take away my freedom to ride on the same roads everyone else uses and try to offer bike paths in exchange. Fortunately that’s rarely the case, and not exactly the question posed in survey anyway.

  • Janice in GA says:

    The bike infrastructure here is pretty minimal. I haven’t really lived somewhere with GOOD bike paths/lanes.

    But when I had the choice this morning, I rode on the mile or so of bike path instead of in the 4 lanes of traffic in town. I’m not afraid to ride on the road, but it does add a level of anxiety/discomfort that I wish I didn’t have to deal with.

  • Pete says:

    There is so little bike infrastructure in most of this country I’ve hardly ever had the option, so I don’t even know what it would be like!
    I’ve been on a few rail-to-trial type bike paths, but they are usually so full of bad cyclists I prefer to take my chances with the cars.
    I’d really prefer to ride in Amsterdam, but that would be a long commute!

  • Rex says:

    Sorry for hogging the mic but Brad hit on one of my pet peeves, which is too narrow bike lanes. I would rather have no line painted there than one giving motorists the erroneous (but understandable) impression that I am obligated to relegate myself to riding in the gutter. K, I’m done now.

  • Ahmad says:

    I’d like to echo and expand on Rex’s thoughts – For me cycling is a wonderfully urban existence, and whether I’m in Mumbai, London, or Tokyo, I love interacting with my city and it’s people. I also love a great bike infrastructure, but not if it’s removed from my peeps.

  • sb mike says:

    Honestly, the main reason I started to commute to work on my bike was because there was a bike path most of the way. I could ride on the road now if i had to but the bike path is much more mellow and enjoyable.

    I used to live in the southeast and the bike path/lane situation there is basically non-existent. My friends who live there tell me all the time that riding on the road is suicide. Maybe they are being a bit dramatic but I do think there is some truth to it. In fact, I ran into a couple that was visiting here from Texas and they were so amazed at how easy it was to get around on bikes. They said ” We would have been killed three times over if we tried this in Houston!”.

    Bike path + bike lanes is the way to go.

  • Sharper says:

    I can’t vote for either half of this dichotomy. If I’m just looking to get from point A to point B, I’ll take the shortest reasonable route, even if that means a bike-unfriendly city street. If I’m looking for a pleasant ride, I’ll take the bike trail out in through the middle of nowhere. It’s the middle ground of bicycle “infrastructure” that annoys me most — I generally go out of my way to avoid roads with insufficiently wide bike lanes, bike lanes that encompass the door zone, and poorly marked shared lanes.

  • Brian says:

    I’m like most people here and am happy to ride on regular streets or on various forms of bike infrastructure. One potential downside to trails, however, is the potential for conflict with other users and there are some trails that I will avoid just because of their high level of use by pedestrians, dog walkers, etc – I’d rather take my chances on the street. Just recently in Renton, a suburb south of Seattle, a bicyclist and an elderly woman pedestrian collided while using a multi-use trail. Tragically, the woman died and the bicyclist was injured. Of course, accidents happen on all types of roads and trails, with or without infrastructure for bikes. This accident, however, led to a major backlash against bicyclists on the trail (even though it’s far from clear the bicyclist was at fault in this incident). Some of this was a long-simmering reaction to the behavior (high speeds, lack of consideration for other trail users) shown by some bicyclists on the trail. The result was that, rather than working to educate trail users about proper etiquette, enforcing speed limits or requiring separate lanes for walkers and bikes, the city council pandered to some vocal public opinion and reduced the speed limit on the trail from 15mph to 10mph. This is a major inconvenience particularly for those using the trail for commuting purposes. All of this is a longwinded way of making the point that just as there needs to be education and enforcement of rules for vehicle operators and bicyclists in safely sharing the roads, there also needs to be education and enforcement for those sharing other facilities so that all can enjoy them safely and with a minimum of conflict.

  • Jammy says:

    It’d be really nice to be able to get out of our Downtown Indy area without having to resort to riding on a 4 lane road with a horrible shoulder where everyone drives 50+mph.

    Indianapolis keeps installing bike lanes, but they seem to be ignoring the major arteries that feed the city like 38th street, Washington & Rockville, South Meridian etc…

    I’m curious does any city or state include bicycle safety in drivers education classes or on the written drivers test?

  • Don says:

    Bike-specific infrastructure implies a community dedicated to same. I always would prefer a place that inclusive.

  • Moopheus says:

    Why does it have to be a choice? Use what you have and feel comfortable with. Use what gets you where you’re going. Sure, it would be nice to have bike-dedicated lanes everywhere, no car traffic to worry about, no joggers or f-ing rollerbladers or pelotons, no pollution, etc., but none of these things are going to be happening in any American city anytime real soon no matter how much we may advocate for them. And of course, it depends on what I’m doing–going to work, going shopping, out for a Saturday morning ride in the “country”–means I choose differently.

  • peteathome says:

    Depends where I’m going. On a transportational ride, I want a fairly direct route. If there is a nice riverside bike path that is only a little out of my way, I might take that for the scenic value.

    In general, I dislike high-speed 4+ lane roads and try to find parallel streets to avoid them

    Recreationally – whatever is scenic, with a smooth surface and not too dangerous. I enjoy the Schuylkill river trail here, it goes from Philadelphia to Valley Forge. But I get off it about 4 miles from its Philadelphia terminus as it is just too dangerous – too many users of different sorts with no control. One of the few accidents I have gotten into in my life was in that area when a teenage boy on a bike passing me and did a sudden180 across the trail and I crashed into him.

    In my area, Philadelphia, we have a LOT of bike lanes in the central part of the city. They are all smack in the door zone. I have to ride just outside the lane to avoid opening doors. I get a lot of flack from automobile drivers when I do this. I would much prefer riding on roads without these lanes as I get less hassle.

  • Alan says:


    “Why does it have to be a choice?”

    It’s a hypothetical question posed specifically to identify bicyclists’ preferences. Proponents of the vehicular cycling approach would have us believe bicyclists prefer to mix it up with cars; I wanted to find out the truth of the matter directly from our readers. I believe this kind of information is invaluable in determining where we should put our focus and energy.


  • j. pierce says:

    I would prefer to have bicycle infrastructure, but sometimes what we have makes me second guess that. While I some of the cycle paths in town are great, others make me wonder what they were thinking – I’d rather deal with riding in the street than bike lanes that start and stop every time there’s a turn lane or for stretches where the road just narrows for no discernible reason.

    I avoid those stretches of street, as I only have three options:

    1) Go between the sometimes-bike-lane and the sidewalk. I try to avoid this, because as a sometimes-driver, I know it’s disconcerting when a cyclist keeps going back and forth between the road and the sidewalk; it becomes hard to know where they’re going to be next. I back off and play it safe when I’m in a car with one of these cyclists – not everyone does. being unpredictable (to the driver’s eyes at least) can end up in an inattentive driver making an assumption about where you’ll be that’s wrong.

    2) Go between the sometimes-bike-lane and the road. It’s okay when traffics slow, but it’s a pain the ass merging four times in a half mile; and when the traffic is alternating between stopped and 35mph, and people are harried, it’s just no fun.

    3) Just ride in the road to begin with. It’s easier one way than the other, but I’ve had too many impatient motorists pass me fairly unsafely on a few of these stretches, and I get some flak for not riding in the bike lane… which ends in 10 meters…

    So while I normally prefer a cycling infrastructure, if it’s going to be half-arsed, I’m going to take the non-infrastructure route.

    Sorry that was a bit long and rambly.

  • lyle says:

    We have good bike infrastructure here and drivers are mostly pretty aware of cyclists however, I often take the road less traveled simply because that’s the one I prefer!

    Good bike infrastructure I think is important but in my opinion, having more bikes on the road contributes more to safer cycling than does more infrastructure. Attitude is everything.

  • Alan says:


    “Good bike infrastructure I think is important but in my opinion, having more bikes on the road contributes more to safer cycling than does more infrastructure.”

    It’s a bit of a chicken-egg situation. Undoubtedly, having more bicyclists on the roads makes the roads safer for bicyclists. But how do we get more bicyclists on the road? Better infrastructure (see Mionske’s article below).


  • townmouse says:

    The interesting – and harder – question to me is, which is better, no bike infrastructure or poor bike infrastructure? For instance, the London ‘superhighways’ have been widely criticised among the cycling community as being no more than glorified on-road bike lanes which have nothing in common with their Copenhagen counterparts except the shade of blue paint used. Yet they’ve had a ton of publicity which may – along with London’s bike hire scheme – tend to boost cycling anyway. If you’re not immersed in bike blogs and the debates about infrastructure, just seeing pictures of bikes painted on the roads can be enough to encourage you to ride. And given that cycling – even on poorly thought out infrastructure – isn’t as dangerous as it might look, the chances are these new riders will be safer just through the safety in numbers effect and the lanes will have done their job.

    There’s an argument which goes: poor bike infrastructure leads to more riders which leads to politicians taking notice of cyclists which leads to more money for bike infrastructure which leads to actual decent bike infrastructure (which is more or less how the Danes did it – the original lanes put in in Copenhagen weren’t that great apparently) – bootstrapping a cycling culture. But then there’s another school of thought which says poor bike infrastructure leads to cyclists being driven off the roads which leads to marginalisation of cycling which leads to neglect of the poor infrastructure there is which leads to declining cycling rates which leads to even less funding for bikes. Given there’s no political will (in the UK, and I’m guessing in the US as well) for really good infrastructure, I really do wonder how best to lobby on how to spend the little funding there is. A lot of cyclists here seem to be settling on campaigning for 20mph zones which are good for pedestrians too, and hence have more political capital than purely bike related spending.

    (Sorry about the long comment! But this is one of the more thoughtful places where these matters are discussed)

  • Derek says:

    The way the question is worded, it is tough for me to pick one answer for your polling purposes. The cycling specific infrastructure around here usually does not look like the photo you have above. The paths that do look like that are often not paved and they rarely get you where you want to go. Sure, I would love to ride on a path like that to all of my destinations, but it does not exist here. Where the infrastructure exists, we get poorly maintained side paths with innumerable side streets and driveway entrances for which cyclists are expected to yield or gravel rails-to-trails paths that can be fun to ride on, but usually do not take you where you want to go. And I always rather ride in the road with the cars than on those side paths mentioned above.

    Another problem is that when this poorly designed infrastructure is present, motorists expect you to use it and frequently take issue with you shunning it. I have no preference to mix it up with automobiles, but it is often the safer and almost always the more practical (not to mention only) choice where I ride.

  • Jonathan Krall says:

    I like places where there is cycling infrastructure, because those places typically have lots of cyclists and are cycling friendly. Once there, I like riding on low-speed neighborhood streets or on secondary roads, preferably heading to someplace interesting. But if the bike path is going my way and isn’t badly designed, I’ll take that too. Mainly, I like riding in places where I am welcome.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    For me, it really depends on the type of roads and the type of infrastructure.

    When I live in Vienna, the bikeways there are not just pleasant to use, but convenient in terms of getting from point A to point B in the city. Though I have cycled on the road in Vienna and am fine with it, I prefer the bikeways.

    In Boston on the other hand, the only times I really use the bikeways is when I am cycling recreationally. They do not have the best riding surface, are over-crowded with pedestrians, and are not designed to be the best way to cycle from point A to point B in the city. If I actually need to get somewhere, I will use the road.

    Conclusion? Bikeways must be well designed and maintained in order to be useful to cyclists. And when they are, many will prefer them to cycling on the road.

  • Sharper says:

    I know it’s a hypothetical, but bike infrastructure runs the gamut from worse-than-none to outstanding. If my experience with bike infrastructure can go from “this is amazing, we need this everywhere” to “killing the planner behind this would be justified self-defense” in all of 50 feet, it’s hard to say whether I’d prefer to be with or without it.

  • Alan says:


    “I know it’s a hypothetical, but bike infrastructure runs the gamut from worse-than-none to outstanding”

    I specifically mentioned “well-developed” in the question: “… do you prefer to ride in areas with well-developed bicycle infrastructure…”.

    In any case, the question is really about two opposing philosophies: vehicular a la Forester versus infrastructure-based a la Pucher.


  • Eric says:

    I agree with Rex completely. There have been bike specific paths that I have avoided due to worse terrain, poor surface conditions (like riding in the shoulder or packed gravel) or the paths does not go where I wanted or needed to go as compared to the main road. Well designed multiuse road are the asnwer to keeping commuting by bike an option. Meandaring bike paths are a way to introduce traveling A to B to new cyclists but can be impractical for destination specific commuting, etc.

    Boise, Idaho

  • Sharper says:

    Heh, serves me right for reading the edited portion, not the pertinent parts of the original post.

  • dweendaddy says:

    I think an interesting poll would be: how much would you add to your commute to be on bike-specific infrastructure? I would not add much, maybe 5%, as I feel comfortable riding on most urban streets, and I value my time as much as anything. For me, the main reason to bike commute, and the main way to get people to bike commute, in my opinion is to focus on making it faster AND cheaper to bike rather than drive. The eco-aspect of it is a distant second.

  • Androo says:

    To answer a little bit less facetiously than I did before, the fact of the matter is that nearly none of the roads I ride to commute (heart of downtown in a big city) have anything vaguely resembling a bike lane, and if they do, the pavement itself is in atrocious condition. So while I readily DO ride largely in areas without any infrastructure with cars (and alongside them, since they pile up at lights far more than I have to…), I do it out of necessity, not desirability.

    When I first moved downtown there were bike lanes pretty much the whole way to my office from where I lived, and I’m not sure if I would have got started cycling without them. Now I’ll ride most anywhere in most any conditions, but it takes a while of being in a safe space to develop that comfort zone.

    I feel like if you want to encourage adoption by new riders rather than foster the somewhat militant us-vs-them attitude that tends to develop among hardcore cyclists, infrastructure is vitally necessary.

  • Molnar says:

    I voted with the majority, but I am concerned about the possibility of ghettoization. As long as the use of bicycle lanes and paths is optional rather than legally mandated, I’m all for it, but there have been cases in the U.S. and Europe where the creation of bike paths has been followed by the mandatory use of them instead of nearby streets. As I recall, this happened in Palo Alto in the 70s before the local ordinance was ruled illegal under California state law.

  • Steve Butcher says:

    The rural area where I live and work in S.W. Missouri has no bike-lanes. Fortunately, our traffic is much less than one would experience in an urban or suburban area. Nonetheless, the times I have had the opportunity to ride on bike-lanes made me really appreciate them. We vacationed about two weeks ago in Minnesota and Iowa. Minnesota seems to be way ahead of the curve when it comes to bike friendliness. I took a 40 mile ride on the Central Lakes Trail in southwest Minnesota. Very nice paved bike path and lovely scenery. Minnesota has numerous such paths located in rural areas. I would like to see all states develop similar systems.

  • SB Path Rider says:

    I’m for bike infrastructure that is separated from streets with motor vehicles. I’m tired of sharing the road with cars, smoking their exhaust fumes and getting passed too closely,

    My commute involves avoiding streets (with or without bike lanes) whenever possible by taking bike paths (MUPs), pedestrian paths through parks (even though there are “no bikes allowed”), dirt trails, and slow residential streets (where pedestrians walk in the middle of the street). It’s far from the fastest way, but I get home much more relaxed and satisfied. When I used to ride home the short way on busier streets, I would often arrive stressed out after dealing with traffic – it only takes one bad move by a driver to really mess with me. Close calls with cars don’t happen every day, but they happen often enough to freak me out, and I’m a long experienced rider/commuter. I’ve got kids now, I’d rather take the safe healthy way home.

  • Philip says:

    I bicycle commute when I work the day shift at my hospital. If there were a dedicated bicycle path, I would bicycle commute at night too when I work the night shift. However, it is just too dangerous to bicycle at night on the busiest street in Bethlehem; the car drivers just do not see you (even with the bicycle lights that I have on my bicycle and the reflective gear that I don).

  • Mike E says:

    I prefer to ride any where I want to go. Bicycles are vehicles.

  • Peter says:

    I use a dedicated trail to ride my 30 km roundtrip commute. Its a relaxing experience until I join the downtown streets. Even though we have bike lanes on most major streets they are too narrow and close to parked cars. Better than no lanes at all but you have to be extremely aware.

  • Bill O. says:

    If the question were “Do you prefer to /ride on/ well developed …” then I’d have to say that I might, as long as it took me where I wanted to go. Even here in Madison WI where we have relatively good bicycling infrastructure, there are still important areas and routes that are not well served – yet. You actually asked whether we would prefer to ride in areas WITH well-developed infrastructure. Yes! No doubt about it. You don’t get that infrastructure without a wide acceptance of bicycling. I prefer to ride in those areas rather than in places where people don’t accept (or expect) bicycling as a legitimate transportation choice.

  • Mat says:

    I voted no bicycle infrastructure, but that would be with qualifications. If the choice was entirely car free or not, then my answer would be car free, please. That’s just not happening any time soon, sadly. In my commuting journey I act as a vehicle like all the others, slower and more fragile, but a vehicle none the less. Over the last decade I can’t say that I have been any more stressed during my journey than if I had been in a car; less, actually. And, I can get to where I’m going in a timely fashion. I treat the bike paths in the city as extremely dangerous, rule-free, anything goes areas to be used only during midday, midweek, when hardly anyone is on them. Between the roller-bladders with the cranked ipods, people wandering about enjoying nature, beginning, afraid cyclists, fitness warriors who are striving to become Olympians in an hour or less, it’s just not worth it!

    The biggest thing I’ve ever done to increase my comfort on the busy roads was to mount a Mirrycle mirror. The second most important was to use a high-vis vest. Both may be dorky to others, but I notice a real difference.

    Finding Ecovelo a few weeks ago has been a real boon, thanks for the blog!

  • John Lascurettes says:

    I can’t vote. The choices are too limited.

    For example, on my commute in to work in Portland I take a high-volume road without infrastructure for bikes because it’s wide and easy to share the road with motorized traffic. I take it even though there is a bike boulevard two lanes over (a bike boulevard with twice as many stop signs on it, speed humps and more blind spots). So, in my mind, the less bike-specific route is better for that part of my commute. I’ve got to say, it felt mighty grand to be passing all the slip sliding cars the whole way home during one snow this last winter.

    Other times, I take a dedicated bikeway (lane, buffered lane, separated path) because it’s the simpler, shorter or quicker way.

    Ultimately my answer is “it depends” but I guess that means I’m okay with no dedicated facilities. I’d still like to see more dedicated routes though to encourage more riders.

  • Traci says:

    I would much prefer biking in areas with bike infrastructure – if it was well-developed. I actually don’t know what that is like though since my area has extremely few bike lanes or trails that lead anywhere I need to go. I just try and pick streets that with the lowest traffic volume possible or times that tend to be lower traffic on busy and/or fast-moving streets. I’ve been to Copenhagen and can’t even imagine what it would be like to have biking facilities like that!

  • Alex says:

    I live in Victoria and Chilliwack, both in BC, Canada, and they’re pretty good examples for both sides. Victoria’s the unofficial biking capital of BC and Chilliwack’s a growing (cough sprawling) farm community about 90 miles out from Vancouver. Chilliwack’s nice to bike in because it’s flat, but I would much rather bike in Victoria; there a far more commited lanes, a fantastic seperated regional route, and as a result there are many more people on bikes – ergo, people in cars are more used to it and are more careful and accomdating.

  • Mark says:

    I guess it all depends on what you consider “bicycle infrastructure” to be. Most bike paths I’ve been on were nothing more than a linear playground for all sorts of nonsense. They’re great for a Sunday afternoon outing with children but not so great for actually getting somewhere. Properly designed streets with sufficient shoulders is more than adequate for safe cycling.

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