Pedaling toward safer streets

By Anonymous

Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians have long debated the rules and rights of the road.  As a cyclist hit by a vehicle and a runner seriously injured by a cyclist, I wanted to examine bike lanes and recent experiments with protected bike lanes.  I believe the key is proper design of the lanes, keeping the cyclist away from turning vehicle and opening car doors.

New York City implemented the first large-scale experiment with protected bike lanes.  Instead of the standard bike lane that is nothing more than a painted line on the street, they constructed physical barriers that would lesson the chances of a vehicle colliding with a cyclist.  Their early experiment and continued investment into protected bike lanes has proved that if you build the infrastructure, the bikers will come.  More importantly, they have been able to debunk the popular argument used to resist bike lanes—that increased bike lanes will only further congest the roads and take away already scare parking spots.  A memo from the New York Mayor’s office said, “Sixty-six percent of new bike lanes installed in New York City have no effects on parking or on the number of moving lanes.”[1]

Washington, DC

In 2009, Washington, D.C. undertook a huge project to take out a lane of traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue—the main thoroughfare through downtown—and create a cycling lane.  Just as running on a road without a sidewalk would put an individual in much more danger, biking on a road without a dedicated bike lane is extremely dangerous.

The city and surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia have an extensive network of multi-use paths that allow commuters to bike in from many of the far-away suburbs. Before Mayor Fenty undertook a serious initiative to increase the number of protected bike lanes in the district, cyclists could ride all the way into the city on designated paths, but had few safe options once they entered the district.  Turning vehicles, buses, and thousands of wandering tourists complicate the road safety in Washington.  After the protected lanes along Pennsylvania Avenue opened, bike commuting increased 200%.[2]

Chicago, IL

In Chicago, where cyclists have long taken to the streets, even in the winter months, the city decided to make their bike lanes safer.  One of Mayor Emanuel’s major initiatives is to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America.  By taking existing bike lanes, removing them from traffic and creating protected bike lanes, cyclists are not only safer but also further incentivized to bike commute.[3]

It’s not all about alleviating traffic and pollution either; cycling is an excellent cardiovascular activity.  There are many other cities that have implemented bike lanes and through constant experimentation are able to see what is working and what needs improvement.  And finally, it is not just bike lanes that keep riders safe, but also a helmet, good awareness of road rules and common sense.

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2 thoughts on “Pedaling toward safer streets

  1. I wholeheartedly agree that biking is an excellent solution not only to pollution and traffic reduction, but also to health issues created by lack of exercise and decreasing energy resources. For this reasons, every city should promote biking and the creation of protected bike lanes is definitely part of the solution However, I would like to take a broader view on biking promotion and emphasize the importance of an integrated set of infrastructure, including protected bike lanes, which together will create a successful bike policy. I will use as examples two French cities, Paris and Grenoble, my home town.

    Paris has invested in the protection of the existing bike lanes to ensure the safety of the bikers. However, the existence of protected lanes doesn’t guarantee the protection of bikers city wide, nor does create an incentive for citizens to bike if the city doesn’t offer an extensive network of such bike lanes and the bikers have to go on regular roads to perform their desired trip. Thus, The success of Paris’ biking policy can be explained by the large network of bike lanes, and also the other infrastructures and policies incentivizing biking. Paris has 371 km of bike lanes and the bikers can also use the bus lanes; those combined create an extensive network and offer bikers the possibility to go anywhere in Paris. Besides, Paris has built parking spaces for bikes, has limited the speed to 30 km per hour in some areas and has closed the Seine’s banks to motorized vehicle on sundays in order to promote biking. Last but not least, the availability of an easy rental bike system, called Velib (nickname for bike-freedom), everywhere in the city makes it very easy to Parisians to commute by bike without buying a bike.

    Grenoble, my home town is another example of a successful bike policy. The city has now 300km of bike lanes, 5000 parking spots for bikes, two foot bridge created to connect bike lanes. It is also possible to rent bikes, as in Paris, and Grenoble goes further by interconnecting biking and public transportation since bikers can take their bike on the local tramway. This set of policies and infrastructures has proved successful since the number of bike trips has increase by 44% between 2002 and 2010.

    These infrastructures and policies are interesting ways to develop biking in the cities to make them more sustainable. However, we have to keep in mind that the biking regulations have to be developed in parallel because bikes can prove very dangerous. As the blog author, I have been hit by a bike on the street because it didn’t stop at a light, so I’m a firm believer in increasing bike legislation If we want cars, bikes and walkers to cohabit in the city.

  2. I agree in principle that biking as a form of transportation is cheap, green and healthier for citizens. However, I do not think that bike lanes are a practical solution to transit problems in most cities in developing countries for several reasons:

    1. Lack of space/political will: In cities like Bombay where several major thoroughfares are only 2-lane roads, creating a bike lane would involve decreasing sidewalks (if sidewalks exist), or simply removing one lane from the road. Like the pushback we saw in the Transmilineo case, wealthier citizens who use cars to commute will not be pleased with a reduction of road space in already congested cities. Therefore strong political will be required to implement bike lanes.

    2. Pollution: I understand that it is a chicken and egg problem (pollution will only worsen if people are not incentivized to stop using cars) but given the poor air quality in most cities in the developing world, anyone who can afford to use another transit option, will not choose to bike. Therefore, it is unlikely that bike commuting will increase at rates similar to those that have been seen in Washington DC.

    3. Not solving the root cause (congestion): Given the population of most emerging market cities, if the bike lanes were actually successful and people did start to use them, I fear that we would just be shifting congestion from car-lanes to bike-lanes.

    In my opinion, increasing public transportation options is the only solution to make cities in developing countries more sustainable; individual transport options like bikes will not solve the congestion problem even if they may solve the green problem.

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