These days I try not to read Lawrence Solomon's articles on bikes. Its pretty much guaranteed to make obscure references and illogical conclusions. However, earlier this week I had a client forward an email from a concerned member of the public about a project we're working on that will improve one of the main streets through town. The improvements will help not just cyclists, but pedestrians, the disabled, it will formalize parking and provide facilities on both side of the road. The email contained a link to the Lawrence Solomon article about bike lanes suggesting the project is not needed.
The article originally posted in the Financial Post is reproduced below along with my own more logical responses (in my opinion) provided in red...
Lawrence Solomon: Rip out the bike lanes — before more innocent people get hurt. With their false promise of safety, bike lanes lure the inexperienced onto dangerous roads
Cyclists are at high risk when they’re on the road [of course, they have to mix with motor vehicles] — accident rates per kilometer are 26 to 48 times higher for bikes than for automobiles, according to Ontario’s Share the Road Cycling Coalition. The culprits are many, but three in particular stand out: careless motorists who are oblivious to those with whom they share the road [agree, careless motorists are a problem], inexperienced cyclists who have no business being on the road [well firstly every cyclist has a right to be on the road, but agree inexperienced cyclists would tend to be better using off-road facilities], and reckless politicians and planners who build bike lanes as vanity projects [the first two points above prove these projects are far more than vanity projects, they are a necessity, protected/separated cycling infrastructure is a very good idea to allow people to cycle safely].
Politicians promote bike lanes largely because inexperienced cyclists feel safer on them [maybe we should clarify that protected bike lanes are safer]. Feeling safer, they are likelier to attempt commuting by bike [correct, this is a good thing, it reduces congestion, improves there health, reduces emissions, saves them money]. But there’s a difference between feeling safer and being safer. Many if not most bike lanes increase the odds of an accident [I don't believe separating bicycles from traffic, whether by a paint line, or preferably a physical barrier has ever been shown to reduce safety], particularly since inexperienced cyclists are ill-equipped to understand the hazards they face [inexperienced cyclists are generally acutely aware of the hazards, the hazards are largely the reason the interested but concerned cyclist doesn't cycle, they are generally more law abiding than more confident cyclists]. Bike lanes, with their false promise of safety, lure the inexperienced onto roads, and some inevitably to their death [There may be some truth to this where safe facilities are not continuous and drop a cyclist onto a less safe road. This is simply more justification for a connected and complete network of safe cycling routes, assuming we acknowledge that more people using a mode of transportation that is healthy and less polluting and more efficient is a good thing].
Over the decades, experienced cyclists and cycling advocacy organizations have often argued against dedicated cycling paths. In one study, the German Cyclists’ Union, ADFC, noted that cyclists in the Netherlands are involved in 40 per cent of all traffic accidents while accounting for only 27 per cent of travel, despite a proliferation of bicycle lanes; in Germany, which has far fewer bike lanes, the proportion of accidents was lower. The ADFC’s position — like that of many others — is that cyclists who know what they’re doing are safer in traffic among cars than in bike lanes alongside them.
[So a Canadian writing for a US website is resorting to German studies to prove a point. Lets take a look at the ADFC Mission statement "With MAMILs* only, you cannot build a cycling nation: Cycling MAMILs are great. We are delighted about anyone who cycles. Cycling is not a question of age, gender or clothing though. There are younger and older people, fathers with children on their way to school, well-dressed women on their way to work, girlie girls in pink, ministers and doctors, teenagers on their way to sports training, musicians with double basses on their backs, elderly ladies on their way to the library… They wear lycra, evening dresses, jeans, suits, coats, lederhosen, miniskirts, casual dress or cardigans. They cycle mountain bikes, city bikes, e-bikes, Dutch bikes, cruisers, old folding bikes, fixies…The ADFC’s mission is clear: to make more people cycle more often and longer distances. We strive to make Germany a cycling nation."
The German organisation does not appear to fully endorse specific segregated cycling facilities, although their policy statements make it clear they support infrastructure suitable for all types of cyclists including those that are inexperienced
Perhaps Lawrence could look at best practice within the Financial Post's target areas, which have been far more extensively researched than his articles appear to be. For example, the TAC Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads or the NACTO guidelines.]
That message is no longer a commonplace, however: Many cycling advocacy organizations are now captive to government funding and the cycling industry, which rightly understands that bicycle lanes benefit its bottom line [In Canada at least i'm not aware of any considerable funding the cycling organisation I've worked with receive, they exist to support the need for better bike infrastructure]. A case in point is the League of American Bicyclists, a venerable cycling NGO, which a decade ago purged its board of bike-lane dissenters and now more represents the interests of bicycle sellers and planners [and the 60% or so interested but concerned potential cyclists that exist in every city pretty much everywhere][Is this a good time to discuss the automobile or oil and gas lobbyists that are far better funded and have far more influence in government compared with cycling advocacy groups, Google the origins of jawalking or the GM street car conspiracy].
Unbundling the stats shows why — all else being equal — it is a no-brainer that cyclists should share the same lanes as motorized vehicles [No brainer? Really? To quote the first sentence of the first paragraph "Cyclists are at high risk when they’re on the road". Its a no brainer to separate them from traffic]. Relatively few accidents occur when impatient motorists overtake slower-moving bicycles in their lane: just seven per cent of bike-car collisions occur this way. [I don't see any source for this data, even if true, the proximity with which most motorist pass cyclists is what makes it feel unsafe, and that is often enough to stop the interested but concerned from cycling, the potential is there, its a primary reason to support separated cycling infrastructure.]
ACCIDENTS: In contrast, the overwhelming proportion of bike-car accidents — 89 per cent in one study — occur during turning or crossing, generally at intersections [seems logical, that's where most conflicts occur between all modes, even if you look at car/car collisions, most are at intersections, yet even roads designed primarily for cars must conform to a multitude of design requirements between intersections such as lane widths, horizontal and vertical geometry, access control, clear zones, etc. Suitable design for bicycles and protected turn movements can enhance safety in these situations]. If the bicycle is in its own lane, it faces additional threats from automobiles turning right across the bicycle lane. [this is illogical, it faces the same threat from turning vehicles whether in a vehicle lane or bicycle lane. In fact design features such as raised crossings can dramatically improve safety for cyclists, as vehicles would have to slow down to enter the main road, compared with a largely unrestricted turn into a conventional traffic lane]
An additional threat also occurs mid-block, at driveways, when autos pulling into traffic making left-hand turns must dart across the bike lane and the adjacent car lane to turn left into the far lane, requiring the driver to judge traffic coming from two directions in three lanes. Put another way, by some measures, bike lanes make cycling safer in seven per cent of car-bike situations but more dangerous in 89 per cent. Not a good ratio. [see above, a bike lane is no different, a separated path with raised crossing can be considerably safer. Regardless a driveway should have sufficient visibility and the driver has a duty of care when pulling out of a driveway]
Yet, because bike paths are fashionable, municipal politicians compete with each other to remake their cities as “world-class cycling cities,” often at great expense, to serve a small segment of the population (typically just one or two per cent of commuters cycle) that for the most part lacks the ability to ride safely. [1-2% is typical in a city with poor bike facilities, these facilities are to attract the 60% interested but concerned that would get out of their car and cycle if safer facilities were built]
According to the Bicycle Federation of America, fewer than five per cent of cyclists would qualify as experienced or highly skilled bicyclists. In effect, municipal cycling policy is being driven by cycling incompetents, leading to increased risks and limited freedom for the road-worthy cyclist since many jurisdictions with bike lanes require cyclists to keep off car lanes. [see response above, the fewer than 5% of cyclists are already cycling, to address congestion and move more people in growing cities, we need to get 10 times more people cycling. I think the penny might have dropped here. Is Lawrence a MAMIL? A die hard, I'll bike in the traffic even if it kills me type of rider? Doe he feel inferior if he rides a bike path? Is he the the 1% who thinks everyone should adopt his behavior or to hell with them?]
LICENSING: Cycling is serious, life-and-death business, and is becoming more so as cycling ridership expands [Oh boy! here we go again! cycling is life or death business, but usually at the expense of the cyclists own life at the hands of an incompetent car driver. Cyclists rarely harm or kill anyone and certainly at nowhere near the levels of automobile drivers]. It should be treated as such: by licensing cyclists after they’ve learned the rules of the road and demonstrated their on-road competence, just as other vehicle owners must; by requiring their vehicles to be insured and roadworthy through headlamps, reflectors and brakes; and by strictly policing their behavior [So lets get this right, kids can't learn to ride without paying for insurance and bicycle inspections, they can't ride to school without passing a test, for something which is as simple as riding a bike and does little harm to the general public. The costs to administer and enforce such schemes would be astronomical compared to the revenue they would generate]. “There is no substitute for cycling competence; competence reduces the cyclist accident rate by about 75 per cent,” states John Forester, a leading American authority on cycling safety. [with safe separated cycling infrastructure, competence becomes less important. However, riding a bike is as simple as riding a bike]
Cyclists aren’t alone in needing discipline. For them to share the road, those they’re sharing it with — motorists — need discipline as well, to accept cyclists as equally entitled to the road. Police should crack down on unruly motorists, including those who display impatience at cyclists they perceive to be slowing them down. [while I agree with the sentiment, its never going to happen, drivers will always be a considerable threat to cyclists on the road. Safe separated facilities remove this threat for the most part]
Politicians and planners need discipline, too, to focus on real rather than perceived safety needs. Bike lane budgets should be redirected to safety at intersections, including through technology that identifies unfit motorists and enforcement that chastens them — 44 per cent of intersection accidents are caused by the driver’s carelessness. [It has been proven through surveys and before and after ridership counts time and time again, that if you provide safe separated facilities, it will increase ridership. The potential to be hit by a car is one of the biggest deterrents to people cycling, you could call that a perception, but the threat exists and is what prevents people from cycling. Safe separated facilities get people on bikes!]
Because cycling is inherently more dangerous than driving, anyone who decides to cycle rather than drive faces an elevated risk. Bike-lane propaganda by politicians and planners won’t reduce that risk [Firstly, evidence based benefits of separated designs is not propaganda. Secondly, safe infrastructure will reduce the risk, hence why it gets more people on bikes, if you separate the modes, of course you will reduce the risk]. Education and enforcement, for cyclists and motorists alike, will. [education and enforcement are also important, but no substitute for safe separated infrastructure]
Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute, a division of Energy Probe Research Foundation. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com [not to be confused with nextcity.org]
[If you've ever biked in traffic and biked on modern safe separated bike infrastructure the experience is like night and day. If your goal is to encourage environmentally friendly, emission reducing, health improving travel and get people out of cars, its a no brainer!]