Will Vehicular Cyclists and the “Right to Park” Trump Safer Streets in Boston?

Beacon Street in Somerville, just outside Boston, is perhaps the most biked route in the state of Massachusetts. It also has a terrible safety record. There have been 154 collisions involving cyclists on the corridor between 2002 and 2010, according to the state Department of Transportation [PDF].

Vehicular cyclists are undermining a proposal for a protected bike lane on Beacon Street, just outside Boston, that has attracted opposition because parking spots will be eliminated. Image: ##http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/somerville/2013/02/cycle_track_vs_parking_spaces.html## Somerville Patch##

“There are more bikes going down Beacon Street in a sort of subpar bike path than anywhere else in the city,” said Pete Stidman, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union. Having a safe and protected space to bike “would increase cycling numbers exponentially.”

Working with officials from the city of Somerville, bike advocates have been promoting a safe solution. And it looks like it’s on the way: The city recently presented preliminary designs that include the addition of a protected bike lane.

The Somerville proposal is the latest sign that as protected bike lanes gain currency, this type of street design isn’t just for big city transportation departments. Evanston, Illinois, an inner-ring suburb of Chicago, recently built a protected bike lane linking residential areas to its downtown.

As with protected bike lanes in other cities, Boston-area advocates are running up against some opposition in their bid to make Beacon Street safer. The dynamic in this case is a little unusual: A handful of dyed-in-the-wool vehicular cyclists are giving a big assist to residents who value on-street parking in front of their doorstep more than street safety.

Somerville’s plan calls for eliminating about 100 on-street parking spots on Beacon for the mile-long stretch where the bike lane will be installed. Although a local parking study found that there was more than enough on-street parking capacity to accommodate the reduction, some local residents have been grumpy about the proposed change. At a recent preliminary design meeting with the community, one neighbor called the plan “discriminatory” (against drivers) and said it violates their “right to park” in front of their homes.

“I want my parking place; I think this is a dumb project,” said Somerville resident Marty Filosi.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that a handful of vehicular cyclists in the region have opposed the plan. One of them is John Allen, a prominent local follower of John Forester’s transportation theories, which — against the preponderance of evidence — argue that dedicated cycling infrastructure makes cyclists less safe.

Beacon Street's current conditions make cyclists vulnerable to dooring and fail to create an environment that's safe for all ages. Image: ##http://www.wickedlocal.com/somerville/news/x1831588986/Somerville-business-leaders-Dont-take-parking-from-Beacon-Street#axzz2NuqIXkIZ##Wicked Local##

Vehicular cyclists have long held inordinate sway in the Boston area. For many years, the city’s bike planner subscribed to this philosphy, said Stidman. As a result, Boston had very little dedicated bike infrastructure until recently.

Protected bike lanes are a relatively new street treatment for the Boston region, Stidman said, and the lack of familiarity with these designs may be exacerbating the current conflict. There are only a handful of protected bike lanes in the Boston area — two in Cambridge and one in Boston proper. This would be the first one ever constructed in Somerville.

Planners hope to complete the project in 2015, but this protected bike lane could be in jeopardy. State Senator Patricia Jehlen — apparently responding to some of the parking gripes — recently spoke out against the protected bike lane.

“That’s really strange because typically she’s supporting issues that have to do with children and family and elders,” said Stidman. “Those are precisely the people we’re trying to help out with adding a piece of bike infrastructure.”

The $5.5 million plan is being led by the city of Somerville and funded by the state. Stidman and other Boston-area bike advocates hope the city will follow through on making the corridor safer for all instead of buckling in the face of irrational complaints.

  • Than

    Shameful that the vehicular cyclists might just ruin this for all of the other non-adjectivial cyclists! Infrastructure is for everyone. If you don’t want to ride in the bike lane, you don’t have to. Sigh.

  • Jesse Greene

    That may not be true. I don’t know what the law is in Boston, but in NYC you are required to ride in the bike lane if the street has one. There are some reasonable exceptions but the law is rarely interpreted correctly by the police so it’s subject to great abuse. But I generally agree with you. If vehicular cyclists don’t want to ride in bike lanes they shouldn’t be advocating against bike lanes, they should be advocating against laws requiring them to ride in bike lanes.

  • dk12

    In massachusetts you are allowed to ride two abreast in common lane of travel regardless of existence of bike lane – unless it is a limited access road. These guys won’t have to ride in the cycle track if they don’t want to.

  • J

    Those in favor of protected bicycle infrastructure can easily point to Amsterdam and Copenhagen and a vast and growing number of cities where cycling is widely used by all segments of the population. In these cities, cyclists use well-designed, protected infrastructure and, interestingly, those same cities have some of the lowest injury rates for cycling in the world.

    I’m still waiting to hear about the vehicular cyclists’ model city, where children and grandparents alike comfortably share the road with automobiles. (spoiler: they don’t exist).

  • Joe R.

    What else is new? Vehicular cyclists have also single-handedly killed Idaho-stop proposals in a few states on the stupid theory that if bikes have a different set of laws, eventually they might not be allowed to share the same roads as cars. Best thing would be for the vehicular cycling movement to finally die. After 40 years their philosophy hasn’t managed to increase bike mode beyond low single digits. Decent cycling infrastructure has made more gains in a few years than in the previous 35.

    Incidentally, I’m not a big fan of protected bike lanes except on roads with few intersections precisely because they do nothing at junctions. Junctions are where most bike-car collisions occur. I’d much rather have complete grade separation at junctions although I realize this would be a lot more costly.

    Loss of parking isn’t a valid reason at all to not build bike infrastructure. Storing private property on public streets is a privilege given by the state which can be revoked at any time for any reason.

  • You gotta feel bad for the residents of Boston. John Allen has set back progress there for decades. His polices failed 20 years ago. More people are riding today in many cities by doing the opposite of his views. Now having said that, there is nothing wrong with vehicular cycling as it is a valuable tool for knowing the law and learning how to ride on streets without protected lanes. But if we didn’t finally turn around things in cities in the last 5 or 10 years, you’d only see a fraction of the number of people riding today.

  • Andy

    It’s interesting that there’s this same fight every time a plan for new biking infrastructure comes up. Fortunately, the biking infrastructure usually ends up going in, people get used to it, and the number of cyclists increases. Studies also usually end up showing that the safety of the road has increased for both cyclists and motorists. When it’s all said and done, most people end up supporting the infrastructure, except in a few rare cases.

    So the question is, WHY does it feel like we need to reinvent the wheel each time? Why each time do we need to convince a new set of skeptics who have not learned from the successes of the past? It almost seems like having to re-explain the textbook to someone who didn’t bother to do the reading for class. I suppose it goes to show JUST how powerful the driving status quo really is.

  • Adam Ess

    I live near Beacon St and have been attending these meetings. It is hard to express how frustrating it is to deal with the arguments from the vehicular cyclists. To be fair, it’s basically two or three people shouting loudly — the other cyclists and livable streets advocates see through the ruse. Meanwhile, residents who want nothing to do with cyclists or bike safety applaud whenever the misguided anti-bike lane bikers speak.

    Another troubling aspect of the meetings has been the lack of support from some pedestrian advocates. A few people are concerned that the bike lane being level with the sidewalk will result in walkers getting run down, particularly those with disabilities. I am much more open to this critique because it’s at least driven by concern about the most vulnerable users of the street. However I’m not totally sure how to respond to it.

    The vehicular cyclists are a lost cause, but it seems like we should be able to bring *all* pedestrian advocates on board. If people here have any thoughts about how to counter the pedestrians’ concerns I’d be interested to hear them.

  • guest

    this article did not explain what the term “vehicular cyclist” means. I was confused and i would appreciate it if someone explained.

  • Joe R.


    To add to the wikipedia article, vehicular cycling does give some good tips on dealing with traffic but the problem is the almost religious status it has with a minority of the cycling community. In their minds, everything is just fine as is. No need for bike paths or bike lanes because if you “drive” a bike just like you drive a car, everything will be OK. The flaw in this theory is the motorists unwilling to treat a bike on the road the same as they would a car or truck or bus. Also, vehicular cycling fails to acknowledge the huge speed differential between motor traffic and anything human powered. Even the best velomobile with the strongest rider might only be able to sustain about 45 to 50 mph, and then only on level roads. This often still isn’t fast enough to safely mix with motor traffic. Forget your average 10 or 12 mph cyclist being able to mix with traffic on anything but the quietest side roads (which nearly everyone agrees don’t need separate facilities for bicycles). The problem is these quiet side roads rarely go on for very long. Cyclists need to use the same through streets as cars to get anywhere. These through streets usually need separate bike facilities because the volume and aggressiveness of motor traffic scares away all but the most confident, fit cyclists.

  • @guest – The ideology has changed names a few times. Lately they are publicizing it as “bicycle driving,” because drivers behave wonderfully and should be emulated.

  • @Jesse Greene – New York state has a “must use bike lane” law (VTL § 1234), but New York City is specifically exempt from it. The NYPD does ignore this exemption to harass bicyclists with VTL § 1234 tickets.

    Not long ago, John Forester conceded that vehicular cycling has lost ground everywhere, and suggested that its adherents should focus on opposing laws that mandate use of facilities.

  • Ninety5rpm

    “[Vehicular cyclists like Allen and Forester] argue that dedicated cycling infrastructure makes cyclists less safe.”

    This is simply not true. That’s not what they say, not in anything I’ve ever heard or read. What they say is many cycling infrastructure designs are bad and do make cyclists less safe, but good ones don’t. The difficulty is in creating the good ones, and not accepting the bad ones. What Allen is doing here is not accepting a particularly bad design.

    As Joe R notes in the comments, the problem with “protected” bike lanes is the junctions. And that’s Allen’s concern too.

    Let’s stop the immature personal attacks and focus on the specific elements of the design proposal and whether they are good/safe or bad/unsafe.

  • Tyler

    I agree — I read the whole article and I just never “got it” because of this term…. something that is apparently a standard but of jargon for cycling/traffic folks. Not really for the rest of us. Thank you for the link, but a simple edit to the article for the ‘rest of us’ would be better than having to look up a key term. Engage and enlist a broad audience by speaking in a way that they can hear… not dumbing down… explaining jargon and shorthand.

    Why didn’t the author right MADOT instead of “state Department of Transportation” — because she knew the latter was easier to understand. I actually read the article hoping to learn what a “vehicular cyclist” was… instead I was confused.

  • Tyler

    But that is also a SURE way of building resentment and triggering aggressive behavior by motorists, no? I’m not ‘victim blaming’ here — just pointing out “share the road” goes both ways, no? and these dinkweeds are harmful to any sort of progress for the vast majority of cyclists.

  • afeman

    I found it interesting that no links were given to anything John Allen or other VCs actually had to say about the matter, and as Ninety5rpm points out, it’s more complicated than it gets portrayed here:


  • Ninety5rpm

    When you say, ” In their minds, everything is just fine as is. No need for bike paths or bike lanes because if you “drive” a bike just like you drive a car, everything will be OK.” who exactly are you talking about? Because I know that’s not an accurate description of Allen or Forester. They don’t say everything is fine and everything will be OK. They say that bike paths and bike lanes rarely do much if anything to help with what is not fine.

    Your other words suggest that in order to “mix” safely and comfortably with other traffic one has to travel about the same speed. That myth is the death knell of bicycling and bicycling advocacy. It’s simply not true.

    It may be true to some extent on freeways, but surface streets are not freeways. Surface streets are replete with all kinds of traffic travelling at speeds all over the spectrum, even south of zero (e.g., motorists backing in to curb parking).

    See these videos for more information about how bicyclists can mix safely and comfortably with faster motor traffic.

  • Ninety5rpm

    The protected bike lanes in Amsterdam and Copenhagen are actually protected at the junctions where it matters the most, unlike this proposed design.

    There is no model city. There are only actual cities. And every city has its own characteristics, culture and laws that determine what is feasible and possible.

    In comparing Amsterdam/Copenhagen infrastructure to this, you’re comparing apples to cinder blocks.

  • Joe R.

    Try “taking the lane” as Forester et al suggest (and as shown in the beginning of the second video you linked to) in NYC, and then get back to me about mixing with traffic-if you’re still alive. I’ve already gone 50 mph (downhill) in the lane, and still had cars trying to go around me-in a 30 mph zone no less.

    The problem isn’t that what Forester suggests is necessarily illogical or wouldn’t work. It would in a perfect world where everyone has common sense, respect, and more or less obeys the traffic laws. That isn’t the world we live in. The reason why vehicular cycling doesn’t work as well as advertised is primarily because of the attitudes of motorists. I actually practice VC techniques in traffic (including making left turns “car” style), but there are also times I know I can’t because it just won’t work here. You usually *can’t* take the lane in NYC unless you can go within about 5 mph of motor traffic speed, for example. And if you’re in the left turn lane with cars waiting behind you, better sprint right up to about 20 mph and make your turn as soon as you get an opening, or risk getting rear-ended when the guy behind you goes.

    So yeah, I can mix it with cars about as well as anyone, but I’ll take a nice, separate bike only road running parallel any day of the week, provided it’s halfway decent (I do agree with the VC crowd about substandard cycling facilities which force cyclists like me down to 10 mph). Good cycling infrastructure should accommodate cyclists of all abilities. If vehicular cyclists want to fight against substandard cycling facilities and laws which require cyclists to use those facilities, then I’m on your side (and yes, I’m not a big fan of protected bike lanes unless we also separate junctions). If instead they want to fight any separate cycling facilities, and other useful tools like the Idaho stop, then we’re worlds apart.

  • Ninety5rpm

    Well, who wouldn’t prefer a separate bike only road? But when is that ever an option? Especially one which handles the junctions correctly?

    As long as you continue to believe you cannot take the lane unless you can go within about 5 mph of motor traffic speed, you will continue to prefer almost any kind of separation.

    Did you watch the videos? Yes, they’re from CA and FL. Do you really need to see one from NYC? Traffic is traffic. You either see yourself as part of it, or not. It has nothing to do with relative speed. People take the lane hauling huge loads in trailers. Speed differential is not an issue, unless you believe it is.

  • Joe R.

    The larger problem isn’t speed differential, but whether or not the motorists behind me will see me and go around me, which is something they won’t need to do if I only take the lane when I’m close to motor traffic speed. As I’m sure you know, distracted driving is at epidemic proportions. I’m not about to bet my life that the driver behind me isn’t talking about what to get for dinner with their spouse. In short, I ride in such a manner as to not depend upon motorists doing anything in order for me to remain safe. Like I said, the attitude of motorists is the problem here, not vehicular cycling itself. Besides, I really think NYC is a unique case which practically cries out for a completely separate arterial bike network. We have a perfect storm of awful drivers, very heavy traffic, pedestrians, bad roads, and last but not least traffic lights on practically every corner. You *can’t* cycle here efficiently because of the traffic lights. Even doing “Idaho yields” significantly cuts into your travel time, never mind stopping and waiting at every red as VC prescribes. That’s why I would like to see a grid of grade separated bike facilities spanning the city which would function as trunk roads for bicycles. Of course, bikes would still use regular streets to go the last mile, but major throughfares need to be completely separate for efficiency and safety. Unfortunately, I don’t see any major city doing a master plan like that.

    I’m going to do a leap of faith here and say that if we build enough protected lanes, we may finally realize they don’t work as well as we thought, and we’ll talk about what to do next, which logically should be grade separation (NYC does have a lot of existing grade-separated rapid transit, railroads, and highways which can be leveraged such a project). That’s why I grudgingly support protected bike lanes. We’re taking a timid first stop by at least acknowledging we need to do something to get more people on bikes.

  • Hey, nice impartial journalism, Ms. Schmitt. How about you interview some of the people who are opposed to the proposed design for Beacon Street too, and actually hear our point of view rather than Mr. Stidman’s, let’s say, filtered interpretation of it, and his rather fanciful description of our background and motivation? And readers, if you would care to read why I don’t think that the project (not a “bike lane” but a hodgepodge of different treatments along the street, and by no means “protected”) actually will not improve conditions for bicyclists or pedestrians, how about you read my comment letter, here: http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/somervilleletter.pdf ?

  • Mike Rhyss

    The author has the facts all wrong; too numerous to correct in a comment box. Angie Shitt needs to check her sources and stop wasting people’s time with garbage journalism.

  • Cyclist

    Nice to see some real cyclists generating some pushback against these ridiculous, selfish “protected” lanes. Painted lanes are plenty good enough, don’t carve up the street, and don’t eliminate parking spots.

    Soon, NYC will be rid of them (read the mayoral hopefuls lips), and the the entitled whiners that demand them can move back to Syosset and Scotch Plains

  • Paul Schimek

    Dyer, I didn’t expect you to be so obviously sloppy with your facts. Yes, NYC has its special rules, but one of those is “(1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:” And it IS enforced. “The two most common offenses have been riding on the sidewalk and not using the bicycle lane.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/nyregion/manhattan-court-sends-erring-cyclists-to-remedial-class.html

    Also, keep in mind that John Allen and I are IN FAVOR of bike lanes (especially if they can be widened), what we are opposed to is a bicycle sidewalk (‘cycle track’) that is far more dangerous than those in NYC because it will have no ‘mixing zone’ or separate bicycle signal and will cross about 20 residential driveways and 4 intersections over its 0.7 mi length.
    And for the record it is NOT true that John Allen or I prevented bike lanes coming to the Boston area. It was the disinterest of elected officials that did that.

  • Tory

    Hello – I live in Somerville and I bike this road regularly and am definitely not a “vehicular cyclist” or “bicycle driver” or whatever it is. The design the city is presenting at these meetings just is not a good fit for the street. There are just too many little side streets and driveways that are both residential and commercial on such a short piece of track. They’re keeping the painted bike lanes from washington to the cambridge line and that’s where most of the bike accidents are happening – not where the track is going on the upper part of the street. I never once had an issue with space for bikes on this road. beacon street even though it’s one lane of traffic in each direction, is wide enough that i feel comfortable on because i feel that cars have room to get around me. And it also helps that there’s really not even much car traffic on it until you actually cross over into hampshire streeet at the cambridge line. I used to be a bike lane only type of cyclist not that long ago, but beacon really isn’t that bad except for the pot holes. I understand why some people are angry about the parking because the city didn’t actually message people who lived in the neighborhood according to my friend who owns a condo on that street…and then when they find out that not only they’re losing their parking, but it’s only for a few blocks they get even more annoyed. I think i would rather just have bike lanes because i think they can be painted on the entire stretch of the road, rather than the bike path part that stops and starts and doesn’t even go all the way down the street. Even getting bike lanes along the whole length would be an upgrade to what’s currently there now – even better when people aren’t weaving all over the road to avoid potholes!

  • Miles Bader

    Still, olde-school hardcore cyclists seem to have way too much influence on bike-related policies in the U.S. (luckily this also seems to be changing in the past few years).

    It’s a difficult situation, because they deserve a lot of credit for keeping the flame burning during the bad times. But to really expand the use of cycling the system has to move towards something softer, less hardcore, and more suited to average (and below-average) cyclists; at times infighting seems almost inevitable…

  • Tory

    There are tons of different types of people already of different ages and genders cycling on Beacon street every day. It’s not a street people fear to bike on [other than maybe the bumpy surface and lack of street lighting at night]. You’ll get more people out on bikes if you just extend and widen the bike lanes and repave the surface. The actual design does not extend the entire length of the street. There’s also the ability for cars to park on the side without parking and delivery trucks and taxi cabs and people waiting for passengers are for sure going to take advantage of it. So you really only have protection on one side of the street with the cycle tracks, and normal street level bike lanes on the rest of the road. This cycle track design for this street is just bad. Not all cycle tracks. That’s the major point this blogger decided to miss when criticizing those who disagree.

  • So much for fact checking before posting, Ms. Schmitt. If you noticed in the crash cluster map you just linked to, the part of the crash cluster Beacon Street belongs to is not actually being proposed to have a cycle track in the City of Somerville’s design. There are currently bike lanes adjacent to parking on each side of the road here today. And the city is proposing….bike lanes adjacent to street parking on both sides. The two short cycle track sections on the Northern portion of the road will not cover this stretch of the road way, where by your logic, a cycle track would be needed most. Put it this way: there’s a fire at your house and when the fire department shows up, the start blasting water on the house down the street. Additionally the intersection pain points where most of the crashes are happening haven’t really been addressed in the current design. Also you mix up of cycle tracks with bike lanes which is confusing and inaccurate. A bike lane (in MA general law) is painted on the roadway surface. A cycle track (technically a bike path because there are no laws in MA regulating anything called a “cycle track”) is adjacent to the sidewalk, and has the same legal standing as a sidewalk in terms of shared use with pedestrians.

    May I suggest you take a look at a community proposal that calls for buffered bike lanes to extend down Beacon Street instead? It still takes away some street parking to make room for lanes that are wide enough and outside of the door zone while giving more space between moving cars and cyclists: http://beaconstreetsomerville.org/olmsted-beacon-street-buffered-bike-lane-proposal/

  • Joe R.

    I don’t see any reason why cycling facilities can’t accommodate 8 mph novice cyclists, 35 mph velomobile riders, and everything in between. Even looking at the two extremes, we’re only talking about a 27 mph speed differential. That’s certainly not a show stopper so long as the path is wide enough for safe passing and has good lines of sight. Catering solely to average or below average cyclists is a colossal mistake which sells cycling as a means of transportation short. Remember cyclists don’t remain novices forever. Eventually they get more confident and faster. Some(not all) of the cycling infrastructure we’re building is the equivalent of asking new cyclists to keep the training wheels on forever.

  • where’s my 160mph lane

    Those cities have overall lower crash rates for all vehicles. As a percentage of crashes, cyclists crashes are a higher percentage out of the overall rate than in the USA. Using your logic, increasing special infrastructure must increase cyclist injuries, and the USA is closer to your utopia than your model cities.

  • As an unreal cyclist I merely ride a bike 6 days out of 7, as much on protected lanes as possible. I did not realize I was so entitled and selfish to expect a space to travel that is not full of double parked motorists, as every painted lane in my city is. And I’m not alone in my sense of entitlement. What about pedestrians on sidewalks? What about motorists on the BQE?

    The street has always been “carved up”. It’s entirely up to us to carve it in a way that serves our health, safety, and transportation needs. Past generations have sure as hell left their mark. But desperately maximized car parking, zero protected bike lanes, and an endless, soul-numbing stream of uninvestigated traffic killings (mostly of pedestrians by motorists) was maybe not the best balance. We’re certainly under no obligation to maintain it.

  • Dave Holland

    These are the hard times. Special facilities advocates are increasingly segregating cyclists from existing normal infrastructure.

  • I’ll take the utopia with the lower overall crash rate and more overall cycling, thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently, vehicular cycling is not dead, it just smells funny. Perfect is the enemy of good. Vehicular cycling advocates have held back cycling in this country long enough. Give it a rest and let the people who are not as comfortable mixing it up with traffic ride and there will be safety in numbers and a chance to actually get better bicycle infrastructure in place.

  • where’s my 160mph lane

    Then stop wasting money on facilities and start lowering the overall crash rate.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Yes it does! Davis California. Davis facilitates all levels of bicyclists wonderfully without through away the Effect Cycling rule book.
    PS – I’m also an LCI.

  • Vehicular cyclists talk a lot about how cultural changes are the key to increasing cycling rates. If we change the culture of aggressive driving in the U.S., people will feel more comfortable sharing roads with drivers. If you teach 7-year-olds and senior citizens the skills they need to stay safe, they’ll be perfectly fine biking alongside two-ton motor vehicles.

    But when you tell someone who subscribes to the VC ideology that they may have to change *their* culture a tad by slowing down and riding in a dedicated bike lane, they say “No way! We don’t want to ride 12 mph!”

    Changing the culture is important, of course, since separated infrastructure can’t be installed fast enough to render the need for vehicular cycling skills irrelevant. (Just to get to the separated bike lanes in my town requires a lot of “vehicular” riding.) But it does seem as if the VC’s seem to be saying that everyone’s culture needs to change… except for theirs.

  • VC’s keep saying “pave the surface!” As if surfaces remain perfectly paved and safe in a city like Boston forever. What happens when the street, after a season or two, gets just as rutted and broken as it was before? Where does the money come from to pave and repave once or twice a year?

    I’d buy some of the other arguments VC’s make if this one didn’t seem so at odds with reality.

  • Guest

    To correct a recurring misconception about this project: only about 30-35 of the parking spots are lost in the area where the cycle track is to be constructed. The rest are eliminated due to improved/added crossings, construction of missing sidewalk, and removal of illegal spots throughout the corridor.

  • Andy

    I’m missing what the big fuss is. I commute by bike every day, and also ride for recreation on some evenings and weekends. I see no need to segregate cyclists to yet another sidewalk, since I can safely, legally, and easily ride in the lane when I’m in urban places. Drivers can patiently wait 5 seconds for a safe moment to pass and be on their way. Because I ride a predictable and safe path, I don’t get yelled or honked at except a few rare cases (maybe 5 per year), and even then it’s idiots that say I need to be on the sidewalk, which is illegal here.

    What surprises me is how anti-anti-cycling some people can be. Vehicular cyclists don’t want to prevent people from biking. They want people to be able to bike safely, and not just have an illusion of safety. Protected bike lanes might be okay for long stretches where there are no driveways or intersections, but in most places I see them proposed, there’s an intersection of one kind or another every 50 feet. What works so well for other countries is that the paths avoid most of the intersections, and are more like a continuous path than an extra sidewalk with curb cuts along it. Riding a reasonable biking speed around 12-15mph is no longer safe with so many crossing points, which gives less than a moments notice when someone pulls into a driveway. Many cities prohibit sidewalk riding exactly for this reason – drivers just don’t account for anything moving faster than walking pace on side paths.

    Instead of blaming cyclists for trying to make cycling safer, take a look at the people demanding parking instead. We have people arguing that they have a right to leave their personal property on public roads, which remain parked 95% of the time. Remove one 8ft lane of parking along the side, and you instantly have room to repaint the road with two bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    I certainly don’t subscribe to everything vehicular cyclists say, but two wrongs don’t make a right. If it’s not OK to start telling children they’ll be just fine sharing the road with drivers then it’s not OK either telling people they have to ride in a dedicated lane at a slower speed than they would rather go. For the record, I like the idea of separate bicycle infrastructure-preferably infrastructure which rarely or never intersects roads with motor vehicles. By the same token I feel that there’s no reason to design such infrastructure in such a manner that it’s only safe at low speeds. Look at the bicycle superhighways in The Netherlands, for example. They can accommodate school children riding at 6 or 7 mph, and they can also accommodate velomobiles traveling at 30+ mph. Remember not everyone is a novice cyclist. Also remember some people might be traveling longer distances where higher speeds shave many minutes, or even hours, off their travel time. If you have paths suitable for low speeds only, you’re basically forcing anyone wishing to ride faster to use roads which are potentially much more dangerous. Sorry, but any well-designed bike infrastructure can and should accommodate cyclists of all abilities. That means no sharp curves, good lines of sight, smooth pavement, and few or no intersections with motor traffic.

  • Andy

    And there’s bike infrastructure in the US in a nutshell. Too much of the infrastructure designs are aimed towards slow speed riding. It’s great to have some rec paths available for all abilities, and those should probably be limited to park areas. If we wish to change mode-share to reduce driving and increase cycling, then sidepaths that are too dangerous to ride above 10mph is not the solution. Using the streets that cyclists fought so hard to get paved BEFORE cars were the norm provide a wide, safe, legal place to ride. If the fear is cars passing closely or at too great of a speed differential, than the solution is clearly to eliminate personal storage on private property (aka free parking) to free up space for wider travel lanes that can safely be shared.

  • Sam Coren

    Hi Doug – Interestingly enough, Somerville is actually trying to roll out a program to repave the streets more frequently to prevent them from succumbing the the issues of Beacon Street. Their main pitch for this is that it’s less costly in the long-term to do routine paving sooner than waiting until the road surface is falling apart completely and they have no other choice than to try to find the money through state and federal funds to rebuild entire streets one by one. Not to mention it’s just safer to keep the roads in good condition for both bikes and cars.

  • Joe R.

    I agree a whole host of problems could be solved if we eliminated curbside parking. That said, the major problem I see with the streets are the plethora of traffic controls which otherwise wouldn’t exist if not for heavy volumes of car traffic. How do we accomplish reasonable travel times by bike if you hit red lights every three blocks, for example? Your idea will work fine on streets with limited numbers of traffic controls, primarily suburban or exurban streets. Urban areas need separate bike infrastructure, at least along through routes (side streets are fine for the last mile). We can both agree protected lanes don’t cut it because bikes still encounter the same intersections and traffic lights which were there before the protected lane was put in. We probably have to start thinking of total grade separation in the most congested parts of urban areas unless we can radically reduce motor traffic volumes.

  • Sam Coren

    Misconception? What you just posted is absolutely false. The longest section of the cycle track, Oxford to Museum St., takes 125 spaces that are residential and 2hr restricted for non-permit holders and cuts that down to 50. These are numbers straight from the city’s design engineer contractor and transportation director. Further up the road, they’re planning to take out about ~30 metered spaces to put in new sidewalk where there is none and a bike lane (*not a cycle track* a regular bike lane). Absolutely no parking spaces are proposed to be removed in the crash cluster zone that the blog author posted.

  • Sam Coren

    I’m not opposed to eliminating parking where it makes sense to, and there is a very specific area of this street that makes perfect sense to get rid of metered spaces that are rarely utilized to put in a sidewalk and extend an existing bike lane. They’re along a long historical wall with no individual residences or businesses on it, which is why the parking is seldom used. Bump outs at intersections to prevent cars from parking too close provide better sight lines for turning cars and bikes too.

    Problem is stuff like cars parking in bike lanes, or in the case of Beacon Street the inevitable parking on the side of the street with the mountable curb cycle track,will happen with more frequency when you get rid of access in front of people’s homes and businesses. Not every home and business on this street has off street parking or a private lot. With a painted bike lane it’s much easier to take the lane than dismount a raised cycle track to get around a temporarily parked car. On the section of the street where the cycle track is proposed and parking is to be eliminated there is actually a relatively low instance of double parked cars – that’s likely going to change pretty dramatically with the reduction.

  • RightHookLineandSinker

    Interesting that the concept drawing at the beginning of the article shows exactly the problem with these facilities. What happens when the truck turns right across the cyclist’s path? This treatment forces cyclists to slow at every intersection to avoid getting hooked and reduces the line of site for cyclists and motorists coming from side streets. It also forces motorists to make a right turn across traffic that is going straight.

    Would you put a through lane to the right of a right turn lane?! That is exactly what this is.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    Self-described “Cyclist” is obviously more entitled and much more of a whiner than those he is criticizing. I suspect he is also much more selfish.

  • Ninety5rpm

    We agree more than we disagree. We agree that the “protection” provided by “protected” lanes will be found to be marginal at best. We agree that the real solution is grade separation.

    One area where we part ways is the practicality of grade separation. Sure we might be able to build a bridge or tunnel here or there, but the notion that most or at least many crossing conflicts can be eliminated with grade separation in most city environments is pure folly.

    So where does that leave us? Back in the streets.

    Distracted driving is one of the main reasons I ride conspicuously in the lane rather than inconspicuously “out of the way”. Even distracted drivers have to look up every few seconds to keep from going off course. When they do one of these inevitable course checks I want to make sure I’m noticed – so I ride conspicuously in their way so as to grab their attention.

    As you took a leap of faith, so will I. My leap is that you don’t use a mirror. I highly recommend using a mirror for one main reason: to observe and learn how motorists behind you react as you experiment with lane positioning as depicted in the riding depicted in the videos. As you watch how reliably they react, your confidence in using the full lane increases.

    The amazingly high level of influence bicyclists have on the behavior of motorists is perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the cycling community. I suggest you learn about it.


Boston to Expand Hubway Bike-Share After Brilliant First Season

They’ve logged more than 140,000 rides over just four months. And now Boston’s brand new Hubway bike sharing system is packing it in for the cold New England winter. But when it returns in the spring, it will be expanding, adding stations in Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline. In total, the barely four-month-old bike sharing system […]

Oregon Study Finds 94 Percent of Cyclists Stop at Red Lights

Contrary to lawless cyclist mythos, a study finds that nearly all cyclists in four Oregon cities stop for red lights. Meanwhile, according to Michael Andersen at Bike Portland, unrelated research suggests that “speeding in a car on local streets is at least six times more common than running a red light on a bike.” Portland State University […]

Study: Protected Bike Lanes Reduce Injury Risk Up to 90 Percent

A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia provides compelling new evidence that bike infrastructure makes cyclists safer — a lot safer. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined the circumstances around the injuries of 690 cyclists who wound up in emergency rooms in Vancouver and Toronto during a six […]