Bikes Belong on Main Streets Because Bikes Are Not Mainly for Commuting

Broadway, Salt Lake City. Photos: SLC.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Trivia question 1: Of all the trips taken by U.S. adults, how many lead to or from somewhere other than work?

The answer is 78 percent.

Trivia question 2: Of all the bicycle trips taken by U.S. adults, how many lead to or from somewhere other than work?

The answer is 79 percent.

Americans use bicycles in the same situation they use any other tool: whenever it’s the right tool for the job. These days, lots of U.S. cities and towns are trying to make bicycles a more useful and appealing tool. But people sometimes forget that the best way to do this is to make bicycles a useful tool for many jobs — not just commuting to work.

This is very important to remember when there’s a fight over whether biking should be made comfortable on a main street, next to shops and restaurants and apartment buildings. Melissa and Chris Bruntlett pointed this out in a post last week about lessons from the world’s best biking cities:

Historically, North American cities have placed their bike routes on side streets rather than main streets, forcing a problematic choice between comfort and convenience. This places an unintended emphasis on longer, faster commutes to work; when – with cycle tracks on corridors people want to visit – many more could be convinced to make the slow, short jaunt to the supermarket, cafe, or doctor’s office. In The Netherlands, cycling acts as an extension of walking rather than driving, with the vast majority of bike trips less than two miles or 20 minutes.

That last fact can’t be repeated enough. Even in the Netherlands, bikes are rarely used for trips of more than a few miles. For long trips, people usually use public transit or motor vehicles instead, just like people do everywhere else.

Source: Dutch Infrastructure Management Agency, via City of Austin.

As U.S. cities try to get more people on bikes, it’s very important to remember that nobody is going to suddenly turn into a commute hero. Cities with lots of biking are not filled with athletes. If you work more than a few miles from home, something that is especially common in small U.S. towns and suburbs, you are almost certainly not going to get to work by bike, period. (To a bus station, maybe, but not all the way to work.)

Here’s what this means, though: if you want to increase biking and you’re not going to convert 10-mile car commutes to bike trips, you’d better be converting a lot of one-to-two-mile car trips to bike trips. And you can’t do that without bike networks that take people directly to non-commute destinations. In other words, bike networks need to include main streets.

But how big is biking’s potential, really? What percentage of the country’s 39 million one-to-two mile non-work trips currently happen in cars?

The answer is 81 percent.

U.S. data is from the National Household Travel Survey, available here.

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  • BKBedStuy

    You’ve applied car logic to bike infrastructure.

    Of course constant stopping is annoying and can deter some to bike. Have protected facilities are fantastic, and those should be on heavier traveled thoroughfares. But the idea that there should be “ideally” no stopping or slowing is utter, total, complete NONSENSE!!!!! As is: “A street with lots of traffic signals or stop signs isn’t suitable for bikes.” These are the musings of an engineer who fundamentally doesn’t understand urban environments. Of course you *want* these things, but public monies should not support stupid bike infrastructure just as it should support stupid auto infrastructure.

    “Bike lanes with constant intrusions from pedestrians also make cycling
    slow, unpleasant, with unpredictable travel times.”

    Pedestrian “intrusions”, “unpleasant”, “travel times”. You really need to get over yourself. Urban environments should be shared space. Yes, protected lanes and similar facilities are absolutely warranted in areas where conflicts are high, but, again, your approach focuses on all the wrong engineering concerns. Focusing on throughput, speed, and eliminating any sort of “intrusions” is how we got the shitty place we’re in.

    Bikes aren’t cars. Bikes aren’t pedestrians. They are something in between. Infrastructure should balance the need for efficient travel of modest distance and the local destinations and environment. The kind of thing you want doesn’t do that. It prioritizes the through traffic, exactly the same mistakes auto engineers made. I will do everything in my power to stop dumb wastes of money that only satisfy and serve the Freds of the world.

    Also, your economic analysis is beyond wrong. Yes, capital expenditures for transit are steep, but when the maintenance and long term value are considered on a per passenger/user basis. You come out *way* ahead. Think beyond the initial life cycle of the infrastructure. Viaducts have to be maintained and eventually replaced. You’ll lose the value in the second life cycle.

  • Joe R.

    Constant stopping and starting is more a detriment for human power than it is for motor vehicles. Humans get tired, muscle fatigue occurs, in extreme cases leg cramps and the like result. You can call my requirements “BS” but look what happens in the real world. When there are lots of traffic signals, cyclists largely ignore them! And that becomes a sore point with motorists and pedestrians who then oppose building more bike infrastructure because “cyclists flout traffic laws”. The fact is nearly all cyclists are going to try to ride without stopping whether they can legally do so or not. That’s why it makes sense to set things up so they legally don’t need to stop.

    Urban environments should be shared space.

    Shared space was all in vogue for bikes in the 1950s. It only works when you have small numbers of both cyclists and pedestrians. When you have large numbers of either it’s bad for BOTH. Look at the shared parts of the Hudson River Greenway, for example. And this is your model for urban bike infrastructure? Been there, done that, it doesn’t work.

    The kind of thing you want doesn’t do that. It prioritizes the through traffic, exactly the same mistakes auto engineers made.

    I hate to break it to you, but most people on a bike aren’t on a pleasure cruise or a tour. They’re going somewhere or riding recreationally for exercise or fun or both. Of any given group of cyclists on a block probably 99+% of them are through traffic. In the end streets are public throughfares to get from point A to point B. That’s their primary function. Urban streets certainly also serve many secondary functions but travel is their primary function. Your attitude here is exactly the same as the community boards who oppose bike lanes because they don’t want cyclists riding through their neighborhoods. In that case they’re opposed to bike traffic for whatever reason. You’re not, but you seem opposed to any bike traffic where maybe the person is trying actually trying to get somewhere in a reasonable time frame.

    You’re also applying the same logic used against awful things like urban elevated highways to any type of bike infrastructure which makes getting around optimal for human power. Sure, such infrastructure will have an impact on what it passes through. So will the slow, shared infrastructure you advocate which may well make life miserable for lots of pedestrians. As you said, bikes aren’t pedestrians. In general most of the street life comes from people on foot. The parts of surface streets adjacent to structures should be given over to pedestrians. And while we’re at it places with lots of pedestrians shouldn’t have lots of cars or lots of bikes. It makes crossing streets unpleasant. It furthers the notion that pedestrians belong only on sidewalks. Bikes are often a frequent source of complaint from pedestrians. Getting them up and out of the way in crowded urban areas is something I see as a good thing. This in now way precludes cyclists being on these streets riding at walking speed, but these would be cyclists who actually want to stop in business establishments on the street. Those who don’t would be elsewhere.

    I will do everything in my power to stop dumb wastes of money that only satisfy and serve the Freds of the world.

    Stereotypes like these are exactly why people with a rigid, limited view of human power shouldn’t get much say in planning bike infrastructure. FYI it’s important to cater to both long and short utility cycling, recreational cycling, even e-bikes, because in the end all those users pay taxes. Sure, a network of on-street bike lanes where access, not speed, is prioritized is a necessary part of any bike network. It serves the same last mile function as the network of local streets does for motor vehicles. However, this needs to eventually be enhanced with a coarser grid of non-stop bike infrastructure. That’s especially true in very large urban areas. You can get by with only slow, local infrastructure where “downtown” is a few blocks, and then you can ride mostly unfettered once you get out of town. That model is often used in the Netherlands where you have what are functionally bike highways connecting small villages. Most of such a network can be done at grade because the room exists for bike routes to be unraveled from motor traffic routes.

    This model doesn’t work in large cities because of lack of space. NYC has done exactly what you suggested with its on-street network of bike lanes in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. From what I can see it’s not working out all that great. Yes, mode share went up when the lanes were installed but that’s not surprising given how low it was. Now we’re at a few percent mode share and unlikely to get any higher. I’ll bet good money the reason why is that these lanes meet none of the criteria I mentioned. The lanes were a noble effort but there’s only so much you can do on a very crowded street. The popularity of the Hudson River Greenway makes my cases that cyclists want separate, preferably non-stop infrastructure. We see they’ll even go out of their way to use the Greenway over riding on surface streets if they can because it makes going somewhere faster and more pleasant.

    Yes, capital expenditures for transit are steep, but when the maintenance and long term value are considered on a per passenger/user basis. You come out *way* ahead.

    The big problem with transit (and there are many) is that you have to charge a fare in most cases. A second problem is people are limited by the schedule of the vehicles. You say transit should be used for longer trip but when you look at the travel times it can offer compared to what I envision it turns out you’re paying more for less. It’s often faster to bike from one part of Manhattan to another than to take the subway once you count walking to/from stations, the waiting time, and the actual travel time. This is despite the fact we haven’t done a thing to make bike travel in Manhattan as fast as it could potentially be.

    If we spend the relatively small sums needed to optimize bike travel it will be no contest over any distance. Moreover, many places just don’t have the requisite density to justify any type of transit beyond slow bus service. End result is anybody who wants to get around in a reasonable time frame drives. That’s exactly what we want less of in urban areas-driving. If we can match or better driving times with human power, then that’s what most people will choose. It’s one of the reasons cycling is so popular in the Netherlands. In many urban areas they’re taken steps to make bike trips faster than car trips going to the same destinations. End result is that people choose to bike. They don’t do it to make a political statement. They do it because it’s the most logical mode. But that’s not going to happen if you fail to consider travel time when you design bike routes, which is what you seem to want to do.

  • BKBedStuy

    What you are missing (somehow, after explaining every way I know how) is that you are *obsessing* about travel times and speeds. Of course these concerns are important, but you are prioritizing them over everything else. That’s intolerable in urban environments.

    “Look at the shared parts of the Hudson River Greenway, for example. And this is your model for urban bike infrastructure?”

    Yes, it is, for the type of trips you are talking about. It works VERY well. The people who don’t think that it does are simply narrowly focused, obsessive, selfish-minded, and self-important. Calm down, slow down, and you’ll get to where you are going just fine.

    “I hate to break it to you, but most people on a bike aren’t on a pleasure cruise or a tour.”

    Uh, yeah, that’s *precisely* the reason why we SHOULD NOT invest in stupid infrastructure as you suggest. That’s one of the central points of the article. You have an incredibly warped sense of how people get around and why. Do more research.

    “Your attitude here is exactly the same as the community boards who
    oppose bike lanes because they don’t want cyclists riding through their
    neighborhoods.”

    It couldn’t be further. YOUR idea is what would be objectionable to CBs (and rightfully so).

    “Stereotypes like these are exactly why people with a rigid, limited view
    of human power shouldn’t get much say in planning bike infrastructure.”

    Says the person with a rigid, limited view of human power transportation. The lack of self awareness in this statement is *astounding*. My view is defined by flexibility for all means of human powered transportation. I want infrastructure of all types, in the context where it makes sense to deploy them. I simply don’t want to waste time, money, political capital on a vision that could maybe one day be appropriate, when we’re fighting to get just basic bike facilities in the ground.

    “However, this needs to eventually be enhanced with a coarser grid of non-stop bike infrastructure”

    No, it doesn’t. A few routes here and there, absolutely. But beyond that, no, it’s a waste and encourages bad outcomes for communities. Hierarchical road systems have been an epic failure, a similar system for bikes will likely not fair any better.

    “In quite a few cases you can reroute bike routes and/or redesign surface
    streets to function fine. This could mean bike boulevards where you put
    stop signs on the side streets so bikes get priority, or use of traffic
    signals which sense bikes and turn green when one is coming to give
    them priority over motor traffic, or perhaps overpasses or underpasses
    at very busy intersections.”

    I totally agree with everything in this statement…until the talk of grade separation. There is sooooo much we can do right now to make things better. Grade separation should be used exceedingly sparingly, like to cross interstates, rivers, etc. Talk of this high speed bike network is counterproductive, in so many ways.

  • Joe R.

    Just a question—do you even ride a bike? No offense, but it seems to me maybe you don’t, or maybe you haven’t ridden enough to realize my concerns are valid. It’s not all about speed. It’s about the fact that riding and constantly stopping or changing speeds due to traffic signals and other obstacles is highly strenuous and highly unpleasant. I actually get leg cramps if I have to start and stop to many times. When that happens I’m often done, as in can’t ride any more, need to walk the bike x miles home.

    I’m not saying we should focus first on high-speed bike routes but they need to be on the radar in the medium term. Lack of them is in my opinion a major reason why bike mode share hasn’t grown much, especially in the outer boroughs. Again, it’s not just about speed. It’s about the fact that riding on surface streets full of obstacles is unpleasant, strenuous, and dangerous. It’s also not pleasant being in a constant state of high alert not knowing when or where the next near miss will occur. It would be much more pleasant to be in an environment where you just need to watch for other cyclists, don’t need to worry about making lights, watching out for pedestrians, etc. Just sit back, relax, cruise along. Again, speed may or may not matter. If you want to loaf along a 8 mph you can. If you want to go 23 mph you can. Whatever speed you choose, it’s your choice. It’s not constrained by worrying about traffic patterns or light timing or anything else.

    I don’t see how you can possibly think the shared sections of the Hudson River Greenway are working out well for anyone, either. Last I checked they want to reroute parts of the bike path because the conflicts are becoming intolerable for both pedestrians and cyclists. Shared infrastructure doesn’t scale. It works fine if we’re talking about a country bike path with hardly any users but it doesn’t work in a big city. If it did, why do we need bike infrastructure at all? Just tell the cyclists to “share” the sidewalk with pedestrians.

    I understand where you’re coming from to some extent, saying that we shouldn’t focus now on what are more enhancements when we don’t even have what amounts to basic infrastructure. The fallacy with this line of thought is it sends the message to those in charge that you’re happy with what are essentially scraps from the king’s table. A little paint, maybe some concrete here or there, and in their mind you’re appeased. No need to do anything more. Except eventually you’ll reach a situation where mode share stagnates at a very low number precisely because you made no plans for the next step, and then your opponents will use that against you. They’ll want to rip out what little bike infrastructure exists precisely because they see it’s hardly being used. I think it’s important to communicate both your long and short term plans, along with the reasons for them.

    Hierarchical road systems have been an epic failure, a similar system for bikes will likely not fair any better.

    This is because we’ve tried to use motor vehicles inappropriately. The first mistake was the assumption that every street in an urban area needs motor vehicle access. This is what led to a hierarchy of arterials, secondary, and tertiary streets. The problem here isn’t the hierarchy itself, but the sheer amount of space it takes to give motor vehicles access to every building in a city. A secondary result of this is that the streets more suited to biking (i.e. the secondary and tertiary streets) are often disjointed and not very useful to get around. This forces cyclists onto arteries, both because they’re more direct, and because they have more destinations along them. Unfortunately, it does the same for motor traffic, which means it’s difficult and costly to make these arterials good for cycling.

    A second mistake we made with motor vehicles was facilitating longer distance travel with them. This resulted in highways which destroyed cities. It also resulted in much more car use than would have been the case if car travel wasn’t useful for longer trips. And of course it resulting in low density development. Simply put, motor vehicles were never a good choice for long distance transport of many tens or hundreds of miles. Rail is much better suited for that.

    That said, facilitating medium, even long distance, travel by private vehicles isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was just a bad thing to do with automobiles because they require so much space and make noxious exhaust! A two-tier heirarchy for human-powered travel is not going to be an epic failure. It already exists to some extent in the Netherlands.

  • Sine Metu

    My commute is 11 miles each way. I drove it for many years. Took an hour and 15 mins on average.

    I’ve been riding my bike to work now for 7 years and it averages 45 mins.

    There is no quicker way from the east side of LA to the West Side than a bicycle. Maybe a scooter or motorcycle but I am pacing them often and I can squeeze through spaces they can only dream of. The scooter girl at work and I stay even for 5-6 miles because she keeps getting snagged while I breeze through any obstacles.

    Cars are no match at all. Not even close.

  • Sine Metu

    Amen.

    10 miles on a bike sounds like a lot but I ride 11 miles each way and it goes by FAST. I’m no millenial either. I’m 43 years old and have rheumatoid arthritis in my left knee and a dodgy lower back. I’m no super athlete.

    10 miles is relatively easy with bike lanes and riding 8-10 mph. Might not even break a sweat.

  • Andrew Lassiter

    Perhaps, to your first point, there is a distinction between how cycling is planned for (as a distinct mode) and how it is experienced. I read the “cycling as an extension of walking” as the user’s experience, in that it is used simply as a way to travel to places that are too far by foot.

  • Andrew Lassiter

    Great point, and I’ve had a similar experience. I absolutely agree with the land-use-planning centered focus on short trips and local bike networks, but we have to remember that longer distance (3-10/15 miles) commuting can also be really viable for a lot of people if we create efficient and safe routes. Especially in US cities that don’t always have a lot of destinations (work or otherwise) near home, making longer distance cycling trips an option should be a secondary priority, not a throwaway!

  • Joe R.

    That’s sort of what they did in the Netherlands. Most of the focus is on the shorter trips since that’s the low-hanging fruit but they also have done things to make longer trips feasible. Yes, the longer trips need to be secondary priority, but just as long distance highways make long trips feasible for automobiles, they also make shorter ones faster. Along the same line of thinking, the same type of infrastructure which facilitates longer distance bike travel is going to make short trips faster and safer. It’s not a case of either/or here. We can do both.

  • Brian Schroder

    What one really has to ask themselves is why in the Wizard of Oz did Dorothy and the Wicked Witch ride bicycles in rural Kansas? Before our love of the automobile history tells us that people got around just fine on bicycles even in rural areas and for long trips.

  • Joe R.

    Very true. And I just couldn’t resist posting this:

  • ahwr

    I could make a great argument that miles of use, rather than total
    number of trips, is a better metric to consider when deciding who to
    design for.

    Same logic says someone driving fifty miles through your neighborhood on a joy ride is more important than you walking around the block to stretch your legs.

  • But the idea that there should be “ideally” no stopping or slowing is utter, total, complete NONSENSE!!!!! As is: “A street with lots of traffic signals or stop signs isn’t suitable for bikes.” These are the musings of an engineer who fundamentally doesn’t understand urban environments. Of course you *want* these things, but public monies should not support stupid bike infrastructure just as it should support stupid auto infrastructure.

    No, this is the “complete nonsense” and if this is your argument, then bikes likely aren’t the issue in the area in the first place. For starters, the Dutch have been removing stop signs and lights in large numbers since the reintegration of biking as a planned for and preferred mode because they have realized that those devices are not necessary without large amounts of motor traffic. Additionally, research has shown that each stop-start cycle uses several times more energy than continuous motion, so routes with lots of stops sap a lot of energy and thus reduce the size of the bikeshed (also by adding more time to the journey). That’s why the Dutch have been spending hundreds of millions of euros to address that issue by building bike-specific grade-separated structures: they realize that they are essential for keeping biking desirable.

    Pedestrian “intrusions”, “unpleasant”, “travel times”. You really need to get over yourself. Urban environments should be shared space. Yes, protected lanes and similar facilities are absolutely warranted in areas where conflicts are high, but, again, your approach focuses on all the wrong engineering concerns. Focusing on throughput, speed, and eliminating any sort of “intrusions” is how we got the shitty place we’re in.

    Pedestrians and bikes do not go together well, mingling isn’t appropriate when the numbers of either are high. Even in shared spaces, the uses quickly self-separate. Also, you’re clearly missing the real problem: cars. Protected bikeways are only appearing on places with excessive car traffic, not excessive pedestrian traffic. To claim that we shouldn’t try to do anything to better delineate a space for making biking more stop-free in areas that are dominated by designs to maximize automobile speeds and throughput is incredibly short-sighted. As far as “travel times” go, that is an unchangeable fact of life and has always been a consideration in the design of cities. The simple fact of the matter is that people don’t want to spend all their time traveling. Someone on a bike can go farther than they can walking or even driving a car. Building bike infrastructure that increases the distances where biking is time-competitive with driving is crucial (along with increasing safety) to getting people to consider biking for those journeys instead of driving.

    Bikes aren’t cars. Bikes aren’t pedestrians. They are something in between. Infrastructure should balance the need for efficient travel of modest distance and the local destinations and environment. The kind of thing you want doesn’t do that. It prioritizes the through traffic, exactly the same mistakes auto engineers made. I will do everything in my power to stop dumb wastes of money that only satisfy and serve the Freds of the world.

    You acknowledge that bikes are separate from cars and walking, yet don’t want to build infrastructure optimized for them? That doesn’t make sense. Also, since infrastructure that provides reduces stopping and provides a continuous journey benefits all bicyclists, not just “Freds”, I expect to find you advocating for it.

  • No, it doesn’t. A few routes here and there, absolutely. But beyond that, no, it’s a waste and encourages bad outcomes for communities. Hierarchical road systems have been an epic failure, a similar system for bikes will likely not fair any better.

    If by “a few routes here and there” you mean a grid, then yes, we’re on the right track. However, as further explained in the piece linked above, the grid of main bikeways does NOT remove the bikability of the communities, nor does it cause “bad outcomes” for them. That claim makes no sense, especially since most American communities are currently dominated by motor traffic and increasing bike traffic would mean a reduction of that. In actuality, such a network would be a vast improvement for most American communities because they’re currently heavily dominated by car traffic.

    Additionally, there is nothing wrong with hierarchical road systems. The problem has been that America has prioritized car traffic at all levels of this system, which is to the detriment of ultimately all modes, even cars. When hierarchical road systems are done right, as the Dutch have done by basing the hierarchy on safety, it improves the travel environment for all users of all modes.

    I totally agree with everything in this statement…until the talk of grade separation. There is sooooo much we can do right now to make things better. Grade separation should be used exceedingly sparingly, like to cross interstates, rivers, etc. Talk of this high speed bike network is counterproductive, in so many ways.

    The grade-separations are due to the excessive motor traffic, so it’s certainly possible to avoid building them by reducing the amount of motor traffic. If that’s what you had in mind, then yes, I’m right there with you on that. Otherwise, we need those bridges and tunnels.

  • BKBedStuy

    “To claim that we shouldn’t try to do anything to better delineate a
    space for making biking more stop-free in areas that are dominated by
    designs to maximize automobile speeds and throughput is incredibly
    short-sighted.”

    “…so it’s certainly possible to avoid building them by reducing the amount
    of motor traffic. If that’s what you had in mind, then yes, I’m right
    there with you on that.”

    Now you’re zeroing in on it. Delineate space, yes. Implement Idaho Stop, yes. Re-appropriate space from automobiles, abso-frickin’-lutely. We already have quite a lot of transportation infrastructure in the ground that can be improved dramatically with relatively inexpensive interventions and/or redesigns. What we are all really discussing is the extent to which more dramatic interventions are warranted. My contention is that if we more appropriately utilize space in existing right-of-ways, we mostly eliminate the need for major infrastructure that have negative trade-offs to their implementation.

    We keep citing the Netherlands as an example to push back on my reluctance to get on board with the more intense bike infrastructure, but this is actually misses my point. I think that about 98% of what the Dutch do is excellent (same for the Danes). We’re pointing at two different things. I’m pointing at the overwhelming amount of what their infrastructure is – the lower to medium intensity projects, not the whiz-bang exceptional (like the elevated bike roundabout). I think we should follow the lead of the former, not the latter.

  • Joe R.

    Your last point is especially salient. I’ve even said the same thing. The more we’re willing to reduce the amount of motor traffic the less expensive, fancy grade separation we need to provide a safe, efficient cycling experience. Unfortunately here in the US you’ll probably have very little chance of reducing motor traffic enough so you can do things like remove most traffic signals, apportion enough space for decent width bike lanes, etc. I’d love for it to be otherwise, but the short term, perhaps medium term, reality is that it’s not happening. The end result of this means any bike infrastructure, even at street level, will end up costing a lot more.

  • Joe R.

    Sometimes you need the whiz-bang exceptional to connect low to medium intensity projects. Maybe there’s a few really dangerous intersections which need to be crossed and each one also incurs a delay of 60 or 90 or 120 seconds. There are obvious cases like crossing expressways. And sometimes things like viaducts can even out what might otherwise be intolerable grades. I certainly agree if we apportioned more space from cars, reduced motor traffic levels, and so forth then we’ll need a lot less of this type of expensive infrastructure. However, even best case we’re going to need some of it just to get past problem areas. That said, reducing motor traffic and taking space from cars seems to be an uphill battle here in the US. Even in NYC, where you might think it would be relatively easy, we can’t get things like congestion pricing and proper pricing for curbside parking.

    On Idaho stops, yes, they’re a great tool which greatly speeds up legal cycling off-peak but often during peak times in places like NYC they would make little difference given that many intersections are physically impossible to safely cross on red due to heavy levels of cross traffic. Sure, we should pass an Idaho stop law yesterday, but it’s not going to be a panacea. It’ll help get the NYPD off our backs for sure but beyond that it may not make much difference on many practical trips taken when there’s heavy traffic.

  • bradwagon

    Agree. My commute is 7 miles each way and I can casually cover it in 25 minutes. While I do enjoy a higher level of cycling fitness I have noticed that I can comfortably maintain 20mph on flat, intersection free bike paths. I think many able bodied people would find taking a 10 mile trip in the 45min – 1 hr time frame totally doable if given the same infrastructure priority that autos enjoy. IMO if you commute further than 10-15 miles you should look at living closer to work as the first step in reducing commute time / effort.

  • Joe R.

    You seem to be about on par with me as far as speeds go. 7 miles takes me anywhere from maybe 22 minutes on a really good day (in terms of traffic and how I feel) up to slightly over 30 minutes on a really bad day. And given that most people in average condition cycle at 10 to 13 mph, they can cover 10 miles in the 45 to 60 minutes you mention if given efficient infrastructure.

    Yes, if you’re more than 10 to 15 miles from work it’s time to consider either moving closer to work, or getting a job closer to home. No matter the mode, longer commutes sap lots of time and energy.

  • We keep citing the Netherlands as an example to push back on my reluctance to get on board with the more intense bike infrastructure, but this is actually misses my point. I think that about 98% of what the Dutch do is excellent (same for the Danes). We’re pointing at two different things. I’m pointing at the overwhelming amount of what their infrastructure is – the lower to medium intensity projects, not the whiz-bang exceptional (like the elevated bike roundabout). I think we should follow the lead of the former, not the latter.

    Well, you haven’t articulated your point very well at all and you’re also apparently a bit oblivious to what actually happens in The NLs. Yes, the majority of the Dutch network is made up of traffic-calmed streets to form a network of low-stress bikeways. But a sizable portion of their infrastructure, especially new projects, is of stuff that would fall squarely into the category that you dub “whiz-bang exceptional” and with more opening all the time. Since few Americans have a connection to The NLs or read Dutch, not many people really keep abreast of all that is actually happening and also, a lot of what we would consider “whiz-bang exceptional” projects are rather mundane and expected to the Dutch and thus don’t get widespread press. But the reality is that the Dutch do build a lot of projects that would be “exceptional” here. (Copenhagen is also building some bridges.) BicycleDutch has chronicled quite a few of the bridges and tunnels that have been recently constructed in The NLs, but he doesn’t even come close to covering everything as there are dozens of similar projects underway all around the country. So while it would be ideal to not have to build such structures, the reality is that unless people become vastly more open to substantially reducing motor traffic, they will be necessary to ensure that biking can be smooth and continuous.

  • LaurenceQamar

    Bikes are great on retail Main Streets AS LONG AS they are not replacing on-street parking. I appreciate that many bike lobbyists feel any accommodation of car parking in public right-of-way should be forbidden, but I respectfully submit that this is a more complex than that.

    On-street parking is critical to both retail success, and slowing drivers to 20mph or less. At 10-15 mph the cyclist can safely and conveniently mix with cars and pedestrians, and those parked cars help keep speeds down. Consider any and every suburban commercial strip in America…what’s the common factor? They all lack on-street parking, and as a result the retail developers (legitimately) need some upfront parking, thus their front parking lots.

    Towns and cities around the America that removed their main streets’ on-street parking inevitably saw declining retail sales and eventual collapse, with very few exceptions. Sure, you can point to great European historic districts that have been pedestrianized and still succeed, but most America towns lack the housing density, and tourist attractions great European cities to pull that off. On-street parking is good for the overall symbiotic functioning of any good main street in any good urban environment. On either end of the main street where speeds rise above 15-20 mph, let’s feel free to reinsert those bike lanes.

  • Chicago Cyclist

    Ok. The key is to price it correctly. The public ROW is a very valuable resource and car storage is not a very productive use of land. If you haven’t already, you can read Donald Shoup’s work on why it is important to price parking correctly (i.e. typically, at least at certain times, much higher than is now usually the case).

  • Chicago Cyclist

    Unfortunately, around much of the U.S., there is a real dearth of “corridors [large numbers of] people want to visit.” With single-use zoning, automobile-centric development, design, and development patterns, and other actions and policies that produce what is typically called “sprawl,” we’ve proven very bad at making “great places” and very adept at making non-places, of which Gertrude Stein said, “There is no “there” there!”

  • LaurenceQamar

    CC, I am well versed in Shoup’s excellent work, but suspect you may be misinterpreting his message if your conclusion is that on-street parking “is not a very productive use of land.” Shoup said:”Our off-street parking requirements do an immense amount of harm in terms of urban design and urban form, traffic congestion, housing costs, and urban density.” It’s the OFF-street parking that is harmful, not the ON-street parking.

    The Obama also administration this past September put out a Housing Development Toolkit with the specific recommendation to local jurisdictions to “Eliminate off-street parking requirements” as a way to foster more affordable housing, more walking and biking, and less dependence on the private car. Both Shoup and Obama are advocating making car parking cost something more than those free parking lots in front of shopping strip retail and apartment complexes. But they are not at all talking about eliminating ON-street parking…quite the contrary.

    SO if they are saying off-street parking should be reduced in quantity and increased in price, where do you think the cars that need to park should be located? ON-Street…it’s the best place for parking. Every parking space that is off-street needs a driveway and drive lanes to access it, but on-street spaces are merely adjacent to the driving lane.

    Overall, if our goal is functioning and delightful cities and suburbs, I am sure we agree that less auto use and more biking, walking and transit is the model. But for those cars that will continue to remain in society, you should not advocate for eliminating on-street parking, because it means they need to go on private land, which again creates suburban sprawl and commercial parking-lot strips.

    The key is going beyond only thinking about biking, but broadening the view to the whole network of interrelated dynamics in the human ecosystem.

  • Towns and cities around the America that removed their main streets’ on-street parking inevitably saw declining retail sales and eventual collapse, with very few exceptions.

    This is a flawed conclusion. I don’t have the details on every single previous parking removal proposal to be carried out, but how many of them replaced the parking with a quality bikeway? Retail sales are up in corridors where bikeways are added all around the country and that is in line with international results too.

    Sure, you can point to great European historic districts that have been pedestrianized and still succeed, but most America towns lack the housing density, and tourist attractions great European cities to pull that off.

    It’s not just “great European historic districts” that are pedestrianized. Pedestrian zones are very much featured in brand new developments in Europe and they thrive there too. The housing isn’t as actual of a difference as it would seem on the surface, especially in towns that were originally streetcar suburbs. However, knowing all this, there’s no reason why towns can’t combine a pedestrian zone with policies that allow more housing and destinations to be developed, something which is almost never done.

    On-street parking is good for the overall symbiotic functioning of any good main street in any good urban environment. On either end of the main street where speeds rise above 15-20 mph, let’s feel free to reinsert those bike lanes.

    If dedicated bikeways are going to be spurned, then the thoroughfare really can’t be a main route for auto traffic.

  • Towns and cities around the America that removed their main streets’ on-street parking inevitably saw declining retail sales and eventual collapse, with very few exceptions.

    This is a flawed conclusion. I don’t have the details on every single previous parking removal proposal to be carried out, but how many of them replaced the parking with a quality bikeway? Retail sales are up in corridors where bikeways are added all around the country and that is in line with international results too.

    Sure, you can point to great European historic districts that have been pedestrianized and still succeed, but most America towns lack the housing density, and tourist attractions great European cities to pull that off.

    It’s not just “great European historic districts” that are pedestrianized. Pedestrian zones are very much featured in brand new developments in Europe and they thrive there too. The housing isn’t as actual of a difference as it would seem on the surface, especially in towns that were originally streetcar suburbs. However, knowing all this, there’s no reason why towns can’t combine a pedestrian zone with policies that allow more housing and destinations to be developed, something which is almost never done.

    On-street parking is critical to both retail success, and slowing drivers to 20mph or less. At 10-15 mph the cyclist can safely and conveniently mix with cars and pedestrians, and those parked cars help keep speeds down….On-street parking is good for the overall symbiotic functioning of any good main street in any good urban environment. On either end of the main street where speeds rise above 15-20 mph, let’s feel free to reinsert those bike lanes.

    It’s not just the speed of the motor traffic, but the volume that plays a big role in making a route unpleasant. If dedicated bikeways are going to be spurned, then the thoroughfare really can’t be a main route for auto traffic. That’s the most effective way to keep volumes low.

  • LaurenceQamar

    I certainly don’t disagree with you that cyclists on a retail main street can add to retail sales of those shops. Doing a quick internet search, you find that each on-street parking space generates $250-300K in retail sales annually (see Robert Gibbs, Carl Walker, or Steve Mouzon to name a few references). I would like to see a study of how the removal of those parking places and addition of bike lanes affects those sales.

    But the infamous “malling of American main streets” that took place in towns and cities in the 1950’s and 60’s in which highway departments gutted on-street parking for increased lanes, or bypassed main streets and turned them into pedestrian-only mall should be carefully studied before we ever try those moves again.

    Granted, you are talking about exchanging street parking for bike lanes, and cyclists certainly are shoppers too. But all to many examples showed that removing cars from retail main streets and expecting people on foot and bike to make up for that lost retail revenue is a failed approach. ThIs study by Nachto states that out of 200 US malled main streets only 30 remain in varying states of success. http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/pedestrian_and_transit_malls_study_center_city_commission.pdf

    Instead of trying to remove on-street parking, I would be completely in favor of reducing and even removing motor vehicle travel lanes in exchange for new bike lanes. Just keep the on-street parking.

    While there are some examples of a handful of highly urban and successful European and US retail main streets without parking (or cars at all) the real issue is the thousands of miles of suburban, arterial commercial strips with bike lanes, no on-street parking, and seas of parking lots in front of retail, office and apartment development. By prioritizing bike lanes in lieu of on-street parking on those major commercial streets, you are actually contributing to auto dominated suburban sprawl. I am certainly also and advocate of bike lanes on most streets, but not instead of on-street parking.

  • Joe R.

    Whether parked cars reduce speeds or not is immaterial. The fact is cycling on streets with curbside parking is decidedly dangerous and unpleasant regardless of the speed of traffic. You have the danger of dooring. You also have cars constantly pulling out of spots, or stopping dead, then backing into them. This creates continual obstacles to forward progress for both motor traffic and cyclists.

    The only way on-street parking can work well for cyclists is to have parking protected bike lanes. This still allows parking, but keeps the chaos I mentioned solely on the motor vehicle side.

  • Chicago Cyclist

    I generally agree. But my point was not that on-street parking should be eliminated — though, as with all elements of the public right-of-way, a balance of various needs and goals must take place that is SPECIFIC to each location/context, so in some cases removing on-street parking may in fact be desirable. My point was rather that on-street (and off-street) parking should be, in many, many cases, priced much higher than it historically has been. In urbanized areas, it should not normally be free or even ‘cheap.’ It is simply too valuable a resource! In some cases/places, adding on-street parking will be a great idea — for example, in order to take away travel lanes that cause speeding or make crossing the road really difficult. In some other cases/places, taking away on-street parking in order to add protected/separated bike lanes may be a good idea. “Context” and balancing of larger goals and needs is everything — broad generalizations about the design of the public ROW are always ‘tentative’ and subject to exceptions. Finally, off-street parking in relation to housing and housing development (i.e. housing affordability) is a different and a separate topic than off-street parking in relation to other kinds of development. Right?

  • Chicago Cyclist

    I beg to differ. If the speed differential between cars and cyclists is low enough, then it is (reasonably) safe for most adult cyclists to share the road with automobiles. The key is to educate drivers on safe driving (i.e. to always look before opening a door or pulling out of a parking spot). By your reasoning, no roads should cross train tracks, since a train conductor may ignore signals (i.e. drive the train in an unsafe manner) and hit automobiles. The more dangerous (to others) the vehicle or mode of transport, the greater the responsibility of the operators of those vehicles for driving safely — whether car, train, plane, boat. The ‘vulnerable’ users — pedestrians and bicyclists — don’t have the potential for the same amount of ‘harm’. Right?

  • Chicago Cyclist

    Neither on-street parking nor bicycle lanes ALONE makes a corridor / main street prosperous! It is much more complicated than that!

  • LaurenceQamar

    I think we need to define what we mean by a “main street”. Are we talking about (A) a concentrated, narrow, highly walkable retail street with traffic speeds not more than 15 mph and with pedestrians, drivers and cyclists mixing in a symbiotic “weave”, or (B) a multilane, fast-moving commuter avenue or boulevard (arterial or collector in modern traffic engineering) that has commercial zoning along it? Or the third scenario (C) in which both characteristics are partially combined, as in a narrow, slow moving retail street that also is the main commuter route through a neighborhood, town or city.

    If it’s option (B), by all means, a cycle track between the parallel parked cars and the curb is the best way to accommodate commuter biking and driving, as well as walkable main street retail. The higher pressure of commuter traffic on a wide-enough avenue should be able to accommodate all modes as well as on-street parking and retail shop fronts. I was in Berlin Germany last year and saw avenues function beautifully like this.

    If it’s options (A) or (C) where the main street right of way is simply to narrow to accommodate parallel parking PLUS bike lanes and wide sidewalks, the prioritization should be for the layer of on-street parallel parking between travel lane and storefront sidewalk, unless you are willing to risk a lot of vacant storefronts.

    Other alternatives are to 1. mix the cyclists in with the cars as long as the speed can be kept well below 15 mph, or 2. find a local street parallel to the avenue for a dedicated bike-way, like Portland OR has done through all the old neighborhoods.

  • Joe R.

    You’re missing my point. Whether or not car speeds are reduced enough to make it safe to ride in traffic is only part of the equation here. If you have parallel parking where people frequently enter or leave spots, this disrupts traffic flow, making it highly unpleasant to bike. Also, it’s nice to say in theory drivers should look before leaving their spot or opening a door but in practice they won’t.

    Not sure how roads crossing train tracks are relevant here. Trains are heavy, can’t stop quickly, and move fast. By definition they invariably have the right-of-way at railroad crossings. There’s no such thing as “driving a train in an unsafe manner” through a railroad crossing, at least as far a motor vehicles are concerned. It’s 100% incumbent upon motor vehicles to stop when the signals or gates say a train is coming. Same thing with large ships compared to smaller ones. They invariably get the right-of-way simply because they can’t change speed or direction quickly enough to avoid smaller vessels.

  • Joe R.

    Alternative 2 is really the only viable one if the street in question has automobiles frequently entering and leaving parking spots. It’s very stressful to bike on such a street. And invariably people double park on streets where there is heavy demand for parking, making it even more dangerous for cyclists.

  • Chicago Cyclist

    My point about speed differential pertains to SAFETY not ‘pleasantness’ or ‘unpleasantness.’ Safety is a matter of life and death, therefore of much more importance than anything else. However, I bicycle everyday in a congested city along streets with high turn-over parallel parking (Chicago) and I do not feel that the cars going in and out of parking is what makes bicycling here ‘unpleasant,’ nor is parking turnover the most dangerous aspect of bicycling here. It is: 1) cars speeding, 2) cars running through red lights, and 3) drivers using their phones while driving! That said, I also do not ride in the “door zone.” However, to say that people CANNOT learn to look before they open a door or look before pulling out of parking spot — let alone, refrain from speeding, not text while driving, not run red lights, etc. (i.e. not break the law) — is, in my opinion, wildly cynical and indicates that you have a very low opinion of adult human beings. If drivers cannot be safe and obey the laws, then they should not be given drivers’ licenses! Other countries have instilled safe, rational behavior in those operating large dangerous machines (that is, automobiles). We can too — it depends on education and very good enforcement (i.e. ticketing, high fines, prison for egregiously dangerous drivers, red light cameras, speed cameras, anti-speeding and distracted-driving technology in the cars and in our phones). Here in Chicago, as bicycling has increased, drivers are learning to be BETTER drivers — more cautious, more careful, more attentive, etc. Yes, it takes time, but it can happen.

    My point about trains, or planes, or boats — and of course above all cars — is that they are DANGEROUS. Especially, in the case of cars, to pedestrians and to bicyclists, who also are users of the roads. If the operator of any such vehicle (car, train, bus, airplane, boat, etc.) is, say, drunk or sleeping or texting, or speeding or misbehaving in some manner — basically, not taking their responsibility as an operator of a potentially dangerous machine seriously — then it is “driver error” that must be addressed, since that is the “cause” of the danger. To imply that bicyclists and motorists can’t share certain (low-speed) roads (which even with protected bike lanes is the situation at all intersections, driveways, etc.) because a driver might be irresponsible, is like saying, “well, an airline pilot could crash into a house, therefore no plane should ever fly where that is a possibility.” or “because a large semi truck could smash a small car or motorcycle, we should not allow cars or motorcycles to share the road with trucks.” To make cycling safer we need better infrastructure (including separated bikeways on some streets), better education of all roadway users (but especially of the ones that are operating the most dangerous, potentially life-threatening machines), better stricter enforcement, and better policies and programs to create “Complete Streets” — i.e. streets and public ROWs that are planned, funded, built, operated, and maintained for ALL USERS OF THE ROAD (not just or primarily for motorists). Right?

  • Joe R.

    No argument that cars going in and out of parking spots is down on the list of things making cycling unpleasant but it’s still an issue, especially if you’ve managed to mitigate the other factors you mention. If you look at what’s done overseas, yes, they mix cars and bikes on many streets, but these tend to be designed to be non-through streets where vehicles will hardly ever be parking or unparking. In major shopping areas which have curbside parking, they’ll have parking protected bike lanes to keep the chaos from parking on the motor vehicle side, as it should be.

    However, to say that people CANNOT learn to look before they open a door or look before pulling out of parking spot — let alone, refrain from speeding, not text while driving, not run red lights, etc. (i.e. not break the law) — is, in my opinion, wildly cynical and indicates that you have a very low opinion of adult human beings.

    That only works in places where children are allowed to make mistakes as children, even if it gets them hurt, in order to grow into adults capable of making rational decisions. Decades of helicopter parenting and shielding children from the consequences of their actions has resulted in people who are adults in name only. It also caused them to have a far too high opinion of themselves and their abilities, with the result of having no consideration for others. So no, I don’t feel the majority of adults are capable of learning the things you mentioned. They were damaged in their formative years. It’s hard to undo that.

    Here’s a perfect example of this:

    For context, the supposed issue here is that the university allowed “offensive” halloween costumes. And nowadays, people find almost anything offensive. Back when I was in school, I probably would have been expelled for making a scene like this. I certainly would have been blacklisted (and hence unemployable except at menial jobs) if I weren’t. When you have people raised thinking their feelings are all that matter, you end up with dysfunctional adults who can’t manage a task like safely driving a motor vehicle.

    To imply that bicyclists and motorists can’t share the roads (which even with protected bike lanes occurs at all intersections, driveways, etc.) because a driver might be irresponsible, is like saying, “well, an airline pilot could crash into a house, therefore no plane should ever fly where that is a possibility.” or “because a large semi truck could smash a small car or motorcycle, we should not allow cars or motorcycles to share the road with trucks.”

    We have much higher standards for pilots and locomotive engineers than we do for drivers. Given what I mentioned above about the dumbing down of adults, the only real solutions are either autonomous cars or making driver licensing as difficult as getting a pilot’s license to weed out those who inherently just can’t drive safely (that’s upwards of 75% of the population). There’s zero political support for stricter licensing in this country. Autonomous cars are still perhaps a decade away, with banning of human driving on public roads further away still. The only midterm solution then is to separate bikes and motor vehicles as much as practical.

    And for full disclosure, I can and do mix it up in traffic with the best of them but I’d say my cycling abilities in terms of bike handling and speed capabilities are in the top 95%. If we want to make cycling mainstream, it needs to feel safer and be safer. Obviously cyclists will still need to learn to share the streets with motor vehicles, but they should only be expected to do so on low-traffic streets where motor vehicles travel slowly.

    To make cycling safer we need better infrastructure (including separated bikeways on some streets), better education of all roadway users (but especially of the ones that are operating the most dangerous, potentially life-threatening machines), better stricter enforcement, and better policies and programs to create “Complete Streets” — i.e. streets and public ROWs that are planned, funded, built, operated, and maintained for ALL USERS OF THE ROAD (not just or primarily for motorists). Right?

    No argument with any of that. I would like to see a lot of bikeways which are also separated at intersections. Intersections are the most dangerous points but protected bike lanes fail to address this. Grade separating intersections via overpasses or underpasses, perhaps even grade-separating the entire bikeway if intersections are very frequent, is one thing which should be in our toolbox. Yes, it’s expensive but given the hopeless situation at present to make drivers behave better it seems the only viable answer in many situations. It also has the benefit of letting cyclists avoid delays from traffic signals or stop signs at intersections. It’s worthwhile just for that reason alone.

  • Chicago Cyclist

    You’ve gone WAY too far off topic for me with your digression into helicoptering parents (how many decades has this been going on?!) and U.S. folks upbringing / irredeemability / incorrigibility as thinking homo sapiens. As for your very last point, grade-separating ALL intersections is MUCH more unfeasible than making drivers licensing more rigorous or omnipresent photo traffic enforcement… Anywhoo, here, FYI, is another design option, representing a sort of compromise: http://www.protectedintersection.com/

  • Joe R.

    No, we wouldn’t be grade separating all intersections. It just gives us another tool which we might use to get across particularly busy intersections where cyclists also incur long delays. The protected intersection you mention is yet another tool. There’s no one-size-fits all bike infrastructure. We need to do what each situation demands. In some cases it could be just traffic calming. In others you might use protected lanes. You can also make bike boulevards. And where none of these things might work well you can consider grade-separated intersections, or even bike viaducts if you have frequent busy intersections and lots of traffic signals (this is mostly applicable in places like NYC arterials).

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