The Problem With “Same Road, Same Rules”
A recent post on Vox went viral with the argument that cyclists shouldn’t have to make full stops at stop signs and should be allowed to proceed through red lights “Idaho stop”-style.
The author, Joseph Stromberg, gave a lot of compelling reasons why cyclists shouldn’t be forced to strictly adhere to rules that were designed for people driving cars. That got veteran engineer Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns thinking. As someone who’s designed streets for a living, he has plenty of insight into why the “same road, same rules” mentality falls short:
Stop signs weren’t designed for cyclists. In fact, very little of our built environment was designed with cyclists in mind. What we have done — as I pointed out way back with the video on the diverging diamond — is developed a tolerance for cyclists, and that only with some heroic effort. Engineers now generally accept cyclists and have even created checklists to help us accommodate them — at least the skilled ones — at a minimal level in our current transportation system. Tolerating cyclists, and sometimes even attempting to accommodate them, is a far cry from designing systems based on their needs…
For those of you that believe automobile traffic laws should apply to cyclists, my first reaction is (and please don’t be offended because, granted, this is a broad brush): do you ever bike? Do you bike in traffic? In the United States? Perhaps you do. I admit that I didn’t until the last few years, but doing so opened up my eyes to a new set of challenges and changed a lot of my beliefs on cycling in urban areas.
As an engineer and a planner, I had designed a number of cycling facilities, but I really hadn’t used them. At least not regularly. So, a few years ago I decided to start biking to work. I couldn’t do it during the school year or when I needed to pick up my kids, but on the days that I could, I would bike the 12 miles each way to and from the office. I could take back roads for the first eight miles or so, but the last bit was on nasty stroads in high traffic areas where I experienced a rational human response: fear…
We need to rethink our urban areas. They need to be redesigned around a new set of values, one that doesn’t seek to accommodate bikers and pedestrians within an auto-dominated environment but instead does the opposite: accommodates automobiles in an environment dominated by people. It is people that create value. It is people that build wealth. It is in prioritizing their needs — whether on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair — that we will begin to change the financial health of our cities and truly make them strong towns.
Elsewhere on the Network today: The Political Environment reports that a lawsuit against Wisconsin DOT has yielded a settlement that will provide $13.5 million for transit service during construction of a massive Milwaukee highway project. Streets.mn discusses colleges’ natural orientation toward urbanism. And Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL explains why he’s voting “no” on Missouri’s proposed transportation sales tax hike.