Tuesday, January 31, 2006

OBC and Bike Lanes

Michael Schooling asked if the Oklahoma Bicycle Coalition has a position on bike lanes. This was my response:

I could be wrong - and if I am, someone will undoubtedly be along shortly to correct me! - but I don't believe OBC has taken any formal position either for or against bike lanes. There are several reasons for this. The coalition is just that, a coalition, and it should encompass a wide range of views. But more importantly, the coalition exists to educate cyclists, motorists, law enforcement personnel, bureaucrats, planners, and policy makers about safe, efficient bicycle use and operation.

You will hear the argument that education obviates the need for expensive facilities like bike lanes. You'll hear that the difference between crash rates on streets equipped with bike lanes and those without is negligible. And you'll hear that if lanes are installed, many more people will use bicycles for transportation. Each has vocal proponents and detractors, yet it's not the purpose of OBC to support or oppose those arguments. We exist to educate.

My personal opinion is that bicycle lanes are an expensive solution to a
negligible problem. Many believe that such lanes make cycling safer because that magic paint stripe somehow reduces the risk of being hit from behind. But that risk is very, very low to begin with. If I recall right, less than 8% of all cycling fatalities involve being hit from behind, and the majority of those happen after dark to cyclists without lights or reflectors. Intersections account for roughly two-thirds of fatalities, yet bike lanes make intersections and crossing movements more complicated. Finally, the build-it-and-they-will-come argument is not supported by facts. We've spent ever-increasing amounts on facilities like bike lanes (but also including linear parks and other cycling amenities) yet the number of cyclists has remained relatively flat (when bicycle sales figures are used as an estimate of the numbers of new cyclists).

I can't think of a better way of demonstrating the safety of cycling than by riding regularly on our streets and roads. It's isn't rocket science. It doesn't require super-human abilities. We routinely educate our children in Driver's Ed classes because we believe that they become safer drivers. No one would seriously propose building roads expressly for inexperienced or uneducated drivers, yet some propose just that for cyclists, as if we're incapable of learning. We should insist that our children get bicycle education in middle school, when they're old enough for good judgment skills. And we should insist that every club in the state get some of their members through a Road1 course too, because it's never too late to learn a
little more.

While it's true that as an LCI I have a financial stake in this, let's just say that I'm still very far on the debit side. (My spouse has pointed this out on several occasions, as spouses do.) I don't think any of the instructors in Oklahoma have made enough profit to call bicycling education more than an expensive hobby rather than a business. Yet despite some of our differences, we share a common view of the future of cycling here in Oklahoma, and we have a shared passion for cycling as both a transportation mode and a refreshing recreational choice.

Brian Potter wrote about bike lanes next to limited-access roads:

...AASHTO standards for bikeways call for anything referred to as a bike lane to be five feet wide. Personally, I prefer very wide outside lanes with relatively narrow shoulders (think idealized rural highway) or relatively narrow lanes with rather wide shoulders--in either case, bicyclists can ride in a space, either sharing the wide traffic lane or moving just over the line, which has been swept clean by the movement of motor traffic. On wide shoulders, the rumble strip should be further away from the lane stripe to allow safe cycling in the clean zone.

I think it's important to point out something that Brian mentioned in passing. AASHTO has standard engineering guidelines for bike lanes and other such facilities. Far too often, local public works departments want to build something on the cheap, and don't realize that by doing so, they increase risks to cyclists and incur liability for the local government by ignoring the guidelines. Shoddy, poorly designed and poorly maintained facilities are nothing more than a sop to local cyclists, intended to buy their silence.

We had one such proposal here in Tulsa. Archer Street is part of the city's bicycle plan, yet Urban Redevelopment wanted to install angled parking along it in order to accommodate more cars. Angled parking is a hazard to both bicyclists and motorcyclists. As an 'alternative', they drew up a bike route that twisted around through vacant lots, back alleys, and sidewalks in order to make the route 'safer' (and get those pesky cyclists out of the way of 'important' motor vehicle traffic!). The INCOG bicycling subcommittee reviewed the plans and opposed them vigorously. And it's at the planning stage where cyclists themselves are most effective in changing outcomes.

Brian called these planning meetings the tedious nuts-and-bolts of advocacy. And he's right. Poring over engineering documents is hardly exciting. But it's far easier to get changes made at the planning stage rather than after they're quite literally cast in concrete.


Blogger Fritz said...

We have two LCIs in our city. We're working on getting state Safe Routes funds to expand our existing school bicycle education program; hopefully, we'll get the grant so we can pay the LCIs what they're worth.

1:24 PM  

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