I believe we’ve entered an era in which things are going to get worse for bicyclists before they get better. The tectonic pressure to paint bicycle lanes has become so great that it no longer seems possible to even debate the merits or the claims of safety.
Check out this article from Yes! magazine. Here’s a taste:
“The idea is to create the kind of bike networks that will attract the 60 percent of all Americans who say they would bike more if they felt safer,” says Randy Neufeld, a longtime bike advocate in Chicago who as Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund helped start the Green Lane Project. “It’s about helping people from 8 to 80 to feel safe biking on city streets.”
That’s what “participation” advocacy looks like. It’s not about real safety or efficient transportation. It’s all about how novices feel. Put more harshly (and, IMO, more accurately): It’s all about fooling novices into thinking they safe — sacrificing them on the altar of participation. Sure, go ride in that door-zone lane. The paint on your left can hold back a 2-ton motor vehicle, and the door on your right, well, what are the chances it’s gonna pop open?
I feel safe riding Springfield’s streets because I know that I am relatively safe (given that few things we do everyday are entirely safe). I did not feel safe riding in Amsterdam this summer because I was in fact not as safe as I am riding in Springfield — the subject of my upcoming documentary film. Amsterdam’s storied bicycle tracks are clogged with too many bicyclists using too little space. The danger is not car traffic. The danger is all the potential ways to crash in a cramped, crowded system. I’ll never ride there again without a helmet.
How is this possible? How can I possibly feel safe on Springfield city streets (and in Kansas City, St. Louis, Wilmington, and Orlando — cities I’ve bicycled in recently) without special accommodations?
Well, I’m obviously a crazy, battled-hardened road warrior, right? That is the stereotype accepted by — I was about the type “much of the non-riding public.” No. That’s the stereotype accepted by some of the advocates of participation. That’s the stereotype that keeps us in the business of painting bicycle lanes for novices. Check out I Am No Road Warrior by Diana Steele for a corrective to the stereotype.
The key to safety is education — understanding traffic, the role of the bicycle in traffic, and all the tools bicyclists have to mitigate the dangers of sharing space with motor vehicles. And here is where we run into the problem of culture (see also On Participation and Amsterdam: My Big Take-away).
Participation? It would be nice if more people rode bicycles in Springfield; it’s a wonderful place to ride a bicycle. It’s tragic that more people don’t ride bicycles here for transportation (and other purposes) if what’s stopping them is fear for their safety.
Everything I’ve just written makes me a crank. The tectonic shift is going to bury me. I wrote on Carbon Trace last year that I was not going to raise too much of a fuss about painting bicycle lanes in Springfield. I thought it was unlikely we’d paint more lanes, so it was easy to make that pledge at the time. Well, I’m taking it back.
This morning I’m off to get some video and pictures of the new bicycles lanes on S. Jefferson.