Amazon iframe

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Boston: Paths to safe cycling

Image of bike lanes in Cambridge, Massachusetts
From the Boston Globe, 04.20.08:

Gone are the days when cycling advocates bickered about whether bike lanes actually improve safety for cyclists. Studies prove that bike lanes and other markings boost bicycle use, reduce vehicular traffic and speeding, and in many cases, decrease car-bike collisions.

"A handful of people are opposed to bike lanes on a philosophical or practical basis," wrote Chris Porter, chair of the MassBike Metro Boston chapter, in an e-mail. Many of this minority are holdovers from the days when "vehicular bicycling" thinking --folding bikes into the regular flow of traffic with no special accommodations--held sway. MassBike and other major bike advocacy groups support bike lanes, as long as they are designed properly. But bike lanes aren't the only option.

"Not every street is right for a bike lane, but there are plenty of alternatives, like bicycle boulevards, "sharrows" [or] "Share the Road" arrows, and signage," said David Watson, MassBike's executive director...

Roads often need to go on "diets" to either remove or narrow a lane of traffic or parking to make a little room for bikes. This is what happened on Mass Ave in Central Square, said Cara Seiderman, transportation program manager for Cambridge.

Eleven feet is a generally accepted minimum width for a busy urban travel lane such as on Mass. Ave., said Seiderman. Cambridge has found that even 10-foot lanes, like on Hampshire Street, are as safe as wider lanes. One reason: they slow traffic.

Most engineers design at least five-foot-wide bike lanes, but not every advocate agrees about appropriate widths. Some believe that even standard widths "encourage bikes to ride too close to parked cars," said Porter. In other words, raising the threat of getting "doored."

But a 2003 study by the city of Cambridge found that bike lanes and pavement markings actually encouraged bicyclists to travel further from, not closer to, parked cars, compared with their behavior when no markings were present. Motorists also cited bike lanes as a big reason why they noticed bicyclists.

In short, bike lanes work. (Read more.)
I've written in the past about the welcome demise of vehicular cycling (VC) among bicycle advocates. As a practical approach to individual cycling, VC makes great sense: "drive" your bicycle as if it were a vehicle, claim your space, signal your turns, ride with traffic.

However, as a basis for bicycling advocacy, VC is negative, pessimistic, and counter-productive. Essentially, VC proponents conceded bicycling's marginality and didn't believe the roads could be changed to better accommodate cyclists. Instead they encouraged bicyclists to accept their minority status and adapt to roads designed for high speed vehicle traffic.

In contrast to this nonsense, the success of "complete streets" advocacy in cities such as San Francisco, Portland, New York, and Chicago has clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of infrastructural enhancement. These cities all have strong bicycling advocacy organizations, which have successfully pushed for enhanced bicycling infrastructure, such as bike lanes, "sharrows," signage, bike paths, and secure parking. Friendlier streets have led to more bicyclists, which in turn has increased safety as motorist awareness improves.

And now Boston is finally moving to improve the streetscape to better serve bicyclists and other non-motorized travelers. I couldn't agree more with this new Boston Globe columnist: Bike lanes work.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Bike czar creates buzz just gearing up, Boston Globe
Visit: Boston improves as a bike city, Boston Globe
Visit: Josh Switzky Interview, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Brooklyn: Bike Lanes Save Lives, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


dr2chase said...

I think the main problem with "vehicular cycling" is that nobody ever told the cars. "Taking the lane" for safety is usually interpreted as "being a gratuitous bicycle road-hog".

Anonymous said...

VC proponents are often cyclists' worst enemy. The "be-like-a-car" philosophy has tentacles that allow drivers, city planners and road designers to use VC as a convenient excuse. The end result is a cycling environment which is more dangerous and causes many potential cyclist to remain in their cars, compounding existing problems.

Just look at St Louis to see numerous examples of such advocacy. At state level, the idea of Complete Streets is rejected by MOdot's czar:

The bottom line is "trust us"...unfortunately elected leadership and advocates have.

Ed W said...

" lanes actually improve safety for cyclists. Studies prove that bike lanes and other markings boost bicycle use, reduce vehicular traffic and speeding, and in many cases, decrease car-bike collisions."

Curiously, there's no citation for the source of these studies, Paul, neither from you or the author of the news article. Unlike bike lane advocacy, VC is not based on wishful thinking. It uses techniques and simple practices that actually benefit cyclists, where bike lanes are more for the benefit of motorists. Where cyclists are legally obligated to use such lanes, they're effectively second class citizens with inferior rights when compared to other road users. The public roads belong to all of us.

Please, Paul, take a Road1 course. Learn how to ride safely and confidently even in the absence of a bike lane, because all bike lanes eventually come to an end.

Paul Dorn said...


Thanks for your comment. For the record, I'm a League Certified Instructor (LCI #1237). So not only have I taken Road 1 (and read Effective Cycling and been unpersuaded) but I am qualified to teach it.

Regarding research, I think it's fairly evident from the experiences in Marin County, Brooklyn, and the cities cited in this post. There is also the research of Jennifer Dill at Portland State University, and Peter Jacobsen in Sacramento: bike lanes increase bicycling which improves safety.


Kevin Love said...

To VC proponents I suggest going somewhere with a real bike culture. Amsterdam, Toronto or Copenhagen come to mind. Suggest to a few of the thousands of people on the bike lanes that bicylists would be better off if all the bike lanes were taken away.

I predict that they would get an interesting collection of strange looks and words along the lines of "les Americans sont fous!"

Anonymous said...

Vehicular cycling is fine for narrow roads where motor vehicles travel at 20 miles per hour or less, or for existing cyclists who cruise at 20 miles per hour or more.

To get people who are not riding now to start riding, you need barrier separted bike lanes.

Clarence Jr. said...


Hear ye! VC are not getting new riders out there. Only innovative attempts to try some different things will. Only each city can decide what is best for each street, but buffered bike lanes, sharrows, separated lanes, traffic calming are all things that should be used to make the roads safer.

One note, I DO ride as a VC. But I am smart enough to know that I am far more experienced then the average cyclist, it isn't for everyone, it isn't the safest option for all users, and that there is no way to get new people on the roads. VC is just fine as a concept to teach people, but we need lanes and all the other innovations out there in concert with it.

Anyone who pushes VC as the main way to is living in a fantasy land and glad to see many of those folks finally being exposed.

Anonymous said...

I believe that bike lanes are a great idea only if there is (almost) full support from the public.

There is a weekly television program dedicated to motorcycling that promotes safe riding and more. I believe this type of self-promotion not only supports the motorcycle industry but motorcycles become more visible and stay in minds of the public.

There needs to be a more visible presents of the benefits of bicycling using the media; a supportive culture for bicycling needs to be developed. There is work to be done.

hdraper said...

Anonymous, we never see "full support from the public" concerning anything. I think a reasonable majority is fair.

I use some VC techniques to deal with the lack of infrastructure, but they're not a satisfactory replacement for true accommodation. They're a tiring countermeasure at best. I ride a 55mph highway with no shoulder, twice daily, and I can tell you that VC techniques are not convincing anyone else to get out there with me and ride. I feel safer from using my rearview mirror than I do from taking the lane on a highway with no shoulder.

There is a bike lane in front of my house. It's cycled more than any other street in my town, and I've yet to see one motorist/cyclist accident on it, despite the awfully designed intersection at its terminus.

Gordon Harris said...

I'm a coordinator for North Shore Cyclists, a bicycle club north of Boston. Recently I built a site designed to help local cyclists find good quality rides from local bicycle clubs, fundraisers, etc. The rides are listed blog-style at my site , and I provide an interactive map to search for rides at .

Lester, Adult Tricycle said...

My friend and I want to ride from NY state (Westchester County) to Boston. Wondering if anyone have any suggested routes? Thanks!

Unknown said...

For years I have parked at the large parking lot on the Charles River on Soldier's Field Road near the park that is there. I take my bike off my car and ride into work near North Station. Today I found a ticket on my car saying I was over the 2 hour limit and I would be ticketed and towed next time (notice from the DCR--Dept of Conservation and Recreation). I want to change this policy--the parking lot is not near capacity during the work week and it is a shame people like me cannot part and commute. Any advice? I am so mad I want to start a campaign to change this!