By Jay Walljasper, Senior Fellow at On the Commons and editor of OnTheCommons.org
This is the second in a three part series in which Jay Walljasper discusses how the bike lanes of the future can be seen on our streets right now and could change the face of transportation.
In part one of this series, I stated a case for building more protected bike lanes in the US. You may ask, however, what about the conventional bike lanes painted on the pavement — that simple white stripe we’ve grown used to?
“They are the camel’s nose in the tent for growing bike use,” because they legitimize bicycling as transportation in the eyes of prospective riders and remind motorists to share the road, says Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund.
“Conventional bike lanes can work very well on a two-lane street with light traffic and slow speeds,” notes Roskowski. “But they are not enough for busy streets and fast traffic, which need an extra degree of separation between bicycles and motor vehicles.”
That’s the logic embraced by Dutch traffic engineers, which has doubled the number of bicyclists in the Netherlands. According to the Dutch Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, physical separation of bicyclists from motor vehicles is recommended for any urban street with more than two lanes or where the speed limit exceeds 50 km per hour (31 mph).
One problem with conventional bike lanes is that they raise expectations beyond what they can deliver. “Cities all over the country painted stripes on busy streets, and when these lanes attract only a modest increase in bicyclists, city officials conclude there is only limited interest in bicycling,” notes PeopleForBikes president Tim Blumenthal. “A lot of people just won’t venture out on busy roads without a greater level of protection from traffic. That’s where protected bike lanes come in.”
Protected Bike Lanes Benefit Everyone, Not Just People Riding Bikes
“We are at a turning point in how we think about bikes,” explains Roskowksi. “This change is being driven by cities preparing for the future. Mayors, elected officials, business leaders and citizens want their cities to be resilient, sustainable and attractive, and they realize bikes and protected bike lanes can help achieve that. These new bike lanes make the streets safer for everyone and improve city life for people who will never even get on a bike.”
Here are key benefits of protected bike lanes enjoyed by the entire community:
Attract and Keep a Talented Workforce: Richard Florida, originator of the Creative Class strategy for urban prosperity, contends that safe, convenient bike lanes are important to communities that want to attract entrepreneurs and sought-after workers in creative fields–not just young hipsters, but those with kids too. “Traffic-free bike paths become especially important to them,” Florida said about young families in the New York Daily News.
Expand Economic Opportunities: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to build 100 miles of protected bike lanes in his first term as part of a strategy to attract high-tech firms to the city. In Austin, Texas, Cirrus Logic, a computer company, moved from the suburbs to downtown two years ago because the area’s bike trails and plans for protected lanes made the firm “more attractive as an employer,” explains PR director Bill Schnell. “We can’t just pluck anybody for our jobs. The people we want are mostly younger, and biking is part of the equation for them.”
Boost Local Businesses: A study of protected bike lanes on 9th Avenue in New York City showed a 49 percent increase in retail sales at businesses on the street. Another study in San Francisco found 65 percent of merchants on Valencia Street reporting that protected bike lanes were good for business. A study done in Portland shows that customers arriving on bike buy 24 percent more at local businesses than those who drive.
Make the Streets Safer for Everyone: Not only are fewer bicyclists involved in accidents on streets with protected lanes, but pedestrians and motorists are safer too. A study of Columbus Avenue in New York City after protected bike lanes were added found a 34 percent decline in overall crashes.
Saving Municipalities Money Building protected bike lanes to move more people is “dirt cheap to build compared to road projects,” says Gabe Klein, former transportation commissioner in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Cities of all sizes find that protected lanes can serve more people using existing infrastructure without the economic and environmental costs of widening streets.
Ease Traffic Congestion: Chad Crager, interim Bicycling Program Manager in Austin, calculated that the city’s ambitious network of protected lanes will create significantly more street capacity downtown if only 15 percent of commuters living within three miles of downtown switch from cars to bikes and just seven percent of those living three-to-nine miles.
Reduce Tension Between Bicyclists and Motorists: “If you actually give bicyclists a designated place in the road, they behave in a way that’s more conducive for everyone getting along,” explains Jim Merrell, campaign manager for the Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. He points to recent findings that bicyclists stop for red lights 161 percent more often at special bike signals on the city’s new Dearborn Avenue protected lanes. And a study of protected lanes on Chicago’s Kinzie Street shows that half of cyclists report improved motorist behavior on the street.
Decrease Pollution & Curb Climate Change: A person traveling four miles to work and four miles back on a bike every day instead of a car means 2000 pounds less carbon each year (which translates to a five percent reduction, downsizing the average Americans’ carbon footprint) as well as reductions in other pollutants fouling our air, according the Worldwatch Institute.
Next time: Walljasper discusses The Rise and Fall of the Vehicular Cycling Movement “Early bike lanes ignited controversy–not just from motorists who thought streets were strictly for cars but also from a few bicyclists who viewed bike-only lanes as a form of transportation segregation.”
Jay Walljasper writes, speaks, edits and consults about how to improve community life. He is author of The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. His website: www.JayWalljasper.com