People Who Should Know Better

My friend Michael related a conversation about transportation costs that he had recently with “Cheryl,” a social services professional who works with low income families. Michael assumed Cheryl had a good deal of insight into the challenges faced by people who struggle to make ends meet on minimum wage. He commented to her that given the employment and economic uncertainty that nearly everyone is facing, more transportation funding/planning/consideration should be devoted to public transit and bicycle infrastructure. To his surprise, Cheryl exclaimed, “bicycle what!?”

Fall GuyYou know, bike lanes. Bike paths. Bike corrals. He explained that gas is expensive and cars require auto insurance and require often costly maintenance and repairs.

Cheryl   didn’t understand. “Well, how are bicycles supposed to help with that?”

“People can bike to work or use them to go grocery shopping…if you don’t have to worry about car repair, you can buy food, pay the rent.” Did I mention that Michael is from a rather well-to-do family and has never faced nor will he ever likely face this situation himself? And he’s explaining this stuff to a social worker…

“Who would use a bicycle to go grocery shopping? You can’t go grocery shopping on a bicycle. Nobody does that!”

Michael was becoming exasperated. “People do it all the time.   A lot of people do. Look around. People bike all over Flagstaff.” Michael is relating this story to me as we sit in a bar on South San Francisco Street. Cyclists whiz by, one after the other. My husband is among them and within minutes, he has joined us in the bar, bike helmet in hand.

Of course, Cheryl has never seen anyone bike anywhere in Flagstaff or apparently anywhere else. Ever! “Nobody would do that.”

“Well, I do. I bike in to work almost every morning and my wife and I bike to the grocery store all the time. We put our groceries on a bike trailer and in panniers,” said Michael. Since I didn’t know what a pannier was until four years ago, I assumed Cheryl didn’t, either.

Michael said that Cheryl remained unconvinced and just looked at him like he was a kook. The conversation went nowhere. Cheryl, the social services caseworker who helps economically disadvantaged people find solutions to keep clothes on their backs, food on the table and roofs over their heads, does not know that low wage workers are often one broken down car away from being unemployed. How can it be that the person who should know better is utterly clueless? As a poorly paid social worker (and I was once a poorly paid social worker so I know of what I speak), did Cheryl never think “damn, a new alternator and a motor mount? Looks like it’s Ramen noodles and beans for the next few months.”
Fall mid day fashion

I don’t mean to suggest in any way that bike commuting is only for the poor or for tough economic times. Yes, yes, yes — I ultimately chose to begin my initial experiment in bike commuting in order to reduce our monthly expenses. But the key idea is that I chose to do so. Just like I chose to sell my car after I discovered I really preferred to commute to work and just about everywhere else by bike. I didn’t have to. It wasn’t an emergency. Besides, we still had one car for times when it just wasn’t convenient to bike. I liked being a regular bike commuter, and the extra monies could be applied to my retirement account or just spent on drinks at The Rendezvous! And it really gives me no small bit of comfort to know that in the really unfortunate event that either my husband or I were laid off and could no longer afford gas or auto insurance, we could make it by combining our bikes with the bus. In other words, we’d still have transportation options.

One of the reasons that I was able to so easily make that choice was that I have access to a lot of great multi-use paths and bike lanes in my part of town. I owe that privilege largely to the fact that Flagstaff voters overwhelmingly have supported taxing themselves to help pay for the Flagstaff Urban Trail System. While Flagstaff has done a better job than most when it comes to bike friendliness, nobody agrees that we’re done. Many streets and roads still need work before significant numbers of people will feel comfortable traveling on them by bike. Flagstaff voters prioritize continuing to improve our network of bike trails and lanes for recreation and enhanced transportation alternatives.

Plaid guyBut what about people like Cheryl? Sure, she is highly unlikely to become a bike commuter herself and that’s her choice. But, given her line of work, I find it very hard to understand her lack of empathy for people for whom car ownership is simply an out of reach luxury. I can’t believe that none of her clients has ever needed to apply for emergency funds to pay for yet another car repair so that they can get to work or keep doctor appointments. In my experience, those emergency funds evaporated during the previous quarter and won’t be replenished until the new fiscal year. For many people in that situation, if the bus service is unreliable or doesn’t go where you need to go, their only choice is a bike, probably an old one they remembered was in their dad’s shed. It’s so obvious! Why can’t she see it?

Is it the same blindness that explains why Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky views funding for bike infrastructure as frivolous? Or why his cohort Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma tried to hijack the recently passed six-month extension to the Transportation Bill unless it excluded funds for anything that wasn’t car-centric? Do they realize that with 14 million people out of work and 46 million living in poverty, a lot of folks can’t afford to own and operate a car? Are they ignorant or do they just lack empathy? I’m starting to suspect the later because both should certainly know better.

So yes, I’ve gone on a rant, but all of us, regardless of the economic times or our income, need and deserve transportation options. The ability to identify and exercise options in order to overcome challenges is one of those personal responsibility thingys that Senators Coburn and Paul certainly respect. In six months, the Transportation Bill will be back before Congress and another funding crisis will begin again. I hope our elected public servants will consider that, while we reflexively subsidize the choice of many to drive a car, it would also be nice to carve out a fraction of that amount to fund the bicycle infrastructure that provides a bit of extra safety and comfort to the not insignificant number of citizens for whom car ownership will always be an aspiration. Riding a bike is their only option.

Sign up for our Adventure-Packed Newsletter

Get our latest touring, commuting and family cycling posts and sales delivered to your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

41 thoughts on “People Who Should Know Better”

  1. Fabio says:

    What a painful rant indeed. I live in Amsterdam, the universally acknowledged bicycle paradise, and I deeply feel your frustration on this. This change can only come from the people, the very people on the street. If we’re waiting for any above institution to do the job, we’d better not hold our breath. And I come from Italy, so I unfortunately know this very well.
    Congrats for the blog, I’ve been following for a bit and will for sure continue to do it.

  2. clever-title says:

    Many cycling advocates also have serious concerns about the value of the TE program, like PM Summer of CycleDallas:

  3. Cezar says:

    Rand Paul, not Ron Paul.

  4. Shannon C. says:

    Love, love, love this post! I am the president of the board for a nonprofit in Tulsa, Oklahoma that helps connect under-resourced adults with bicycles for transportation. Tulsa has a notoriously awful bus system, so bikes are often the best way for those without cars to get around. Luckily the case workers that refer clients to us are more open to the idea of biking for transportation, and have seen firsthand the impact that access to a bike can have in the lives of their clients! We have invited several of the caseworkers to take the Traffic Skills 101 class we offer, and I think it helps to make it seem more realistic for them.

  5. Mike Myers says:

    I’m currently between jobs and I live in an area which is definitely NOT bike friendly. We have an outstanding trail, the Withlacoochee Trail, but it’s not really useful in a transportational sense. To save money(and get a workout in), I’ve been handing out resumes on my bike. Since I live in Florida, I get rather sweaty. Showing up in sweaty wicking clothing while carrying a helmet surprisingly does not impress employers.

    I thought that since I work in health care, showing that I was conscious about fitness would give me a leg up, especially since most dentists are fitness nuts. Again, not a correct assumption.

    It doesn’t matter. If I don’t get a job by January, I’m going to sell everything and hit the road on my Bridgestone XO-2.

  6. Gene @ BU says:

    Karen; Let me see if I can follow your reasoning. You’re advocating that tax dollars should be allocated to cycling infrastructure in order to provide the poor and unemployed with another transportation option and then have social services direct their clients to use bikes under some guise that this is a practical and cost effective transportation option in their current circumstances and by biking they will be taking direct personal responsibility for their plight. In addition, tax dollars spent on biking infrastructure benefits all of us since it will provide a cheap transportation safety net if or when we face our own “economic challenges”.

    I have to agree with Cheryl and I too remained unconvinced of your reasoning.

    However, if you were to replace the word “bike” with “efficient mass urban transit” then perhaps I could buy into that concept and support these expenditures in the next Transportation Bill.

  7. Thx Cezar! You are correct; it is his son Rand Paul and as I am from KY I should have caught that. I was a bit lost in emotion but will ask CoB to correct.

  8. Gene @ BU says:

    Karen: I found this data for Texas demographics and at least in this report it looks like poor people already use bikes –


    Households with over $50,000US annual income are more likely to own and ride a bicycle than any other group.

    Households with less than $7,500US income per year are more likely to ride to work than any other group, 23% cycled to work in past month.

    26% of the general population rides recreationally.

    39% of recreational riders hold professional or managerial jobs.

    The median age of recreational bicyclists is 35.

    9% of recreational bicyclists currently bike commute.

    37% of recreational bicyclist would bike commute if there were showers, lockers and secure bike-storage facilities.

    60% of bicycle commuters are male/ 40% are female.

    30% of current bike commuters do so 10 or more days a month.

    48% of current bike commuters do so 5 or more days a month.

    34% are over 30 years of age.

    Based on this study bike commuters are either poor (23%) and use bikes as a primary means of transportation or they are in the middle class income level, are recreational bikers, and 9% have taken the next step to bike commuting.

    If you take this study to the next step it says that showers and bike lockers will put more people on bikes than infrastructure projects.

  9. Brütsche says:

    We don’t need to spend money on NEW infrastructure at all. We could all get by with a few streets and roadways not terribly well-used by the cagers rededicated to cyclists, skaters, and walkers.

  10. Gene, I don’t disagree that people who earn a low income are bike commuting in fairly high numbers; but that that the Trans Bill should recognize bicyles as a transportations option. Transit stations w/being showers and lockers sounds like great idea for a public/private partnership for many cities. In fact, although I don’t know it’s current status, I understand former Louisville KY mayor Jerry Abramson was pursuing such a facility for downtown in order to increase bike commuting. I still have to disagree w/being you about the relevance of street infrastructure, especially w/ respect to female riders, who often cite safety as a chief barrier to bike commuting. Even yesterday during my visit to Phoenix, our bike trips were significantly affected by the availability of routes that were perceived as safe by my companions. Phoenix is not particularly bike friendly so there was considerable discussion about where to go and how to get there, in part because we were traveling with a child.

  11. Emily says:

    I have such mixed feelings about this.

    I’m not poor, but I live in a neighborhood where many people are poor. I’m probably in that “poorly-paid social worker” type category, which is to say that I don’t have much money for luxuries, but I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.

    Commuting by bike has really improved my quality of life. The bus system here is adequate but annoying. The bus only comes every half-hour during rush hour, and it takes a really meandering route to my workplace. I can leave later, get to work earlier, and save money by riding my bike rather than taking the bus. Bike-riding is a pretty common means of transportation in my neighborhood, at least among young men. I think it would be great to encourage more people, especially women and older people, to ride bikes.

    Having said that, bikes are not a substitute for public transit here. In the winter, when it is cold and dark and icy, I take the bus to work on days when it doesn’t feel safe to cycle. I would be an unhappy camper if I didn’t have access to public transit for those days when I don’t want to cycle. A fair number of my neighbors have disabilities or other health problems that might make it difficult for them to commute by bike. Many people in my neighborhood don’t have health insurance, which makes cycling scarier than it would otherwise be.

    I think that it’s a great idea to improve cycling infrastructure and that it could help low-to-moderate-income people like me and my neighbors. However, my first priority would be to improve access to public transit. Cycling can supplement public transit, but it doesn’t replace it.

  12. Joel says:

    I would have to agree that a basic quality public transportation system is the feeder for more bicycle usage.

    Whenever possible, I ride about six miles from home to the nearest park-and-ride bus station to get to work. In inclement weather, I ride my beat-up commuter car and then get the bus.

    Without the bus, my ability to cycle to work would be non-existent. The bicycle is a way to get some extra exercise, save a few dollars, and try and cut our dependency on foreign oil. I know the last statement sounds a little odd but if we could just cut down oil consumption just a little, it makes a big deal on the oil markets.

    Our economy is dependent on oil, period. If I can keep a couple of extra bucks in our country by not riding my car a total of 12 miles per day when I bike, it is my small trickle of savings to help this country. The exercise helps me keep my weight down which decreases my co-pays to the doctor because I do not see him as often because I feel better and do not get sick as much.

    I am over fifty, I do qualify for making over the $50K mark but I do not feel I am rich nor do I forget how it felt to make less than $12K per year when I was young.

    I guess you can say that I am going back to the future when I rode to work because I could not afford to ride.

    Have a good Day!

  13. Karen says:

    Emily and Joel, when I think about that perfect commute, for me it would definitely blend public transit and biking. I agree that no one method of transport is 100 percent and there are definitely times when I use our car, though I hope someday that a car sharing program will be available where we live. I used public transit combined with walking extensively in Louisville and loved it. Saved me money and a little extra exercise built into my day. We don’t have great public transit here and the circulations times are usually between 20 – 30 minutes, even if it did come to my neighborhood. I would definitely find a way to use it if we ever get service on my side of town as during the winter there are many weeks during the winter when the ice and snow make biking on the roads quite hazardous.

  14. jim says:

    Opponents at heated public meetings argued that no one would use a bike trail, that it was a waste of public money.

    A quarter-century later, those communities are set to celebrate the trail’s silver anniversary this weekend with events that highlight the ways the trail has altered the culture – and economics – of the cities it reaches.

  15. Jim says:

    I’m going to open a huge can of worms here: what is the race and/or sociological background of “Cheryl”?

    Therein lies your answer, not her job occupation.

  16. Craig says:

    I live in northern Minnesota and my town is putting bike lanes on new roads. As a year round bike commuter I really appreciate this. As to the social service aspect of your rant I couldn’t agree more with you. I work in a low paying job as many in our country do and to save money I bike. I do have a pickup truck for those days in the winter when it is unsafe to bike which is usually only for a couple of days until the side streets are plowed. However I have let my coworkers borrow my truck if their vehicles don’t work because they see no other way to get to work and they know I can and usually bike anyway. I wish I could get them to see the benefits of biking.

  17. BluesCat says:

    Public transportation and utility cycling form a sort of symbiotic relationship where improving one means improving in the other. Most transportation planners I know take this concept for granted. Check out the web site devoted to the Bicycleand Pedestrian Program of the Arizona DOT Mulimodal Planning Division, specifically the Our Vision statement and the introduction. If you separate the two, you wind up doing disservice to BOTH of them.

    Karen is right about Phoenix: it is not a very bike friendly community (ironic since the weather here is a non-factor; you can bicycle to work 365 days out of the year). When the Metro light rail system went in, the bike racks in the cars were almost empty. With the various improvements which have been made, and with our neighbor city, Scottsdale, gaining Gold status with the LAB, I’ve noticed that the bike racks in the rail cars, and on the front of the city buses, are almost always full.

  18. J-Dub says:

    “Households with less than $7,500US income per year are more likely to ride to work than any other group, 23% cycled to work in past month.”

    Is $7500 a typo? $7500 is well below the official poverty line, even using the least generous figures; ~$10K for a single person under 65, $14K for a couple, no children. I understand there can be some controversy over where the threshhold should be, but $7500 is far too low, and we haven’t even considered familes. It may be that percentage holds true for a more inclusive definition of poor, but does the report you cite have those figures?

    “Based on this study bike commuters are either poor (23%) and use bikes as a primary means of transportation or they are in the middle class income level, are recreational bikers, and 9% have taken the next step to bike commuting.”

    They said that 23% of the poor are bike commuting, not that 23% of bike commuters are poor. Even aside from my objection to the definition of poor, we need to be careful how the data is presented, since the size of each group in relation to the other has bearing on the policy discussion IMO.

    Final objection – this is for Texas only? That’s not a valid sample for the U.S. Are nationwide statistics availible? If someone can post a link, thanks. I’m just curious.

  19. peteathome says:

    I’ve been a transportational bicyclist ever since I was a poor worker in Mephis a long, long time ago and I can offer, I think, perspectives from both sides.

    Back when I was in Memphis, we had bus service, but it was infrequent, slow, didn’t go everywhere I needed to and cost more money than I had. Bicycling was cheaper and faster.

    HOWEVER – I was doing day laboring and the added physical effort of bicycling my typical 8-11 miles each way, even relatively slowly, was a strain. At the time I was young and very healthy and could do it, but I doubt a 35 year old garbage collector would want the added effort at the beginning and end of the day.

    Other low-income people I knew worked at hotels and as waiters and so on where they have to wear uniforms and look very presentable. Bicycling, even slowly, on a hot, 90+ degree, humid Memphis summer could be a problem. There are solutions, i know, but this can be an impediment – Even if you could find a shower and chang this adds to the time it takes to commute.

    Not everybody fits in such categories – for instance these days a lot of low wage jobs are for things like telemarketers, but, in general, these restrictions can be a real problem.

    Reliability is another concern – promptness and NEVER missing a day no matter what is often a requiremnent of low wage jobs. Being unable to bicycle due to a snow storm could get you fired.

    So a lot of problems in transportation and low wage jobs.

    Yes, a good, extensive mass tranit system could help fill in the gaps on really hot or rainy or snowy days. And that might be the solution but it is very long term.

    OTOH – for things like getting groceries, hauling clothes to do the laundry, going to the big box store, etc., the bicycle really shines. Back when I was poor I used my bike for these things by using panniers and a backpack. Now a trailer would REALLY make these chores easy. Wish I had had one back then.

    While carrying home four bags of groceries or slepping a week of laundry to the laundromat by bus can be done ( using a rolling cart), most poorer poeple I know use a cab for this and that, of course, costs real money and takes more time. A bike could really save money as well as just increase a person’s mobility and range over bus and cab.

  20. Paul S. says:

    Gene. I live in a city with a relatively large amount of bike infrastructure, yet I regularly hear people saying they don’t feel it’s safe to ride a bike to work. When I point out the bike lanes, they point out there are large stretches of roads with no bike lanes and lots of scary cars between where they live and the office. To them, bike infrastructure matters, or more precisely, lack of it matters.

    Would all those people bike if there was a bike lane on every road? Probably not, but some of them would. There would be an increase in cycling.

    I’m not quite sure why the idea of more bike infrastructure is bothering you. It’s relatively cheap, in many cases costing little more than the cost some paint and signs, and even when you build full-blown trails it’s still a tiny fraction of the cost of freeways or rail. I don’t really get why you think transit is preferable to cycling, either. Transit is very costly, both to the community and the the person using it.

    Perhaps in addition to simply saying you don’t buy it, you can tell us some good reasons why you don’t buy it. Saying some people bike already so we don’t need more bike infrastructure doesn’t even approach being a good argument unless you’re numbers are a heck of lot better than 23%.

  21. Paul S. says:

    I bike now because I want to bike, but I was quite poor at one point and had no other choice. My biggest problem at the time was finding cheap gear for cycling. Rain gear, panniers, trailers, tools, all cost of bunch of money at most places I looked, and finding the cheap stuff was a real hassle.

    Now the internet makes it easier, but it’s still difficult. A newbie looking for something to haul stuff would find a whole lot of $50-$100 panniers before he’d find out you could build a sturdy bike box with a kitty litter tub, a couple of hooks and a bungee. He might never know which inexpensive racks are no-frills and sturdy, and which ones are just cheap crap.

    A social worker could help with things like this. Not making brand recommendations, but giving links to web sites that talk about this kind of stuff. It could make it a lot easier to be poor with a bike than it was when I was poor.

  22. What am I missing here? It seems to me that the Texas statistics cited by Gene do not in any way diminish Karen’s argument- that tax dollars should support bicycle infrastructure to assist economically disadvantaged folks get around. How does the statistic from Texas that 23% of poor people already bike commute (or any other of the cited statistics for that matter) support the notion that public assistance of bike infrastructure is not a wise expenditure of tax dollars.

  23. Gene @ BU says:

    Thanks for asking.

    I’m against including bike infrastructure funds in the Transportation Bill because –

    I’m all for bike/bus lanes (those strips painted on the streets) and the removal of on street parking. This is relatively cheap and offers a perceived level of safety. And, the removal of on street parking frees expensive transportation space. Parked vehicles are the greatest deterrent to effective mass transit and bike safety.

    I’m against separate bike infrastructure. They are not needed for bicycle commuting; they are useless for serious cycling; but they are great for recreational cycling. They are expensive to build and there’s an on going cost to maintain this infrastructure. After initial federal funding is gone municipalities still have to maintain these at a direct cost to property tax payers.

    Bikes have inherent problems for mass urban transportation as pointed out above by peteathome. They have limited range, limited capacity, are weather dependent, and they require the rider to have some physical abilities. The percent of the population who can effectively utilize bikes as a transportation option is extremely low. And, as reported in the Texas study, poor people are now effectively using bikes without any investment in infrastructure.

    I’m for including mass transit in the Transportation Bill specifically because of their people moving capability and ability to generate revenue off setting public funds needed to maintain and sustain this infrastructure. In addition companies like BAE recently introduced hybrid electric bus technologies that make these a less environmentally damaging option. Dollar for dollar nothing beats a bus as a flexible, dependable mass people mover.

    I also agree that the Transportation Bill’s highest priority should be highway infrastructure maintenance with a focus on upgrades to ensure better integration of truck/train/port facilities to ensure our competitive positioning. Bike infrastructure can wait.

    I would like to see additional “independent” studies on the cost/benefits of bikes as a transportation option. I believe advocates have overstated the benefits by several orders of magnitude.

    I also believe that biking needs ebike technology to make this a popular transportation option. Cost effective ebikes for the general population may be 5 to 10 years off and ebikes will change the transit infrastructure landscape. The bike infrastructure of today could be made obsolete.

  24. Karen says:

    Great discussion everyone! I appreciate all the perspectives, although I think we all agree that transportation options are needed.

    Gene, I still don’t agree that bicycle infrastructure “is useless for serious cycling”. I suppose that I’m confused about what your definition of “serious cycling”. Do you relate this to speed? While I use some streets that don’t provide separate lanes or off-street paths there are a couple of major streets here that desperately need bike lanes. I strongly believe that their addition would increase bike ridership (commuting) by people on my side of town. As things are now, most people do not, including our local police and many experienced cyclists, do not consider it a safe option.

  25. CSC says:

    I encourage you to look around at other cities to convince yourself of this reasoning that cycling is a great low income option IF people want to give it the attention it deserves. I have lived in Burlington, VT and while the infrastructure for cycling is not stellar it is how many people chose to commute or run their errands. There is a great program run by Bike Recycle where old bikes are fixed up and then can be bought for a modest amount including helmet and lock. I think with so many people in bad health in our motion deprived, TV watching society that the least we can do is encourage people to peddle the distance they have to go for work. I have also gone on cycling trips up to Montreal and was blown away at how may people commuted by bike using the truly amazing cycling infrastructure. I can also see that this is not always practical and that mass transit is also a valid form of transportation that needs to be greatly improved through out the United States. I see plenty of people suffering right here in Vermont, especially in rural areas where people commute longer distances that may not be doable for the average person by bike.

  26. Gene @ BU says:

    Karen; You’re raising another good point, depending on the type of bike rider you call yourself, you see bike infrastructure benefits differently.

    The bike commuting and utility cycling community sees great benefits in bike infrastructure since they will derive the greatest benefits.

    Urban / city bikers appear to have a mixed reaction. Some advocate for safety others believe they can navigate city traffic just fine without being bottled up in a bike lane.

    The performance, racing, and touring community less so. From a performance standpoint all this infrastructure gets in the way of enjoying a really fast bike and there are a lot of us out there that classify ourselves as performance bikers. Once performance bikers start to get tickets for not using bike lanes you will hear the back lash from bikers and the bike industry.

    The recreational rider and weekend physical fitness crowd can also benefit with connected bike lanes to parks or rails-to-trails.

    The BMX and mountain bike crowd, forget it they off doing their own thing.

    My point is that not everyone is advocating for bike infrastructure and not everyone sees the bike as the salvation for traffic congestion and environmental issues.

    The funny things is if bike commuting really catches on the bike lanes may become as congested as our road ways. Then I guess we start to walk.

  27. Well, I see your point Gene. I am definitely not a recreational or fitness cyclist, although I derive those benefits from my many bike trips. I don’t have a strong opinion about vehicular vs segregated biking just that some major routes definitely need it. I try to organize my trips so that I use the best, safest bike route but sometimes that adds too much time to the trip. I agree w/respect BluesCat that bikes and public transit have a symbiotic relationship, both making the other stronger when combined.

  28. Gene, I guess you are firmly rooted in the VC camp. While I also can and do ride comfortably in traffic and I do it everyday, I also enjoy using completely separated bike trails or lanes when they are available. I think the experience in the Netherlands and Denmark compels the conclusion that separate infrastructure encourages utility cycling. Regarding the use of tax dollars, only 1.5 percent of federal surface transportation funding is available for bike infrastructure. Columbus, Ohio has used some of this money on bike trail development, bike bridges, etc. It’s great for transportation around Columbus. I guess I just don’t see the argument against this use of funds that might otherwise be used to further feed the car culture beast.

  29. Paul S. says:

    Gene, I live in the DC metro area and I can tell you that much of separate bike infrastructure in this area is used as major commuting corridors in addition to recreation trails. Many thousands of trips are taken daily on these routes during rush hours.

    The percentage of people who commute by bike has roughly doubled in DC in the past decade as well. I have no idea how much of that was because of the trails, but the trails do effectively reduce the on-street presence of cyclists. That almost certainly reflects in a reduced need for more roads. In other words, money spent on trails can effectively be the same as money spent on roads because they reduce road traffic as well. You get a two-for-one deal.

  30. BluesCat says:

    Gene – I may agree with you about a separate bike infrastructure being not necessary in the U.S. … as long as you’re talking about older, eastern cities. Most of these cities date back two hundred or more years ago, before the automobile and even before the railroads. The roadways were built for traffic which moved much more slowly, and the distances to get anywhere important are MUCH smaller than in the newer cities of the American Southwest.

    Take Phoenix, Arizona (my hometown) as an example. Along with L.A., we DEFINED “urban sprawl”. Distances between important destinations are vastly greater, and the time to get between them is compounded by the automobile-centric design philosophy of post-WW2 developers and civil engineers. In the ’50s and ’60s roads were designed in regular grids with the main arterials (the roads which really GET you anywhere) placed in one-mile-to-a-side squares. As infilling occurred, the collector streets were also made for cars and, as a result, have become as dangerous for bicycles.

    Without a separate, inexpensive multi-path infrastructure, there are some places in the Valley of the Sun which are flat DANGEROUS to get to on a bike.

  31. peteathome says:

    A properly developed and SAFE multi-use path infrastructure is not inexpensive – it is the most expensive form of infrastructure for non-automobiles. And in most cities, there are very limited locations for such infrastructure. Most of these paths make use of natural barriers such as rivers, or existing grade separated railroad corridors, to make paths with minimal street crossings. And most multi-use paths I’ve seen have a lot of safety problems such as sharp curves, blind enterances, etc. Doesn’t mean they can’t be made safe, though, just that traffic engineers seldom over-see them. Instead, they are usually designed by parks.

    A mutli-use path with frequent street crossings is the most dangerous facility possible. They are known as “side paths” and pretty much every unbiased study in the US has found them dangerous.

    The Dutch has semi-separated bike lanes in some of their cities.To make them safe, they have seperate bike-only light phases at many of the intersections. This will work but will dramatically slow down drivers and bicyclists alike. But since the average Dutch bike trip is very short – on the order of 2 miles, it doesn’t matter.

    Copenhagen in Denmark did a “before and after” analysis of their infrastructure approaches and found that every one of them increased the risk to bicyclists, but some much more than others. You can read the study in English by doing a quick internet search. However, they felt the infrastructure changes were successful because most bicyclists liked them. In fact, the more dangerous they were the more bicyclists liked them – that should tell you something.

    As a very long term transportational bicyclist, in cities ranging from Little Rock, Memphis, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, I think I have a very good perspective on bicycle safety and how to make it more enjoyable and less stressful. But safety and stress reduction do not always align as the Copenhagen study shows. I think we can do both.

    I’m all for seperated multi-use paths where conditions are right for them: along rivers, lakes and reuse of grade-separated rail right-of-ways. They also make sense for intercity routes wherethere will be few road crossings, as the Dutch use them. But these are going to be very expensive otherwise.

    In suburban and urban areas I would like to see frequent bicycle routes ( say every 1/2 mile) with sharable outside lanes or “take the lane” encouragement, no right-turn on red, tighter turn radius at all intersections and reduced speed limits, strictly enforced, perhaps combined with modern speed humps that are comfortable for bicycles and do not interfere with emergency vehicles. Along with more pedestrian/bicycle crossings over various barriers such as rivers and freeways.

    In general, I don’t see much use for bicycle-specific infrastructure in the city, but politically it is a lot easier than the changes I outline above so that’s what we get – bike lanes that abruptly end when the road narrows, no solutions at intersections where most of the danger lies, etc.

  32. BluesCat says:

    peteathome – When I say “inexpensive” I mean “as compared to the cost of a roadway for motor vehicle traffic.” Multi-use path design and construction costs — even when done the expensive (and proper) way: using bona fide civil engineers and transportation contractors — are ridiculously cheap when compared to the cost of building a minor, two-lane roadway.

    In order to mitigate the “pseudo shared” roadway problems you mentioned (i.e. bike lanes which end and force cyclists to compete with cars for the traffic lane), the Feds need to REQUIRE a Complete Streets design on ALL federally funded transportation projects. Local and state governments who have a Complete Streets requirement in their transportation programs should get some sort of “bonus points” when applying for federal aid of any sort (as in the wake of a natural disaster).

  33. Joel says:

    The conversation has been very lively. My six mile trip to the bus station is about evenly split between 3.0 miles of lightly used dedicated bike trail and 3.0 miles of low speed roads (50 mph or less). In total, their is about 0.5 miles where the radar and bike skills have to be on a swivel. I have noticed that most vehicles are considerate and allow me a reasonable safe zone. I in turn, fastidiously obey all traffic laws as if I was in a vehicle. If a light is red, I stop and do not proceed until it is green, no matter the traffic or lack of opposing traffic. I do not try and keep moving or balance on two wheels. I stop and wait like all of the cars at the intersection. I walk my bike across the most hazardous intersections as if I was a pedestrian.

    I perform my commute at about the same time every day. I see some of the same commuter cars at about the same time everyday. They respect my adherence to the traffic laws and I think they try and extend courtesies in a similar fashion.

    Let’s face it, I am one more car that is not in THEIR way when they want to go someplace. I cannot help but chuckle as to why they think I am riding a bike in the dark (with all the necessary legal lights and reflectors) at 6:00am in the morning when it is 38 degrees F.

    Did he lose his license due to a DUI? Poor Bast**d, doesn’t have enough money to drive a car. Another one of those “GO Green” crazies. “Thank God I am not in his shoes.”

    I would not do it if I did not enjoy it. Yes, it sounds crazy but that is the bottom line. I rode in the other day at night in the morning under a partial moon and I felt like a million dollars. I am locking up my bike at the rack and about twenty people in the bus line are staring at me like I am from the moon. I walk past them to the back of the line and smile at each and everyone of them. Yes, they say, the man is certifiable.

    It just feels good.

  34. Tom Bowden says:

    Joel, I’m with you. I get a real chuckle every time people make comments like “I can’t believe you actually rode your bike this morning!” because it was less than 60°or maybe there was a slight drizzle. Yet many of these same people pay good money to get towed to the top of a mountain so they can slide down at high speed out of control in subzero temperatures, dodging trees, moguls and inept skiers, and calling it recreation. Same thing goes for duck hunters who seem to love cold, wet predawn conditions, but would not consider walking more than 200 yards to the hardware store.

  35. Joe K says:

    If the wealthy in the U. S. had no cars and did all personal transportation on bicycle, the funding of a pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure would not be a controversy; it would be a sacrament.

  36. Stefan Ertmann says:


    Hello from Copenhagen, this comment:

    “Copenhagen in Denmark did a “before and after” analysis of their infrastructure approaches and found that every one of them increased the risk to bicyclists, but some much more than others.”

    Struck me as a bit misguided, so allow me to post a rebuttal

    I don’t know what study you are refering to, but its definately not in line with the discussions going on in the city. Andreas Røhl and the other bike “gurus” in the municipal administration, has consistently given the message that while the number of accidents rise along streches of new bike paths, the number of cyclist increase even more, so that the end sum means the individual cyclist biking down the new path is unequivocally at less risk than he was before.

    And the statement is factually wrong since a large portion of new biking infrastructure investment goes into making cyclng safer, such as (with examples as links);

    – More traffic lights for bicylists given them pre green so they are already in the intersection when cars are green-lighted.

    – Redesign of intersectons to make them safer for cyclists

    – Bike/pedestrian bridges over major roads

    – Green routes with an absolute minium of interaction between cyclists and motorists, giving commuters the choise between fast and safe.

    – Closing down major cycling routes to through going car traffic

    – Major effort on making school routes safer, in absolute terms by redesigning bike infrastructure, slowing down traffic and redesigning intersections.

    These are all examples that increases safety for cyclists in absolute terms, and constitute major cycling infrastructure investments

    And regardless there are around 300.000 – 400.000 cyclists on the street every day, and 92 serious accidents per year including 3 fatalities in 2010. That number have dropped from hundreds of accidents and around a 100 fatalities over the last 20 years.

    There is so much more to do, i’d personally like to see more bike bridges and underpasses at major “unsafe” intersections – like this new project that just got funded (, and in general take some more hints from the Netherlands, but I seriously think you are misguided saying bicycle infrastructure increases risk.

  37. BluesCat says:

    Excellent observation, Joe K, and as true as true could be.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Excellent observation, but an awfully clumsy paraphrasing of this classic aphorism attributed to Rose F Kennedy.

  38. Joel says:


    You hit the nail on the head! People will do what seems to be ludicrous things when it is their passion. Near naked football fans in below freezing temperatures, fishing fanatics braving fifteen foot waves for twenty miles offshore going for the big catch, rock climbers going beyond vertical, and the list goes on and on.

    I like riding my bike whenever I can and I will do it whenever it is feasible and safe. There are hazards in all the endeavors that we perform and as long as we minimize the risks as best we can, enjoy.

  39. Bob, Planner Guy says:

    Wow…are we living the same life? Had very similiar thoughts this morning. And, yes, I do it and continue to do so because I enjoy it.

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


20% off ALL Ortlieb Bag Closeouts! Shop Closeouts

Scroll to Top