Bike-friendly streets are better even for people who don't ride bikes

Life in the bike lane
CC BY 2.0 Life in the "separated" bike lane/ Lloyd Alter

From London to San Francisco to Toronto, bike lanes are fought every inch of the way by drivers and the politicians voted into power by drivers. The latest argument picked up from the UK is that bike lanes cause pollution and congestion; here's a tweet from people trying to stop a cycle superhighway in London:

cycling tweetAs easy as riding a bike/via

In Toronto, one can smell the end of the Bloor Street bike lane “data driven pilot project” when City Councillor Jaye Robinson, chair of Public Works, tells the Toronto Star:

Robinson responded that the initial results of the pilot were “not very favourable.” Data released in February showed that in the lanes had increased driver time by as much as 8 minutes and 25 seconds, while boosting cycling rates by 36 per cent. After the results were published the city said it was tweaking the road configuration and a report is expected back in the fall. “We'll have to just see what the analysis brings.”

Because we can’t have drivers delayed; Rob Ford ripped up the Jarvis Street bike lanes, claiming a delay half that long prevented downtown workers from getting home to dinner with their kids.

But in fact, bike lanes and bike friendly streets are actually good for people who are not on bikes. Jay Walljasper in AARP Liveable Cities, describes 10 Ways Bicycle-Friendly Streets Are Good for People Who Don't Ride Bicycles. Here are a few highlights:

Safer streets are safer for everyone.

kids in cargo bikekids in Copenhagen cargo bike/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Dan Burden, an expert on walkable and liveable cites, notes:

"I've always said the reason for bikeways is not what they do for bicyclists, but what they do for the whole community. They're great for drivers because they make it safer to get in and out of parked cars. They're great for walkers because it creates more distance between the sidewalk and speeding vehicles."

The fact that bike lanes slow traffic down is a feature, not a bug. It’s safer for everyone else on the road.

Everybody is happier.

Stop signalVienna stop signal actually works/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

"The anxiety and anger that many people have about bicyclists is because we have streets designed for conflict," observes Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund. "Everyone is nervous because no one knows where the bikes belong. Protected bike lanes take that chaos and disorganization away. We're not all fighting over the same space."

And all those complaints about cyclists ignoring red lights? It turns out that when cyclists get their own lanes and their own signals, they stop for red lights 161 percent more often.

Saves money for taxpayers

You would think this would play well in Toronto where the taxes drive every decision (that doesn’t involve building highways and underground transit). But in fact, as Gabe Klein notes, bike lanes are "dirt cheap to build compared to road projects.” Every additional person on a bike is one less in a car or fighting for a seat on transit, which costs taxpayers money for every ride.

Health Care Savings

Walljasper notes that “The health benefits of bicycling look almost like a miracle. Moderate physical exercise such as bicycling for only 30 minutes a day reduces a person's chances of diabetes, dementia, depression, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and high blood pressure by 40 percent or more.”

We also recently covered how a British study finds commuting by bike can cut heart disease and cancer

Safer Sidewalks

Dufferin streetDufferin at dusk; crowded street and empty sidewalk/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I put this one last because it is hugely contentious, but sometimes people ride bikes on the sidewalk, because they simply do not feel safe riding on the road. I have done it myself on suburban arteries where the cars are going 60 MPH in a foggy twilight (and the sidewalks were empty) There have been injuries and occasional fatalities. People should not ride bikes on sidewalks, and if you give them a safe place to ride, they won’t. And instead of cyclists arguing with pedestrians, we should realize that we are fighting over the scraps left over after the drivers take their fill. As the tweeter noted:


But then it is all so controversial. Jay says bike lanes reduce pollution and congestion; drivers say the opposite. Supporters of bike lanes say they increase support for local businesses; drivers and many business owners say they remove parking spaces and kill business.

Bloor in the morningBloor Street at dawn/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In the City of Toronto’s “data driven” pilot project on Bloor Street, I sense that the fix is in already. I noted earlier that they are measuring changes in traffic time and retail sales in one year, but not measuring safety issues because “it usually takes about three years to collect reliable traffic collision data and “it’s difficult over a one-year pilot project to come to conclusions about safety.” And in the middle of a discussion about Vision Zero, all Jaye Robinson seems to care about is 8 minutes and 25 seconds. In the choice between the War On The Car and Vision Zero, we know who usually wins.

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | Biking | Cities

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