One Swedish Cyclist's Lament: How Hard Should it Be to Bike to Work?

As in world bike-capital Portland, Oregon, so in (relative) biking backwater Gothenburg, Sweden - short-hop urban biking can be a breeze, but try biking from the far suburbs in to central city locales. Your mileage and your experience will vary wildly.

Kristina Johansson, a cyclist and student in Gothenburg, decided to log a personal protest to send to city's elected leaders (who supposedly have as a goal to increase cycling within the region and reduce car use). Johansson, who filmed herself going from her home in Bergsjön to the heart of the city by bike, found multiple problems impeding the progress of even intrepid cyclists. Johansson's route is unique, but her bike problems are universal. Read on for her five complaints about sub-par cycling conditions.

1. Suddenly Disappearing Bike Lanes

This is a common problem the world over - look at this bike lane in LA! A stretch of bike lane suddenly peters out and drops an unaware cyclist directly back into (also clueless) car traffic. A related problem is a road with a generous shoulder used by cyclists where the width of the shoulder suddenly decreases to a dangerous sliver. While a contingent of cyclists believe that bikes and cars should simply learn to share the road, a majority of cyclists and prospective cyclists polled on TreeHugger want clearly defined, separate roads and paths.

2. Lacking Signage

Especially at roundabouts or in other traffic intersections where cars must practice kindness or sharing, in Gothenburg annd other cities bikers can be left without a clue of what to do. This can make some bike types very aggressive, or cause them to disregard the rules of the road, further upsetting motorists that may already be irritated with bikes on "their" streets. As with all things cycling, there are pros and cons to adding more signage to city streets. More signs don't necessarily make the various players in traffic more courteous, and removing all signage, as Hans Monderman did in the Drachten experiments, can actually improve flow.

3. Parallel Bike and Pedestrian Lanes

This is a common practice in Europe and it has definite cons as well as pros. The biggest con is that pedestrians cross frequently and sometimes unwittingly into the bike lane, and become angry or even frightened when a cyclist rings a bell or toots a horn. The pros? Well, it's better in almost all cases than competing with cars. Still, many cities are far from designing complete streets to give equal, separate space to bikers, peds, and motorized traffic.

4. Biker Vulnerability/Poorly Timed Bike Traffic Lights

Along Johansson's route there are areas where pedestrians, bikes, subways and cars all cross with no help from traffic signals, with cyclists creeping into the intersection or whizzing through. While Johansson (in the video anyway) has Sweden's legally-required bike lights fore and aft and is wearing both a helmet and a safety vest, she seems very vulnerable next to cars, trucks, and trams. Even the pedestrians seem to have it better with the clearly marked crossings. Sometimes, there are shoulder height traffic lights specifically for bike crossing - and in Denmark planners are experimenting with special RFID-driven signals to reduce right-hand turning lane accidents between cars and bikes. But unaccountably the lights don't last long enough in Johansson's example for the average biker to get through an intersection.

5. Unkempt Bike Lanes

In some places bike lanes become roads and then become bike paths again. Along those paths are sudden potholes, buckling tree roots and shifts in path levels, all treacherous obstacles for the average biker. Some cities go to great lengths to keep bikers on the move - go Toronto! - but in others, including Gothenburg, fixing hazards doesn't get top priority.

Johansson's conclusion: In Gothenburg, at least, planners are still placing the needs of "bilister" (translation: car drivers) first and foremost before cyclists and pedestrians. One glimmer of hope - Gothenburg just passed a congestion charge.

Read More on TreeHugger and Planet Green
Urban Cyclists: Stick Together, Don't Inhale?
Think Like a Driver, Act Like a Cyclist
Cyclist Awareness Test
Physically Separated Bike Lanes

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