10 Common Myths About Bike Lanes, Challenged by Peter Walker

New York bike lane moves more people than the car lane

Bike lanes carry the shock troops in the never-ending war on the car.

We must never forget the pernicious influence of the All Powerful Bicycle Lobby. As Rosa Koire of Democrats against UN Agenda 21 once warned us:

Bikes. What does that have to do with it? I like to ride my bike and so do you. So what? Bicycle advocacy groups are very powerful now.... It's not just about bike lanes, it's about remaking cities and rural areas to the 'sustainable model'. High density urban development without parking for cars is the goal... Bike groups are being used as the 'shock troops' for this plan.

That's a myth that Peter Walker missed in his terrific Guardian article, Ten common myths about bike lanes – and why they're wrong. Walker, the author of How Cycling Can Change the World (reviewed on TreeHugger here), tackles all the big ones, starting with the weirdest, Cycle lanes increase congestion (and thus pollution).

It often seems that the only time the owners of big Land Rovers and Escalades care about the environment is when a bike lane is being planned. Then, all of a sudden, they are concerned about air quality caused by increased congestion. I believe this started in London, but it has become a standard trope all over the world now, even though a study in Montreal proved it to be false.

Bloor bike lane

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Walker tackles all the big ones, including Hardly anyone uses them, a standard where I live in Toronto. In most cases, it just looks like nobody is using them because they are so efficient and there is no congestion in them. In fact, if you go to many red lights, you will see more people on bikes than in cars.

bikes 9th ave

NYC Dept of Transportation/Public Domain

Another standard is that Bike lanes are bad for business. Walker notes that "studies have shown that shop owners tend to overestimate the proportion of customers who arrive by car, and that consumers on bikes often purchase more in the long term." We have covered that one too.

Yehuda Moon

Walker also lists my favourite: Cyclists just break laws, so they shouldn’t get lanes. "This is such a silly idea it’s baffling that it still needs regular debunking. People break road laws, on all forms of road transport, and if anything they do so more often on average in motor vehicles." We recently wrote about how almost half of American drivers ignore turn signals, which is breaking the law. So why give them driving lanes?

Walker also makes the point that I try to make all the time – that a person on a bike rolling through a stop sign does not pose the same risk to other people that a person in a car does. "As ever, this is all about the physics."

Jarvis bike lane, removed because there was no need and it slowed down cars by two minutes.

Jarvis bike lane, removed because there was no need and it slowed down cars by two minutes/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Walker concludes with a truly Torontonian standard argument about doing nothing fast: There’s no need.

This is, in effect, the message of the critics: not this, not now – let’s try to get away with unambitious schemes without proper infrastructure, which will never change much. You could write a whole column – even a book – about why this is absurd, but it’s always worth stressing this point to the cycling naysayers: OK, what’s your solution to gridlock, pollution, a climate emergency; to cities that are noisy, dangerous and unjust? They will not respond, because there is no answer.