Forget Bike Lanes, We Need Protected Mobility Lanes

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Scooters on the Seine

The number of people using alternative mobility devices is exploding, and they will be demanding safe routes.

The people at Bike Newton tweet:

And of course, they are right. One of the big problems with bike lanes is that drivers hate them, complaining that there are just a few entitled cyclists taking up all that space. It takes forever to get them approved and they are always getting parked in. Oh, and drivers often complain that “not everyone can ride a bike; disabled and old people have to drive and need parking.”

But there are more and more aging baby boomers using mobility devices and scooters every day, often competing for sidewalk space with people who are walking. E-bikes are also letting many people who have trouble walking get around without driving. As in the Bike Newton tweet, people with mobility devices are often forced to travel in the lane with cars and trucks.

That’s why we really do need Protected Mobility Lanes, a safe place for people who are not walking and not driving. Of course, this is not a new thought. Jarrett Walker and Sarah Iannarone discussed it last year. Walker writes on Human Transit:

All this came up because I was trying to think of the correct new term for “bike lane” as we proliferate more vehicle types that run more or less at the speed and width of bicycles but are clearly not bicycles, such as electric scooters. The two logical terms seem to be narrow lane or midspeed lane. One way or another the two concepts will need to track with each other.

Andrew Small quotes Iannarone in Citylab:

We were working out what kinds of modes should be mixing and how much space you’ll need. If you’re a faster vehicle, like a car or a faster cyclist, you need more wiggle room. But a slower lane with scooters, more mellow-paced cyclists, skateboarders, and even joggers could share a whole auto lane.

Iannarone notes that cyclists have often not had the numbers sufficient to demand change and a fair allocation of public space. But they are not the only people on wheels that are not in cars. “It’s not just a matter of being fair numerically, but also fair from a safety perspective, so that the people that are engaging in other modes besides driving don’t have their lives threatened.”

Where I live, in Toronto, hardly any bike lanes are getting built. When they do get built, drivers complain that there is nobody in them. (That’s because they work really well and move a lot of people, but that is another post.) The “bike lanes cause pollution” argument that started in the UK is now spreading to Canada.

man in mobility scooter

© Odd Andersen/ AFP/ Getty Images

That’s why it is time to change the discussion. It’s not just a bike lane. It is, in fact, an acknowledgement that there are all kinds of people, of all ages and abilities, who are not walking and not driving cars. There is a boom in alternative forms of transport that are making life easier for older people, for families with little kids, who could all use this space. Its all in that name: Protected Mobility Lanes.

Drivers always complain that cyclists have a sense of entitlement, demanding their own lanes. But what if cyclists are sharing it with scooters, cargo bikes, mobility devices and every other form of transport that is slower than a car but faster than walking? Who is entitled then?