Proper Separated Bike Lanes Are Better for Everyone

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

This is how you get people out of cars and build better cities. So what's stopping them?

Jared Kolb is the Executive Director of Cycle Toronto, "a member-supported not-for-profit organization that works to make Toronto a healthy, safe and vibrant cycling city for all." (Full disclosure: I am a member.) They believe, as I do, that "cycling as an essential mode of transportation." You would think that its executive director would be out there all the time, doing more of it, waving the flag.

But in fact, Jared Kolb admits that he is riding less than he used to. He claims it's because he became a dad.

Where do people want to ride? According to Kay Teschke, professor at UBC, when it comes to riding on main streets, men and women both prefer to be physically separated from traffic. Men and women alike are less likely to ride on fast busy streets and rural roads, but women more so. I wasn’t surprised to learn that men’s and women’s risk tolerance plummets after they have children.
St. George bike lane

University of Toronto bike lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Kolb notes that after his daughter was born, he switched to an upright Dutch style bike as a family hauler. He stopped riding in winter, where the bike lanes become snow storage lanes and the cyclists are pushed out into the traffic lanes.

So this is the challenge: riding a bicycle is the healthiest, greenest and most fun way to travel and yet it’s an option offered to relatively few people. If you’re a woman, a parent or a person of colour, you generally have a lower risk tolerance — for many overlapping reasons. Riding a bicycle for transportation isn’t an option. We’re doing everyone who isn’t a 30-something athletic man a disservice by not investing in a network of protected bike lanes.
fedex lane

Lloyd Alter in the Fedex Lane/CC BY 2.0

He doesn't even mention that rapidly growing demographic, the aging baby boomers like me, who actively search out bike lanes but often find them worse than useless. For people really to feel safe, there have to be fully protected, separate bike lanes in places where people want to travel. But it is always a fight.

London Bike Lane

Transport for London/Public Domain

In London, just hours before writing this, a major new bike lane that was planned by the city got cancelled by the local Kensington and Chelsea council, which actually controls the roads and has a veto. But they got a pile of emails objecting from well-known locals who claimed that it would cause pollution because of congestion (a common but disproved argument) and hurt local retailers, also disproven. Some, like cycling commissioner Will Norman, are outraged and call it a disgrace. He's quoted by Peter Walker in the Guardian:

“They originally supported consulting the public on the plans, and now midway have shamelessly decided to ditch their support, making a mockery of the idea of listening to the public,” Norman said. “People will die and suffer serious injuries as a direct result of this cynical political stunt. The council’s stubborn opposition to making the borough safer for cyclists and pedestrians is putting residents at risk.”

Studies actually show that putting in decent, safe bike infrastructure that separates cyclists from cars can improve traffic and safety for everyone. According to a recent study from University of Colorado Denver, it not only protects cyclists, but "it also creates ripple effects that benefit everyone in the city–by significantly lowering road fatalities for drivers and pedestrians, as well."

But of course, "traffic calming" might slow drivers down a bit, and we can't have that. It's so frustrating; if people like Jared Kolb are cycling less, if people like Will Norman are so angry, then we are really in trouble.