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  1. #1
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    Differences in cycling conditions from WWII to the present

    I've been reading in one of the threads here a repeated assertion that changes in road design, driver attentiveness, traffic speeds and a number of other factors render experiences gained on the road prior to the very recent past worthless.

    My own experience is based only on cycling in Atlanta, but I find this assertion a bit comical. I've been cycling in Atlanta since the 1950's (from the mid-1950s to the mid 1960's as a typical child cyclist, with a hiatus from 1967 to the early 1970s to follow the southern teen's obsession with automobiles, and then as an [EDIT: I left this phrase incomplete in the original post] adult road cyclist from sometime in the early 1970s to the present -- never can remember the exact year).

    I haven't seen any difference in the particular cycling skills I need to interact with traffic from the mid 1970's to the present. The main differences have been mutations in particular roads from one set of characteristics to another. Any set of characteristics I can imagine already existed in the 1950s. With Atlanta's growth (and sprawl) the main change has been overall increase in number of cars on the road.

    But that increase doesn't mean that any particular road is carrying heavier volumes. And the road of interest to me is always the road I'm actually on. When I began cycling onroad as an adult in the 1970s there were two industrial operations near my house which ran around the clock shifts (the Lakewood Fisher Body plant, and Fulton Bag cotton mill). Shift changes at those plants spilled volumes of traffic onto the roads which were as road snarling and impatient as any current rush hour.

    Another factor of interest to me is general acceptance of cyclists on the road. If anything, in Atlanta, motorists are much more accustomed to and accepting of cyclists on the road. In every part of metro Atlanta cyclists are a common sight these days.

    I rode a century in Fayette and Coweta counties Saturday. Those counties are on the zone between bedroom community and rural. Traffic speeds were generally high, though weekend volume was light. As the group spread out much of my riding was solo. On the two lanes when there was traffic behind me cars waited the few seconds necessary to pass, then did so. In a hundred miles of suburban/exurban roads I was never harassed once, nor did anyone do anything to put my life in danger.

    Most of my riding is in urban conditions. In fact many people consider the urbanized areas of Atlanta hell for cyclists. My experiences are much different from theirs. I'm riding the same streets and highways I rode as a child, and there isn't a whole lot of difference I can discern in the attitude of motorists, or the hazards of interacting with them.

    In 1973 those of us who ventured out onto the roads in Atlanta were considered lawless lunatics by many motorists. The combination of the notion cultivated in the U.S. that bicycles were exclusively children's toys combined with the enthusiastic embrace in the south not only of automobiles, but of fast driving (think NASCAR and "Thunder Road") made cycling in the 1970s here challenging and interesting.

    Over the past forty years or so the number and visibility of onroad cyclists has increased enormously here. That alone has made vehicular cycling in Atlanta not harder, but easier.

    I'd be interested in hearing the experiences of other cyclists who've cycled onroad during different decades, in different parts of the country.
    Last edited by larryfeltonj; 08-20-07 at 07:58 AM.

  2. #2
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    text messaging drivers. recreational drugs. Perscription drug abuse. In dash navigation systems. Cell phones. TV feeds on cell phones. Hand held video devices. Road rage.

    you aren't serious about static road and bicycling conditions between WWII and now, are you, Larry? are you just fawning over jhon?

    I've bicycled since the seventies on the roads in several parts of the country. It is OBVIOUS, GLARINGLY APPARANT, that conditions on American roads and the drivers on them have changed.

    In '79, as I'm sure you know, Larry, a movie about living the cycling life won an Academy Award. looking back a little further than WWII, in the first decades of the twentieth century, bicycle racing was the largest american spectator sport.

    Times change, Larry. The roads and bicycling conditions, the cars and their drivers we interact with, have not stayed static since the 1940's
    Last edited by Bekologist; 08-20-07 at 09:26 AM.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  3. #3
    littlecircles bmike's Avatar
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    the 'i'm not speeding, i'm qualifying' bumper sticker on a mini-van with dual video players in the back for the kids, gps navigation, cell phones, music system, etc. that i've seen pretty much sums it up.


    some stats, from this website:
    Quote Originally Posted by number of cars
    "Automobile Manufacturers Association's 1970 Automobile Facts and Figures,
    Passenger cars, World Total,

    169,994,128 (1968)

    Trucks and buses, World Total,
    46,614,342 (1968)




    "You probably have known that the world's human population is increasing dangerously. So is the world's car population. In 1970, there were 200 million cars in the world. In 1990, there were almost 500 million."
    200,000,000 (1970)

    500,000,000 (1990)


    "There are 107 million US households, each with an average of 1.9 cars, trucks or sport utility vehicles and 1.8 drivers, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported. That equals 204 million vehicles and 191 million drivers."
    204,000,000 (US 2003)

    sure, things haven't change a bit...
    and don't forget to factor in longer commutes, more sprawl, the ubiquitous mini-marts, the expanded shopping mall, and the expansion of suburbia...

    more cars on the road. more trips to the corner store. longer trips to work.

    more truck traffic - from msnbc:
    Quote Originally Posted by msnbc
    In just a decade, from 1995 to 2005, the weight load on urban highways increased by half. Since 1970, the weight carried on rural highways has gone up nearly 7 times, according to Federal Highway Administration statistics.


    And it’s not just more traffic. It’s the heavier trucks.

    “The number of trucks and the number of heavy trucks have gone up dramatically since 1965,” said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington.

    “The warehouses that used to fill up are now driving down the road next to you,” he said.

    And that, he added, is “beating up” American roads.

    'We need to ask the questions'
    The number of tractor-trailer truck miles driven on American roadways has well more than doubled to more than 145 billion miles a year since 1980, increasing faster than the rate of smaller trucks or cars, according to federal statistics.
    have the number of cyclists on the roads grown in the same way? is the ratio of car/bike the same as it was 20-30 years ago, or is the number of cyclists out there now smaller, due to the increases in automobile and truck use?

    so we've been riding 'since i was a child', and we don't really notice that much difference? is that because there isn't one, or that we've slowly grown accustomed to our current situation, much like the frog in the frying pan? there are over 40,000 deaths on our highways a year... was this always the case? if someone told us in the 60's or 70's that this would be the future, would we have been accepting of it? or would we have been outraged? those 40,000 deaths are like 1 large town being wiped off the map every year - but because it happens every day, in small doses, we've grown accepting of it - much like i think you may be accepting of the current traffic in your neighborhood.

    is it really folks slinging soda cans or insults at you, or the fact that instead of being passed by 10 cars on your century ride you are now passed by 1000? is that 'OK'? what is an acceptable limit? where's the acceptable risk? more drivers on already over burdened roads, driving larger vehicles, at faster speeds, with more distractions available to them...

    i think the 'rules of the road' have changed, dramatically in the last 10 years, and even more in the last 20.
    when cyclists are on the road, they deal with these changes, acetylene lamps or not.
    Last edited by bmike; 08-20-07 at 09:48 AM.

  4. #4
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Speed limits alone have changed dramatically since the 70s and the national speed limit of 55MPH.

    Back in the 60s, typical hiway speeds were 60MPH. In 1974 there was a national speed limit of 55MPH; surface street speeds were fractionally slower with most arterials at 40MPH.

    Today freeways are 65 and 70MPH with arterials at 45 and 50MPH. Near my old office is a surface street marked at 60MPH. Oh sure, it has a bike lane...

    Speaking of bike lanes... I believe not a single bike lane existed in the '50s, 60's and they were just being introduced in the '70s.

    Right turn on red was adopted by all the states in the mid '70s. Prior to that, pedestrians were actually protected by the crossing signals when crossing the street. Motorists stayed in place when they had a red light. Since then 84 pedestrians a year have been struck in right turn on red situations. This actually shifted the burden of ensuring a safe crossing to the pedestrian. You used to be able to tell a child to only cross when the light was green and be pretty assured that it was safe. That is no longer the case.

    "Autos" have become taller and boxier. Since the automakers realized the CAFE standard loophole of higher gas mileage allowance for SUVs and truck based vehicles, they have designed and promoted these vehicles specifically targeting families, in order to maintain the manufactures' gas mileage standards. The public has blindly bought into the "truck" standard falsely on a larger size=safety illusion. The larger boxier vehicles restrict the sightlines of both motorists and cyclists.

    Have the skills required to ride a bike on public streets changed. The real answer is no, they have not changed much. The basic skills are the same, however, the required level of concentration, assertiveness and vigilance has gone up, as cyclists are more vulnerable to being overlooked (being quite small, relative to the larger vehicles on the road), by faster moving motorists who themselves are more subject to the distraction of the plethora of electronic devices demanding their attention.

    Road rage reared it's ugly head in the early '90s. This is not to say that there were not "disagreements" between motorists back as far as WW2, but they were rare enough to not make national headlines.

    Cycling alone has changed. Multispeed derailleur bikes were not available to the general public back in the '50s... The cable operated derailleur we are familiar with today was invented in the '50s and the general public became familiar with these in the late '60s and early '70s... The "English 3-speed" was the fancy consumer model of the time. Before the end of the decade it was the 10-speed derailleur "racing bike" which dominated the American market. This change did somewhat modify the skill levels required to ride a bike, (and some folks have yet to master the derailleur ) as one had to judge the approaching "load" and shift accordingly. Braking changed too, as a shift from rear coaster brakes to hand brakes came along with the "racing bike."

    And then there are helmets...

    So all in all, there indeed have been a myriad of changes in both the culture of the automobile, and the bicycle since World War II. How those changes have effected cyclists is quite subject to debate.

  5. #5
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    larry finds this comical

    soorry, larry thinks being oblivious to these changes from lack of recent riding experience is what's comical? or is it worthless?

    or does he find a certain bicycle advokate's obliviousness to the changes altogther that's comical and/or worthless?
    Last edited by Bekologist; 08-20-07 at 10:34 AM.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  6. #6
    Senior Member rando's Avatar
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    I would agree with Larry if I thought that particular assertion had been made, but it hasn't been. I think the assertion is that not taking into account these various factors (listed above) that have changed life and therefore drivers, since the 50s or so, is short-sighted at best and delusional at worst. Apparently for cyclists like Larry and LBM Atlanta is much like the carefree sitcom town of Mayberry. heck, my side street urban/suburban ride to work is pretty much Mayberry-ish also, but I know that ain't the case elsewhere.
    "Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world". ~Grant Petersen

    Cyclists fare best when they recognize that there are times when acting vehicularly is not the best practice, and are flexible enough to do what is necessary as the situation warrants.--Me

  7. #7
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by larryfeltonj View Post
    I've been reading in one of the threads here a repeated assertion that changes in road design, driver attentiveness, traffic speeds and a number of other factors render experiences gained on the road prior to the very recent past worthless.
    Who wrote worthless?

    I think that there are important changes--cell phones, type of vehicles, vehicle power, and vehicle safety--such that I would expect empirical differences over time. But I believe that the fundamentals should be similar.

    -G

  8. #8
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    this thread is pandering about vacuous vc platitudes?
    speed and destination positioning -news flash- are basics that haven't changed in concept.

    the realities of doing so on ever changing roads amidst increasingly distracted drivers have changed.

    an advocacy platform or advokate that denies the changes in cycling conditions is what's comical, larry. Merits pity is more appropriate.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  9. #9
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    an advocacy platform or advokate that denies the changes in cycling conditions is what's comical, larry. Merits pity is more appropriate.
    personally, I don't think this is necessary.

  10. #10
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    the pitiful or comical reference? larry started with the comical alludes, invisiblehand.

    I consider some states of denial a pitiful condition, invisible. it 'merits pity'.

    what is comical/pitiful is an advocacy platform or advokate that denies the changes in cycling conditions from the 1940's to present day. it's like suggesting acetylene lamps in a discussion of modern lighting systems
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by rando View Post
    I would agree with Larry if I thought that particular assertion had been made, but it hasn't been. I think the assertion is that not taking into account these various factors (listed above) that have changed life and therefore drivers, since the 50s or so, is short-sighted at best and delusional at worst. Apparently for cyclists like Larry and LBM Atlanta is much like the carefree sitcom town of Mayberry. heck, my side street urban/suburban ride to work is pretty much Mayberry-ish also, but I know that ain't the case elsewhere.
    Atlanta is Atlanta. It isn't Mayberry and it isn't Tokyo. I use Atlanta as an example because it's where I cycle, and I just haven't found it to be the cycling-unfriendly nightmare other people often describe. I have no particular reason to disbelieve the reports of sustained harassment by motorists other people report, but I just haven't experienced it myself.

    Atlanta has undergone enormous changes, and the nature of distractions and frustrations have certainly gone through some changes. But the psychology of driver interaction, the range of politeness and rudeness while driving, the evident signs of driving while drug impaired, and the actual speeds people drive given similar road conditions really hasn't changed that much here.

  12. #12
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    so, larry, you are reporting static road and driver conditions in Atlanta between WWII and present day? No one is text messaging? No blue collar workers or suburban moms driving on meth in Atlanta?

    interesting....... it DOES sound like Mayberry. Are you SURE you're not describing a mythic city in your alludes to Atlanta road conditions?


    anyhoo, about those increased numbers of bicyclists in Atlanta.... everyone riding in the VC approved manner? or is it more 'butts on bikes' that has increased the visibility of bicyclists there?

    (looking for my hip waders)
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    No blue collar workers or suburban moms driving on meth in Atlanta?
    As opposed to LSD, cocaine, and amphetamines back in the day?

  14. #14
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    joe, do you mean, in 1948? I think the problem of drugged drivers (on legal and illegal meds) is much on the rise since the 1960's, joe, despite what you saw on "Dragnet". revisionist!


    I'm still curious if Larry purports that

    a) there's no difference in traffic conditions between the post WWII era in Atlanta and today
    b) drivers there are no more distracted
    c) roads in Atlanta have not become increasingly arterialized and congested

    and

    d) all Atlanta bicyclists ride in the VC-approved manner.

    I see some sugar coated Mayberrism going on, larry.....

    one fundamental difference: the introduction of on road bike facilities. use of bike lanes in a vehicular manner has been introduced- prior to the 1970's no bike lanes existed. A certain advokate begrugingly admits to the vehicular useability of bike lanes and shoulders in this forum, after hemming and hawing, ranting and raving, about incompetant cyclists.

    really though, this thread is just fawning over a long outdated bicycle advokate and his visions of static bicycling conditions. It sounds like larry CANNOT STAND any criticism of his favorite, quixotic bicycling guru.
    Larry has to start defensive threads, claiming a certain bike advokates' cycling experiences of 30-60 years ago is still relevant.

    Larry, I'll give you this much:

    DESPITE sweeping changes in road design, traffic congestion, driver distractions and road rage in the last sixty years, the basic tenents of bicycling have not changed. slower traffic keep right, destination position, avoid door zone, be cautious at intersections.... big news flash, larry.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 08-20-07 at 01:28 PM.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post

    I'm still curious [/i]
    I don't think the word you're grasping for is "curious". I think "befuddled" is a better fit.

    A consolodated answer to these various replies is forthcoming.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    joe, do you mean, in 1948? I think the problem of drugged drivers (on legal and illegal meds) is much on the rise since the 1960's, joe, despite what you saw on "Dragnet". revisionist!
    You brought up the '70's in your post talking about some Academy Award. I thought your point was that the '70's were a much better time for cyclists on the roads, with the '60's then obviously being even better.

    Can you really compare taking an allergy pill with gettin' high?

  17. #17
    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    It's well established that motor vehicle occupant fatality rates per mile traveled have decreased in half since the early 1970s. Some of this improvement is due to improved vehicle technology(braking, and crash absorption), but some is due to increased sobriety levels, experience, and improved roadway design. While there are more teenage and elderly drivers on the road today, most drivers are probably more skilled and have better braking capabilities than their 1970's counterparts. Drivers are traveling longer distances, but it's unclear how much of this is happening on freeways where cyclists would be unaffected.

    Does anyone know of a link to collision rates (as opposed to fatality rates) per mile of travel compared over a few decades? This would provide an interesting look at how driver behavior related to crash avoidance ability may or may not be changing.

    If drivers are generally not much different, then the remaining issues for cyclists would be traffic density (have enough roads been built to diffuse traffic from more drivers?) and speed differentials (have enough low-speed roads connecting to destinations been built or maintained as some other roads have become faster?)

  18. #18
    genec genec's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joejack951 View Post
    Can you really compare taking an allergy pill with gettin' high?
    I can.

    One is voluntarily undertaken for the very effect of altering conscious reality, the other is done to relieve a symptom or group of symptoms. The differences of intent are huge.

    The same difference exists for inattention blindness as one mentally drifts or daydreams, verses the very intentional act of making a phone call or attending to any other electronic device within a moving vehicle. The first is an involuntary response, the latter is a voluntary intentional decision.

    Again, the issues of "intentional decision" are what make the difference, even though the outcome may be the same.

    Think of this as the difference between falling and jumping...

  19. #19
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    i see similarities between driving while taking Oxycontin or driving in the middle of a sleeping pill-induced dream state with driving under the influence of illegal drugs, joe.

    allergy pills, not so much but many more people are on much stronger legal meds than in the 1960's, dontchyaknow... as well as more people abusing legal and illegal drugs.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    who says drivers or their attentiveness are not much different from the 1970's, steve? just jhon and his crewe, and I disagree.

    what percentage of drivers were text messaging or using a cell phone during the 1970's?? (activities that cause as serious impairments to driving as being under the influence of alcohol)

    insurance companies and governements are now recognizing the severe impairments caused when driving while using a cell phone or text messaging.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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    Senior Member sggoodri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    who says drivers or their attentiveness are not much different from the 1970's, steve? just jhon and his crewe, and I disagree.

    what percentage of drivers were text messaging or using a cell phone during the 1970's?? (activities that cause as serious impairments to driving as being under the influence of alcohol)

    insurance companies and governements are now recognizing the severe impairments caused when driving while using a cell phone or text messaging.
    They may or may not be more impaired than in the past. Certainly, if they are more impaired now, then their crash rates either by themselves or with other motorists would reflect this. So I'm interested if there is any data on crash rates per mile traveled, present and past, which might indicate if drivers are any better or worse than they used to be.

    I suspect that increases in driver inattention due to technology are offset by reductions in alcohol-impaired driving over the last 30-40 years. But I am more interested in seeing actual crash data tabulations than speculating.

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    genec genec's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    who says drivers or their attentiveness are not much different from the 1970's, steve? just jhon and his crewe, and I disagree.

    what percentage of drivers were text messaging or using a cell phone during the 1970's?? (activities that cause as serious impairments to driving as being under the influence of alcohol)

    insurance companies and governements are now recognizing the severe impairments caused when driving while using a cell phone or text messaging.
    One such insurance company has been placing ads akin to public service announcements regarding "multi-tasking."

    This is just the sort of "voluntary distraction" that I have been talking about.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bekologist View Post
    who says drivers or their attentiveness are not much different from the 1970's, steve? just jhon and his crewe, and I disagree.

    what percentage of drivers were text messaging or using a cell phone during the 1970's?? (activities that cause as serious impairments to driving as being under the influence of alcohol)

    insurance companies and governements are now recognizing the severe impairments caused when driving while using a cell phone or text messaging.
    Now that child seats are mandated, a whole lot of distractions that were previously commonplace are also now basically gone. I remember climbing all over the car as a kid, taking care not to knock the transmission out of gear as I climbed from the front to the back of course. How many unrestrained children do you see these days? Also, a kid who is quietly watching a DVD in the backseat is a lot less distracting than a whining kid who's stuck to a vinyl seat with sweat (oh, those childhood memories )

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    Quote Originally Posted by sggoodri View Post
    They may or may not be more impaired than in the past. Certainly, if they are more impaired now, then their crash rates either by themselves or with other motorists would reflect this. So I'm interested if there is any data on crash rates per mile traveled, present and past, which might indicate if drivers are any better or worse than they used to be.

    I suspect that increases in driver inattention due to technology are offset by reductions in alcohol-impaired driving over the last 30-40 years. But I am more interested in seeing actual crash data tabulations than speculating.
    I too am interested in this. I believe motorist death rates per vehicles on the road or miles driven have gone down... but I attribute that not to better drivers or better roads, but better passive restraint systems, and crash protection within the vehicle.

    Of course the only way to know for sure is to find out what the rate of collisions per mile traveled or number of vehicles.

  25. #25
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    I don't know. if the reduction in drunk driving is offset by an increase in distracted texting and cell phone using drivers, that puts a lot more danger on the road at typical commuting times.

    I rarely see drunk driving behavior at 9 am on a weekday, but see tens of drivers weaving and texting and generally driving very badly while using cellphones or texting while I'm bicycling to work.
    "Evidence, anecdote and methodology all support planning for roadway bike traffic."

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