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"Stop the irrational bike bias: a case for car-centric planning"

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"Stop the irrational bike bias: a case for car-centric planning"

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Old 09-06-16, 10:51 AM
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"Stop the irrational bike bias: a case for car-centric planning"

Thought I'd open a thread to discuss this article from the San Diego Reader (aka pot dispensary 'green pages', with a few articles and features in the front).

The comments on that page deal pretty well with factual problems with the article. I'm not so interested in rehashing all that (but with this crowd I'm sure you'll all bash away anyways).

But to play Devil's Advocate, the core concept of the article resonated with my libertarian sensibilities: urban planners are all trained that cars are immoral and bikes & public transit are society's salvation, so we must build bike infrastructure and inhibit driving. But the overwhelming majority of the public only wants to drive anyways. Creating bike infrastructure is not paying off in increased bike-commuting share. "If you build it, they will ride" has proven not to work, so why should we continue to allocate so much of our limited resources to providing bike lanes for the exercise/hobbies of the affluent?
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Old 09-06-16, 11:03 AM
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Because the intention is to encourage people to use bicycles as transportation, not just as recreation. It's not about removing "car lanes" to make room for "bike lanes." But by the same token we don't need to increase the infrastructure to accommodate more cars-- there are more than enough cars as it is-- we need to provide people (commuters especially) with alternatives. My wife could easily commute to work by bike-- it's perhaps an hour's ride each way and her trip by car can take up to that long with traffic-- but there aren't even bike lanes for 1/4 of the distance, and the surface streets pass through the kinds of areas where you make sure your doors are locked.
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Old 09-06-16, 11:17 AM
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I'm okay with minimal on-street provisions for cycling if you're okay with having to wait behind me on my bike a few more seconds to get to that red light when you're driving your car. If drivers give bikes reasonable behavioral accommodation in the traffic lane and there's no need for physical accommodation.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 09-06-16, 11:37 AM
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Invest more money in public transportation to get people off the streets. The last thing we need is more bikes.
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Old 09-06-16, 11:51 AM
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I really don't mind being on the same road as cars; it's car drivers that seem to have a big problem being on the same road from me. So I guess I advocate making areas for cars in order to help those car drivers with their anger and impatience issues by giving them their own roads separate from biking areas. The poor dears really do have trouble dealing with being delayed by 3 or 4 seconds per day, so really let's help them out.
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Old 09-06-16, 11:53 AM
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The article is pretty much just inflammatory nonsense but your post...

"If you build it, they will ride" has proven not to work
This should not go unchallenged. It's been proven false in both my specific neighborhood and the larger metro atlanta area so to present it as a fact is disingenuous.

The locality cannot just lay down a stripe and expect people to start using their bicycles as transportation. Bicycle infrastructure needs to be integrated in a way that people can actually use it to get around. Bicycle riders need to be protected both from themselves and from motorists through enforcement of existing laws. I can name several on-paper bike routes that look good for commuting but are very dangerous due to no on street enforcement of speed limits for automobiles. Not uncommon to see traffic moving at 50+ on small roadways with narrow bike lanes and 25-35 mph speed limits.

Although things are getting better here we still have several vestigial sections of narrow bike lane that go nowhere, connect only to major trunk roads with no accommodations or are dangerous to ride in due to no enforcement of existing traffics laws meant to regulate motorists.

Another issue is that a lot of bicycle infrastructure would be unnecessary without the heavy cul-de-sac focused urban development style. There are hundreds of miles of roadways that are essentially unusable as they do no connect to anything else. Basically society has subsidized a feeling of safety for suburban residents at the expense of non-automobile users.
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Old 09-06-16, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by RubeRad View Post
Creating bike infrastructure is not paying off in increased bike-commuting share. "If you build it, they will ride" has proven not to work, so why should we continue to allocate so much of our limited resources to providing bike lanes for the exercise/hobbies of the affluent?
Has that been proven? I'm not aware of a U.S. city that has sufficient bike infrastructure to properly test this.

People generally tend to follow the path of least resistance. If driving is easier than riding a bike, they will drive. If biking is easier than driving, they will bike. If public transportation is easier than either, people will take public transportation. Bike infrastructure and public transportation still lag way behind car infrastructure in even the most progressive cities. You can't try poking people in the eye with a slightly less pointy stick and then call it a failure because they still prefer a sharp slap across the cheek.

It isn't even theoretically possible to scale automobile infrastructure to an extent that solves transportation problems in and around major cities. I don't think the same can be said of bikes and public transportation, to say nothing of walking. Most major U.S. cities are well past the pain point with driving, they just have such poor bike infrastructure that biking is also seen as problematic by most people and the transit systems are at or near capacity within the cities at peak hours. The majority of their transportation budgets is spent trying to improve the driving situations, while a minority of the budget goes to something that has long term potential to make things better.
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Old 09-06-16, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Spoonrobot View Post
Another issue is that a lot of bicycle infrastructure would be unnecessary without the heavy cul-de-sac focused urban development style. There are hundreds of miles of roadways that are essentially unusable as they do no connect to anything else. Basically society has subsidized a feeling of safety for suburban residents at the expense of non-automobile users.
This is a great point. The western suburbs of Portland where I live are a huge sprawling maze of cul-de-sac riddled developments. There are only a small number of streets that cut across these communities, and most of those are already designated as arterial roads and getting heavy traffic.

The silver lining to this cloud is that with a small number of strategically placed MUPs coming out the backs of cul-de-sacs, that maze can be transformed into something that bikes can traverse but cars can't. We just need to convince the home owners in those cul-de-sacs that having bikes go between theirs houses won't destroy their property value.
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Old 09-06-16, 12:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Spoonrobot View Post
Another issue is that a lot of bicycle infrastructure would be unnecessary without the heavy cul-de-sac focused urban development style. There are hundreds of miles of roadways that are essentially unusable as they do no connect to anything else. Basically society has subsidized a feeling of safety for suburban residents at the expense of non-automobile users.
Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
This is a great point. The western suburbs of Portland where I live are a huge sprawling maze of cul-de-sac riddled developments. There are only a small number of streets that cut across these communities, and most of those are already designated as arterial roads and getting heavy traffic.
This is actually where Fort Worth shines. I can get around quite easily by following residential streets. Even the "nice" neighborhoods that are cul-de-sac heavy still have through routes that will take you from one end of the development to the other (although sometimes the route is not apparent when you first study a map). Large swaths of the city are laid out in traditional grids.

The worst part of riding a bike here are the natural and man-made barriers - the Trinity River (which has great trails to follow along its length but not all the crossings you might want), the freeways and the rail yards. In recent years the city has addressed several of those by adding bike/pedestrian bridges, and adding wide side paths on motor traffic bridges. Sometimes you're still stumped, but the city is trying to improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure. There's been a recent push to develop along the river (which has been largely ignored until now), and the developments embrace the trails along the river and provide access to them as well as more places to cross the river.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 09-06-16, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Doohickie View Post
In recent years the city has addressed several of those by adding bike/pedestrian bridges....
The existence of bike/pedestrian bridges is quite encouraging. This kind of goes against my cynicism about how little money is being spent on sustainable infrastructure.

Portland already had a couple of bridges crossing the Willamette River with decent bike infrastructure, but they were getting pretty crowded. The recently opened Tillicum Crossing Bridge of the People is spectacular (and heavily used).


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Old 09-06-16, 12:57 PM
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I went to a city council meeting once where they were discussing ways to reduce traffic downtown and one of the ideas was better bike facilities. One of the council members asked what was the point of that, and the answer was "more parking would be available". IE, the goal is to get everyone ELSE out of their cars, so that I can get where I'm going faster, and park closer.

The car-brain is a difficult thing to overcome.
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Old 09-06-16, 01:28 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
The existence of bike/pedestrian bridges is quite encouraging. This kind of goes against my cynicism about how little money is being spent on sustainable infrastructure.

Portland already had a couple of bridges crossing the Willamette River with decent bike infrastructure, but they were getting pretty crowded. The recently opened Tillicum Crossing Bridge of the People is spectacular (and heavily used).


Portland is way behind Eugene on dedicated Willamette River crossings, but the river is a little wider up there with taller boats.

I would have expected them to rebuild the Sellwood bridge as a dedicated bike bridge. Its location might not have been the best, but they had already moved it once.

Anyway, our Willamette Greenway paths are very nice, and five dedicated bicycle Willamette river bridges, and one McKenzie river bridge, and numerous smaller bridges make it all work very well.

And it is popular for running, walking, cycling, pets, loitering, and etc.

I like to think that it has also had a very positive economic impact on the area, helping bring the US Olympic Track and Field trials to Eugene 6 times, and bringing the future 2121 World Track and Field Championships here to.
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Old 09-06-16, 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
The existence of bike/pedestrian bridges is quite encouraging.
A few recent examples (within the last 5 years or so):

Tilley Bridge, connecting the south end of Trinity Park in the foreground to downtown Fort Worth in the background


Clearfork Main Street Bridge (the span on the bottom is for bike/pedestrian traffic only, and hangs from the main traffic bridge)


West 7th Street Bridge connects the north end of Trinity Park to downtown, with the bike/pedestrian path separated from motor traffic by the structural arches of the bridge


I had trouble finding a good picture of the Hulen Street bridge, but here's an aerial view. It has a 10 or 12 foot sidepath on a raised curb on the east (left) side of the bridge, and spans the Trinity River, a major rail yard, and a new tollway. Despite its length, it's an easy bicycle crossing. (In the extreme upper right of the picture you can also see the Clear Fork Main Street bridge crossing the river.)
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."

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Old 09-06-16, 01:42 PM
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As far as the reasons why a city SHOULD build bike paths...

Part of the purview of a government is ensuring safety for all of the citizens. So, creating a road structure that is safe for all road users, not just the 90% is a fundamental requirement of all governments.

Around here, the off-street bike paths are true multi-use paths. They've also allowed the University to expand facilities on both sides of the river. I can only imagine what the football games would be like if nobody could actually walk to the stadium. And in a very real sense, the off-street paths can bring greenery to a city, and can be very park-like. The "older generation" seems to be much happier to walk than to play in the swings.

It is my belief that a well designed streetside bike path system is also good for the cars. First of all, it helps them get around bicycles easier. But, it also helps provide a buffer for cars in every sense which can aid the movement and safety of traffic, just like wide shoulders are a benefit on freeways.

So, I consider bike paths, both on street and off street as benefiting everyone.
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Old 09-06-16, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Doohickie View Post
The worst part of riding a bike here are the natural and man-made barriers
This is a really good point as well. The Chattahoochee river hems in a lot of the north and west sides of the city of atlanta's near-metro areas. I used to live in an area where the were 7 non-freeway crossings in one square mile but only two of those were bicycle friendly. To get anywhere my options were usually to ride quite a few miles out of the way or try to ride wide, highspeed trunk roads with no shoulder and aggressive drivers.
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Old 09-06-16, 02:22 PM
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I really don't mind being on the same road as cars; it's car drivers that seem to have a big problem being on the same road from me.
Cars don't like being on the road with each other either.

The problem is that drivers are not sufficiently incentivized to look for some other way to stop being the traffic jam. They all want everyone else to stop being the traffic jam.

Car-centric planning is not libertarian unless they really make only the drivers pay for it, keep the property owners out of it.
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Old 09-06-16, 02:37 PM
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It depends on where you are. Here in New York City, the city is investing increasing amounts in bike infrastructure, and the end of the increase of cyclists and bike trips is nowhere in sight. About three or four years ago, we've seen a lot of new types of people using bikes for transportation: the old, the very stylish, the wealthy, and the non-athletes. Riding a bike to where you are going is becoming the path of least resistance, because (1) it is seen as a normal behavior, and (2) we have bike lanes, paths, lots of public bike parking, and a big bike share program. Of course, it helps that we don't have a lot of dead end streets and we have relatively short distances to cover. Still, it's a big city, and some people cover big distances within it. My commute is 14 miles each way by bike. It takes me about 65 minutes between home and work by subway and about 70 minutes -- only an additional five minutes -- when I make the trip by bike.
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Old 09-06-16, 04:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
Has that been proven? I'm not aware of a U.S. city that has sufficient bike infrastructure to properly test this.

People generally tend to follow the path of least resistance. If driving is easier than riding a bike, they will drive. If biking is easier than driving, they will bike. If public transportation is easier than either, people will take public transportation.
Well the article is mostly about San Diego, but either the article or the comments mention Portland as well, which is the #1 best cycle-commuting city, and that is still a pretty small percentage, and is people that live in the city -- out in the suburbs it's dismally small again.


The biggest problem (especially in SoCal) is that biking will never be easier than driving for probably 95% of the people, because people live too far away from work (a result of historical urban planning that didn't intermingle housing with industry/office). The average commute, nationwide I believe is 25min each way by car. I have tons of cow-orkers that commute 1hr each way by car. Cycling that far, even on a dedicated, one-way, two-lane cycle freeway, would take up too much time/life.


And if the housing/office distribution problem were solved, and everybody lived close enough to work to practically be able to bike, then guess what, the car congestion problem would also be solved, because the total number of car-miles driven would go through the floor.
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Old 09-06-16, 04:31 PM
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I don't think there's a universal answer but I suspect that in most cities investing in infrastructure that makes them more bikeable/walkable has genuine economic and social benefits. Take the MUPs out of Minneapolis and you have a much different place. One that is much less desirable to spend time or money in either as a resident or a visitor.

Nevertheless there is a tension between making a city bike friendly and wanting to have car traffic flow as smoothly as possible. There is significant revenue generated from parking fees. I don't feel that all bike infrastructure is good or was necessarily money well spent. However, I believe it is in everyone's best interest to create attractive alternatives to driving and sometimes that will means that drivers will have to take a back seat.

It's not just cycling infrastructure that should be funded as an alternative to driving. Public transportation needs a ton of investment as well.
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Old 09-06-16, 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by RubeRad View Post
Well the article is mostly about San Diego, but either the article or the comments mention Portland as well, which is the #1 best cycle-commuting city, and that is still a pretty small percentage, and is people that live in the city -- out in the suburbs it's dismally small again.
But that's just what I'm saying. Portland being the "#1 best cycle-commuting city" (which is arguably a historic title as much as a current reality) still doesn't have really great bike infrastructure. There are a whole lot of problems. Portland has just enough bike infrastructure to attract a large enough base of cyclists to complain about how bad the infrastructure is.

As for the urban/suburban mode share discrepancy, that simply reflects where cycling is a viable alternative. Most suburban residents work a significant distance from where they live. Using myself as an example, I live in the western part of one suburb and work in the eastern part of the next suburb to the west. It's still a 10-mile trip. Most people don't consider cycling as a viable option for a commute like that and all the bike infrastructure in the world isn't going to change that. Cities are a different beast because the population centers and the employment centers tend to be closer together and urban traffic is significantly slower. Cities also tend to be flatter.

One of the challenges faced by civil planners, especially in the suburbs, is finding solutions for mixed mode commuting. The Portland area, for example, has great public transportation, but it has a huge "last mile" problem. The Portland area light rail system moves a lot of people from the suburbs into the city, but each train list limited to carrying about 8 bikes. That doesn't scale very well for a bike+train+bike solution. I haven't seen any numbers on its use yet, but I think this is the sort of problem that bike share programs could potentially help with.
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Old 09-06-16, 05:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Andy_K View Post
One of the challenges faced by civil planners, especially in the suburbs, is finding solutions for mixed mode commuting.
That's part of where I think the (generally deeply flawed) article has a point. Who died and made the urban planners gods? How should the line be drawn between discovering/understanding "the best" solution for commuting, and choosing a solution and imposing it on an unwilling/indifferent population, who is just going to do what they want, which is drive? Although people grumble about traffic, don't they just put up with it and continue to suffer through increasingly long (in distance and time) commutes?
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Old 09-06-16, 05:39 PM
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Originally Posted by RubeRad View Post
Who died and made the urban planners gods?
Well, it's kind of their job....

Anyone ambitious enough to take an interest in the workings of local government will discover that these urban planners have endless public meetings to give people a chance to comment on their plans. Also, they are answerable to elected officials so there is always voting if you don't like the way things are being done.

To paraphrase a common saying: Everyone complains about local government, but nobody does anything about it.
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Old 09-06-16, 06:03 PM
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Too true.

Personally, of course, I don't have a problem with public funds being spent to benefit me, the critically endangered bike commuter. I guess I should be glad the rest of the car-driving public, who is too lazy to bike, and too lazy to move close enough to work to bike, is also too lazy to vote according to their car-addicted interests.

A number of commenters on the online article also raise the excellent point that car-drivers are heavily subsidized, so they've got nothing to complain about. If we want to start talking about wasting public funds, let's eliminate the effective subsidy of driving, have all road maintenance and building paid for by gasoline tax (except if a city wants to pitch in for bike/alternative infrastructure, they can), and see how many people start biking when gasoline is as expensive as it is in europe
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Old 09-06-16, 06:23 PM
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I get a lot of bicycle complaints..........

Since I commute by bicycle, and also work for the state department of transportation, I am a convenient target for anybody with a bone to pick about bicycles. Pick the argument, bicycles ignoring traffic laws, bike lanes slowing down traffic, Bicyclists not paying their fair share of the infrastructure. I have heard them all!

Funny thing though, few car drivers obey speed limit signs or stop completely at stop signs, and most of the cities with significant bicycle structure are more desirable to live/work in.

As for me not paying the fair share for the infrastructure, get your own bicycle and start some freeloading yourself!

There is no question there are significant benefits to bicycle commuting or even full car free living.

But it aint easy either! Cold weather, time constraints, bicycle consumables (tires, tubes, cables, chains, etc.). And don't forget the extra food requirements either.

Cheaper? You betcha but it is not free.

God I love it!

Gotta make decisions to keep bicycle commuting an option. If you want to commute by bicycle, then you may need to compromise on some of those decisions.

Like I said before, if your complaining to me about how bicycles are being subsidized by the vehicle driver, then why are you still in a car if Bicycling is so great!

Regards!
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Old 09-06-16, 06:46 PM
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[QUOTE=RubeRad;19037327] How should the line be drawn between discovering/understanding "the best" solution for commuting, and choosing a solution and imposing it on an unwilling/indifferent population, /QUOTE]

I've known people in that field and they're responding to public pressure. Advocacy works. That's politics.

But are these things really forced on an unwilling population? When I see a community lauded for "quality of life", infrastructure such as cycling accommodations are often part of the picture. Have you ever read of a place people really love to live because it's totally autocentric?

They're adding bike lanes on a number of streets in the downtown area where I live. I'm out in the country and even when I ride in the urban area, it's never in the core section. So I'm wholly indifferent. Moderately interested in seeing if they get much use. But I don't get the sense the planners are trying to force anything on anyone. They look around the country and see that communities with these facilities are the ones folks are raving about. So they're to give citizens what they want.

I'd be inclined to agree that much of the population is indifferent. So society moves with the vision of those who are active. To some extent, that's the only way that society ever moves forward.
jon c. is offline  

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