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Cycling Wheels Up the Policy Agenda

Neal Peirce / Dec 18 2009

For Release Sunday, December 20, 2009
© 2009 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal Peirce WASHINGTON — Can you imagine several hundred of this capital city’s policy wonks turning out for a two-hour discussion of bicycling?

A decade ago, it would have been unthinkable. But last week it happened, sponsored by the esteemed Brookings Institution, at a prime U.S. Capitol-view room of the fancy new Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It may have helped that the program included musician-artist-cultural innovator David Byrne, whose decades of observing cities worldwide–often from the seat of his bicycle–is reflected in his book, “Bicycle Diaries” (Viking).

But the new buzz about cycling is clearly a mark of the times. You can credit snarled traffic, ennui with driving, rising oil prices and/or concern about greenhouse gas emissions. Then there’s growing popular desire to revoke the monopoly control cars and trucks have on our streets and public spaces. There’s a clear tie to the “Complete Streets” movement, advancing the ideas of shared urban turf long espoused by such groups as Partners for Livable Communities and the Project for Public Spaces.

The scene’s also been set, though, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declaring “livable communities” a priority goal of his department. And–important to the policy making set–there’ll be opportunity to enrich the 2010 reauthorization of the federal transportation program with bike-friendly provisions.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), founder-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus and official Washington’s lead advocate for the cause, enlivened the Newseum event by a whimsical question: “How many people, right now, are stuck in traffic on their way to ride a stationary bicycle in a health club?”

Then he asked “Why can’t we have bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue? This is a vision that can happen–an example for every community in the country.”

Disclosure: Blumenauer and I are old friends and we sometimes encounter each other riding our bikes around Washington.

He foresees a possible “quantum increase” in pro-bike features in the upcoming transportation bill, including “green routes to work” and enlarging the Transportation Department’s existing Safe Routes to School program to include high schools. He also favors an expansion from four to 50 cities of an existing pilot program designed to encourage “mode shifts” toward walking and biking.

The big news of the Newseum affair–kickoff of a national “Cities for Cycling Initiative” –was brought Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner, who is fast gaining repute in transportation circles for her aggressive efforts to tame traffic and create bike- and pedestrian-safe routes in America’s largest city.

“People want to ride bikes. Make it safe for them and they will come,” said Sadik-Kahn, noting the sponsorship of the new C4C ( campaign by the 13-year old National Association of Transportation Officials (including department heads from Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington).

C4C’s goal is to spread word of a surprisingly broad but not well-known range of pro-bike experiments that are already being tried in some U.S. and foreign cities.

One example: going beyond the increasingly familiar painted–but unprotected–street bike lanes by adding two- or three-foot wide buffer strips between the bike lanes and other traffic.

Even more safety is provided by “cycle tracks” –lanes that are totally protected from motorized traffic by plantings or mountable curbs, sometimes with special cycle traffic signals at intersections. Cycle tracks take space and may be expensive to install. But if cities expect more women, or whole families, to set out on cycle expeditions across town, nothing less may do. Currently cycle track installations are being tried in New York, San Francisco, Washington. Portland (Ore.), Cambridge (Mass.) and St. Petersburg (Fla.) –plus Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Another pioneering experiment described on the C4C web site: low traffic volume streets, dubbed “bike boulevards,” which still allow cars but are made more safe for cyclists through traffic calming, speed inhibiting devices such as plantings and traffic islands, special pavement marking and signs. Portland’s the U.S. leader, but several other cities, Chicago, Long Beach and Seattle included, are trying the same.

Blumenauer says there’s “no one cookie-cutter solution” for bikes in cities, that each town needs to make its own choices. And there are rural issues, too, he notes: unless sufficient shoulders are added to country roads, bikes are dangerously exposed– “a suicide situation.”

How do bicycles pay their way on the roads, since they obviously don’t pay gas taxes? Cycling in place of car use is “the most cost-effective way to free up road space,” says Blumenauer. But he suggests that in return for roadway use, cyclists should be open to “a tiny fee” for the biking equipment they purchase.

The idea’s a sort of watershed–cyclists starting to qualify not just as recreation supplicants but serious players in America’s transportation decisions. It’s about time.

Neal Peirce’s e-mail is

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact Washington Post Permissions, c/o PARS International Corp.,, fax 212-221-9195. For newspaper syndication sales, Washington Post Writers Group, 202-334-5375,


  1. Posted December 18, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Would it not be easier in the long run to just keep the infernal combustion engined cars OUT of the city altogether? Park and Ride, rapid transit, trams, light rail, are all greener than cars. The steel wheel on a steel rail is 600% more efficient than a rubber tyred wheel on a road!
    The motor car kills 1 million people and seriously injures 8 million people a year world wide -to say nothing of the poison gas we all have to breathe and the pounds and kilos of fat we all put on by NOT walking anywhere!
    If you strapped a cyclinder of carbon monoxide to your back and went around the streets spraying it into the faces of babies in their prams they would lock you up for a long time. Yet you can park quite legally with your motor running next to that same pram and it is quite legal!

  2. Sam Newberg
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Nice work! Here in Minneapolis, we are constructing our first bike boulevard in 2010. This is part of a greater citywide bicycle plan to help us keep our place as second only to Portland for percentage of bike commuters.

  3. andrea M
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    If we are to have more cyclists in the US, I certainly hope some of the money is to teach them to act like vehicles and not constantly ride the wrong direction on streets, weave in and out of traffic, and create near misses with me on the sidewalks. In my experience, cyclists who *don’t* do these very dangerous and annoying things are few and far between. I know, some argue that cyclists ride like this because they aren’t accomodated by transportation planners but I find this a poor excuse for shirking one’s responsiblity.

  4. Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Nice piece, Neal! In the 8-county Madison Wisconsin region we are seeing a huge opportunity to become the North American bike capital, for recreation and commuting as well as for industry. We have a strong and growing biking infrastructure and culture, and are home to several world-class businesses. More info on these resources:

  5. Theo Petritsch
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Whoever is providing you your information is reporting as facts information that is still very much in debate. Bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and cycle tracks have not been shown to reduce crashes. Do they make some cyclists more comfortable? Certainly. And this may have merit in and of itself. But are they more safe? A great many people would argue that they are not. No one has performed any study which has proven that they are.

  6. Posted December 18, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    The “tiny fee” is a political sop with no real funding value. I’m a Portlander and a long-time Blumenauer fan and supporter (and a bike commuter), and while paying a “tiny fee” on the purchase of a bike is not a show-stopper for me personally, the concept of paying a little extra for roads that I’m already paying for and that I use a whole lot less rankles a bit.

    I imagine, however, that it’s the price of making headway in cycling infrastructure.

  7. David Backeberg
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    As for cyclists ‘paying a small fee’ toward road maintenance, we already do so. We are disallowed from all American interstates by law, and that’s okay because we don’t pay interstate gasoline tax on fuel for my bike.

    All Americans do share in local property taxes, and it’s those property taxes that pay for local road maintenance. Being that bicycles and pedestrians do zero damage to roads contrasted with your average Land Rover driver, I’ll now be expecting a refund for my share of my road taxes.

  8. Posted December 19, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Great article. Thanks, Mr. Peirce

    Cycletracks and bike lanes separated by three foot buffer strips sound ominously like the road-parallel sidepaths that AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) advises against building. In typical form, these create more rather than less conflicts at intersections and driveways (the most common sites of bike-car crashes) and therefore we have to design sound engineering countermeasures to mitigate added risk. An example from the link above: “Left‐turns from a right-aligned cycle track (or right turns from a left-aligned cycle track) must be made in nonstandard manner, potentially resulting in delay.”

    Non-standard designs mean trouble.

    I don’t oppose these designs categorically, and they may work well when we finally learn to use them, i.e. when common in cities and filled with cyclists, but the learning curve will be bumpy. Further, if we build them we have to be willing to go the whole nine yards to do them correctly and pay the added costs in space and funding. These costs, of course, can be recouped in CO2 savings, less civic space devoted to storing cars, better individual health profiles, and less nonpoint source vehicle pollution in our cities. All hidden costs of our car culture.

  9. Bjorn Haake
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    From the article: “Even more safety is provided by “cycle tracks” –lanes that are totally protected from motorized traffic ”

    This is a common misconception, Cycle tracks – or side paths- are generally not completely protected from motorized traffic – they cross public streets at every intersection. They also cause conflicts at driveways, store parking lots and bus stops.

    The cycle tracks or sidepaths became popular in Germany in the 1930’s, to get bicyclists off the road, so that motorists wouldn’t be impeded. Because they are causing many fatal accidents, some cities are now removing them and the German Parliament currently deals with a petition to remove the mandatory side path law.

    Some of the completely separate multi-user trails are different and can have benefits if they are done right. But they can also cause an increase in motorized traffic, since some people now drive to the trail head, bike around and drive home.

  10. Posted December 20, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    +1 on Khalil’s comments on cycle tracks. Bad idea. Much less safe at intersections than integrated with traffic. Although less sexy than glitzy new infrastructure, educating cyclists on how to ride safely with traffic, with or without bike lanes and cycle tracks, is actually much more effective at preventing collisions than is infrastructure, and a lot cheaper, too. A common class that is available nationwide is Traffic Skills 101 from the League of American Bicyclists (

    I heard Blumenauer ask “Why can’t we have bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue?” at the National Bike Summit last March. I was actually rather dismayed by it; I thought it reinforced a common misperception that we need bike lanes to ride on a public street. I’d rather ask “Why can’t we all go out and ride down Pennsylvania Avenue RIGHT NOW?” The true answer is, we can, and we should. Don’t wait for bike lanes!

  11. Posted December 20, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    P.S. Later that very evening, I actually did ride my bike down Pennsylvania Avenue, after dark no less (with bright clothing and lights of course), as part of a self-guided bicycle tour of the city I took myself on. I encountered absolutely no problems dealing with traffic. We *are* traffic.

  12. Allen Muchnick
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    The push for “cycle tracks” and other separated bicycle facilities in urban centers is extremely misguided, especially since all objective evidence shows that such designs make bicycling less safe and slower than integrating bicyclists with vehicle traffic.

    City officials who wish to make improve urban bicycling should instead calm urban street traffic to bicycling speeds and promote bicycle driving education.

  13. Lawrence Gulotta
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m a native New Yorker and have been delighted by the efforts of our Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and the cyclist community to push forward with all the many new innovations necessary to encourage mass cyclist activity.

    I given up my car nearly twenty four months ago. No more alternate-side- of- the- street-parking two days/wk., exorbitant parking tickets, registration fees, etc. I use mass transportation instead. I may purchase a bicycle for pleasure riding.

    I find the planned MTA cut backs in subway and bus service distressing. Coincident with the rising consciousness for alternatives to the “infernal combustion engine,” the MTA finds a $400 million gap in its budget! This agency has never believed in financial transparency, although it has invested in cleaner bus technology.

    I believe a political alliance needs to be forged between the cyclists and the strap-hangers to give greater political heft to those demanding alternatives to the dangerous, outmoded, inefficient family automobile, SUV and minivan.

    I am optimistic the cities will adapt to the bicycle as a form of mass transportation. The cities also, for the most part, have the mass transit infrastructure in place. I am concerned that the vast suburban and ex-urban communities will just continue to be heavily automobile dependent. When will the bicycle and reliable, speedy mass transit come to the suburbs?

  14. Anne Lusk
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Surveys have indicated that women prefer to have separation from vehicles (Garrard). The Netherlands, where 27% of the population bicycles and 55% of the bicyclists are female (John Pucher), has networks of cycle tracks and continues to build more because cycle tracks are safer than bicycling in the road if cars are going faster than 18.6 mph (30 kilometers per hour). It has been difficult to build cycle tracks in the U.S. because the individuals who have written the design guidelines prefer to bicycle in the road. We currently are completing research on cycle tracks that do exist in North America and cycle tracks are also being built in a variety of cities. We expect cycle tracks will increase the numbers of bicyclists, including females, children, and seniors, and they will prove safer than bicycling in the road.

  15. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 20, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Comment received from Judy I. Jopling in Seattle:

    I enjoyed reading your article today (Sunday Dec 20) and am very heartened to hear about interest in improving cycling access to streets in Seattle and other cities.

    For the last seven years my husband and I lived in Europe on our boat and for that long period of time I did all my daily errands by bicycle except for the occasional situation where walking worked better. We both owned Dutch bicycles which are particularly suited for carrying cargo and we both shopped in this manner. I carried untold amounts of groceries, dry-cleaning, household goods, the cat to the vet, trips to the doctor and dentist, in addition to cycling for pleasure. This style of living was so rewarding it is difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced it. In fact, we decided to move back to Seattle after trying to describe this lifestyle to friends in California who could say, “Good luck with that.”

    In our travels we cycled daily in Netherlands, France, Italy, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Of course, those northern European countries are well-known to be bicycle friendly to the point of having separate roads, signals, bridges, and tunnels for bicycles. The bicycles must stay in their appropriate lanes and in some places there was actually more bicycle traffic than car traffic. We took a photo one day of people waiting for an opening bridge in the city of Groningen, Netherlands. In the five minutes it took to open and close the bridge there were at least 100 bikes waiting, pedestrians, and about 4 cars. They established traffic patterns in the city to encourage cycling and discourage driving.

    In Italy where cars are known to have crazy Italian drivers I experienced no problems cycling even in heavy traffic because Italians have an attitude that says everyone has a right to the road. Even if I was riding in a single lane with cars behind me no one complained or honked the horn. They don’t have good bikes lanes per se but they have a good and reasonable attitude.

    I must tell you that I am 62 years old and I hope to continue my cycling for daily needs lifestyle here in Seattle where we have relocated. My best friend in Holland has done this her entire life and she is older than I am.

  16. Posted December 20, 2009 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Ms. Lusk can cite some carefully controlled studies showing that cycletracks are safer.

    I realize that many cyclists prefer to ride on their own dedicated facilities, especially in the U.S. where cyclists are reminded by both motorists and cycling advocates that we are second-class citizens. However, we are talking about two different things: cyclist preference and perceptions of comfort vs. safety statistics. Certainly the prime motivation for cycletracks is to increase ridership among people who don’t currently cycle and I suspect, also to sell more bikes. That doesn’t mean that we are increasing safety. As I said earlier, to make these things work we will have to engineer the facilities to prevent the disadvantages these facilities pose at intersections by controlling for crossing and turning hazards. That’s fine as far as it goes, but not sure it is a good idea or a solution in search of a problem.

    Judy Jopling’s post is telling: comfort can be more about culture than about facility design.

    I’d again like to thank Mr. Pierce for enabling this discussion. More ideas are good!

  17. Posted December 20, 2009 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be excited to see Dr. Lusk’s peer reviewed studies showing that cycletracks are safer.

    I realize that many cyclists prefer to ride on their own dedicated facilities, especially in the U.S. where cyclists are reminded by both motorists and cycling advocates that we are second-class citizens getting in the way of motorists. However, we are talking about two different things: cyclist preference and perceptions of safety vs. actual cycling safety.

    Seems to me the prime motivation for cycletracks is to increase ridership among people who don’t currently cycle and also to capitulate to poorly managed urban roadways. It doesn’t mean that we are increasing safety as much as its perception.

    My gut feeling is that to make these things work we will have to engineer the facilities to prevent the disadvantages they pose at intersections by controlling for crossing and turning hazards (separate right of way cycles, merging zones, hopes that people obey the law, etc). Cycling facilities in the U.S. notoriously suffer from being shortchanged in funding and design excellence. I just have my doubts that these facilities, as built, will be an improvement on existing roads. Hope I am wrong.

    Judy Jopling’s post is also telling: comfort can be more about culture than about facility design.

  18. Frank Krygowski
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I agree with the comments of Mr. Petritsch, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Brooking and Mr. Muchnick. I heartily disagree with Ms. Lusk.

    While I don’t doubt that questionable designs can make some cyclists _feel_ more safe, there is certainly data showing those designs actually increase risk.

    Furthermore, it’s illogical to attribute the popularity of cycling in northern Europe solely to facilities. That thinking ignores huge differences in gas prices, car taxes, licensing requirements, city density, culture, terrain and climate.

    Most of all, I strongly object to the idea that American bicycling is dangerous. Americans currently cycle roughly ten million miles per fatality. That cannot be called “dangerous!” Furthermore, if American cyclists would follow existing traffic laws, that figure would improve even further.

    We do not need facilities that put cyclists in unexpected positions on the roadway, thereby surprising motorists. We do not need to scare people into staying off bicycles until such facilities are built. Cyclists can and do operate safely on almost all American roads. Educate the public, and stop the fear mongering.

  19. Chris Morfas
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    It’s wonderful to read of cyclists’ growing clout. The Cities for Cycling Initiative is much-needed not only for bike-specific innovation and information-sharing but also to bolster the standing of cities (versus states) in the larger federal transportation policy debate.

    Although I share skepticism of some of the facilities discussed here, I favor experimentation. Let’s see what works here. However, how we treat vehicles is more important for bicycling than how we treat bicycles. If we slow vehicles, restrict their access to cities, limit avaliable parking space, institute tougher licensing provisions, strengthen enforcement and penaltites, raise gas taxes, etc, that will make cities far more inviting for bicycling that installing bike lanes in cities inundated by vehicles.

    I’m also concerned that the bike-specific facilities emphasized by the “Cities for Cycling Initiative” will take the Complete Streets concept in an unfortunate direction. One example: rather than emphasizing a handful of bike boxes or bicycle signalheads, cities should be compelled to improve the detection of bicycles and timing of all traffic signals.

    Still, there’s some good marketing at work here, as Judy Jopling’s sentiments make clear. Most Americans simply don’t take bicycling seriously enough to bother to learn how to integrate themselves into traffic. One real positive of the bike-specific innovations is that they are making cycling relevant to more people. Let the debate continue!

  20. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Message received from Grant Bennett:

    I wanted to say thanks for the colum in the Denver Post yesterday. As a huge cyclist and a full-time Denver resident, I’m sometimes encouraged and sometimes frustrated by the lack of attention to cycling in transportation policy around Denver. Your article helps the local conversation – policy makers are debating ‘living streets’, pedestrian priority zones, and transportation planning and policy in the coming decade.

    Denver, like many cities in the US, is at a cross-roads. We have built our roadway systems for a single purpose, neglecting the pedestrian and cyclist and creating suburban land use patterns that focus on the single use automobile. Pressures from urban infill and renewed neighborhoods now shift policy makers on the oft-forgotten pedestrian and cycling realms. Our city council and public works department have stated they will never widen a street again, and how to ‘remake’ our streets to accomodate multiple forms of transportation.

    Please continue to reach out to Denver on this topic – many here are listening, and actively participating in the discussion.

    Warmest regards,
    Grant Bennett

  21. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Message received from Bill Bayley

    Why don’t you take a readers poll sometime asking how pedestrians feel about bicycle riders? They are a huge hazard.

    I moved to Seattle in 1979 and lived four years without a car. I have walked from Fremont to Fairview Avenue North as well as from there to the Kingdome for work. Granted, I was younger then. I soon came to consider Seattle a pedestrian hostile city, still do, especially downtown in construction areas.

    Very unnerving to have a bicycle whiz by you as close as they can get without a by-your-leave. Try walking across the Fremont Bridge daily. When I was a child we always had a bell or horn. It should be the law and warning pedestrians when approaching from the rear should be the law.

    Remember the cartoon the Times ran some years ago about how bikers see road signs? It is still true. A stop sign means go go go. As does a read light with pedestrians in the crosswalk.

    Bicycle riders are their own worst enemy as far as public relations goes.

  22. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    E-mail from Woody Wheeler:

    Congratulations on a wonderful column about bicycles! I hope that city planners, bicycle advocates and policy makers read it.

    As you said, in order to encourage far more people to ride bicycles, we need to go beyond the usual unprotected painting and lane marking to installing cycle tracks, buffer strips and bicycle boulevards. If we are to take bicycling seriously – and I hope we are ready to – then we should implement the latter substantive and effective reforms. Janette Sadik-Khan’s quote is spot on: “People want to ride bikes. Make it safe for them and they will come.”

    Woody Wheeler

  23. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 21, 2009 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    E-mail received from Peter Elsea of Florence, Mass.

    Thank you for putting the bicycle issue in the paper and for giving me some hope that we may be on the verge of real pedal-friendly progress. I don’t often write to the authors of article, but i was inspired. I try hard to bike to work (Cooley Dickinson) but am frustrated at riding in a supposed bike lane along Florence Road that is only an 18 inch wide zone separated by a paint strip, with sand, detritus and drains all along it. Most of the other people i talk to say they don’t ride because they don’t feel safe…

    Do you know if cities have studied the idea of converting every 3rd street or so to one way for cars and using the saved lane for two way bike traffic? This would not require construction and would allow cars to still have access to every roadway (just requiring knowing to
    go the right direction.)

    Anyway, thanks again. See you on the road!

    Peter Elsea

  24. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 22, 2009 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Received from cycle path entrepreneur Gerry Hawkes:

    A decade ago Bike Track developed a bicycle track surface that could be rapidly installed along busy streets and highways as well as through parks and woodlands with little or no excavation or disturbance to existing infrastructure or to natural environments. The modular track system is molded from extremely durable structural plastic which will not crack, heave and pothole like asphalt, concrete or gravel, and does not require any sub-base construction and compaction. The molded in traction arcs on the surface are designed for the vibration free rolling of wheels while providing excellent stopping and cornering control. Each traction arc is paired with a drainage hole to keep the surface free of puddles and sand as well as to greatly minimize icing.

    One other great advantage of the Bike Track system is that it can be quickly installed by two or more people with few or no tools.

    There is one prominent, seasonal installation of the Bike Track system in Washington, D.C. at President’s Park. For the past several years it has been used as walkways around the National Christmas Tree and for the Pageant of Peace. If you go to, you will see two photos with caption at the bottom of the page.

    If you would like first hand information about how the Bike Track path system has performed, you could try contacting Tom Greer. He is very busy at this time of year, but his contact information is as follows:

    President’s Park Maintenance Division
    Thomas Greer, Chief of Maintenance

    It was my hope that the Bike Track system would be widely adopted, thus making it far easier for people of all ages to walk or bike for short trips rather than making trips of a few minutes in cars that pollute more before their catalytic converters warm up. Unfortunately we ran into hurdles that were too high for a small company to overcome such as federal cost sharing for asphalt and concrete path and sidewalk surfaces, but not for structural plastic surfaces which coupled with the public perception that structural plastic would not be as durable made the Bike Track system extremely difficult to sell for its intended purposes.

    For the past decade we have been able to keep the Bike Track company and product alive by supplying rapid deployment tent flooring systems to the military. In this application it has more than proven its extreme durability in demanding applications.

    We can only hope that our society finally realizes the urgency of curbing air pollution and will adopt a myriad of new approaches to the ways we live and travel.

    Gerry Hawkes
    796 Wayside Road Ext.
    Woodstock, VT 05091

    Eco Systems, Inc ~ ~ Founder/President
    Forest Savers LLC ~ ~ Founder/Manager
    Bike Track, Inc. ~ ~ Founder/Director

  25. Posted December 25, 2009 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    The question of separated infrastructure vs. traffic riding seems to be a huge divide among some bike commuters. Separation is not a replacement for riding alertly and courteously and paying attention both to the law and to interactions with every other street user. The advantage of riding in the street is not only that I have full access to every part of my city’s street network–which I should, because I pay taxes for it and create much less wear and tear than motorists–but also that I am a constant visual reminder to drivers that the road is for various types of users.

    For the past two years I’ve chaired Bike to Work Spokane, which started promoting Bike to Work Week actively in 2008 for the first time in many years in our region. We had great response, not only from long-time bike commuters who just wanted a chance to stand up and be counted, but also from new riders who took the plunge and then continued riding.

    We had phenomenal media coverage both years. I believe having that visibility along with more cyclists on the street–during the event week but afterwards as well–has made a difference in how I’m treated as a cyclist.

    I also notice that when I do drive–which is as seldom as possible–I am a much better driver because I’ve turned off my “autopilot” mode. Besides bike commuting year-round I’m a frequent pedestrian myself, and take transit when the snow is too deep to ride. Behind the wheel I’m now much more aware both of cyclists and of pedestrians. I wonder how much of the reduced accident rate in cities with high percentages of biking and walking comes from this kind of “driver re-education” that becomes evident as those cyclists and pedestrians get into their cars.

    I serve on the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, which worked successfully for adoption of a bike master plan and the creation and funding of a bike/pedestrian coordinator in the city staff in 2009. Spokane is starting to organize around the Complete Streets concept. In November we elected two pro-bike members to the City Council–Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref–joining another bike advocate. Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has participated in Bike to Work Week the past two years, as has the state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. A newly announced candidate for state representative in my district, Andy Billig, served on our Bike to Work Committee in 2009. Political visibility and awareness is as important as on-road visibility and awareness for real change. The national movement and the efforts in cities such as Spokane is truly exciting.


  26. Barry Schiller
    Posted December 26, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I’m disappointed that so many bicycle advocates are still so negative about bike lanes. paths and other separated facilities which I think are absolutley essential for substantially increasing biking in most of the country. On-road riding is of course essentail and must be allowed, but if that is all there is, only a very few elite riders would be riding in most places.
    Here in Rhode Island every fatality of bicyclist that we are aware of has been on-road, not one on our extensively used bike path network. The bike paths have generated an enormous increase in interest in cycling, and anecodatally at least, has made drivers more careful and respectful of bicyclists in the part of the state where the paths exist, perhaps because they themselves, or someone in their family, are more likely to bike. We shouldn’t let a realtively small nimber of expert and experienced bicyclistsa discourage expanding the use of biking for others.

  27. Stephen Bellio
    Posted December 26, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I agree with the comments Frank Krygowski including how he agrees with comments of Mr. Petritsch, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Brooking and Mr. Muchnick and disagrees with Ms. Lusk.

    Door lanes:

    When riding on roads with parked cars, one should never ride within an opening door’s reach. It is much safer to take the lane (middle of the lane) and encourage overtaking cars to pass using another lane. Bicycle lanes adjacent to parked cars are not safe to ride in and should be renamed door lanes. Bicycle lanes located outside of these door lanes would be safe to ride in.

    I use a helmet mounted mirror to monitor overtaking cars. When there is a transition from no parked cars to parked cars, use of a mirror and hand signals can help the rider negotiate to a safe road position. This position change should be established well before reaching the parked car so that drivers have time to adjust their speed and position as needed.

    Recommended reading on the dangers of riding too close to parked cars;

  28. Posted December 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    The problem with separated facilities is that it won’t really be separation in most U.S. cities, but separation except where it counts, at intersections and crossing points. So the feeling of security is illusory. Meanwhile, as Barb Chamberlain says, we have already paid for our existing infrastructure and it would be a crying shame for cyclists to voluntarily abandon the roads in wait of some future nirvana of a bicycle network devoid of cars. Keep waiting.

    There is no easy answer in the bike world to this constant argument of car-free bike space vs. bike-free car space. I personally don’t want to give anyone the impression that I am going to go along with any effort to get this bicyclist off the road and onto a yet to be designed and built, equally safe and efficient, parallel universe since we really don’t have that alternative yet. Nor, I am afraid, will we have it in the foreseeable future, given the shape the U.S. economy is in. Share what we got–we already paid for it.

  29. Pat Buckley
    Posted December 27, 2009 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I’m an avid cyclist, at least when the ground is bare. Yesterday there was freezing rain, today there is slush and ice, so probably not today.
    My primary query about paths where bicycles are separated from other vehicles: Are there speed limits on the bicycle paths? Do speed limits make it safer? When a speed is posted on a bicycle path, do many cyclists use the road even when there’s a parallel bicycle path? Locally, there’s a recommended speed of 20 kph and very few cyclists go that slow. An average, fit cyclists can easily do 25 kph; bicycle racers do in excess of 40 kph. A speed of 20 kph means 1 km every 3 minutes and is just a bit faster than running. A commute of 10 km takes 30 minutes at 20 kph and 20 minutes and a few seconds at 30 kph which is an easy speed when the wind is at your back. What is a good speed for bicycle paths?

  30. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 27, 2009 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Comment received from Andrew Holtz, Portland, Ore., a leading independent health journalist (

    I enjoyed reading the column about the cycling event at the Newseum.

    However, I was a bit puzzled by the remark: “How do bicycles pay their way on the road, since they obviously don’t pay gas taxes?”

    First, bicycles don’t pay taxes… just as cars and trucks don’t pay taxes. But I know what you meant: how do people who ride bicycles pay for the roads we use. Well, every study I’ve read on the topic concludes that most road funding comes from taxes on property, income, sales and other items. Because these taxes are not directly related to road use, people who ride bicycles pay just as much as people who drive. Indeed, people who ride bicycles probably pay more on average, because they are more likely to live in cities, where property taxes are higher.

    Many people are unaware of how we actually pay for our roads. Recently, a marketing company in Portland sparked strong public reaction with an ad campaign that asked: Should cyclists pay a road tax? The company’s wrap up report included the conclusion that most people simply don’t know that cyclists already do pay taxes that are used to build and maintain roads. “[T]he amount of misinformation shared throughout this campaign was staggering,” the authors of the report by Webtrends wrote:

    Here’s recent summary of the subsidies of motor vehicles:
    Analysis Finds Shifting Trends in Highway Funding: User Fees Make Up Decreasing Share

    It documents that road users pay les than half the cost of highways. The subsidy for local roads is much higher.

    Of course, we all benefit from a good road network whether or not we drive. Still it is important to recognize that every time someone uses a bicycle, instead of a car or truck, he or she reduces wear on the road, reduces congestion, reduces air and water pollution (a recent NPR report documented how much of the pollution and cleanup costs in the Chesapeake Bay are due to oil, gas and other pollutants coming off cars and trucks), etc. Comprehensive economic analyses support the idea that if costs were fairly apportioned, drivers should pay people to use bicycles.

    As you well know, politics involves more than numbers. A small sales tax on bicycles and accessories would probably be the most efficient method for people who bicycle to demonstrate that they are directly participating in funding our transportation infrastructure.

    That said, our transportation policies should take a clear look at the current system of funding infrastructure, with an eye to making the most efficient and productive use of our investment. Based on the economic analyses currently available, it seems such a review would conclude that all road users (and our communities as a whole) would benefit from dramatically increasing bicycle infrastructure in our cities.

    Here’s another useful citation:
    Delucchi, Mark A. and James J. Murphy (2008) How large are tax subsidies to motor-vehicle users in the US?.
    Transport Policy 15 (3), 196 – 208

    Again, thank you for the column. We need more public discussion of transportation policy and how it relates to economic development, public health, and the welfare of our people and communities.

    Andrew Holtz

  31. Posted December 28, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Good, no…excellent comments by Mr. Holtz.

    Chesepeake Bay is an indicator of our general future if we don’t change our values. Dying in our own filth.

    I did some research in Hawaii funded by NOAA/Sea Grant a few years ago when I worked at the Univ. of Hawaii and we found links between nonpoint source pollution and urban hardening on Oahu. The pollution transported offshore was greatly exacerbated by urban “hardening”, much of which is due to the need for roadway and parking spaces. What used to pass for urban streams on Oahu have been reduced to pathetic, concrete channels, which were excellent pathways for nitrates from fertilizing and pollutants from roadways (greases, oils, lead when we put lead in gas, zinc, and other goodies) to reach the coastline and be flushed into the estuaries and backreef environment during storms.

    Sitting in front of me is a book of recommendations we made for increasing the number of settling ponds and green space. But green space is always in competition with other human needs, transportation being one of them. If we looked at transportation as part of a bigger picture of environmental sustainability rather than as mere human convenience, we would indeed pay people to ride bikes.

    The question is not whether to promote cycling as a benevolent form of basic transportation. The question is how we do it so we actually build safe and efficient systems rather than merely the appearance thereof. The first option is a good one. But rather than adding more asphalt, why not do the engineering to redistribute what we have, in conjunction with rising oil prices and tax incentives to move away from the single occupant car?

    Some cities indeed speak of conservation while at the same time mandating minimum parking stalls per business in their zoning codes. We can no longer afford such schizophrenia in our planning processes.

    Happy holidays, and here is for a cleaner new year,
    Khal Spencer

  32. Neal Peirce
    Posted December 28, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Comments received from Meade Anderson:

    Thanks for the article, nice piece…glad to see you ride. I own cars and bikes and cycle as much as possible but I take issue with the comment by Earl Blumenauer that country roads are “a suicide situation”. The roads may represent a potential homicidal situation but not suicide as folks are riding to get killed. It’s the drivers of motor vehicles who operate their vehicle in a manner which has no regard for anybody else on the road…failing to slow down even to the posted speed limit for bikes, other cars, pedestrians, children, animals, dangerous situations, inclement weather, etc. And the fact that these drivers are not held accountable for their actions…These drivers are the danger!

    Here’s to passing on the streets…on bikes!

    Meade Anderson

  33. Neal Peirce
    Posted January 30, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Comment from Daniel Sebald:
    Good news there. I recall walking Chicago when younger and enjoyed it, but it takes a while to walk around Chicago. (Driving into Chicago, oy.) Moving to Illinois recently, I’ve taken my bicycle on the Metra-rail to the city. How amazing to get from Olgivie Station to Grant Park, Merchandise Mart, etc. in a matter of minutes. Even with congestion, so long as traffic isn’t fast, things are fine.

    Oddly enough, I find the most challenging places to ride, in nicer weather, are bicycle paths. Walkers, dogs, baby carriages, joggers–just afraid to hit someone while going at a high rate of speed. (I’m fine with people using paths though.) Also, bike paths tend to buckle (as opposed to road pot holes) which seems a more jarring bump for some reason.

    You want a fee for bicyclists? Fine by me. What, $10-$20? The price of a gallon of gas?

    One other thing you might want to address regarding bicycling is companies and buildings needing facilities to accommodate bicycle travel, to take some of the stigma out of parking a bicycle and storing bicycle clothing. Promote a tax break for locker rooms.