Bike Lanes are Key

28 Oct

A green bike lane recently installed on Market Street in San Francisco. Photo from S.F. Streetsblog.

At first this may seem like the kind of research that makes you say, “They got funding to confirm the obvious?”  But believe it or not, until recently there has apparently not been much solid evidence that bike lanes and off-road paths actually get more people to bike.  A recent study discussed by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post a little while back seems to confirm that this kind of infrastructure really does get more people out on bikes:

Buehler and Pucher found that the presence of off-road bike paths and on-street bike lanes were, by far, the biggest determinant of cycling rates in cities. And that’s true even after you control for a variety of other factors like how hot or cold a city is, how much rain falls, how dense the city is, how high gas prices are, the type of people that live there, or how safe it is to cycle. None of those things seem to matter quite as much. The results, the authors write, “are consistent with the hypothesis that bike lanes and bike paths encourage cycling.”

I look forward to seeing studies on the degree to which different types of lanes, paths, etc. encourage cycling.  Given the levels of cycling in European cities with extensive, separated lanes (as well as a culture in which cycling is not viewed as exceptional or crazy) and the sense of safety and legitimacy these encourage, it seems clear that this kind of infrastructure should be high on the list for any city that is serious about increasing cycling as transportation.

This leads me to my wish for Richmond.  We are not known for being “cutting edge” in most areas.  And when it comes to bicycle infrastructure, it’s way too late for Richmond to be at the forefront in comparison to larger cities like Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, and New York.  But we also don’t need to wait for years to begin putting in place something more ambitious than shared lane markings (“sharrows”) and standard bike lanes.  There are many places where those are appropriate, and they will be part of the mix.

I will be truly convinced of our leaders’ commitment to cycling, however, when they approve the first separated cycle track or bike boulevard.  Our recent designation as a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community recognizes our aspirations as much as what has been accomplished.  If Mayor Jones’ statements to the effect that he wants Richmond to be one of the top cycling cities on the East Coast are to be taken at face value, then a minimal or middle-of-the road approach is not going to do it.  Even smaller cities like Charleston, often looked to with envy by Richmonders, are well on their way.  It’s time to be bold, Richmond!

With this in mind I would encourage you to ask candidates for city council in your district whether they are committed to taking bold steps to make Richmond a truly cycling-friendly city.  There are still plenty of people who will no doubt dig in their heels when new cycling infrastructure involves any kind of inconvenience or significant change.  We’ll need representatives willing to push back.


5 Responses to “Bike Lanes are Key”

  1. james November 2, 2012 at 1:21 AM #

    I just wrote an essay last year on the importance of bike lanes in the city as well as a personal narrative about my bicycle experience in the keys, which had very similar title to that of this blog (Richmond is at least more bike friendly than those goddam islands). I moved here fairly recently and was not impressed with the cycling infrastructure on arrival, but am excited about the developments Jake Helmbolt has produced in that little time, even though I bashed the sharrows to prove my point. Really, he’s pretty kick ass and I’m happy to see that he follows this blog.
    In my travels across the United States just before I moved here in 2010, I was able to visit a bunch of the major metropolitan cities mentioned above. San Fran did not have the green paint when I was there and embarrassingly enough, had painted the lanes without the grit that would keep the bikers from sliding around when it rained. Eeeek! New York was very convenient and filled with plenty of riders of all types. Space was at a premium at times the lanes were frequently congested with other obstacles that had no place in the bike lanes. Montreal was also really cool to ride around and extremely welcoming to cyclists and the tourist community.
    I rode around a bunch of other smaller cities around the states but the most enjoyable and memorable rides were around the big cities. If we were to have lanes in our city I think we might generate an appeal for young and progressive individuals to come and work here (or stay after finishing at VCU instead of moving on to something ‘better’).

  2. Jake Helmboldt October 30, 2012 at 9:49 PM #

    All valid points, but the elephant in the room is money. At about a million dollars per mile (1/2 that if the city already owns most of the right of way), shared-use paths are very costly. Great for the new cyclist, but costly. So there has to be a balance. Getting on-road infrastructure completed at a much lower cost while creating a spine network of routes that access those other improvements needs to be done in tandem.

  3. Carytown Bicycle Co. October 28, 2012 at 11:54 PM #

    While I am certainly not anti-bike lane and anything is an improvement I will share what we hear most from people who have just moved here or are traveling to Richmond. They want to see more BIKE PATHS. More places to go ride AWAY from traffic. While the utility of urban bike lanes is important I think that focusing on this rather than pushing for a completed Cap to Cap trail and other multi-use bike/ped paths is putting the cart before the horse.

    Getting people new to riding excited about it is helped by more pleasure ride destinations. Get them hooked in a “safe” and fun environment and you will then have more voices in the chorus asking for the more urban improvements.

    When someone asks me “where is a good place to ride?” I am sometimes at a loss for suggestions. As a seasoned cyclist the answer is “everywhere!” but to the person buying a hybrid to “get in shape” what is the right answer?

    A bike lane connecting campus to Carytown is cool but is the family living in south side or the west end going to use it? We need to be capturing those truly recreational riders that have zero interest in riding with cars to begin with.

    Every year the bike industry sells more hybrid bikes than anything else. This market segment usually dwarfs the “urban cyclist” in numbers and we should be taking steps to get this huge potential voting block more enthralled with riding first and foremost.

    • bikeablerichmond October 29, 2012 at 1:31 AM #

      I think we’re on the same page with respect to taking account of new or more cautious riders who are not ready to ride in traffic. I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition, though. Cycle tracks and bike boulevards do separate cyclists from car traffic, although admittedly not as much so as a path like the Capital Trail. (You might send your hybrid riders to the Cannon Creek Greenway, or Bryan Park, which has nice, wide, paved paths. A hybrid can also probably handle the paths on Belle Isle, and the Canal Walk is supposed to opened to bikes before long as well).

      I’m all for more greenways where they can happen. The tough part is that if you’re really interested in promoting cycling as transportation, it’s hard to provide facilities that will keep people entirely away from cars. It’s going to be a mix in any case.


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