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Hiles, Jeffrey A. Listening to Bike Lanes. September 1996.

Chapter 9
Conclusions and Recommendations

Summary

Crash Statistics

At the beginning of this paper we dove right into crash statistics. The argument against bike lanes and other bike facilities can sound very scientific and authoritative through the use of such numbers. Car-bike collisions seldom involve bicyclists getting hit from behind by motorists, the argument goes. By far, most car-bike collisions are the result of cyclists’ and motorists’ crossing and turning movements. The main reason people build bike lanes and side paths, however, is to protect cyclists from being hit from behind, opponents maintain. So these facilities, according to detractors, represent huge expenses and efforts frittered away on dangers that barely exist.

Worse yet, the argument goes, these efforts to improve bicyclists’ safety backfire. They make cycling less safe by making cyclists less visible and by complicating the crossing and turning movements that cause the lion’s share of car-bike crashes. Separate facilities promote and perpetuate misconceptions about bicyclist safety. These beliefs inhibit cyclists and keep them from learning and practicing safe vehicular-style cycling techniques. According to bike facility opponents, these misconceptions also lead motorists, law makers, and law enforcers to believe that bicyclists, for their own good, should keep to these “protective” facilities and not stray onto busy streets, except those equipped with special facilities. As a result, cyclists who choose to ride on streets that may be busy, but are also the most efficient and safest way to get where they need to go, suffer harassment from motorists and restrictive sanctions from law makers and enforcers.

To the true believers who embrace this kind of argument, there is only one course of action that will have any significant impact on bicyclists’ safety: an intensive training program, like Effective Cycling, that will enlighten cyclists to the true hazards of the road, will teach them techniques to avoid those hazards, and will build their confidence in using those techniques.

Indeed, we found that overtaking collisions do make up a relatively small fraction of all car-bike collisions, especially of daytime urban collisions. Even so, overtaking collisions, Type 13 in particular, contribute to serious and fatal crashes way out of proportion to their total numbers. In general, high speeds make overtaking collisions more destructive than other types of collisions. Also, there are certain locations and conditions where overtaking collisions make up a higher-than-average percentage of total car-bike crashes. Statements that motorist-overtaking collisions make up only X percent of car-bike crashes in certain places, at certain times, for a certain group of cyclists are interesting and do help us understand the problems of car-bike interactions. But such statements also can create a false sense of precision when they ignore the more risky scenarios and fail to weigh how destructive overtaking crashes can be. Such statements create tunnel vision when they are presented as the only worthy criteria for defining the bicycle-transportation problem. And these simplistic statistical analyses can be downright insidious when they are used to dismiss and belittle bicyclists’ discomfort in traffic.

Bicyclist education

It is pretty much taken on faith throughout the bicycling community that Effective Cycling techniques and principles provide a sound basis for safe cycling. The direct impact of education programs on bicyclist safety is hard to measure, though. And indirect approaches to estimating an education program’s potential for improving bicyclist safety are fraught with sources for error. Individual cyclists will attest to the sense of freedom and security they get from vehicular cycling, and that’s great. But over the years the ranks of certified Effective Cyclists have been filled mostly from a self-selecting sample of bike club enthusiasts. It would be a mistake to assume that the general population would experience and respond to Effective Cycling in the same way.

Cyclists’ behavior

Free of many of the physical and social constraints that shape motorists’ behavior, cyclists take advantage of a wide variety of affordances. Often, this makes their behavior appear chaotic. Even experienced and knowledgeable cyclists bend and break the rules of the road, often with good reason, although the reasoning may not be immediately evident to others. So it is difficult to come up with a legitimate measure of appropriate and inappropriate bicyclist behavior. We know it is dangerous (usually) to ride at night without lights, to ride on the wrong side of the road, and to dart out of driveways—kids do this a lot—without looking for approaching traffic. But the more subtle rules of the road for bicyclists can be, and sometimes are, justifiably interpreted in diverse ways. Some cyclists may choose to follow orderly patterns of behavior rooted in a careful analysis of crash statistics. For others, though, bicycling is folk transportation. It is informal, a break from rules and structure. It is wind-in-you-hair freedom. It is human:

Even though principles of rationality seem as often violated as followed, we still cling to the notion that human thought should be rational, logical, and orderly….

But human thought—and its close relatives, problem solving and planning—seem more rooted in past experience than in logical deduction. Mental life is not neat and orderly. It does not proceed smoothly and gracefully in neat, logical form. Instead, it hops, skips, and jumps its way from idea to idea, tying together things that have no business being put together, forming new creative leaps, new insights and concepts. Human thought is not like logic; it is fundamentally different in kind and in spirit. The difference is neither worse nor better. But it is the difference that leads to creative discovery and to great robustness of behavior (Norman, 1988, p. 115).

Bike lanes, behavior, and culture

Because of that “great robustness,” it is hard to say how the built environment shapes bicyclists’ behavior. Individual bicyclists respond in individual ways to bike lanes, for example. Studies of bicyclists’ behavior in this country suggest that, the more affordances you build into the environment, the more diverse the behavior. Wrong-way cycling seems to be most rare on narrow, busy streets. That kind of environment scarcely affords such behavior. Allow more room for comfort, though, and you seem to get more wrong-way riding, an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise desirable accommodation.

This observation would appear to imply that with bike lanes there would be more wrong-way riding and that, since wrong-way riding increases a bicyclist’s risk of being hit by a car, bike lanes would therefore increase car-bike collisions. In real life, though, the link between bike lanes and collisions is not very clear, despite miraculous claims by bike lane advocates and catastrophic predictions by opponents. We cannot even point to a definite real-life relationship between the presence of separate facilities and what we might call “colorful” bicyclist behavior. Melissa Marion (1992), a bike facility specialist with the North Carolina Bicycle Program, found that in Holland, where the people are famous for using bicycles for a large percentage of their transportation, the cyclists have not been transformed into raging scofflaws by that country’s extensive use of bicycle facilities; the motorists have not become anti-bicycle terrorists, either:

For me, the single most encouraging aspect of Dutch cycling was the attitude of cyclists toward traffic regulations. In overwhelming numbers, they obey the array of special signals, signs and stripings for bicyclists.

I was dumbfounded the first time I watched an intersection and saw every cyclist pull up to the red light and stop. I wondered if other American bike programmers would be similarly speechless—on one level, I never believed cyclists were “trainable.”

Again and again, there were variations on the same scenario of law-abiding cyclists, and I was repeatedly taken aback by these commonplace occurrences.

Finally, they began to seem more or less normal. I returned to the United States believing American cyclists just might be teachable.

In general, I found that the Dutch motorists knew how to react properly to cyclists. While cycling in Holland, I was rarely cut off at intersections, and motorists typically slowed down behind cyclists on roadways and waited for a proper space to pass.

I noted very little impatient behavior and never felt resented as part of the traffic mix. (One English visitor, not knowing I was a cyclist, said he didn’t like driving his car through Holland because he and everyone else had to keep stopping for cyclists.)

Such experience weakened another of my almost unconscious attitudes—that motorists as a group could never learn to be considerate and accepting of cyclists (pp. 11-12).

No doubt, bicyclists and motorists are “trainable” and can learn to coexist in a remarkably civilized fashion. But there are two kinds of training: enculturation and acculturation. The Dutch come by their exceptional road manners through enculturation. That is, they grow up in a society for which the bicycle has long been a valued form of transportation. The bicyclists’ good behavior and the motorists’ patience are part of the culture and are mutually supportive. Perhaps at the root of it lies a constellation of beliefs and attitudes about not only bicycling, but about other things as well, such as time, speed and the purpose of a road.

Acculturation, on the other hand, means adopting the traits and patterns of a group that is not your own. The Dutch bicyclists’ behavior “began to seem more or less normal” to Marion as she became acculturated. Of course, she was a willing participant in the process. The English visitor was not. Judging by his statement, I don’t think there is much hope that he would willingly become acculturated to the Dutch way of viewing the role of bicyclists in the transportation system.

When we American cyclists look at the Dutch, we must keep in mind that their behavior takes place in a culture that differs from ours in significant ways. They have a very homogeneous population that is smaller than the state of New York’s (Johnson & Daily, 1994, pp. 237, 828). The unity in their thinking has allowed them to achieve what would be unthinkable in this country. While the United States had a 45 percent sales tax on gasoline in 1982, for example, the Netherlands had a 245 percent tax. While the United States had a five percent sales tax on automobiles in 1987, the Netherlands’ was 47 percent (Lowe, 1989, p. 40). On the whole, U.S. policy has been to aid and abet private-vehicle motoring in every way possible. This policy both reflects and perpetuates attitudes that make it hard for bicyclists to get respect.

So when we look at Dutch behavior and feel tempted to hold it up as something to which Americans should aspire, we must remember that the Dutch come by their training through enculturation. When we talk about training American cyclists and motorists to act like the Dutch, we are talking acculturation: teaching Americans behaviors that are neither so common nor so heavily reinforced within their native culture—except, perhaps, within the bike club culture.

The advocate’s challenge

Bicycling in America is an eclectic activity. The cyclist who wants to pursue bicycle advocacy in this country with both eyes open must understand, and embrace, the diversity that makes up the United States’ transportation culture. This is no easy task. Thoughtful discussion of bicyclist issues can sound like a scene from Fiddler on the Roof: on the one hand this, on the other hand that. At some point you have to take a stand and act on it, or else it’s all so much hot air. I offer the following recommendations as guidelines by which advocates may chose both viewpoints and actions without succumbing to one-eyed prophesy.

Recommendations

Why the term “sense of competence”

At first glance, “sense of competence” may seem like an odd term, or at least a vague one. But look at the commonly-used alternatives. One catch word, for example, is “safety.” Public officials seem fond of proclaiming that their primary concern for bicyclists is safety. Many believe that this means creating places where cyclists can ride out of the flow of traffic. As we have seen, this approach tends to put cyclists in conflict with the flow of traffic, or else it ignores the real day-to-day problems of bicycle transportation. Safety might also be defined as reducing the number of car-bike crashes. One way to do that might be to make the city so inhospitable to bicycling that fewer and fewer cyclists ride there. This could be accomplished simply through filling the streets with cars by making it easier and easier for motorists to drive, while ignoring bicyclists’ needs. Moreover, it could be done while appearing to serve bicyclists by spending millions of dollars on rail trails that isolate minority transportation cultures in out-of-the-way places so the dominant culture wouldn’t have to deal with them. Safety can also be defined as teaching bicyclists, especially children, to be careful out there with all the dangerous automobiles. This kind of teaching does little to make cycling more comfortable and desirable. Safety is an admirable, but limited, goal that does not necessarily suggest admirable solutions.

I could go on like this, listing the shortcomings of “safety” and other words like bicyclists’ “comfort,” or cycling “skill.” I want neither to disparage perfectly good words, nor to start a “sense of competence” movement, though. There are three points I want to make about the words that bicycle advocates and planners commonly use to describe their goals: 1) the words appear to be clear cut, 2) they aren’t as clear cut as they appear, and 3) the first two points make it too easy to believe that you have a noble goal and you know how to reach it when, in fact, it’s much more complicated.

One of the prime advantages of the term “sense of competence,” is that, when bandied about, it is more likely than most alternatives to elicit the reaction: “Huh?” It helps cut through restrictive preconceptions. At the same time, “sense of competence” is a descriptive term, not some nonsense phrase like “Class I.” The word “sense” embraces the subjective feelings that bicyclists have in response to the environments in which they ride. The word “competence” embraces the more objective questions of how efficiently and safely bicyclists succeed in getting around. In linking these two realms, “sense of competence” covers a lot of ground.

Measurement tools and future directions for research

As transportation professionals become more concerned with the ways that bicyclists respond to various transportation system images, planners and researchers face the new challenge of finding ways to measure the effectiveness of what they do. Crash statistics and observed behavior patterns don’t get to the heart of the emotional responses that determine whether people feel encouraged or discouraged from riding.
Sorton and Walsh (1994) are exploring one method of measuring bicyclists’ feelings as they develop a “stress level” scale. Their idea is to give public agencies a way to determine how well streets serve bicyclists, a method that’s quick and convenient and doesn’t require the agencies to survey groups of bicyclists about each street. Sorton’s and Walsh’s scale ranks streets with five stress levels:

 

Table 11
Sorton and Walsh street stress levels
Stress Level Interpretation
1 (very low) Street is reasonably safe for all types of bicyclists (except children under 10).
2 (low) Street can accommodate experienced and casual bicyclists, and/or may need altering* or have compensating conditions** to accommodate youth bicyclists.
3 (moderate) Street can accommodate experienced bicyclists, and/or contains compensating conditions** to accommodate casual bicyclists. Not recommended for youth bicyclists.
4 (high) Street may need altering* and/or have compensating conditions** to accommodate experienced bicyclists. Not recommended for casual or youth bicyclists.
5 (very high) Street may not be suitable for bicycle use.

*“Altering” means that a street may be widened to include wide curb lanes, paved shoulder addition, etc. **“Compensating condition” can include streets with wide curb lanes, paved shoulders, bike lanes, low volume, etc. (Sorton and Walsh, 1994, p. 5.)

A wide, low-speed, low-volume, street will score low. A narrow, fast, congested street will score high, which is not good. A more refined assessment accounts for commercial driveways, parking, and the number of heavy vehicles.

Sorton and Walsh are now testing the validity of their assumptions by asking bicyclists to watch video tapes of various types of streets and to rate each on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very comfortable and 5 being a place they would not want to ride “under any circumstances.” In an initial test with a small group, the cyclists seemed to shy away from the extreme ends of the scale.

Once it has been fully tested and adjusted, this rating system may well serve it’s purpose: to assess the relative comfort levels of various streets for average bicyclists. The stress level is not the same as the actual danger level, though. Remember, for example, that the relationship between traffic volume and the risk of a car-bike collision is weak at most. Yet, volume is one of the three major criteria in this rating system because heavy traffic is a major stressor to most bicyclists.

Ideally, a system image should “make things visible,” as Norman puts it, should help users correctly understand how the system works:

In making things visible, it is important to make the correct things visible. Otherwise people form explanations for the things they can see, explanations that are likely to be false. And then they find some reason for poor performance.... People are very good at forming explanations, at creating mental models. It is the designer’s task to make sure that they form the correct interpretations, the correct mental models: the system image plays the key role (Norman, 1988, p. 198).

Of course, what makes the designer’s task particularly difficult is that different bicyclists will interpret a given bicycling environment in different ways. If we want to thoroughly explore bicyclists’ reactions to different environments, we need to take an approach that’s somewhat different from Sorton’s and Walsh’s. For if all we do is ask bicyclists to rate streets from most comfortable to least comfortable, we cannot compare one cyclist to another. That is, if Frank and Franny both give a street a “4” because it is most uncomfortable, but not totally unridable, this doesn’t tell us if that street is equally uncomfortable for Franny as for Frank. If we want to get at which situations create what amount of stress for whom and why, we need to measure stress more directly.

Psychologists have developed a number of ways to measure stress through the body’s physical responses (Asterita, 1985, pp. 160-167). They can analyze blood and urine for chemicals that increase when a body is under stress. There are also measures of muscle tension, heart and breathing rates, brain waves, skin temperature and galvanic skin response. If you actually put subjects into traffic situations, though, the physical effects of the act of bicycling would make many of these measures difficult to use.

These measures might be of use for studies where subjects passively watch videos, as in the Sorton and Walsh study. Hughes and Harkey (1996) have explored using virtual reality simulations to test bicyclist responses to various cycling conditions. If it is done very well, this approach has the potential to be more realistic and stimulate these physical responses even better than a straight video. Unfortunately, in this case the simulation was not fully interactive; you couldn’t steer the bike or control its speed. So the trials didn’t simulate the difficulties in, say, trying to turn left. By the way, Hughes and Harkey asked cyclists to rate “perceived risk” on a six-point scale. Roads with bike lanes and shoulders scored the lowest perceived risk, followed by wide curb lanes. Not surprisingly, a standard 12-foot street scored the highest. There was no significant difference between the responses of the “casual” and “experienced” groups. But again, this kind of rating method would not necessarily uncover a difference if it did exist.

Another approach might be to use a variation on the Mood Adjective Checklist developed at the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology, which asks subjects to look at a list of adjectives and choose those words that best describe how they feel (Matthews, Jones & Chamberlain, 1990). Closer to the subject of bicycling is the Driving Behavior Inventory developed by Gulian et al., which has subjects choose from a list of statements such as “I feel anxious when overtaken at a junction” (Glendon et al., 1993). This approach could be used to get specific information about bicyclists’ reactions to types of facilities, to particular street or intersection configurations, or even to the layout of neighborhoods or cities. It has the potential to assess not only what is stressful, but what is helpful, which is just as important. The results could also be correlated with cyclist attributes, such as training, club membership, and basic beliefs about car-bike interactions. One of the problems with the stress-oriented research projects is that if we get very focused on which environments create the most stress, it is easy for us to forget that it’s not just the environment that creates stress, it’s our interpretation of the environment—the old primary and secondary appraisals. Change the interpretation and you can help the bicyclist ride more comfortably in any environment, whether or not it has special facilities. This is why it is important that researchers find ways to go beyond measuring stress, risk assessment, and bicyclist behavior. We also need to find ways to uncover how bicyclists interpret the environments in which they ride. Both education and engineering can influence bicyclists’ and motorists’ abilities to form accurate mental models of car-bike interactions. When we understand the potential and the limits of that influence, then we will be able to choose the kinds of programs that do the most good.

The bicycle transportation planner or advocate without a vast research budget can learn a lot just by watching bicyclists negotiate city streets. It helps to do this in a city that has loads of bicyclists. But once you develop an interest in watching, you’ll find yourself stopping frequently to see how some bicyclist gets through a tricky intersection, even in more ordinary locations. The most important thing is to give up labeling this cyclist as “experienced” and that one as a victim of a “cyclist inferiority phobia.” Instead, pay attention to how the bicyclist is responding to the nonverbal messages he gets from the world though which he moves.

Obstacles

If I had to express in one short sentence the overall message I want this paper to convey it would go something like: Bicycling is not an exact science, so keep an open mind. As I promised in the first chapter, my recommendations outline a general philosophy; they aren’t meant to advocate specific facilities. True, I do make a case for hybrid lanes, but only to illustrate that there are alternatives to current bike lane designs that are worth pursuing.

Whether or not hybrid lanes have a future, the philosophy I advocate does encourage experimental designs, whether for bike lanes, traffic calming, or whatever. Unfortunately, this runs against the grain of current transportation planning practices. The most commonly-used guidelines for bike-related projects are in the Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) (1991) and in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) published by the Federal Highway Administration (1988). Both recommend marking a bike lane with a solid white line from one intersection to just before the next.

It takes courage for a city to implement facilities that aren’t in the official guides. Traffic planners and engineers who have little experience with or understanding of bicycle facilities will be especially likely to stick by the book rather than try something unproven. Plus, it may be hard to get state or federal funding for unorthodox designs.

This means that those cities known for and used to innovation are most likely to lead the way in alternative bike lane designs. Unfortunately, many progressive bike towns have already embraced the idea of painting solid white lines. That commitment may impede innovation. My guess is that the most fertile ground for new designs would be in cities that have some experience with bike lanes, but have not gone hog wild with them. Such a city would be comfortable with the general idea of bike lanes, and with the process of implementing them, without being so deeply entrenched in a particular design.

In any case, if just a few cities try a new design, that design will soon become a proven commodity that will be much easier to sell, even if it’s not in the official guides. Keep in mind that everything that is in the guides once went through this process. Now that Denver, Colorado, has taken the initiative to try hybrid lanes, that city’s bicycle planner, James Mackay, has written a from-one-engineer-to-another position paper for advocates in other cities to use if they want to promote those facilities. Mackay points out that it is not at all unusual for cities to implement, and even secure federal funding for, signing that is not included in the MUTCD.

So the guides are just guides and not insurmountable obstacles. In fact, as discussed on page 120 of this paper, the AASHTO Guide quite clearly explains how bike lanes encourage behaviors that are “contrary to established Rules of the Road and result in conflicts.” That part of the guide supports alternative designs.

Implementing bike lanes of any design may be most difficult in areas that do not already have high levels of bicycling. Goldsmith (1993) searched for factors that correlated with bicycle commuting in U.S. cities. In addition to finding a strong relationship between bicycling and bike lanes (see the discussion on page 96 of this paper), he found an inverse relationship between bike paths and bike commuting:

Indeed, one might wonder whether somehow bike paths are a disincentive to commuter cycling! A careful look at the cities with the highest ratio of bike paths indicates that many of these are the same cities with little, if any, bike lane mileage and low levels of bicycle commuting. The reason for this seemingly non-intuitive pattern may simply be that bike paths follow scenic corridors and do not necessarily lead to major destinations. But a high ratio of bike paths is also an indication that bicycling has not been incorporated into the transportation network and is limited to its recreational function.

Again, we have a chicken-or-egg question. Bike lanes take up street space, often at the expense of automobile parking spaces or driving lane width. In a city with numerous cyclists, the need to make room on the streets for bicycling is clearly visible. In places where bikes are rarely seen on the streets, it is more difficult to rally political support for taking space from motorists. In such cases, rail trails and side paths (however ill advised) may be the only politically feasible facilities; and this condition would be the result of a low level of bicycling, not the cause of it.

In that case, a would-be bike lane advocate may have two options. One would be to work on trail and path projects in hopes of encouraging enough bicycling to eventually achieve a visible presence on the streets. Another strategy would be to seek out a street, maybe near a school, that has more than its share of bicyclists and that is wide and has a minimum of on-street parking. If such a road exists, even though it may not be where bike lanes are most needed, it can serve as a low-risk demonstration project to help make the city more receptive to on-street facilities. This strategy may make a good starting point even for cities that do have significant levels of bicycling.

Another obstacle to approaching bicycle issues with both eyes and both ears open is the political power of certainty and fear. The more closely we watch and listen to bicyclists, the more we appreciate bicycling’s subtle complexities. But clear-cut dogma seems to attract ardent supporters far more readily than do philosophies filled with if’s, and’s, and but’s. Dogma mixed with fearmongering can be especially powerful, since fear moves people to action like nothing else. These techniques may tempt us when we want to get something done. If we want bike lanes, for example, we may find ourselves ranting about the grave dangers of bicycling on city streets and about how bike lanes will protect us. Compared with promoting bike lanes for their stress-reducing qualities, the fear factor may seem much more powerful. But it can also backfire if someone calls the bluff and questions the relationship between bike lanes and crash reduction. Worse yet, the fear card sends the message that bicycling in general is very dangerous, a message that may discourage people from riding and may encourage motorists and public officials to believe that bicyclists don’t belong on the streets.

Perhaps worst of all, we can box ourselves in with our own dogma, even if we enter a campaign fully aware that our strategy is for political purposes only. As we go about defending one-eyed assertions, it can become hard to back down from our public statements. Before long, we refuse to see and hear things that could deepen our understanding of bicyclists and bicycling.

Finding new stories

In Technopoly (1993), Postman argues that what we commonly call “social sciences” are not sciences at all (p. 150). He echoes Karl Popper’s refrain that a theory isn’t scientific unless it can be proved false. Social research, Postman says, is a form of storytelling, “documenting the behavior and feelings of people as they confront problems posed by their culture.”

A man who goes by the title of “traffic engineer” once explained to me that his profession was not the same as that of a “highway engineer.” His job was not to calculate the effects of loads and stresses on concrete structures, for example, but to understand the relationships between the design of those structures and human behavior. It seems, then, that a large component of traffic engineering is more akin to social studies than to the hard sciences. Likewise, bicycle transportation planning (bicycle traffic planning) is not a highway engineering process guided by formulas that have been developed through empirical research. It’s about understanding the behavior and feelings of bicyclists as they confront problems posed by a motorist-dominated culture. It’s about understanding bicyclists’ stories. It’s about seeing the ways in which bicyclists and motorists read what the environment “tells” them. It’s about how to make an environment that says “bicyclists welcome”—and one that guides bicyclists and motorists toward safe behavior. It is no coincidence that the insightful city-planning commentators Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs were great storytellers. It was their ability to see and express the human drama in environmental design that makes their works so compelling. Environmental designers, including designers for bicycling, need to listen to the stories environments and users tell.

In our “technopoly,” numbers sound scientific and science seems to have the power and authority to find solutions to all sorts of problems, including those of human behavior. But a theory of environmental design based primarily on car-bike crash statistics, for example, or on the benefits of solid white lines—or any narrowly focused, seemingly scientific criteria—may leave out a very important factor:

The end product is environmental design that takes its role as seriously as the bus driver who maintained his time schedule simply by not picking up waiting passengers. An inspector stopped him along his route: “That’s the only reason you’re out on the road, you know.” How can we find our way back to such a simple reason for a field whose original validity lies in providing space and shelter for the individual’s behavior? (Perin, 1970, pp. 30-31.)

Bicycle advocates and planners must understand the story of bikeway opposition. It is, among other things, a story of cities building narrow, bumpy, dangerous side paths and forcing bicyclists to ride there, either by law or by the hostilities of motorists who lay on their horns, shout obscenities, and throw beer bottles at bicyclists who dare to use streets in defiance of glorified sidewalks. It is a story of individuals struggling to preserve bicycling as a fast and efficient mode of transportation. It is a struggle that can easily make one suspicious of any form of bicyclist-motorist segregation.

We must also understand the story of bicyclists who want to travel to their destinations quickly and directly, as they can only do on a city’s arterials. But on those routes they feel crowded by hordes of fast-moving motorists, some of whom lay on their horns and shout obscenities at bicyclists who dare to use the primary streets. It is a story of individuals struggling to preserve bicycling as a fast and efficient mode of transportation. It is a struggle that can easily make one yearn for some sort of visible symbol, at least, to confirm bicyclists’ right to be on those roads.

But those are old stories. I predict that the new stories, the ones to move us forward, will come from the details. They will come from planners, engineers, advocates and researchers who try bike lanes, or hybrid lanes, or new intersection designs, or education programs and then have the courage to find out how those efforts affect the beliefs and feelings of bicyclists and motorists and how those meanings in turn affect the ways in which cars and bikes mix on the streets. Instead of being one-eyed champions of a single approach to helping bicyclists, we will be better off when we have many choices and understand each choice enough to know when it is appropriate and when it is not:

It is impossible for responsible and practical men to discard unfit tactics—even when the results of their own work cause them misgivings—if the alternative is to be left with confusion as to what to try instead and why (Jane Jacobs, 1961, p. 339).


 

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