From a correspondent in Portland:
Among my peer group [educated people in their 20s-30s] I see a "mono-modal" fixation on cycling, very similar to the attitude many drivers have that their primary mode should be everyone's primary mode. It really is remarkable how many young, affluent, educated folks living in inner Portland see cycling as the only legitimate travel mode for all people everywhere. My [peers] basically scoff at the idea that I might prefer to take the bus to and from school when it is rainy or dark out. I see walking, biking, and transit as three completely complementary modes that support a car-free or car-light lifestyle, but I'm realizing that in Portland at least there is a large group of people in the cycling community who see both cars and buses as the enemy, or at least not an option worth considering or supporting. This might help explain TriMet's underinvestment in the bus network, since politically active young people do not support transit.
I've been away from Portland too long to have my own impression, but if this is true it's certainly unfortunate. While there are some conflicts between bicycles and transit in road design, I have always tried to accommodate both. I don't necessarily believe bike lanes can be accommodated on every street, any more than transit is, but I do think both cycling and transit deserve and can have complete and functional networks.
How common is a monomodal fixation on bicycles? If so, why does it occur?
There's nothing wrong with cycling advocacy, or advocacy of any mode, until it becomes hostile toward other aspects of the full sustainable transport package. Wouldn't advocacy for the suite of sustainable transport options (walking, cycling and transit, supplemented by carsharing etc.) be more effective than endless conflicts among these modes?
I’m not part of the young cyclist crowd (being too old!), but there have been several unfortunate encounters between busses and bikes in Portland in the past few years, including an incident in Beaverton a few years back where a TriMet bus driver sideswiped and killed a teenage cyclist in a bike lane. (The bus was pulling into a stop after an intersection on a busy street; and getting into the bus stop from the mainline of traffic requires crossing the bike lane–The bus stop in question is here). The subsequent investigation was bungled by the police, essentially resulting in no disciplinary action or charges against the driver.
But a good chunk of Portland’s bike crowd are affluent, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that at least some of ’em hold derogatory opinions of transit patrons, particularly those who ride the bus. (And likewise, some hostile feelings are returned–in a thread at Portland Transport, written by a PT colleague who I suspect is your correspondent, there’s at least one reader who is a regular TriMet patron who advocates a program of licensure and mandatory liability insurance for cyclists–essentially saying that they needed to be treated just the same as motorists).
I see some of this in Philadelphia. People put stickers on the bus stop signs with the SEPTA logo and either “Walk” or “Bike”. Definitely a bit of a mono-modal bias, I’d say. Here’s a short blurb from one of the alt-weeklies about them from a decade or so ago.
I’ve found in DC that the Bikesharing system is an excellent way to help bridge the gap between modes. The fact that a bikeshare trip can be one-way and has very low barriers to entry (no need to own a bike, own a lock, worry about it being stolen, etc.) is a perfect compliment to transit. Indeed, in DC they’ve been specifically marketing the system as “bicycle transit” rather than merely a short-term bike rental.
Bikeshare also attracts bike riders who would not otherwise bike – either for first time rides, or for short trips. There’s no real commitment to the bike, and thus it’s broadened the constituency for cycling – both as proponents of additional infrastructure, but also so that the cycling advocates include a more diverse array of cyclists.
In Chicago, there’s also a distinct “mono-modal” young cycling contingency, and in the past few years it has led to a distinct polarization between cyclists and, for want of a better term, everybody else on Chicago streets. Hard-core Chicago cyclists almost never respect traffic signals, stop signs, or the right-of-way for motorized vehicles or pedestrians at crosswalks.
As a result, people who aren’t regular bicycle commuters complain about cyclists in this city all the time. I can’t tell you how many local friends I have who’ve complained about almost hitting cyclists who run red lights and disobey stop signs–or almost being hit by cyclists as pedestrians for the same reasons.
The upshot is that makes cycling more risky than it should be in Chicago–specifically because non-cyclists (read: drivers) have a lot of pent up anger and frustration at scoff-law cyclists. I don’t drive, but I definitely have gone out of my way to force oncoming cyclists to screech to a halt at pedestrian crosswalks to respect my right-of-way to cross.
Until urban cyclists actually start respecting the traffics laws that apply to everybody, it’s going to be a hard sell to get non-cyclists to care about their needs.
Engineer Scotty. There's at least one person advocating anything.
There’s at least one person advocating anything.
True, but it’s a sentiment I’ve heard from quite a few others as well. Some of them are motorists outraged that public money is spent on anything other than roads, but there is an anti-bike backlash in town. At this point, it’s still mostly grumbing–there isn’t, as of yet, any well- organized and financed anti-bike advocay here, like the pushback that JSK is getting in New York from wealthy Upper East Siders.
There is also a racial undercurrent to it, with lots of community opposition to a proposed bike lane along North Williams Avenue, through a predominantly black neighborhood, on the grounds that bike lanes are intended mainly to benefit whites–and that local calls for safety improvements in the area were ignored by the City until mostly-white yuppies started raising hackles. The neighborhood in question was split apart in the 1960s to build Interstate 5 (the street in question is only several blocks east of the open trench containing the freeway), and has been gentrifying somewhat of late. While obviously a bike lane doesn’t care about the race of those riding on it, not all demographic groups view cycling as hip. Not being black, I won’t attempt to speak for African-Americans on this point, but Bike Portland’s coverage of the project can be found here, and the articles include many comments from black Portlanders who are suspicious of (or outright opposed to) the project.
I almost think that there’s more hostility between pedestrians and cyclists than between pedestrians and drivers. I’m also in Chicago. I’m used to drivers cutting me off, blasting through crosswalks or otherwise ignoring other users of the road, at least I have a sense of how to compensate for this due to the omnipresence of car traffic on the roads. (Whether or not I should be used to having to anticipate the worst from motorists is another issue, of course.)
On the other hand, when a cyclist cuts me off, or drives contrary to the direction of traffic, it essentially bothers me more because I almost feel like we should be “in it together.” Again, it shouldn’t really be about drivers vs. everyone else, but given that that is sort of the realistic everyday tone, it really does bother me when I as a pedestrian (and transit-user) are affected by cyclists who don’t follow the rules.
I think as long as cyclists are disproportionately young and male (as they generally are in most of North America), cyclists are going to disproportionately take stupid risks (like running red lights).
For some bike people, the issue is that they fear being hit by large, fast, heavy vehicles and see fast buses as especially threatening.
I am personally antagonistic toward transit projects that damage the pedestrian environment by narrowing the sidewalks or replacing stop signs or timed signals with actuated signals in an attempt to gain speed.
@Alex, I haven’t totally figured out why, but I’ve found that more people use every single, or almost every single, method of transportation (walking, biking, driving, transit, cabs) in DC than in any other city I’ve lived in or traveled in. Maybe the modes work in a more complementary fashion here?
@EngineerScotty, after the incident you mentioned, was there any discussion of the purpose of the bus bay? Obviously it pushes buses out of the way of motorists, but at a great cost to cyclists.
There wasn’t a specific conversation on bus bays, no. But yes–the purpose of them is not to benefit the bus, but to (primarily) benefit automobile traffic, by getting the bus out of the way. Having busses crossing bikes to stop (and then again to re-enter the mainline) is problematic.
It’s interesting that Eric mentions BRT treatments, particularly signal priority, as hostile to bikes. From the point of view of a transit planner, such treatments are a good thing, as it both improves the service for passengers (making busses faster and more reliable), and improves operations, making transit cheaper to supply. But from the point of view of a pedestrian or bicyclist, a bus might be just another type of traffic that ought to be calmed, at least in dense urban environments.
One other source of bike/transit conflict that hasn’t gotten mentioned yet in this thread, but is always an issue in Portland, are streetcar tracks–rails embedded in pavement are a significant source of danger to bicycles (and an annoyance to things like strollers, etc.).
Something to think about: if the pro-car groups had their way, all those idiot cyclists would be idiot drivers in control of 2000 pound cars…
To reiterate, bus bays are not transit projects. They are traffic projects. In lane stops are much better for buses, and reduce the need for the lateral motion of buses that is such a challenge for cycling around them.
I am a bike commuter in San Francisco. It is unfortunately but true. There is a large contingent of militant cyclists here. They are primarily against cars. But they are not allies to public transportation either. To them buses are just obstacles to spin around. Actually for that matter, pedestrians, stalled cars, or even other cyclists, are all obstacles for them to spin around. As bicycle usage increase in recent years, the risky and reckless behavior also risen to epidemic level.
I always wonder how can someone justify obviously irresponsible behavior like running red light and cutting off pedestrians? Now I have a good theory. They have a victim mentality in a world dominated by cars. And this is used as a excuse for their aggressive attitude toward others. They alienate the 90% of non-cyclists. But whenever there is a police crack down, they will just cry for injustice because in their mind, car is all the problem which kill people and destroy the planet.
There is certainly some zealotry in their life style. It is always car v.s. bicycles. They do not see the large middle ground where people could use a mix mode of transportation and could accommodate people with different physical ability and different risk tolerance level.
The local San Francisco bicycle coalition is basically good leader in transportation and livable street issues. They officially promote safe cycling and their media contains many smiling and relax commuters, or family going out on a healthy city trip. But when it comes to reining unsafe behavior they always side with the militants.
Living in Paris, almost always using my bike to get around, I believe that both modes are complementary. However, someone who doesn’t know me, would think I clearly favour mass transit over cycling.
In France (and Europe in general), bus lanes are open to cyclists, and it works rather well (even if buses and bikes keep chasing each other).
I tend to advertise cycling because in the most optimistic plans, the bike share is rarely over 12% (compared to the actual 40% in Copenhagen), but it’s mostly a cultural problem, not a technical one.
What mostly annoys me, it that the average spending for a person in public transport in Paris area is 1000€/pax/year. Offering a good bike to every citizen would be cheaper. So politics should aim at a much larger bike share and I will continue to annoy people to get them cycling at least once a week.
For the anecdote, I lived 6 months in Copenhagen, and I hated cycling there. You have always to hold you right to keep the “fast lane” free for other cyclists. Insults between cyclists were common (at least toward the foreign ones 😉 )
Tristram. Are you sure that Paris has the room for everyone now riding the Metro to ride their free bicycle on the surface? Your example illustrates how complementary and non-competing the two modes are.
I hang around with a lot of people that are particularly politically involved with environmental issues, and I’m glad to see someone else voicing my concern. For many people of that persuasion, they seem to believe a sustainable future to involve only cycling.
I’m not sure how many people actually explicitly advocate that – but that’s the future conjured up by those that talk only about cycling when they talk about sustainable transport.
And that future seems dystopian to me in many ways. Independent mobility would become restricted to the most fit; disproportionately young and able-bodied people. To get a full command of one’s city, let alone neighbouring ones, would require disproportionate physical exertion.
I feel that this is problematic for sustainability advocacy, because you won’t get people on board with a movement if you present to them a future that they really don’t want, whatever the justifications for it.
I doubt we should conflate bike mono-modal advocacy with scofflawism.
The guys running red lights are unlikely to be politically engaged. It’s the 40- something beardy-weirdies who are most likely to be hardcore pro bike. They likely subscribe to vehicular cycling ideology which means obeying all laws.
As a tangent from the point about disproportionate physical exertion, I’m not certain quite how sustainable frequent long-distance cycling is compared to electrified bus/rail transport. Cycling at more than a moderate level, I imagine, will require someone to consume more calories, which requires more food, which requires that food to be produced.
While not a biologist, I’d suppose that production and metabolism of food is a considerably less efficient process than renewable energy production, and use of that energy by an overhead-powered electric transit vehicle.
There is certainly an interesting equity question with regard to cycling. On the one hand, it would be better for overall health for more people to engage in active transportation. On the other hand, many people are not willing or able to ride a bike for extremely long distances or in bad weather, and I think we need to respect that.
Where I come down is that we need a system that encourages people to use active transportation for short trips (and long trips if they are able), but still provides excellent transit (and carshare) options for longer trips. We need better pedestrian and bicycle access to transit so that the modes can be more easily combined rather than being an either/or proposition. I would love to see cities with bike-sharing and car-sharing start to offer combination passes that cover not just transit, but bike and car share membership as well.
I would encourage everyone to check out my longer post on Portland Transport as well, which I wrote shortly after writing the email to Jarrett that was the basis for this post. This is an important discussion to have, as we all have a stake in making sure alternative transportation advocates are working together rather than at cross-purposes.
I wish I could give credit where I originally heard the idea, but I recall a planner/blogger/whosits use the phrase “mode superiority”. Essentially the same thing you write about here, but how it applies to everyone. Cars think cars are superior, transit users thinks transit is superior, etc. and they have a hard time rationalizing the use of the other modes and subsequently feel superior and smug.
Jimsey. I'm one transit expert who doesn't think transit is superior in any ultimate sense. It's just superior for a certain role, alongside the other modes which are superior in others.
(Just for the record, EngineerScotty, I am actually in favor of signal priority when it means lengthening a green light when a transit vehicle is near so that it has the chance to get across before the light changes. What I am opposed to is signals that make pedestrians push a button and wait before they can cross instead of giving them a walk signal in conjunction with every green light.)
As a young and occasionally scofflaw cyclist (in Chicago) I want to try to justify or at least explain why cyclists break traffic laws more often than others, probably even if you control for demographics. When I’m cycling, it takes me a disproportionate amount of energy to stop and start up again compared to walking or driving. Therefore, I’m going to roll through stop signs, slow down and maybe attempt to stall while the light turns green but run it if it’s too slow, and so on.
Cultural factors are also important: on the (San Francisco) Peninsula I don’t stop at stop signs because I know that drivers won’t expect it and I’ll only slow down traffic.
Next, there’s the ambiguity of whether I’m with cars or with pedestrians, so that I’m tempted to pretend that I’m one or the other depending on which benefits me at the moment.
Then there’s not so much of a feeling of responsibility as when driving: the only person I’ll kill is myself, right?
It’s worse, though, when there’s no clear place for me to go in a maze of cars, or when I doubt that a red light will turn green for me because it only responds to cars. Dedicated infrastructure really helps — when I lived a couple weeks in San Francisco proper, the bike boxes on Market made me feel like a proper member of the transportation system. If I don’t feel like I’m breaking an unwritten law just by existing, I’m much less likely to break written laws.
I don’t know about any one else’s city, but around here it must be a lot more fun to be a cycling advocate than a transit advocate. For a twenty year old, cycling has been getting more popular and better accommodated for his entire life, and transit has been cut every year for his entire life. A really good year for the bike advocate is new infrastructure and a double-digit percentage increase in cycling (from a tiny mode share to a still tiny share, but you can look around and see that now you are no longer the only one). A really good transit year is a budget so generous there are no further route cuts this year. Restoring everything to the glory days of the…1990s…is hard to imagine and that was hardly some sort of fast frequent network of reliable transit that car owners frequently used instead of driving.
Maybe people just prefer advocating where results happen rather than beating their heads against the wall, hoping maybe the decay will slow down?
I’d like to second an earlier comment about the DC bikeshare, and the way that one-way trips totally reshape the relationship between bikes and transit. With a good bikeshare system, it’s possible to combine modes in a way that simply doesn’t work otherwise. It turns biking from a lifestyle into a way to get from place to place.
Next, there’s the ambiguity of whether I’m with cars or with pedestrians, so that I’m tempted to pretend that I’m one or the other depending on which benefits me at the moment.
Under law, that’s an easy question to answer (in much of the US, anyway): Are you riding your bike? Then you (or your bike, actually) is a vehicle and you are subject to vehicle code.
Do you dismount and walk your bike? Then, you are a pedestrian.
Issues like signals which don’t respond to bikes are a big problem though. A good solution is to replace the inductive sensor loops in the street at traffic lights (which detect cars by their metal content, but often fail to detect bikes) with cameras, which are more readily able to detect bikes; but not all jurisdictions are doing this.
“When I’m cycling, it takes me a disproportionate amount of energy to stop and start up again compared to walking or driving. , F
Thank you for your honesty. However I think this excuse is a non-sense. It takes far more energy to start a car than a bicycle. That is not an excuse for the car not to stop. What about truck v.s. car? It takes even more energy to start a truck. But there is no provision for a car to stop for a truck. The order of the road will break down if we use this sort of consideration. Also it is not a problem for most law abiding cyclists to stop. What’s wrong with these young cyclist who conquer so many hills to say they must not stop because they don’t want to exert more energy?
on the (San Francisco) Peninsula I don’t stop at stop signs because I know that drivers won’t expect it and I’ll only slow down traffic.
It is not a matter that they don’t expect it. It is that they do not TRUST a cyclist to stop. Even when I am riding a bicycle to an intersection and see another bicyclist coming across, I will not trust that guy to stop.
I see some very young, very stupid cyclists, I see some young and crazy cyclists, and I see a really quite amazing number of middle-aged men and women riding on the sidewalks (even when the street where they belong is exceptionally nice and wide and pleasant for cycling) and doing crazy things at intersections. Recently I saw a woman well into middle age ride on the side walk, stop at the intersection, wait a *long* time for the green to turn to red, and then take off across the road from the sidewalk against the red. I actually see more of that sort of thing than the crazy young people running lights at high speed. On my commute I mostly see my fellow serious effective cycling commuters.
I have a car, too, and I also drive that legally. I do not speed, I do not tailgate. I’m hardly alone as a law-abiding cyclist, I see others all the time. As a law-abiding motorist, I really am very nearly alone. Speeding and tailgating are about as close to universal as they can realistically be. (Sometimes you’re trapped in traffic and can’t speed, sometimes there is just no one else around to tailgate, so they can’t actually be 100%).
EngineerScotty, I suspect that all cyclists know that they’re legally forbidden from running red lights, and anyone who cares to be aware of how the law works knows that the legal reason is the law classes bikes as vehicles.
But on a variety of other meaningful spectra, bikes do naturally fall somewhere in between pedestrians and motor vehicles. These include momentum (in the physics sense — mass × velocity — which is a reasonable proxy for how much damage will be done in a collision), cost, amount of street space taken up, and so on. So a lot of cyclists feel that there is at least some ambiguity in how they ought to behave, even in cases where the law is perfectly clear.
(Of course, jaywalking by pedestrians is also illegal, but enforcement of this — at least here in New York — is virtually nil.)
But the bikes-vs-cars debate is old and boring, and the original question here is bikes-vs-transit, and at least for me that debate rings hollow. Over the past few years, I’ve switched substantially all of my transportation from transit to bicycle. You could probably get me into a conversation where I tell you that and thus conclude that I don’t like transit, but this would be a wrong conclusion. I wonder if something similar happened to Jarrett’s original correspondent above. Or I wonder how my perspective would differ if I lived in a city with a greater percentage of automobile mode-share and if I had not been a regular transit user before I started cycling so much.
Here in New York, the presumably most effective cycling advocacy group and the presumably most effective transit advocacy group are the same organization, with a goal to increase the number of ways that people can get around. I never thought about it before, but I imagine this situation is relatively rare and wonder how it shapes the debate.
It takes far more energy to start a car than a bicycle. That is not an excuse for the car not to stop.
The key difference in most cyclists’ minds is that the car-starting energy comes from fossil fuels or other mechanical energy, while bike-starting energy comes from the cyclists’ legs.
Cycling advocacy in recent years has largely grown from a very street level, young, urban group of riders. Up to this day, cyclists are generally considered (particularly by law enforcement) to really not to have any right to the road, and to be automatically presumed to be at fault in any incident. Meanwhile, virtually ANY discussion of cycling is immediately devalued by the knowing comments about “all those scofflaw cyclists, one of them almost hit me once!”
I’m not defending mono-modalism, dangerous riding, snobbery, or any other of the annoying habits that some cyclist somewhere has. But there are reasons the cycling community may have tendencies this way. We’ve had to fight for our right to be allowed to ride the street without being routinely threatened, harassed, and tut-tutted at when we have the temerity to dive under a car’s wheels and get killed. Sorry if we get a little self important at times.
Furthermore, one thing that drives cycling activists crazy is that discussion of $5 or $10 million worth of bike lanes to cover an entire city is treated with the same kind of hand wringing that a multi-billion dollar transit project is. I’m not arguing against transit. There’s reason why it’s worth every penny spent. But if we’re going to debate transit versus bikes, let’s put it into a little bit of real context. Most cities spend more on artwork hanging in train stations than they spend on all bicycle infrastructure. Sorry if we get a little snippy.
Regarding cyclists ignoring red lights, rolling through stop signs, etc. etc. Yes, you’re right, the whole “conservation of energy” argument is ridiculous. Cyclists roll through red lights because we very rarely get tickets, it is usually safe (for everyone except us at least), and finally, because nearly EVERY SINGLE CAR does the exact same thing. I know a car rolling through a stop sign at 5 mph looks like it is just barely crawling, but it’s still 2 tons. If a bike goes through a stop sign at 8 mph, suddenly it’s a menace to society somehow. Again, I’m not defending the practice. But let’s put the crime in bit of context.
News flash, cyclists are people and thus contain our fair share of idiots, the uninformed, the surly, the inconsiderate, and all other human failings. Some guy’s friends think that “everyone should ride a bike, not a bus”. Well nice for them. But they don’t represent the majority of opinion of cycling activists or even cyclists. I don’t buy that Trimet is making major investment decisions based on their view of what a few cyclists think. Even in Portland, let’s not pretend that the “all powerful cycling lobby” really has much influence. The city has made a real effort to be bike friendly and has invested some real dollars. But show me a city where there HASN’T been “under investment in the bus network”. How much you want to bet that they don’t all have bike lobbies that make politicians shake in their boots. Please.
The big think that cyclists realize is that many stop signs are placed as traffic calming devices aimed at cars, so while the letter of the law says that both cars and bi4kes have to stop, the spirit is that cyclist are not the intended subject. Drivers recognise the spirit of the law too, and roll slowly through minor stop signs when thereis no opposing traffic (car, bike or ped.)
Bikes and transit are a great combination for long distance trips. The bus can take care of the bulk of the miles, with the bike taking care of the “shuttle” portions of the trip to access the bus stop.
The trick, though, is to find a way to encourage this that scales. Bike parking at transit stops doesn’t work if you need the bike at the other end, besides the risk of a bike getting stolen. Bike racks on buses work, but with a capacity of just 2-3 bikes per bus, the number of bike rack users is always going to be quite small. My opinion is that the combination of folding bikes and easy-to-use bike-share programs are the way to go.
The big reason that bike advocates are so passoinate, besides being in a demographic prone to fanaticism, is that cycling is so fun.
Cars can be fun, but not on busy city streets. Cars need wide open highways. Transit isn’t fun either. Transit can be beautiful, and it can allow the social fun of a night out to include the trip home, but transit itself isn’t fun when its not a novelty.
The high level of enjoyment afforded by cycling (when it’s not too stressful or strenuous, which it can be for some people/conditions) makes cyclists wish that everyone could have just as much fun, and makes us want to remove whatever makes the fun inaccessible.
Unlike young male drivers who play on sports teams or go golfing/fishing/hiking, we have managed to combine tranportation and recreation, and we like it, and we like to talk about it. I know a guy who runs to work, and he’s the same way.
Well I think walking is fun too – and what bugs me about the cycling thing is that in the UK at least (and probably over there too), cycling seems to get an inordinate amount of public money and priority compared with pedestrianism. I have nothing whatsoever against cycling, but it’s not the only sustainable way to get around.
Fixation with cycling seems to affect a number of “professionals” too – I was somewhat irked by ITDP’s scoring system for BRTs, where “Integration” seems to be judged purely on how BRT integrates with cycling – no points at all for integration with other modes (Metro rail, Park and Ride etc.)
As a transit professional though, I will admit that training for bus drivers on being nice to cyclists is obviously needed in many cities.
Mike Brink: “The big think that cyclists realize is that many stop signs are placed as traffic calming devices aimed at cars, so while the letter of the law says that both cars and bikes have to stop, the spirit is that cyclist are not the intended subject”
I would argue that’s a local issue. Round where I live, stop signs are placed at minor intersections where you have no way of seeing traffic coming along the other road. The enforced stop is intended to stop you sailing blindly into the intersection and getting sideswiped… something which would be worse for cyclists than car drivers.
“It takes far more energy to start a car than a bicycle. That is not an excuse for the car not to stop.”
“The key difference in most cyclists’ minds is that the car-starting energy comes from fossil fuels or other mechanical energy, while bike-starting energy comes from the cyclists’ legs.”
In that case the optimal way is for the car to roll through the stop sign and bicycle to stop and yield to them. Not only does it save energy overall, it reduces CO2 emission because otherwise extra fossil fuel will have to be used to start the car.
Having seen more bicyclist comments coming in it leads me to another revelation. To answer Jarrett’s question why is there a fixation on bicycles, militant bicyclist are just narcissists. There are different animal than the city and transit planner here. The planners’ focus is to improve the system. They want to help most if not all people. Narcissists are only interested in their own life style. Their concern on the slow coach is mainly for them to get out of their way. I don’t even know if these militant cyclists are truly interested in popularization of bicycle usage. When this becomes really successful, the formerly free bike lane will be clogged with slow cyclists and they will have a lot of passing to do. And when they run a stop sign, the probability of colliding with another idiot bicyclist will increase significantly. I’m sure they will complain loudly by then.
Where cyclists are clearly at danger, I’d say that myself and the majority of cyclists will actually stop. Being on a bicycle in the open air helps make one acutely aware of where risks are present. Where a cyclist does flout such rules, then, it’s because they don’t perceive it to be dangerous.
Given the main danger to a cyclist is their own safety rather than that of those in motor vehicles, as long as one is considerate to pedestrians and yields to them when necessary, I don’t have a problem with that.
About the argument that every car roll through the stop sign at 5 mph, so a bike going through it at 8 mph should be ok. Try to bring this argument to the general public to see if you can convince them not to be mad at cyclists.
I have done my share of rebutting but on this point I think I can articulate what the bicyclist has done wrong better. The problem of cyclist is not they did not make a complete stop, which we know most people do not do when the intersection is free. The true problem that gets everyone so mad is that they violate other people’s right of way. The stop sign is used to establish order in conflicting scenario. Pedestrian get the highest priority, all other vehicle should yield to them. When there are vehicles crossing each other, they stop and then take turn to cross. They key is not only to stop but to take turn. And the key offense of cyclist is actually not taking turn rather than not stopping. They don’t care if others are waiting on the stop sign first and just fly through the intersection and dare other people to wait for them. That’s what get people feel really violated and really mad.
To echo F’s comment that drivers in San Francisco do not expect bicycles to stop. Pedestrians do not expect bicycles to stop either. They are just intimated because they know bikes will not respect their right.
@Wai Yip Tung
If drivers, who need only press their foot on the accelerator to start moving, are inconvenienced so that cyclists, who require intense physical effort to start and stop, can keep moving, good for them.
Actually, I’m alright with sustainable modes inconveniencing people in cars in general. They’ll still probably reach their destination quicker, and narrowing that difference can only be a good thing.
Though I’m very much in favour of pedestrians being prioritised to the proper degree, I’m personally happy in most circumstances to let a cyclist go before I cross the road, because I know that it’s more of an effort for them to stop and start than it is for me.
@Wai Yip Tung – I wasn’t arguing that it is OK for cyclists to roll stop signs, just give some explanation of why they do. But you are right, the real problem is not respecting others rights and acting unpredictably. I would just posit that that same criticism can be made of pretty much every group. Narcissism isn’t unique to cyclists and people are people.
But the original post was about whether cyclists have some unique dismissiveness of other forms of mobility and whether they are so committed to a “bikes only” system and have sufficient social and political power that they are influencing investment allocation by Portland’s transit agency. I just don’t buy either of these statements.
I am also familiar with the ‘militant cyclists’ who think everyone should ride no matter what. They’re out there, but not really that many and if you actually engage them, this opinion is more posture than actual belief. At least in Los Angeles, cyclists and cycling groups are deeply engaged in the fight for better transit, more investment and better integration between bikes, pedestrians, trains, buses, etc.
And again, show me a US city that is not underinvesting in its bus network. To lay this at the feet of cyclists seems crazy to me. I’m going to vote that it is more the result of general lack of funds, the general lack of perceived influence of bus riders, the desire by cities to invest more heavily in rail due to perceived prestige and as a driver of private investment along rail lines, etc. etc. etc.
I don’t think that cycling advocates in Portland are in any way eating TriMet’s lunch money. While there has been a little bit of competition for a few flexible funds (and there has been a bit of grousing from a few outspoken bicyclists about expensive transit projects like Milwaukie MAX), most transit and bike projects are funded from separate pots of money. The core activists are mostly allied with each other. Johnathan Maus at BikePortland.org is highly supportive of transit, and those of us at Portland Transport are highly supportive of bikes.
Quick questions: How many multi-modal transportation conferences and events are there compared to mode-fixated events? Walk 21 is happening in Vancouver BC right now, and I just got the call for presentations for Velo-city 2012.
Of course many of the presentations and conversation at these conferences drift off into how things fit together. But people almost feel like they are breaking the rules by jumping over the modal boundary and talking about multi-modal networks.
@Zoltán, I’m just ridiculing them. The law has already established the order of the road. They are trying to tweak it in their favor. The logic often make little sense and it is just as easy to apply the similar logic and tweak it against them.
When I’m walking sometimes I hold back and let bicycles pass too. I will even hold back and let other cars pass, whether I’m walking, biking or driving. This is actually a great skill that should be taught to everybody. You hold back for 2 seconds, let the other party pass, then you avert a conflict and can enjoy the peace and safety. This is a great Taoist insight that should be learned to balance our competitive instinct.
Eric. While many conferences are named for a single mode, the better ones, like "Railvolution" have lots of intermodal content.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that though bicycles are obviously a 100% green mode of transportation, they still have something in common with cars: they are both single-occupancy vehicles. In my experience as a bus driver the single-occupancy bicycle frequently held up the bus, which could be carrying 60 people, by driving 5 – 10 mph in a lane of traffic, and since the bus is as wide as the lane and there was only one lane of traffic in each direction, the bus couldn’t pass the cyclist.
How is 1 person causing delays for 60 people a kind of transportation result we’d like?
The number of people who are fixated on bicycle commuting is minute, as the number of people who commute on bicycles compared with transit or pedestrians is minute. It is likely to remain that way, since people with professional jobs, people that need to carry around a lot of things for their work, people who cannot engage in a lot of physical activity, people with young children, and people who do not want to ride bicycles in the cold, rain, or snow will never use this mode.
Here in Long Beach, CA we have opened up one of the first segregated bike lanes in the country. Fewer than 100 people a day ride bikes down these lanes. Though these lanes have made it better for pedestrians as well, they have caused congestion for transit services in the area. How is providing a separate lane for 100 bicyclists while simultaneously causing delays for thousands of transit riders a sustainable result?
If the bike lane is segregated (and is only getting 100 users/day), how does it cause congestion for transit services? Bus traffic should not be affected by bike traffic in a bikeway, and the low usage figure you indicate doesn’t suggest a substantial amount of induced bike traffic mixing with busses to reach the bikeway.
Or is it the case that the bikeway took away a general-purpose lane, reducing the number of lanes available to busses and cars?
Just this week in Calgary, a bike lane suddenly replaced a traffic lane on one of our small number of main roads into downtown.
Motorists and cyclists have been caught off guard, and with the odd time of the year for doing it.
I think what we’re seeing here is the toupée effect. You know, only the bad ones get noticed.
In the past because of the hostile conditions for cycling in this continent, the only people that did it were the bold ones. The lack of infrastructure didn’t include you so you end up being forced into outlaw status (whether you want to be one or not). When any “underclass” is automatically considered bad regardless of behaviour, there’s no reason to even try to accommodate others or find out about laws or etiquette. Why would you?
To someone else this might look like feeling superior I guess but it’s more like being made to feel inferior. Not caring because you’ve learned that any good actions you do will not be rewarded anyway.
There’s an inconsistency in laws regarding things like cycling on a sidewalk. In some places it’s mandatory to cycle on the sidewalk and you’re not allowed to cycle on the road. In other places it’s the reverse. When somebody moves to a new city and then takes up cycling again after maybe having not done so since they were a kid, they do what they were taught to do growing up. Why would they do any different? How would they even know that it’s not allowed anymore?
I’ve been hassled several times for obeying the law when cycling. I used to wonder why I bothered to obey the law. I seemed to get harassed just for existing, not my behaviour. Fortunately I have hope for the future and one day you’ll be able to obey the law and it will be appreciated. I see that happening already but we are definitely in a transition time from the old outlaw days to the new included days. Also with many more people cycling, those observing the bad ones will hopefully see that there’s as much diversity amongst those cycling as any other group.
What is a drag with the current discourse is that someone cycling badly gets associated with someone else who cycles following the rules and is considerate. Should all car drivers share responsibility with the bad actions of some other car drivers?
One day I hope that someone who cycles badly will be associated with someone who drive a car badly.
Michael: I laughed because you wrote the classic “Until those people stop doing whatever, then I’m not going to treat them better”. Insert whatever minority you’d like. Hillarious.
Wai: I do the same thing when near a bus on the same street. Just pull over and let it get a few blocks ahead of me and then were’ out of each others way. (This is only when there’s no other choice but to be in a bus lane. It’s preferable if I don’t have to be in one.)
I know many people who cycle and don’t think I’ve ever heard any of them say that bikes are the only way to get around and I know a lot of full time cycle types who weld together freak bikes or bike across the country. Never heard anyone say it’s the only way to go.
The bike lane took away 2 general purpose lanes, making the one way streets 2 lanes instead of 4. The local transit agency is actually in the process of planning to reroute some of its bus routes to avoid the bike lanes because of the congestion and 2 unsafe intersections where the bus has to cross over the temporarily interrupted bike lane to make a left turn.
Bikes and buses, in my opinion, don’t mix. If bikes are allowed to use bus lanes in Paris, I would bet that wasn’t the preference of RATP, but I could be wrong.
Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic” sheds some light on this discussion. He notes that obeisance of traffic laws correlates very strongly with drivers’ trust in being treated fairly and justly by authorities – now look at the way cyclists feel treated (see some of the posts above – and note that individual-but-loudly-voiced perceptions count when we look at the status quo of how cyclists feel).
Another thing that came up in a post above is the issue of feeling safe. I know that the knowledge that any car can very easily snuff me does certain things to me when I’m on a bicycle. Too bad it doesn’t necessarily make me much more careful, but rather wary and hateful of cars (and boy do I hate streetcar tracks).
This is not to excuse the behavior of some members of the hardcore/subculture cycling crowd, but I feel that it’s psychologically easily understandable. I’d be interested in knowing how such discussions go in countries where bicycling is a very normal (and thus not in any way subcultural) mode of transport – any Dutch readers who might chime in?
“He notes that obeisance of traffic laws correlates very strongly with drivers’ trust in being treated fairly and justly by authorities”
I would add that obeisance of laws correlates with a view that one is respected by authorities; such is very much the case with pedestrians. Northern European countries are noted for people’s pedestrian behaviour being very obedient; I’ve observed many people in Finland, for example, waiting for the pedestrian signal even when a road is visibly empty.
Often, that’s attributed to an obedient culture, but I don’t buy that. In those countries, it’s also the case that pedestrians are respected. They are nearly always given priority over vehicles making turns, which motorists respect, and at unsignalised crossings, they are always given priority. In Britain, where jaywalking is considered to be a cultural tendency, neither of these things are the case, and pedestrians are given short and infrequent parts of the cycle at signalised intersections. Where pedestrians are respected by the rules, they show respect to the rules.
I would posit that cyclists are likely to themselves respect the rules where the rules respect them.
This whole brouhaha shouldn’t surprise anyone. For years, there has been a rage for competing needs in which the car, taking the majority of trips and space, being the solely target.
Now that has changed in some places (and had never been the case as in The Netherlands where I’m currently living). When many people are using bikes, or (like in 3rd World cities) motorbikes, other conflicts arise.
Der Spiegel recently run a long (6 long pages), deep and enlightened report on the the impact of cycling and some problems associated with it – here in English:http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,786254,00.html . I strongly recommend this reading to get more insights.
When cyclists are/were few and far in between, they could get pretty much a free hand. One sporadic cyclist on a pedestrian mall is bearable. So is the occasional bike parked in a light pole.
When cyclists are many, then such lawless behavior cause as many problems as in places where cars (think of Rio de Janeiro) or scooters/motorbikes (think of most Italian cities) feel exempt for general rules of the road etc.
Many cyclists don’t feel the need to respect pedestrian crossings, to stop on signals, to yield, to sign maneuvers or to respect areas reserved for walking only. They can be extremely disruptive for any plans of pedestrian-friendly plazas and streets because, well, bikes can get pretty much anyway.
Here in The Netherlands, the solution is basically to crack down on unruly cyclists. They invest heavily on segregated bike paths linking major origin/destinations, with clear distinctive marking. The “default” solution of N. America (a marked lane between the parking/bus stop lane and the moving lanes is frowned upon as dangerous.
Then, cyclists are really fined and can have bikes confiscated if they are caught riding on a plaza, or parking where they are not allowed to. They can be easily sued if they miss a stop or yield sign and crash into a car, pedestrian, bus – whatever.
If there were a lot of segways operating, there would be similar problems. If there were a lot of personal helicopters operating, there would be conflicts.
Bottom line: whenever a mode is highly used, conflicts of use on streets will arise and have to be deal with. That bikes and pedestrians on foot are both non-motorized doesn’t eliminate conflict on the panacea of shared streets or other b.s.
As if on cue, David Hembrow posted this today:
“Bus stops which don’t cause problems for cyclists”
A similar design was just put in place on part of Dexter Ave North, one of Seattle’s most used bike routes:
There is a another issue at work here. While there are cities that are dense enough like NYC, SF and Chicago where the transit agencies can run the buses fairly frequently, the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of regions such as Sacramento where the population densities are so low transit really isn’t particularly useful. First its too expensive. A monthly pass will runs $100 a month in Sacramento. Second Sacramento most bus lines are now running with 1 hour headways. If you need to make a transfer your delays are even longer.
Now compare that with riding your bike. Walmart sells brand new bikes for $80. You can find even cheaper used bikes on craigslist or at a thrift store. Second bikes are faster than transit. Bus lines make lots of stops, bikes are point to point. Just about everywhere in the Sacramento region its faster to ride your bike than to use the local transit agency for just about all trips. Sacramento doesn’t get much snow. The area is as flat as a pancake.
The local transit advocates argue that the solution is to invest more in transit. But locally past investments aren’t really showing much results. The region is spending $100 million a mile to extend light rail. Yet after light rail was built out to Folsom, the share of people using transit in Folsom was unchanged.
Just 1 mile of light rail funding could give the region Portland levels of bike infrastructure. Moreover, what Portland has shown is that for comparatively little money a region can dramatically increase the share of people traveling by bike.
Bike infrastructure seems to work better with how cities are funded. The local share of local funding for transit in Sacramento comes from a transit sales tax, but because of the housing bust sales tax receipts are down and that means continued and regular transit cutbacks. But bike infrastructure is more capital intensive and less labor intensive. When sales tax receipts are high, you can build additional bike infrastructure. But once the infrastructure is built, it remains built. Local budget cutbacks don’t mean that riders lose there mobility, the way service cutbacks with transit mean mobility impairment.
I am not saying that all mass transit everywhere is useless. It probably does make sense to built another tube across the bay for BART.
But in a place like Sacramento where the region is building light rail into neighorhoods that really aren’t transit friendly, I really do think raiding transit funds to provide better bike infrastructure makes a whole lot of sense.
GD and Zoltan:
This is exactly my point as well. It’s human nature when subjected to the same conditions. I’ve seen it with other groups as well. First Nations people, gay people, Black people, etc. If any group isn’t made to feel included in “the system” then they have no reason to follow its rules. In fact actively defying it is considered a good thing as anything you can do to break up the order allows an opportunity for change.
To an outsider this can look like selfishness or entitlement and their response to that is to not “give them” any more benefits.
Any intra-city mode that’s only running every hour is never going to be a serious alternative to either cycling or motoring for those with choice. So you might well be right that the relatively modest investment required for safe and attractive cycling would be a better use of funds than small enhancements to transit.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t argue that transit is useless in those circumstances. Firstly, it’s very important to those that do need it. Secondly, if one wants to live car-free, it’s important to know that there’s an alternative to cycling when weather is bad, or one is encumbered with shopping or luggage, accompanying children, etc.
Nor would I argue against any money spent on improvements on transit, but I would argue that it’s probably best spent where transit is already promising, and therefore it can mean frequent (every 15 minutes at minimum) bus or rail service – i.e. service around which people can build their lives, and on the basis of which people can choose where to live and work.
Clark there may be more pragmatic reasons that people on bikes currently feel the need to bend the rules that mere oppositional culture.
Assume your journey is to a store at mid-block on a fairly busy street. In theory the bicyclist is supposed to travel in the direction of traffic in the bike lane on each leg of the journey. But on the return part of the bicyclists journey legally he needs to cross at mid-block to return home. But try crossing a street at mid-block on a bicycle. On busy thoroughfares bikes can’t accelerate fast enough to navigate across several lanes of traffic to get to the bike lane on the other side of the street, so instead a lot of cyclists shark the bike lane. Riding the wrong direction down the bike lane seems less dangerous than crossing the street at mid-block to get to the bike lane on the opposite side of the street.
In places with better bike infrastructure this isn’t the case. In the nordic countries on the busy streets the cycle paths are often bi-directional. Thus it is legal to do there what is criminalized here.
Second try making a left turn on a bike in the US. Where I live most of the traffic signals are controlled by traffic loops. So if the cyclist takes the traffic lane and attempts to use the protected left turn light, his bike won’t activate the loop and he can’t make a left turn. The other alternative is to use the pedestrian crosswalk button. But to make a left turn now requires sitting through two cycles of the traffic light.
Now compare that with the Nordic countries. If you are on a bike, you don’t have to indefinitely wait to make a left turn.
Most of my fellow cyclists aren’t outlaws. Instead we are doing the best we can to make up for the consequences of really bad cycling infrastructure. It can turn even the most law abiding among us into criminals.
I’d like to follow on ed’s earlier comment about the reliability of transit vs. the reliability of bikes in Sacramento with my experience from New Orleans.
Through my transit advocacy, I routinely find people who say they bike everywhere and who are not interested in learning about the local transit network because they perceive it as unnecessary and/or not useful.
New Orleans’ transit system has suffered from severe cuts in frequency and coverage since Katrina brought large changes to ridership; our most frequent bus comes every 15 minutes, there’s little evening and night coverage, and the streetcars are slow. On the other hand, New Orleans has no challenging topography and a tropical climate that’s conducive to cycling. Yes, the summer is hot and long, but we don’t have snow, and even our rainstorms come in bursts rather than long, sustained rain, so a cyclist can reasonably wait a few minutes for the rain to die down during most showers. Finally, the city is rather dense and small geographically, making cycling convenient as well; just the other day I missed my cross-town bus and ended up biking the whole way, arriving at the end of the line just a few minutes behind the bus. Finally, while there is some confrontation between cyclists and drivers here, the stereotypical laid-back culture extends to the roadway, and my perception is that drivers and cyclists are more likely to waste time waiving each other through the stop sign than getting into aggressive behavior.
These reasons combine to make local cyclists uninterested in transit, which is kind of a shame, because it means that the system loses many potential riders.
I agree with you about the convenience thing. Having a one-way path on each side of a street is less convenient for a return trip.
I sometimes use what I call “the car method”, meaning I bike to a certain shopping district, lock up and then walk around the area to the stores. This is different than I used to do which was to bike to one store, lock up, shop, then bike a block to the next store, lock up and shop there, etc.
I think that what I see happening in the Netherlands is that they’ve already did some good design and have seen it in operation and can then hone the minor details to make it even better.
Also I agree that most people cycling would prefer to have the system and infrastructure allow them to get where they want to go and include them in its design. The emotional reaction to this is naturally to then wait their turn like everybody else as that is what will benefit them.
For example, at intersections where you push the walk light and it right away gives you a walk light people wait for it. At intersections where there’s a long delay until it changes, people learn that it won’t benefit them and they just cross at any old time and don’t even bother pushing the button. Does this behaviour make them “bad people”? I think they’re just normal and trying to cope with how things are.
I think the solution is on several levels. Well designed infrastructure and education for everybody in how it works.
The links you provide are good. I’m also a fan of some other things they do in the Netherlands. The pedestrian/cycle underpasses at traffic junctions are brilliant as are the way some intersections are.
Junction design for safer cycling (Netherlands)
I used to think that the Dutch had something in their culture that made them to get along better but now I don’t think that they’re any different than anyone else. I think what they have had was the luck of some political activism at the right time and didn’t have the same interference we see in this continent.
Although I support treating the various modes as “a suite” to be mixed and matched according to one need for the trip or trip-leg, I have to remind people that fair-weather cyclists are a problem for transit systems, as they increase transit demand on days when weather is less clement.
This is hard to bus companies to handle.
A commensurate number of regular bus uses might switch to using their car on such days (since walking is also a problem in bad weather), but they are over-committed to transit by the monthly pass (which is good, in another way, as it keeps roads from being clogged by such fickle behaviour).
Investing in a vehicle (bike or car) or regularly buying unlimited-use passes brings in a “loyalty” to that mode that works against juggling.
Wai Yip Tung wrote: “It takes far more energy to start a car than a bicycle.”
Not to excuse red light running by cyclists, but: It takes five or six pounds of pressure and leg muscle expenditure of maybe 5 watts to jackrabbit from a dead stop in a car. Going from zero to 10 MPH on a bike in the space of an intersection takes at least a couple of hundred watts.
Regarding the common perception that cyclists consistently endanger walkers — it happens just as much with cars. It’s so common and you’ve been so conditioned to blame yourself (i.e. you believe it’s your own fault for stepping into the path of that car, even when you have a green crosswalk signal) that you don’t notice it.
Yes, there are scofflaws who ride bikes. A bunch of ’em drive cars too.
I used to be very fixated on just riding my bike, but then I moved and got a new job, and these two things together made it really difficult – it was just too far, and in order for me to work and make my other life commitments, I couldn’t do it. I’m still able to ride my bike a lot though, thanks to my folding bike, it rides just as well as my other bike does, and I can take it on public transit whenever too. I’m sad sometimes that being just a cyclist isn’t a possibility for me anymore, but I’m glad I can still ride as much as I do.
This is a very interesting post for me to read as a New Yorker conflicted by the recent announcement of the NYC bike share program. A lot of people seem to think that the city can’t be both an automobile and a bike city at the same time; the two modes are incompatible. I’m not against more bicyclists in the city, and it’s clear there are economic, health, and environmental benefits to having a bike share. But I’m wondering whether NYC’s grid system/street design will be able to operate a successful bike share program, or if it could potentially just create more congestion?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the NYC program, and perhaps the kinks/hurdles in transitioning to a fully bike friendly city that many pro-bike share ppl might not consider.
I believe walking — or rolling in your wheelchair — should be the primary mode. FOR EVERYONE.
😉 I think that particular form of obsession about primary mode is actually correct. Nobody drives their car, rides their bike, or rides the bus right up to the dinner table.
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