Just before posting “doubting protected bikeways” yesterday, I’d been reading Momentum Magazine, one of my favorites. After posting, I turned the page, and there was a 14 page article entitled “The Rise of the North American Protected Bike Lane” by Angie Schmitt (not yet posted to their website, so you’ll have to read the paper or digital copy). The article is a classic defense of protected bikeways, with the standard criticism of vehicular cycling.
The heart of the article is the “by the numbers” graphic which shows the increase in bicycling in seven different cities that occurred after installation of protected lanes. The increases are impressive. The text talks about Portland research on types of bicyclists, positing that such facilities are necessary to get the “interested and concerned” 60% onto bicycles. Though safety is mentioned several times, it is clear the greatest benefit proposed is an increase in bicycling mode share. I’m not in disagreement with any of this. What I am in disagreement with is the focus on increasing bicycle share as the most important goal of changes we make to our streets.
Bicycling mode share in the U.S. ranges from below 1% in some places to as high as 6% in a few cities. Andy Clarke of The League of American Bicyclists is quoted as saying we could increase this to 10% or even 15% with the use of protected facilities. Sounds great. The problem is that it leaves a whole lot of motor vehicles on the road, making our cities unlivable and threatening the lives of pedestrians.
My vision is different. I want a future in which privately owned motor vehicles are a minor part of our transportation system. I want streets that serve to get people from where they live to where they need to go, in the most enjoyable and efficient manner. I want cities that are structured so that where people need to go is within easy walking or bicycling distance of where they live. Work, shopping, socialization, nature, all close to home. I want streets where life is on the street, and not just along the street. My ideal street is not the Dutch road with a cycle track, but the Dutch woonerf, where motor vehicles rank fourth in priority and right of way, after pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit. I envision cities where walking is the highest mode share, where bicycles are only needed for longer trips. Yes, I’m dreaming.
Protected bikeways are a partial solution that can be implemented now, in many places, and they should be. But I hope that we do not lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to take back the streets, the entire street and the entire street system, for people. If we allow ourselves to be bought off with protected bikeways, thinking that makes things OK, we will never get to where we need to go, which is the near-elimination of motor vehicles from our living space, our place, our home.