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.
Protected bikeways, also called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks, are all the rage these days. The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide codified cycle tracks, but they were already showing up in several cities, and are now being implementing in a great number more. I’ve ridden on cycle tracks in Long Beach, San Francisco (just yesterday, in fact) and other cities, and yes, they are a pleasure to ride on compared to riding in traffic or traditional bike lanes. Many people have declared the era of vehicular cycling dead, and the era of protected bikeways upon us.
So why am I doubting?