Give us the road, not bike lanes

Within the bike community there is vigorous debate over the desirability of separate facilities for bicyclists. Some cyclists argue that bike lanes and other segregated facilities only serve to marginalize cyclists and make the streets less safe. While others recognize the need for special facilities to encourage cyclists who are not ready to mix with motor vehicles.

To illuminate the debate, we present the following exchange between local bike advocate Fred Oswald and EcoCity's David Beach. You can contribute to this debate your opinions and we'll add them to this page.

Fred Oswald:
Let's be cycling advocates, not bike advocates

There are many counterintuitive things involved in operating a bicycle in traffic. Worse, for several generations, we have had "bicycle safety" taught by people who do not know the proper methods of operation and who think the primary duty of someone on a bicycle is staying out of the way of cars. Ironically, "bicycle advocates" are helping to get bicycles out of the way so motorists can drive faster.

I hope that EcoCity Cleveland will encourage the best methods of cycling, rather than supporting those determined to build separate facilities, no matter what dangers they bring and no matter whether this jeopardizes our right to use the roads. So far as I can tell, EcoCity gives unqualified endorsement to these [bike lane] promoters.

I am asking that you encourage the people working with EcoCity to reconsider this advocacy that is so detrimental to cyclists. I am asking that you become cycling advocates, rather than bicycle advocates. Here are only a few of the reasons to oppose separate facilities paralleling roadways.

1. They often include design defects, such as side paths (beside but separate from the road) "door zone" bike lanes, and bike lanes to the right of lanes that carry right turning traffic.

2. Bike lanes encourage dangerous mistakes by cyclists, including passing slow traffic on the right, making left turns from the right side of the road, and generally riding close to the curb whether or not this is appropriate.

3. The presence of any separate facility encourages motorist (and sometimes police) harassment of anyone not "in his place."

4. When there is a bicycle "facility" on one street, it is much more difficult to get defects fixed on a parallel street. (Defects include slots & cracks, defective, unresponsive vehicle detectors, etc.)

5. Separate bikeways reinforce the "fear from the rear." This is already the greatest problem that deters bicycle transportation and it is a wonderful excuse for those who wish to harass cyclists. (Their idea is "you don't belong there so I'll give you a good scare.")

6. Those who promote bikeways often use the fear card to sell their facilities. They often say the roads are too narrow, traffic too fast, cyclists have to "fight" traffic", etc.). Instead, cyclists must be taught to be assertive but also cooperative with other drivers.

7. Bikeways treat cyclists as incompetent children. This is hardly the image to make cycling appealing.

I should probably mention the places where well-designed separate facilities are appropriate:

1. As a shortcut to improve connectivity. Examples include connecting "sprawl" neighborhoods, through parks or other places where cars are not welcome and bypassing "traffic calming" barricades.

2. Recreational trails. (But beware of road crossings.)

3. Trails that are supplements to the road system.

4. On long-narrow bridges where gaining on-road access is not feasible. (However, beware the approaches and avoid 2-way paths, such as was proposed for Detroit-Superior Bridge.)

I am appealing to you to make the bicycle advocacy from EcoCity helpful to cyclists, protecting our rights and promoting the best practices. Are you interested in learning more about this?

David Beach:
Facilitating a transition to a cycling culture


I agree with almost everything you say. Separate facilities for bikes can produce undesirable side-effects.

But our goal is to help more people to ride bicycles for transportation more often, and we struggle with how to achieve that goal in a metro region where there is no culture of transportation cycling and few people who are willing to be "road warriors" and claim their fair share of the road in a sometimes hostile environment.

We endorse the "four E's" of bicycling advocacy: education, encouragement, enforcement, and engineering. While we recognize that engineering alone will not empower more people to ride each day, we think it is legitimate to have a transitional strategy that focuses in part on developing facilities that are effective in motivating more people to ride for daily transportation. Along with vigorous cyclist and motorist education, community encouragement programs, and enforcement of cycling rights and responsibilities, we believe the addition of these bike facilities will start to change the culture and make cycling more appealing for everyone.

I also think that our strategy should be directed at people of various abilities. There are a lot of people (children, the elderly, the out-of-shape, etc.) who will never ride on busy
streets. But it's good for them and good for the community if we can get them out of their cars and onto a bike for local transportation needs, even if they only feel comfortable on a bike lane or separate path.

So I would advocate a hybrid strategy one that engineers separate facilities where necessary AND ALSO promotes education, encouragement, and enforcement.

Fred Oswald:
Re: Facilitating a transition

Thank you for your interest. I had anticipated that you would take a long-term view.

Rather than focusing only on engineering as so many "bicycle advocates" do (and often bad engineering to boot), I am glad to see the other E's, especially education.

Teaching adults that they [benefit by] cycling education is a very hard sell. Most think they learned it all in their youth. Yet the authority figures who were our teachers were not qualified. They gave well-meaning advice that sounds good. But much of the advice is wrongsome dangerously wrong.

I had this problem myself. When I started riding to work about 15 years ago, I rode on sidewalks, rather than busy streets. But this led to conflicts and some near misses.

I quickly realized that every intersection and even every driveway was a potential collision site. Gradually, I learned that the road was safer, especially once I learned not to "hug the curb". I had a few tips from a more experienced friend, but mostly I learned the hard way, by making lots of mistakes.

I see you have a link to John Forester's Web site at the top of the page. Forester is the foremost expert on cycling but his confrontational tone is intimidating to novices. I first heard of Forester and his book Effective Cycling only after I had already learned how to ride correctly. The book explained the why behind what I had learned in terms of
traffic theory. Later, I took an Effective Cycling class (now called BikeEd) and eventually became an instructor.

EcoCity can provide a real service by publishing a series of articles to combat the "cycle of ignorance" in which untrained parents, teachers and police pass misinformation to children. I am willing to help and have already written many educational articles that are available on various Web sites.

, League Cycling Instructor #947

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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
Copyright 2002-2003

Back to main Bikes

Links for cyclists' rights
Fred Oswald's cycling advocacy information
Or, Oswald's Web site
Reforming the League of American Bicyclists
John Forester on effective cycling

Other bike advocacy links
Ohio Bicycle Federation
To learn more about current
best practices in urban bike lane design



For several generations, we have had "bicycle safety" taught by people who do not know the proper methods of operation and who think the primary duty of someone on a bicycle is staying out of the way of cars. Ironically, "bicycle advocates" are helping to get bicycles out of the way so motorists can drive faster.


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