By Ryan McGreal
Published August 08, 2013
A recent article in Momentum Magazine celebrates "the rise of the North American protected bike lane". It has become increasingly clear over the past several years that physically separated bike lanes are the design of choice for cities that are serious about making cycling a viable choice for a large share of resident trips.
Cities like Toronto and Ottawa are already showing that separated bike lanes work in Canada just as well as they do in American and European cities. Hamilton even has one or two short segments of protected bike lane, for example on King Street West across Hwy 403.
But the stakes are getting higher. As the article notes:
Protected bike lanes, "green lanes," or cycle tracks, as they are sometimes called, like the Prospect Park West bike lane, are upsetting the transportation status quo in more and more cities across North America. Similar treatments have transformed Dearborn Street in Chicago, IL; Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC; and Market Street in San Francisco, CA.
In fact, it's getting to the point where if your city doesn't have a protected bike lane yet, it's being left behind. Last year alone, the number of protected bike lanes in the United States nearly doubled from 62 to 102. This year, the number is expected to double again. Protected bike lanes are now in place in 32 cities across the United States, according to Martha Roskowski, director of the Green Lane Project, a nonprofit project of bike advocacy group Bikes Belong.
The article goes on to quote Rostowski:
"It is no longer just reserved for the Portlands and the Boulders of the world," Roskowski said. "Tulsa, and Omaha, and Tucson - a lot of these cities that would not come to mind as places that are really progressive are talking about these things."
It doesn't have to be expensive, either. The physical barrier can be as simple as moving curbside parking out and having the bike lanes between the parked cars and the sidewalk, or of installing plastic bollards or the knockdown sticks in use at Herkimer and Locke.
The full article is definitely worth a read. It delves into the many net benefits of investing in a high quality cycling network:
The article also delves into the philosophical differences between the European and American cycling resurgences of the 1970s. Whereas European cities tended to invest in separate cycling infrastructure, North America was more influenced by John Forester's argument that the best approach to cycling safety is not to build separate bike infrastructure but rather to teach cyclists to operate their bikes as vehicles in mixed traffic.
One of the problems North American cities have had with thinking clearly about cycling is that the strongest advocates for cycling have tended to subscribe to the education-first approach. Even today, some hard-core cyclists still argue that bike lanes do more harm than good and the best approach is education: teaching people to ride in mixed traffic. (Note: I was one of those cyclists a decade ago, but my thinking on this has succumbed to the mounds of contrary evidence.)
While rates of cycling grew steadily in cities that invested in bike infrastructure, cities that accepted the "vehicular cycling" hypothesis saw their rates of cycling stagnate or fall. As a result, we have missed out on decades of investment in our cycling infrastructure, as well as the lost health, safety and economic benefits.
One thing is clear: it is no longer tenable to argue that North American cities would have more cyclists if we just convinced more people to ride in mixed traffic.
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