Or nobody read it, a much more likely answer to the number 0 beside the comment line.
Regardless, I want to contextualize the thoughts in that article using a story by Gretchen Reynolds that ran this week in The New York Times.
This debate about whether to increase the amount of bicycle infrastructure in America, that is, whether to lobby political institutions for increased spending on bicycle facilities, is not a new debate; and it is not a debate that appears to be coming to a close.
The Times article, in it's full glory, is entitled:
Reynolds actually answers "no" to this question when looking at the empirical evidence from European nations. The simple conclusion? More riders mean less accidents. This is the widely accepted view amongst transportation experts and advocates, and it is a conclusion affirmed by loads of studies, some of which are cited by Reynolds.
Still, why does she toss out this rhetorical question a bit later, a question essentially refuted by evidence presented earlier?
“Transportation experts cannot agree, for instance, about whether to segregate bicycle and automobile traffic, using concrete barriers along bike paths or creating separate bikeways.”
This much is true, sure. Advocates do disagree about this, and I would argue that the debate has hindered the efforts at increasing safety for cyclists over the years as it has split the advocacy community into seemingly un-agreeable halves.
But then comes the moot question:
“In the short term, (the segregated bike path) approach should protect cyclists. But if if drivers are not given the opportunity to acclimate to riders, will it actually make it more dangerous for bikers in the long run? No one knows. ‘We need studies; we need data,’ Dr. Willett said.”
Of course we know--Reynolds made the point (if not explicitly) earlier in the article. This is not an issue we need to study or debate to death. The results are in.
As she wrote earlier, in places where people cycle often (one third to one half of the mode share), we find segregated bicycle infrastructure as a dominant planning pattern. In those same places, the number of injuries are far fewer per kilometer cycled.
What, then, is the debate? Bike lanes in Denver may be contributing to more injuries, but bike lanes are not the same things as the raised and separated cycle tracks we find in Europe.
There is a direct link between great numbers of bicyclists, separated bicycle infrastructure, and bicycle safety. This combination, I think, is the ideal.
Reynolds is clear towards the conclusion of the article about a city's inability to control the unpredictable nature of cars. We can, however, create more places for bicyclists to ride safely out of the way of car traffic.
Cars and bikes will, of course, still interact at intersections. But by increasing the number of bicycles on the road through protected bike infrastructure, we can increase the awareness among motorists of bicycles passing through those intersections.
Am I simply building a straw man to burn in this and the previous article?
I wish...The people forwarding the debate about the potential "problem" with increasing protected bike infrastructure have a deceitful name: "vehicular cyclists." They even have their own wiki page.
I call the name deceitful because by arguing against this camp of advocates, one might assume I am arguing against vehicular cycling. But that would be absurd: I rode my bicycle as a commuter nearly every day for 10 years in Memphis, Tennessee, where nary a piece of "European" bicycle infrastructure exists. Heck, we got our less than 3 miles of bike lane just this past year! Lets be clear: vehicular cycling is a necessity in Memphis and countless cities across the United States.
What I am arguing is this: bicycle advocates should advocate for separated bicycle infrastructure. Otherwise, what are we saying? That car signals and streets created for automobiles work well for bicycles too?
Maybe the true vehicular cyclists among us believe this, but it is clear that few Americans think this way. Otherwise, why aren't more Americans braving city streets with wide outside lanes?
Of course, as the vehicular cyclists maintain, we must train cyclists to ride well and predictably (note: in the Netherlands and Denmark children received required bicycle lessons in elementary school), but this is not going to help America get over the seemingly insurmountable "safety barrier;" the barrier of insecurity and discomfort with traffic that keeps Americans from taking the bike.
A raised bike lane or a concrete wall, however, might do the trick.