Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Responses to Common Talking Points by Those Opposed to Bicycle Infrastructure

When I started blogging last February, and becoming more educated with bicycle advocacy issues, there were several points of contention that kept floating to the top. These points were especially repeated by those who appose building bicycle infrastructure. I kept a list off common debate points and what I felt my position was on these. Below are my answers to a few common debate points that seem to be the most contentious and yet the most crucial in improving cycling conditions for all riders.

For my points of view, I look at all design from the vantage point of the extreme users. If a bikeway is designed for the most novice and the most advanced of users, then the users in the middle will figure out how to use them. If children or elderly feel comfortable, and pro-road riders feel comfortable, then the common commuter should be fine. Admittedly it is a fine balance, but the main variables in bike facilities is vehicle speed, and level of separation between modes of transportation based upon their respected speeds. Regardless of how obvious some design solutions may appear, it is always good to compare other cities' solutions to similar problems and compare lessons learned. This not only improves the design solution, but can give some foresight into what to expect from a successful implementation.


1) Orlando isn’t dense enough for bike lanes, right?
Portland’s inner city density in the 1980′s (pre-bike lane years) was comparable to Orlando's inner city area now. This is THE time to build, not when more people arrive. When Orlando's housing market returns, the currently empty condos and high-rise apartments will fill with new tenants, and will potentially bring the density into the "top 50" status in the US.

2) Isn’t it too hot in Orlando to promote major bicycle ridership?
Tempe, Phoenix, Austin, Houston, and New Orleans have bike lanes and they’re hot. The latter three are extremely humid. Fort Worth just unveiled a plan for 490 miles of bikeways. Melbourne, Australia hit 108 degrees during their summer this year, and they have a very high bicycle ridership with all types of lanes. In the end, ALL cities have issues with climate (Portland – Rain, Minneapolis – Cold, Austin – Heat, Copenhagen – Freezing). This is not a legitimate excuse. Orlando has 8 months of extremely mild weather. Copenhagen “Bike Capital of the World” has 4 months of freezing weather.

3) Don’t Bike lanes bring out more inexperienced riders, who are fearful and actually pose a greater danger?
If this is the case, then one would expect to see an exponential increase in accidents/fatalities in cities with major bicycle infrastructure. Remember, a place like Portland has 150+ miles of bike lanes and 8% ridership (Orlando has 230 miles, and 0.2% ridership). Given the above assumption, the massive number of inexperienced students bicycling in lanes and crossing the path of cars at thousands of different intersection points would show exponential increases in accidents. In 2008, Portland had 0 fatalities…1 in every 6 US bicycle fatalities is in Florida. There is not a single study out that notes where the percent increase in ridership surpassed the accident rate in any US or European city. Multiple studies now show that the reason for the inverse relationship is due to “safety in numbers” and greater awareness.

4) Aren’t the “Safety in Numbers” studies flawed, because John Forester plotted numbers on a page using random phone numbers from a phone book to show how this test’s findings are inconclusive.
Actually, John Forester’s attempt at debunking the test was flawed. Here is a complete breakdown by the study’s author on where JF went wrong.

5) There’s a study in Denmark that shows the following: Cycle tracks increase cycling 18-20%, Cycle tracks increase accidents 9-10%, Cycle lanes were less effective at increasing cycling and it was unclear if they raised accidents more than cycle tracks. Isn’t that proof that bicycle infrastructure is a failure?

Look at the numbers again. The Jensen study referenced does not show a greater percentage increase in accident rates over ridership. That’s the key. In other words, if you had 1 accident with 100 riders one month, and 2 accidents with 1000 riders the next month, you’d have an increase in accidents of 100% (a great example of how percentages can be used to scare), but an increase in ridership of 1000%. As long as the accident rate stays below the ridership level (which it ALWAYS does, and by great margins), then the accident ratio drops. My conclusion is that Orlando should add cycle tracks. Ridership will definitely increase. Accident ratios will definitely decrease.

6 a) Bicycle Ridership will never be high because Orlando doesn’t have a "large urban university". That’s why the other cities can have high turnout.
We have UCF.

b) UCF is in a suburban campus, not Orlando proper.
UCF is 1400+ acres, 15 miles from Downtown, and surrounded by the suburbs of Orlando. Also, UCF has over 70,000 students and staff which is enough to consider it a small city in itself.


c) UCF is a commuter school and they prefer to drive by car
There isn’t a city in the US that has completely removed its bicycle infrastructure. The reality: All cities with bicycle infrastructure have not only successfully attracted riders, but they’ve all added or are in the process of adding more lanes. Also, this argument goes completely counter to the “bike lanes bring out more inexperienced riders” talking point constantly returned to. If a city has 50,000+ students that you provide bike lanes for, you’d have a greater number of inexperienced riders, thus an assumed greater numbers of accident ratios.

Lastly, I'm not advocating for only 18 to 21 year old users to ride, but for seniors, children, young adults, mothers, fathers, and more to ride. Amsterdam’s successful ridership has come from focusing on safety of women and children primarily, not college students. They’ve proven that if those two demographics feel comfortable riding, all others will as well.

7) If you implement bicycle lanes, drivers will expect you to ride in them, and become more hostile if you drive on the street.
Automobile drivers are already hostile to bicyclists in the road and expect them to stay off the road. I’ve been honked at, encroached on, and had brakes squealed/engines revved on more occasions that I can count in Orlando, with or without bike lanes. The people in charge of informing the Orlando public at large that bicycles are allowed on the road are still working on spreading that message.

8 ) Orlando doesn’t have the culture for bicycling that other cities do.
According to Mia Birk, former planner of Portland, Oregon, neither did they. Ridership started out only slightly greater than Orlando. Roger Geller, the new planner stated, “If you build it, they will come.” Now, the city has built a 120 Million dollar industry surrounding bicycling, including a major tourism, and production industry. Also, Critical Mass has proved that the culture can be fostered and grown.

9) So where exactly are you going to build these bike lanes. Orlando is sprawled out, and it’s going to cost a fortune.

You wouldn’t create bike lanes throughout the entire metro area. A major bicycle infrastructure should largely be developed within an urban zone (ie. The No Excuse Zone). Beyond that, the sprawl is an obstacle. As the inner city grows, you can’t add more car lanes. The only option is to accommodate multi-modal traffic. This is exactly what Chicago, Seattle, NYC, DC, Portland, Phoenix, Atlanta, Boston, et al. have begun doing, and to great success.

10) There’s debris in the bike lanes. No one’s going to clean them.
Orlando already provides street sweeping once every 10-14 days on Downtown streets, and once a month on all major thoroughfares.

11) Aren’t bike lanes far too expensive to implement?

Bicycle lanes in most cities are installed when the City happens to be resurfacing a road anyway. This allows the money to come from the regular budget for repairing a road and requires very minimal costs. Plus, less wear and tear occurs within bike lanes, requiring far less maintenance on the surface, since the cause of most pot holes is due to heavy trucks. Also, the return on investment for streets with bike lanes, and businesses surrounding these has proven to far offset any cost. Remember, you’re not building roads to move people as quickly as possible (that’s what highways are for), you’re building them to allow interaction between commerce and individuals, as well as transport. Forsaking the former for the latter has shown drastic effects in increased accidents, crime, and health.

For roads that aren’t being repaired, but lane implementation buildout was sought, cities around the US have opted for the following funding methods:

Capital Improvement Program Fund - CIP This fund represents a specified portion of property tax revenue set aside each year for capital improvements. The Capital Improvement Program Fund is a competitive funding source since many different departments within the City compete each year for capital improvement program dollars to fund capital projects. For purposes of the Capital Improvements Element, recreation and open space capital projects will be the primary beneficiary of this fund.

The proposed Bicycle Plan will provide opportunities for city residents to use bicycles as an alternative transportation mode. Further, the Bicycle Plan implementation will enhance the area’s recreational opportunities providing recreation and open space facilities on a citywide basis.

Federal Aid - FA An example of federal funding includes funds provided through SAFETEA-LU and distributed through the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Metroplan Orlando, to projects that enhance transportation systems.

Six-Cent Local Option Gas Tax Funds - GAS The six cent local option gas tax generates millions in revenue annually within Orange County. Six cents from every gallon of motor fuel sold in Orange County goes to the County and to its municipalities. By interlocal agreement, the City of Orlando’s portion is thirty percent of the total net revenue, equivalent to approximately $8 million each Fiscal Year. The revenue received can only be used for transportation related expenditures.

Proceeds must be used toward the cost of establishing, operating, and maintaining the transportation system, including the cost of acquisition, construction, reconstruction, and road maintenance. Approximately half of the revenue received is used to support LYNX. $25,000 is earmarked annually from Gas Tax Revenue exclusively for bikeway improvements.

Contributions through development review There are opportunities for contributions to the City’s Bikeway System through development review. The State of Florida requires that Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) provide for other modes of transportation such as sidewalks, bus shelters and bicycle facilities as a development condition.

The City Land Development Code allows for negotiations when there is a Planned Development planned, Masterplan, or increase in density/intensity and resulting from a rezoning or land use change. Contributions are negotiated with the developer to construct or upgrade bikeways as a measure to mitigate a development’s impacts.

Grants Trail projects can be funded through various grant programs including the Office of Greenways and Trails/Florida Department of Environmental Protection Land Acquisition program, Florida Communities Trust, Bikes Belong, Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program and several others.

12) Why are you comparing Orlando to Northern European cities? We’re nothing like them.
Portland used Copenhagen and Amsterdam as its model when developing its multi-modal infrastructure plan. NYC just completed its street redevelopment program with the aid of Gehl Consulting from Denmark. Currently Gehl is working with Mexico City on a plan for its downtown. So yes, European cities are a fair model. Watch the following clip where you’ll see Copenhagen streets in the 1960′s that looked much like ours. Full of parking lots and high speed roadways. Year after year, they began rolling these back and creating a more pedestrian friendly environment. Note that, the interviewee states “When we implemented this, everyone said ‘we’re Danes not Italians…we don’t have a culture for walking!’. 40 years later…

13) Do you just hate cars? Taking away a lane for bicycles will cause a nightmare for traffic.

We own one car, but I understand that we can’t continue to build our inner cities for automobiles only. Also, every study has shown that an increase in ridership occurs when you accommodate multi-modal traffic, and that the end over end volume levels out, and capacity remains unchanged.

14) Don’t Bicycle lanes increase accidents due to Right Hooks, confusing left turns and more?
First thing to note, a study of auto/bike crashes from Jan. 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009 in Fort Collins, Colorado noted that “Right Hooks” accounted for only 13% of accidents on bicycles and no fatalities. Left hand turns accounted for 9.3%. Where did the bulk of accidents occur? Broadsides, or collisions where a cyclist is running perpendicular to the flow of traffic accounted for over 60.5%.

With that being said, even with intersection conflicts, there have been multiple engineering techniques applied to overcome right hooks and left turn issues, including bike boxes, the Copenhagen-Left, no-right turn exclusions, and more. There was a rudimentary attempt at drawing a right-hook failing point by a bike lane opponent, but her methodology would have also shown how a jogger on a sidewalk could also be injured by crossing an intersection via sidewalk. Again, Portland had 0 fatalities in 2008 with 150+ miles of on-street bicycle infrastructure and 8% ridership. Copenhagen, the world’s bicycle capital, has the highest ridership levels (over 50%), and lowest accident rates (decimal point levels). New York City just released its 200+ page guide on street design. Multiple examples of how to overcome many intersection issues are noted there.

15) Experienced Cyclists do not want bike lanes.
Not so. Read multiple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong’s take on bike lanes. Also read Boston’s new bicycle coordinator’s, racing champion Nicole Freedman, take on bicycle infrastructure. Lastly, League Instructor Paul Dorn gives a great account of the failure of Vehicular Cycling advocates position on bicycle infrastructure.

16) So you expect to put bicycle lanes on every streets?
No, I am for a mix of infrastructure build-outs including bicycle boulevards for some residential (mixed car and bike roads, that discourage pass-through traffic, and make safer for children in neighborhoods), and separated bike lanes on streets at 35 mph or greater, but not all streets. Separated (ie. dedicated) bike lanes have proven to bring the highest increases in ridership. Also, intersections are key areas to focus on for traffic calming. If an intersection feels unsafe, a bike lane will fail at increasing numbers to a high degree.

17) The Cady WayTrail is expensive, and no one rides to work on it.
The Cady Way is actually highly successful for being a long connector of trails, which is why it was built…not as a commuter bikeway (even though several riders use it as such, they are lucky enough to live and work close to the trail). Because of this, there are very few connection points onto the trail from the streets it crosses, and at its terminus, you are dropped onto streets that direct riders to urban areas. It would be no different than building a long highway with no ramps onto it except at a distant end and beginning point, and at its end you were dropped on a one way going the wrong way. You would expect little commuter traffic.

18) Why are you so adamantly for this?
Several reasons. 1) Our generation demands this type infrastructure, and our friends and family are leaving in droves for cities that adopt them like Portland, Chicago, and Austin. Some originally claimed these cities have a different culture, but we’ve proved through Critical Mass and other group rides, that a major culture exists in our area, and it just needs to be fostered and cultivated. 2) The infrastructure allows a more pedestrian friendly business environment, that allows for more “eyes on the street” which increases safety, and improves the environment, all while supporting more local business. We’ve already lived through the alternative. 3) The main reason is that my wife and I both commute on Orlando's streets and I want a safe, comfortable route for everyone.

19) We only need education. Everything else is far too expensive.

First of all, education for whom? All drivers? All bicyclists? Most likely both. So a statewide education campaign that educates all drivers and bicyclists wouldn’t be expensive? I’ve never seen a vehicular cyclist ever quantify the actual number required for a successful education campaign that will both increase ridership and safety. Also, all drivers go through testing currently, and we still have 42,000+ fatalities on the roads a year. And to be successful, wouldn’t you have to regularly reeducate (ref. the number of drivers receiving tickets and regularly being re-educated via defensive driving courses)? So when developing a cost for education, you’d have to find a number that first educated all drivers, and second, reeducated them on a semi-regular basis, you’d then fold in a added layer of bureaucracy via the DPS to manage testing and the overall statewide administration of this program. The proven option for cities to increase bicycle ridership and safety is to create facilities and educate.

20) Painted bike lanes create a false sense of security. Do you really think that “magic paint” is going to stop cars from hitting you?
First of all, my preference is for completely separated bicycle lanes, physically divided with bollards, curbs, or step ups. With that being said, even a painted lane would be a step in the right direction. To follow the “magic paint” thought process, one would also be an advocate of removing traffic lights as well, because they do nothing to physically stop cars from hitting others.

21) It’s irrational to fear being hit by a car. Rear end collisions are rare, and riders just need to get out there and conquer their Cycling Inferiority Complex.
This is THE most common talking point developed by Vehicular Cyclists, and is usually followed with some kind of condescending “Man Up”, or “Grow a Pair” kind of 1950′s weak attempt at getting timid cyclists to feel confident about having a truck bare down on them. This is not only childish, it completely disregards the natural feelings of a large population that is naturally averse to risk, like mothers, the elderly, and children. The idea that an SUV pounding down your back at 40 mph with a texting teen behind the wheel, while you pedal with your child on a booster seat down a road to the grocery store, is not something one simply educates away. The key to increasing ridership is increasing the perception of safety, as well as the actual safety. If something is perceived as unsafe, it will be left to a fearless minority.

22) Who supports bicycle infrastructure on a national level?

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended cities implement bicycle lanes to curb obesity trends along with the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Ray LaHood, citing Portland as THE model for 21st century US city planning. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently reference complete street implementation by name or in principal, and the much anticipated Moving Cooler report released by the Urban Land Institute discusses the impact CS have on lowering greenhouse gases. There are now 108 US cities officially ranked as Bike-Friendly, with major bicycle infrastructure in place, and hundreds more are online now or in various stages of development.

23) By “forcing” bicycles into their own space, you are relegating me to a second-class citizen.
For this argument to be legitimate, two things would have to be noted:
a) Since no state allows bicycles on all roadways (ie. highways/tollways) with automobiles, you’ve already attained the self-anointed title “second-class citizen”
b) This automatically lumps all pedestrians and handicap people in wheelchairs on sidewalks as “second-class citizens”.

I will add to this list as my growth in advocacy evolves. Please add to this list or inform me of where I have gone astray. In some cases we may agree to disagree, but I always have an open mind in seeing the facts laid out.

3 comments:

  1. You make many good points, but I have to take issue with #7: "Cars are already hostile...." Cars are machines; they don't have "hostility". DRIVERS can be hostile. (I've called some other bicycle advocates on the anthropomorphicizing of motor vehicles)

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  2. Good point Bob. I'll change the wording up to make the point more clear. It is kind of like the old saying "guns don't kill people, people..." Thanks

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