Sunday, February 14, 2010

Compromise Can Be Difficult

There is an interesting discussion occurring about the League of American Bicyclists at:
http://mighkwilson.com/2010/02/loyalty-matters/

Here is what I think:

Often the closer you get to an organization, the uglier it's complexion -- the warts and blemishes become more visible. Nonetheless, it is important to take the whole into account and decide whether overall the organization is moving the cause forward even though it may not be specifically moving the parts some individuals want.

Regarding bike lanes, while sometimes their design is not the best, they do attract more cyclists and give them a degree of safety (or at least the perception). After getting more cyclists on the roads, more will realize that bike lanes need to be designed better and hopefully that will have an impact. Often we need to take imperfect steps on our hike toward overall improvement. It's a bit Machiavellian but it is practical. Additionally, to make progress in this area we often must make political compromises.

Yes having everyone become a well educated effective cyclist would be best, but unfortunately this is highly unlikely. The barriers are too high for most people. Conversely the barriers to bike lanes are relatively low and bike lanes are very visible, relatively long lasting, and highly attractive to most normal cyclists.

So while hard core utility cyclists see no need for bike lanes, and they would be right if we could educate all motorists and cyclists, the hurdle is too high to educate the vast majority of normal people whereas these normal people see the immediate advantage of bicycle lanes. And eventually those bicycle lanes can be made safe too.

Sometimes it is the best course of action to make progress where it is easiest rather than fighting the tide.

I've chosen to become a lifetime member of some national organizations (LAB & Adventure Cycling) as well as a local organization (Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition). I do what I am able to advocate for better education, helmet use and well designed bicycle facilities. I continue to believe it is worth supporting the LAB in addition to state and local organizations.

(BTW, I greatly admire what John Schubert, John Forester, and John Allen have accomplished.)

(BTW2, what I say above applies in a general way to all organizations with which I've been involved, some ended up on the net plus side, some on the net negative side.)

8 comments:

Principled Pragmatist said...

I don't the evidence that bike lanes attract more to bicycling by any significant degree is close to strong enough to warrant supporting them due to all of the problem they clearly cause, not the least of which is creating an official sanction for mindless positioning in the roadway.

See also:
http://groups.google.com/group/bicycledriving/web/faq#15

Cyclist_Lorax said...

Tim wrote: "Regarding bike lanes, while sometimes their design is not the best, they do attract more cyclists and give them a degree of safety (or at least the perception)."

This is unethical. Facilities that give the perception of safety while increasing crash risk (as most bike lanes do at crossing conflict areas - driveways and intersections) are a form of attractive nuisance. But this misses the point that the main problem for "hard core utility cyclists", which I prefer to call "bicycle drivers" operating in accordance with the non-discriminatory rules of the road, is that mandatory bike lanes, like we have in CA, take away their right to use travel lanes as full and equal drivers, and along with it their driver status. Mandatory use bike lanes also retard cyclist destination positioning skills and create a "gutter bunny" cycling culture, making it even more difficult to teach bicyclists to act as drivers. Whatever encouragement they may or may not provide is swamped by the legal and safety/ethical problems they perpetuate.

Tim also wrote: "After getting more cyclists on the roads, more will realize that bike lanes need to be designed better and hopefully that will have an impact. Often we need to take imperfect steps on our hike toward overall improvement. It's a bit Machiavellian but it is practical. Additionally, to make progress in this area we often must make political compromises."

This is not at all what happens, and Oregon in particular and Portland specifically is a shining example of what mandatory segregation does to the cycling culture (the same is true in Amsterdam and Copenhagen). The laws force cyclists to the road edge, into bike lanes, and onto paths. The popularity of cycling in that city perpetuates the segregation mindset, and even more hazardous facilities, like bike boxes are added to the already hazardous combination of bike lanes striped solid to the intersection and laws that force bicyclists to stay in the bike lane at crossing movement areas. Worse still, such laws also force motorists to turn across the bike lanes rather than merge into them to make turns (as is the case in CA). Forced segregation takes away bicycle driver rights and trades them for special facilities. This is intrinsically divisive and inequitable. This is why the League Board approved the Equity Statement (which the staff doesn't appear to have read) which specifically calls for the repeal of discriminatory laws:
http://www.bikeleague.org/images/equity_statement_1-05-09.pdf

In addition, Brian DeSousa and I have developed the Equitable Planning and Design Presentation to show the full spectrum of cyclist behavior, the crash risk implications of these behaviors, and the effect laws and facilities have on them, and how this can be done equitably through a 6Es approach:

http://www.cyclistview.com/equitablepdintro/index.htm

Tim also wrote: "...the vast majority of normal people whereas these normal people see the immediate advantage of bicycle lanes. And eventually those bicycle lanes can be made safe too."

Who's advantage? Who's safety? The non-cycling public may have this perception of bike lanes, but the perception of the cycling ignorant is not as important as the rights and safety of the cycling knowledgeable.


- Dan Gutierrez -
Long Beach, CA
(562) 244-4145 Cell
Dan.Gutierrez@Charter.Net

Selected Organizational Affiliations
Local:
Long Beach Cyclists
SouthBay Westside Transportation Mgmt. Assoc., Board Member

State:
CA Assoc. of Bicycling Organizations (CABO), District 7 Director
CABO Education Committee Co-Chair http://www.cabobike.org/
Caltrans District 7 Bicycle Advisory Committee, Policy Chair

National:
League of American Bicyclists (LAB), Certified Instructor, LCI #962
http://www.bikeleague.org/
Dual Chase video hosting at Cyclist View http://www.cyclistview.com/
YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/CyclistLorax

Tim Oey said...

Regarding Principled Pragmatist's comment -- this assumes all bike lanes are done mindlessly, which is provably false. I've been on a number which are very well done. And I've been on a number which were not well done. Some are good, some are not. Regardless, ask random regular people and most like bike lanes.

Tim Oey said...

Regarding Cyclist_Lorax's comment about a situation being "unethical", welcome to the real world. Not everything can be perfectly ethical.

Regarding Cyclist_Lorax's comment about "hard core utility cyclists" -- I like that description as it is very accurate -- they are hard core and tend to scare away many regular bicyclists and motorists.

While CA does require bicyclists to use bike lanes where present, CA has a number of exceptions which allow bicyclists to safely do everything they need to do on the road -- "not slower than other traffic, preparing a left turn, passing, avoiding road hazards, on a one-way street, or approaching a place where right-turns are permitted" --- summary from Table 4 on http://bicycledriving.org/law/guide-to-improving-laws -- I don't believe there are any other circumstances where a bicyclist would need to be in a different position on the road. Bicyclists in general are supposed to stay right when traveling slower than other traffic and it is safe to do so (they may take the lane when that is the safest thing to do). Bike lanes in CA just make this a bit more obvious.

Unfortunately not all states are as enlightened as CA but hopefully with more work they will get there.

Poorly designed bike lanes should be redesigned or removed if they create dangerous situations. But this does not warrant a blanket prohibition of bike lanes. Bike lanes are recognized as beneficial by many world wide.

Cyclist_Lorax does not think bike lanes are a step in the right direction or don't encourage more cycling and cites "Amsterdam and Copenhagen" as being examples. At this point, I think this is a matter of opinion. My personal experience has been that most regular people like bike lanes. and these tend to get more people biking. My family and I have biked in Amsterdam and there is a very strong bike culture there. Once we got used to the slightly different protocols, we had a great time biking all over the place.

Cyclist_Lorax says "but the perception of the cycling ignorant is not as important as the rights and safety of the cycling knowledgeable." I strongly disagree. I believe all citizens need to be accommodated, not just the few hard core cyclists.

BTW, I consider my vehicular bicycling skills about as good as they get -- I've bicycled across the US, and on heavily trafficked areas of Boston, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC -- areas that the best cyclists would find challenging. While I can do it, I personally prefer pleasant and less car congested routes -- fewer fumes and less stress.

Principled Pragmatist said...

Sorry, Tim, I wasn't clear. First, your whole point is based on the assumption that bike lanes attract significant numbers to bicycling by a significant degree. That simply has not been shown.

Second, I did not mean to imply that all bike lanes are done mindlessly - even the most mindfully designed bike lanes have the problem I'm talking about.

In the new North American Edition of Cyclecraft John Franklin writes that "...positioning is one of the most important traffic skills for a cyclist to acquire, yet it is precisely here that most cyclists perform badly." (p. 91) It is true that in states like CA, thanks to skilled and knowledgeable traffic cyclists, there are exceptions in the bike lane law, but these are mostly only known and understood by those who are already skilled at positioning to whom bike lanes are not a practical problem on the road because they know to ignore bike lane stripes when deciding where to ride.

It is everyone else (the vast majority), precisely the ones who need to learn the important skill of positioning, who are inhibited from learning positioning by bike lanes - even the best ones - because all bike lanes demarcate a position that can, and typically is, followed mindlessly by most bicyclists.

The skill of positioning depends on considering a number of factors and conditions that are never the same. No matter where you put a bike lane, much if not most of the time it will not designate the appropriate position, because positioning depends much more on dynamic factors like other traffic volume and speed, cyclist destination and speed, surface conditions, lighting conditions, etc., than on the static conditions which the BL designers can consider. Yet bike lanes imply all those dynamic conditions should be ignored, especially for the majority ignorant of the exceptions, for they indicate that the cyclist should just follow the route demarcated by the bike lane. I'm convinced the BL induced mindless positioning lessons transfer even to roads without bike lanes, where most bicyclists seem to assume there is only one position for them there too: far right as possible (they don't know much less appreciate the subtleties and implications of "practicable").

So, I don't know of any evidence that indicates that bike lanes actually attract more people to bicycling to any significant degree. But what bike lanes clearly encourage is mindless positioning that inhibits myriads from ever learning the important skill of positioning, the key to making bicycling on any road safe and comfortable for anyone. Who wants that, and why?

Principled Pragmatist said...

One more thing about what Tim wrote to Cyclist_Lorax: I don't believe there are any other circumstances where a bicyclist would need to be in a different position on the road. Bicyclists in general are supposed to stay right when traveling slower than other traffic and it is safe to do so (they may take the lane when that is the safest thing to do). Bike lanes in CA just make this a bit more obvious.

For some killed in positioning, this is backwards. For safety purposes bicyclists should use a visible and predictable position controlling the lane near the center. It is only to convenience faster traffic that bicyclists need to temporarily move aside when it is safe and reasonable to do so. This is legally supported by the first sentence in far right and bike lane laws, which only apply when bicyclists are moving "at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time". But bike lanes imply, and your statement states, that bicyclists should ride in the far right space demarcated by them even when there is no other same direction traffic present (which occurs much more often than most who mindlessly follow far right positioning realize)!

The space demarcated by bike lanes is usually not the best place to ride.

Tim Oey said...

We can debate this subject forever with differing opinions (and this has happened countless times in many forums).

The best collection of documentation I've run across that fairly covers the bike lanes vs not debate is at:
http://bicycleuniverse.info/transpo/bikelanes.html

See in particular the official studies and government sites:

Bike lanes prevent over-correction by drivers, bicyclists reducing danger for both even when sharing narrow roads (University of Texas & Texas Department of Transportation study, 2006)

Adult Bicyclists in the United States - Characteristics and Riding Experience in 1996 by William E. Moritz, University of Washington (1998).

Cambridge, MA Community Development: Bicycle Lanes

Bicycle Lanes Versus Wide Curb Lanes: Operational and Safety Findings (US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1999)

There are many pros and cons yet the net from these studies and government summaries is that overall bike lanes do make cyclists safer and bike lanes do attract cyclists.

That bike lanes do attract cyclists is obvious by just talking to the general public.

Cheers,
Tim

Principled Pragmatist said...

"the net from these studies and government summaries is that overall bike lanes do make cyclists safer and bike lanes do attract cyclists."

Not at all. The best you can glean from these studies is that in some aspects maybe some bicyclists are slightly safer, but they are less safe in other ways, and the net is a wash at best. But this is because the vast majority rides just as unsafely (too far right too often) even when there are no bike lanes. That is, they choose lane position mindlessly whether bike lanes are present or not. Given the obvious popularity of bike lanes, you would think they attract bicyclists, but no where has bike modal use been increased by bike lanes alone. There are always other factors at play that account for almost all of any increase.

In the mean time, we have a culture in which most people believe "Bicyclists in general are supposed to stay right", and bike lanes just reinforce this thinking.