Friday, May 2, 2014

Vehicular Cycling and Cycle Tracks--Do it All

The Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. from Green Lane Project on Vimeo.

Vehicular cycling is a technique in which the bicyclist behaves like a motor vehicle.  By riding more in the middle of motorist lanes, instead of off to the right, and following all traffic laws, the cyclist becomes predictable, more visible, and safer.  The excellent CycleSavy course, conceived locally and taught nationally, trains cyclists in this technique.  I invariably use these techniques when I ride.  I highly recommend those with an interest in cycling, or those who use a bicycle to commute, to take a CycleSavy course.  Go to for more information and great resources. 

Some proponents of vehicular cycling oppose cycle tracks, such as those featured in the video above and which I wrote about in an op-ed published in the Orlando Sentinel.   The concerns generally center around: (1) the potential of right-hook crashes caused by locating cyclists to the right of motorists; (2) the inability of motorists to see cyclists hidden behind parked cars framing a cycle track; and (3) that cycling infrastructure sends a message that cyclists do not belong on roads in general with rights commensurate with motorists.

The first two concerns are valid.  To prevent right hooks, cities must engineer solutions.  One is a separate traffic signal for bicycles, which enables cyclists to cross an intersection before motorists can turn.  

Another solution calls for "mixing zones" at intersections.  One such mixing zone is a green "bike box," which places cyclists in front of motorists.  Another technique, shown in the graphic below from the New York City Department of Transportation, is to gently merge motorists into a combined lane with cyclists.

Source: NY City DOT

The second concern, about the invisibility of cyclists behind parked cars, also valid, is ameliorated by prohibiting parked cars close to the intersection.  The National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends prohibiting parking within 30 feet of an intersection, where parked cars buffer the cycle track.  An engineer would increase this distance as warranted. 

As to the third concern, I am not persuaded that bike infrastructure sends a message that bikes do not belong elsewhere, where infrastructure is lacking.  Road context, created by high speed road design, is the key factor sending a message that bikes do not belong, despite laws to the contrary.  Many cyclists have experienced harassment on high and higher speed roads.  I doubt much harassment occurs on neighborhood streets and other low speed roads.  A motorist focuses on and responds to the immediate context, not to bicycling infrastructure seen elsewhere, perhaps miles away on another day.  A slow-moving cyclist when the road design is saying, "Go fast," is the motorist's immediate focus and the context of most harassment.  

Absent meaningful bicycling infrastructure, vehicular cycling is a critically useful technique.  There is no safer way of riding in traffic.  But only a small percentage of people who ride bicycles will overcome apprehension, or take a CycleSavy course.  I took the on-road portion of the CycleSavy course with an older lady named Sheila from Gainesville.  Despite the very kind, extra attention given to her by the CycleSavy instructors, she had a very, very difficult time. It just wasn't for her.  Sheila, however, would do very well on a cycle track.  If we want to encourage more people to ride bicycles, cycle tracks are proven to increase the number of cyclists and are indispensable.  

So do it all--cycle tracks and CycleSavy.  There is no "one size fits all" solution.