The Case for Bike Lanes

Posted: July 10, 2012 in Bike
Tags: ,

I have a bit of a gripe that I’d like to get off my chest that was originally brought up the other day over that wondrous social media vacuum we all know and love called Facebook.  Specifically, it concerns one person’s belief that bike lanes in the city are, somehow, a bad idea.  I know right?  How anyone can NOT  see these things as anything less than totally awesome is just another one of those universal mysteries like the building of the pyramids, the statues of Easter Island, or the authentication of the Inca Stones.  Okay, maybe it’s not all that wondrous.  More like why your farts smell worse in the shower, but I digress.

I mean, this person seemed to be really upset over the whole issue which, if you ask me, is more wasted energy than Ricky Martin’s girlfriend, but whatever.  Hey, I understand and support that we’re all unique and beautiful snowflakes with differing opinions, but, really?  Bike lanes?  Bad?  Surely they jest!

My first instinct once the blinding white light of rage quit flashing in my peripheral vision was to vent my disdain in a total Christian Bale-esque tirade of epic proportions; a total literary barrage of anger and frustration.  However, rather than give into the impulse and engage them any further in a heated pissing contest over something as silly as Facebook, I decided to weigh in here on my own Internet sounding board instead.  Am I rebel or what?

Anyhow, the whole concern over St Catharines’ proposed cycling and sustainable transportation policy initiatives is as much about bicycle lanes as the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline debate was about caribou migration.  Yes, the whole debate is hotter than ’50 Shades of Grey’  series with the major issue stemming from the region making significant strides lately to increase the number of smooth bikes lanes throughout the area which, in some cases, has meant that some four lane roads have been reduced to two lanes in order to incorporate bike lanes on either side of the road.  The overall concern is that typical traffic in the city has somehow been jeopardized in that it is now more difficult to navigate or, namely, it takes more time.  Also, heavens forbid, there is a noticeable decrease in parking spots.

Personally, I obviously support the creation of bike lanes; and not just from the perspective of an avid cyclist, but as a conscientious driver as well.  First, let me approach this topic from the cyclists’ viewpoint.

I can’t tell you how many times I been buzzed at high speeds by some idiot driver who either thought it was funny to see how close they can get their side view mirror to my earlobe, or just didn’t give a shit if I ended up as a stain under their front bumper.  As a runner, I griped about soccer moms in Dodge Caravans, as a cyclist I’m leery of absolutely everyone…particularly when they are coming up from behind me.  Of course, this also happens if I am cycling out in the countryside – it’s just an accepted hazard of road-riding – but, primarily, it is much worse in the city.

My absolute favorite, are the total morons who zip past me only to stop suddenly in front of me just to make a sharp turn immediately into my direct oncoming path in order to enter a parking lot, the Drive-in at McDonalds, or something equally mundane and stupid.  Did they not see me?  Don’t they know that I can’t exactly stop on a dime in order to avoid them?  Would they have done that same asinine maneuver had I also been enveloped by a two ton metal box?  I think not.

Remember, road cyclists are legally considered as “traffic” in the eyes of the law and are bound to the same rules of normal traffic as any driver.  I know this to be true because I almost got a ticket once for speeding while out on my bike.  This also includes stop lights, intersections, crossways, etc.  We do not get a ‘bye’ going through a traffic light or failing to yield at an intersection and, as such, we should at least be given some similar measure of safety given that we’re, well, not in an actual motor vehicle.  Think about it this way:  I don’t get mere ‘dings’ in my bumper after little traffic oopsies, I get severely injured (or worse).    If I do something stupid while on the road on my bike then that’s on me; my bad.  But I also don’t want to end up in the hospital trauma ward because some dipshit motorist was late for work, not paying attention, and then drove over me.  Totally unacceptable!

Likewise, as a pseudo parent, I also hope that my “step daughter” will also eventually make strives to stay healthy and keep fit and, as such, may choose cycling as her preferred hobby as well.  And if she does, I know I will feel a whole lot better knowing that she has some dedicated space to buffer her from some of the bigger boneheads that have licenses these days.  As it right now, with her being only seven years old, I am lucky that I have a safe bicycling and running path to use near our house, but what happens when that stretch of pathway is no longer big enough to contain her endurance or youthful vigor?  Eventually, she has to venture out on the streets at some point – God help her.

Furthermore, another common misconception from motorists regarding bike lanes is that there is not enough actual cyclists to actually warrant them.  Umm, hello?  For all the dangers I’ve listed already from personal experience , I wonder how many people simply just fear for their life or, rather, how many people might actually consider riding more regularly if there were more safe lanes in which for them to travel?  With the ever-increasing cost of gas, who can afford not to if you work relatively close to where you live?  As it is in some areas, you literally take your life in your own hands each time you mount your bike.  Any simple YouTube search will give you, like, a zillion reasons why not to ride.

We should be looking to the Europeans for inspiration regarding the building of bike lanes; after all, they’ve been here a lot longer than we have.  In Copenhagen alone, 37% of commuters now use bikes to get to school or work — a number that dips only slightly in the dead of winter.  Sure, cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have something of a bicycling tradition — certainly far more than any one of our current car-centric North American cities.  But Europe’s bicycling enthusiasm extends to cities like Barcelona and Paris, with no cycling history whatsoever.  Even Rome has a bike-sharing program, though that city is supremely unsuited to travel on two wheels: Its roads are too narrow, its drivers mad, and its streets are paved with a kind of cobblestone that makes every meter a jarring experience.  But, true to their Roman sense of Classical stubbornness, they do it anyway.  What our excuse?  If it’s good enough for the Romans…

So what’s going on here? One key component that has enabled Europe’s successful bike revolution, I think, is not infrastructure, but sociology: While we North Americans still view bicycling as a form of exercise or recreation, a tectonic shift in attitudes has taken place in many parts of Europe, where people now regard bicycling as a serious form of urban mass transportation.  We still view it as a privilege, not way of life.  What’s a fancy Trek, Cannondale or Cervelo when there’s a sparkly new Humvee in the dealer’s parking lot?  Who cares that it costs the equivalent of a months’ worth of groceries for any small European family, or that you can practically see the sky caving in behind you thanks to the large amount of emissions it gives off on the way to the local Wal-Mart around the corner…some people would sell their own kids into slavery to own one.

Okay, so let’s reverse the roles a bit.  How about considering things from the sensible motorist perspective?  As a motorist, I still like the idea of bike lanes.  Given my logical desire for public safety, I’d rather have an entirely dedicated lane to drive in all to myself.  Call me selfish, call me whatever, but its’ better than having to suddenly swerve into on-coming traffic should a cyclist suddenly decide to jog around a manhole, or pothole, or what have you.  That wouldn’t end too well for anybody would it?

Besides, where do I need to be that’s so vitally urgent that I need to have two lanes in the city anyway?  Most places that are designed for large volumes of traffic have multiple lanes…like HIGHWAYS.  Why the need to risk someone else’s life and limb in the downtown core?  One lane is more than ample in my opinion.

Oh, and by the way, with every additional trip we take on foot, on a bicycle or by public transit – guess what – this frees up significant space for those hardcore dedicated drivers that just refuses to see the light, since the “footprints” of these other modes are so much smaller.  The cyclist beside you is not the car in front of you; the bicycle locked to a ring at curbside means one less parking space is taken.  Driver, cyclist and pedestrian are complementary rather than mutually exclusive categories.  Oh yeah, that also means you’ll be able to get places faster if you really need to.  Capeesh?  Let me put it simply:  by promoting alternatives and making safe and comfortable space for cyclists (and pedestrians for that matter) in shared rights of way, we make room for driving when it’s needed.

Give it some thought and give bike lanes a little love.  I know, you must just hate it when I’m right, but think about it:  it just makes better sense.

  1. Joni says:

    Please send this to some newspapers – lots of them all over!! So the real meatheads out there see this. We NEED bike lanes for safety.

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