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Posted at 11:54 AM ET, 11/22/2010

Bike-lane tension extends beyond area

By Luke Rosiak

Bike lanes have been expanding in cities across the continent, the New York Times notes today, and controversy has exploded along with them. As commuting patterns change and the transit infrastructure with them, some inevitably feel that what's good for bikers can be bad for them.

"The Republican nominee for governor of Colorado, Dan Maes, wondered during the primary whether bicycles were part of a nefarious plot to ruin the nation's cities," it says.

And it continues, though Washingtonians need no reminder: "More seriously, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who lost his bid for re-election in Washington, found himself painted as out of touch with residents, in part because of his connection to new bike paths."

Some object -- as bike lanes come to scenic places with historic significance -- not to the fact that bike lanes may reduce capacity for cars, but to their looks and the way they change the streetscape.

Defenders would be quick to note the principles of induced demand and the benefits of reduced car traffic. But ultimately, the character of a city is tied to the culture of its inhabitants, and some of the more politically charged references to commuting by bike sometimes seem to extend beyond mere transit choice to say something about way of life.

Officials from the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands recently toured the city with their American counterparts to discuss the way that alternative transit is tied to a collective culture that, in turn, impacts the city's infrastructure.

Should bike lanes be expanded around the D.C. region? Have you noticed traffic tie-ups as they've been added, or seen problems with an influx of Capital Bikeshare users? And is tension inevitable as different groups fight for limited space? Tell us in the comments.

By Luke Rosiak  | November 22, 2010; 11:54 AM ET
Categories:  Biking, Driving, Transportation Politics  | Tags:  Capital Bikeshare  
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Tensions arise whenever commuters feel that investments in other modes of transportation reduce either investments in their mode or capacity for their mode. In some cases, bike lanes may do both. In that cases, they should be justified if they lead to a net improvement in some desired quality. That may be congestion or air quality.

Opponents should not assume that every bike lane hurts them (other drivers and they themselves are the ones responsible for congestion, not cyclists). And they should not forget that cyclists are legally entitled to use most roads. No bike lane often means that the right lane is the bike lane, as long as there are any bikes in it.

Posted by: krickey7 | November 22, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I suppose it must have happened before, but for the first time in 25 years of commuting in Washington I witnessed this event: Cyclist runs red light; I think, "Where are the cops?"; police car pulls out of nowhere and stops cyclist. The first and second parts repeat daily, the third was a stunner. Which raises the question, was it a fluke or are police now enforcing the traffic laws that cyclists ignore in front of me every day?

Posted by: Kat33 | November 22, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

The former English teacher in me demands that I point out that it is "principles of increased demand", not "principals".

I would have many fewer objections to the introduction of bike lanes in the city if cyclists were (1) held liable for traffic violations such as not yielding to pedestrians and running right lights and (2) required to put some form of license on their bicycles so that when they hit pedestrians (as happened to me) or commit some other form of traffic violation, they can be held liable (including holding appropriate insurance). If cyclists want to the same rights as drivers, they need to have the same responsibilities.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 22, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

There should be more enforcement. I have no problem with that.
My question to you is, how many drivers did you see exceeding the speed limit just today, and how many were pulled over by the police?

Posted by: krickey7 | November 22, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Make cars illegal and bike lanes will be popular.

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 22, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Red light and speed cameras are proven ways to control driver behavior, and are much more efficient than having cops pull over drivers. If cyclists were required to have license tags on their bicycles, they would also get automated tickets, just like drivers. I'll bet that will help cut down on red light running by cyclists, making life safer for pedestrians. Tickets and registration fees for cyclists should probably be lower than for car drivers, but I don't see how any RESPONSIBLE cyclist would object, especially if he or she wants additional bike lanes. These things cost money, which the District desperately needs. After all, cyclists are saving on the costs of gasoline, they can afford to pay a reasonable fee for a license tag to aid in enforcement.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 22, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

cyclists are better than you, remember?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | November 22, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Automobile speed and carelessness kills cyclists, pedestrians, and other motorists. When society gets serious about actually preventing death, then lets talk about addressing the statistically unsupported anecdotal problem of bicyclists and pedestrians breaking the rules, largely endangering no one but themselves, only to enforce a principle of false equivalency.

Oh, and thanks again, Dr. Gridlock, for your cursory coverage of bicycling that rehashes the old car v. drivers war. It's like Lon Anderson writes this blog. Consult Mr. Dresser in Baltimore to learn how to fairly cover bicycling, even if you don't have a whole lot of experience with it. Not every post on bicycling has to invite this very tired debate. Some people ride their bicycle with stuff on their mind besides what the motoring public might think of their presence.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | November 22, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

ack, this is all just an attempt to get clicks and comments! How cynical! My outrage is being monetized!

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | November 22, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse


Anybody with eyes knows that pedestrians and cyclists break traffic laws, just like drivers do. Denying the truth doesn't advance the debate one iota; it just convinces others that you have nothing to contribute to this debate. Pedestrians darting out between cars and cyclists running red lights contribute to a dangerous road environment. You'd have to be blind not to realize that lawlessness by any user of the road makes things worse for all users.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | November 23, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Well, then, your proposal regarding licensing should include pedestrians as well. And, of course, we need camera coverage at every intersection and mid-block, since pedestrians cross there as well.

Or we could focus our energies on where there is significant danger (your own experiences being an unfortunate but rare exception). After all, a single driver in DC killed more people in one crash than all people killed by cyclists or pedestrinas in a decade.

Posted by: krickey7 | November 23, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

@WashingtonDame, read my carefully chosen words again. I don't deny that ignoring traffic laws is usually a bad thing, or that some bicyclists and pedestrians do it. I routinely break traffic laws in many very minor ways with no consequences regardless of how I choose to travel, and anyone who says different is to be looked upon skeptically.

I would just like to see some statistical support that suggest that bicycle/pedestrian lawbreaking happens out of proportion to motorists breaking traffic laws, and leads to injurious outcomes out of proportion to incidence. In the meantime, if I were in charge, I would pursue the krickey7 policy of focusing scarce enforcement resources and engineering/education intervention on operators of the largest fastest-moving objects.

But this debate, as framed by Dr. Gridlock, always assumes equivalency, and that we should dole out policy intervention based solely on fault. So no, I'm really not looking to advance this particular debate, and I wish Dr. Gridlock wasn't either.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | November 23, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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