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How to Get More Bicyclists on the Road (scientificamerican.com)
10 points by tdedecko 2660 days ago | hide | past | web | 21 comments | favorite

1. Continuous network of physically segregated bike lanes. (No, that painted line running for two blocks and ending abruptly doesn't count.)

2. Secure bike parking facilities at major destinations.

3. Smoother integration with transit (e.g. bike racks on buses, bikes on commuter trains).

4. Convenient city-wide bike rental program (e.g. VĂ©lib' in Paris).

5. Abandon helmet laws and stop talking about 'safety'. The most reliable way to reduce the number of injuries is to increase the number of cyclists, and mandating helmets/kvetching about safety creates a false perception that cycling is more dangerous than driving (it's not).

1. Continuous network of physically segregated bike lanes.

Then you need different traffic signal patterns, because no turns can take place when the bike lane has a green signal. (When bikes ride on the road, they can be in the middle lane, so as not to conflict with right-turning vehicles. When they are segregated, this causes many accidents without a new traffic signal pattern.)

2 through 4


5. Abandon helmet laws and stop talking about 'safety'. The most reliable way to reduce the number of injuries is to increase the number of cyclists, and mandating helmets/kvetching about safety creates a false perception that cycling is more dangerous than driving (it's not).

Helmets are not for protecting yourself from cars, they are about protecting yourself from yourself. I have gone down hard on my head a few times, and that's no fault of any other vehicle (only poorly maintained roads). The helmet has been very helpful for that. (It also keeps my hair out of my eyes. Doubleplus good.)

In the end, the problem is that most cyclists drive unsafely and that they are not aware of the risks. (Or what "driving safely" even is. They just guess... and get it wrong, and never think to maybe read a book about riding safely.)

(Many inexperienced cyclists are afraid of being hit from behind, so they ride too close to the parked cars on the right. Then some idiot opens their door into them, and they end up in the hospital. This is much more common than being hit by behind. Similarly, cyclists afraid of the street ride on the sidewalk, and then they get hit by a right-turning car. This is one of the most common type of bicycle accident.)

Anyway, we really need to make people aware of these issues, and we need to significantly reduce the speed limit on urban roads. (Most people seem to drive about 35-40 near downtown Chicago before it gets too traffic-y. The speed limit should be no greater than 25; then bikes and cars are almost at the same speed. With the timing of traffic lights, the overall speed isn't much higher than this, anyway. If 25mph is too slow for you, park your car and take (grade-separated) rapid transit!)

My prediction is that this never happens, as recent legislation has been aimed at reducing the rights of cyclists. I doubt we will be able to reverse this trend; in 20 years, it will probably be illegal to ride a bike on the streets my taxes pay for.

> Then you need different traffic signal patterns

So? Increasing the share of cycling is already a transformative change to traffic patterns.

>Helmets are not for protecting yourself from cars, they are about protecting yourself from yourself.

My point is not that a helmet won't help reduce your risk of injury in a crash. It's that the best way to reduce the number of injuries is to increase the number of cyclists. A focus on danger, including mandatory helmet laws, scares people away from bicycles and increases the number of injuries.

Otherwise your explanation of how to ride safely to reduce risks is bang-on. In a major study of bicycle crashes and collisions in Toronto a few years ago, cyclists riding on the sidewalk were overrepresented.


On the other hand, a recent study also out of Toronto finds that an overwhelming majority of bicycle-car collisions are caused by the driver, not the cyclist:


I don't think solving the 5 points here will help people get off cars and on bikes. I don't care if there are no bike lanes or secure parking spots (go find a street sign ;), I bike everywhere because it's pure fun.

First, we must show people how awesome biking is. Only then would nice bike lanes and racks and a rental program be useful.

Actually, #4 is a chicken and egg problem. Maybe free/cheap rentals would get people to enjoy biking, but what incentive do they have to try when they can just drive?

> I don't think solving the 5 points here will help people get off cars and on bikes.

It will. The correlation between how much cycling infrastructure a city builds and how many people ride bikes is extremely high. Those cities that we now consider to be bicycle meccas didn't get that way until they decided to invest aggressively in making it easier and more comfortable to cycle.

Quote: "As documented in this article, cycling was not always thriving in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Cycling levels plummeted in all three countries from about 1950 to 1975. It was only through a massive reversal in transport and urban planning policies in the mid-1970s that cycling was revived to its current successful state. In 1950, cycling levels were higher in the UK than they are now in Germany: almost 15% of all trips. Just as in these other countries, cycling in the UK plummeted from 1950 to 1975, but British cycling never recovered. It continued to fall to its current level of 1.3% of trips, only slightly higher than the 0.9% bike share of trips in the USA"


Remember: what attracts hard-core cyclists (and I'd consider myself a hard-core cyclist - I commute by bicycle year-round in a northeastern city) is not what attracts the average person.

Number 5 is certainly provocative. Do you have any evidence to back this up. I'd like to believe you, but all the evidence I've seen (starting w/ Richard Ballantine's book) indicates it really does pay to protect the bean.

EDIT: FWIW, I think most bike paths are a travesty. You're better off out in the traffic where people can at least see you. Make them choose to run you over.

Sorry for the link dump to follow but I don't have more time.

Britain: cycling injuries go down as cycling goes up: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/ethicallivingblog/2009...

New York: cycling injuries go down as cycling goes up: http://transalt.org/files/newsroom/streetbeat/2009/June/0604... http://transalt.org/files/campaigns/bike/images/ridership_gr...

It's also true that cycling goes down when people are worried about safety. Helmet laws and a focus on danger reduce cycling, which in turn increases injuries: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/641641

Anecdotally speaking, I've know people who have been spared tremendous trauma by wearing a helmet, and one girl in particular who's life was certainly saved by wearing one (she still ended up in the emergency room with a head injury because of the force).

Maybe me wearing a helmet increases the perception of danger, but hell, it's dangerous out there. Decreasing my immediate odds for safety is not worth some perceived future gains that I'm not even sure exist.

You might be interested in this link:


"Many people who wear helmets can relate their experience of a crash which leads them to believe that a helmet 'saved their life'. This is a very common experience - very much more common, in fact, than the actual number of life-threatening injuries suffered by bare-headed cyclists. Yet there is no evidence that helmets save lives or prevent serious injury at all across cyclists as a whole"

The PDF linked at the bottom is good too, it's written by a guy that runs a cycle helmet testing lab.


It's an in-depth piece and I don't want to do it an injustice by over-summarizing but here's my take: helmets by design and because of basic physical limits on their size are good for when you fall off a bike onto a flat surface at low speed, not for collisions, certainly not getting hit by speeding cars. Therefore they make a lot of sense for children learning to cycle or others prone to falling off, and much less sense for average cyclists.

Well to complete the anecdote, her tire go caught crossing some railroad tracks (she was an experienced cyclist), she fell and hit her head on one of them. Her doctors praised her wearing a helmet, so I'm apt to take their advice over yours.

When trying to decide how a policy will affect a population, you can't reason out from a single anecdote. Remember, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data".

When implementing policy you need to deal with politics. These decisions are not made in a computer on data alone, every bill will hear numerous testimonies and requires the judgment of lawmakers.

What you're proposing is counter-intuitive to most people's everyday experience, ie. wearing protection is safer than not wearing it. Sorry, but if you really want to convince people you are going to need more than data, because the other side will have their own stats - and crying mothers and all that jazz.

Recommending policy based on anecdote and emotion is a problem. The solution isn't to do more of it.

I've always wondered if American hygiene standards impact the number of people riding bikes. I suppose there's no nice way of saying it but in certain countries having some hardcore BO from riding your bike a few miles on a warm day is completely acceptable. Not so much so in the US.

I am a bicycle commuter. Relatively new, actually, by many peoples' standards. I've been doing this for 3 years. I loathe bike lanes, and segregated paths in the US, from what I've seen, also need help. If they're open to use by pedestrians, you'll always end up with people walking three-abreast taking the entire path, or people with mile-long dog leashes made of clothesline-esque material, among other ridiculous hazards. Physically separated bike lanes don't solve many problems, really. They cause quite a few that've already been mentioned here.

Education and good on-road bicycle routes would probably do a lot more for bicycling. A example of a good bicycle route would use residential roads with low speed limits and traffic calming devices. Intersections with arterial roadways would have traffic signals, and you might run into bike/ped-only accessible things, such as a pair of back-to-back cul-de-sacs connected by a sidewalk or no-through roadways obstructed with bollards to keep rat-runner motorists at bay while allowing others the ability to pass through.

This would keep cyclists on the road where they belong, but off the major roads where they cause frequent irritation among impatient motorists.

Then, education will be needed to teach cyclists a few things that many seem to easily forget: * Traffic rules apply to all users of the road * Bike routes exist that might add a little distance to your trip in the name of comfort and safety. * Be seen, FFS. All it takes is some cheap blinkenlights and a light-colored t-shirt or jacket.

I commute via bicycle. From my experience, and after hearing the opinions of some coworkers, there are some other reasons more people don't do it:

1. It takes more time. There are certainly situations where bicycle commuting saves time (see: New York city or the like). There seem to be far more places where cycling will double or triple your travel time, especially considering the time needed to shower/change at the end. Which leads me to:

2. Lack of shower facilities. I am lucky enough to be able to shower ofter the ride; many aren't. Yes, I know the argument of "you don't need special clothes to bicycle, do it like Denmark, yadda yadda". This may be true in Denmark. My area is hilly enough to make you sweat. Also, if you go fast enough to try to minimize the time issue above, you sweat. Also, it's not comfortable to me to be biking in my work clothes so I have to change anyway.

3. Grooming concerns. It's not easy for women to put on makeup in the typical work/gym bathroom. It's also a problem (at least it takes a while) for anyone with longish hair to get it styled after it's been in a helmet or been windblown and/or been washed. And only the most devoted are going to change their hairstyle just so they can bike to work or something.

In my city a woman recently died in a collision with a bus. She was riding in a shared bus/bike lane. In other words, a lane that was supposed to permit buses to go extra fast AND (theoretically) allow cyclists to travel at their leisurely pace. Anyone see a problem with the road planning in our city?

What a tragedy. It seems to be based on the particularly American binary reasoning that there are two kinds of transportation modes: automobiles and !automobiles.

I hate to be the one to say it, but biking is extremely inconvenient, especially if you live in the burbs' as I do. I'm very into fitness, but even I don't want to have to jump on my bike just to deposit a check or get some milk.

I think you've mixed up your propositions there. Living in the suburbs is inconvenient, especially if you bike. Cars are a release valve that papers over a very bad idea.

I wonder how convenient you would find your automobile if you actually had to pay the real cost of operating it.

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