Monthly Archives: May 2017

Conversations with non-Cyclists

As a cycling advocate, and a relatively outspoken cyclist in general, I find myself frequently engaged in conversations with people that would really prefer cyclists not to be on the roads. Rarely do these conversations deviate much from a pretty standard set of discussion points. The reality is that most of the people engaging in these discussions are not really interested in understanding, they just want to express their opinions, and for everyone to accept them as the truth. It would be refreshing for a discussion to go down the path of honesty.

Imagine this:

Mr. Anti-bike: “Did you ride your bicycle to work today?”
Me: “Yep, it was a lovely 14 miles. Just fantastic.”
Mr. Anti-Bike: “You know, you are a nice guy, but I really hate it when bikes are on the roads and make me slow down for a few minutes. I’m just in such a hurry, and between the radio, my phone and my morning coffee, it is just too hard to also steer, use the brake and the blinker to pass them safely, so yeah, I kinda hate you guys.”
Me: “That’s understandable, I hope you don’t accidentally hurt someone.”

End of conversation. There is no wiggle room, or invitation for an education. Unfortunately, instead of the above, we get a different dynamic:

Mr. Anti-bike: “Did you ride your bicycle to work today?”
Me: “Yep, it was a lovely 14 miles. Just fantastic.”
Mr. Anti-Bike: “You know, you are a nice guy but, cyclists should register, insure and pay taxes like cars do.”


Mr. Anti-bike: “Did you ride your bicycle to work today?”
Me: “Yep, it was a lovely 14 miles. Just fantastic.”
Mr. Anti-Bike: “You know, you are a nice guy but, cyclists should be held to the same standards as cars.”

or a handful of other excuses, all of which beg for education and understanding, opening a conversation. A few actually do want to understand, but they are, in my experience, the minority. If you’ve read this far, then hopefully, it is because you actually do want to understand.

For convenience, let us address the common responses.

“Bikes are so dangerous!”

No more so than cars are. The numbers are stark, and clear. Per hour travelled, the car is more dangerous. The car kills more people under the age of 40, per year than any other single thing. We are so jaded to it, that we do not even think about it, but the numbers are crystal clear, and that does not even address the secondary impacts upon our health that cars represent.

“Bikes should stick to bike paths”

So let’s address this from two fronts. The first, is that the multi-use bike paths most often referred to are NOT bike paths, they are Multi-Use Paths, basically glorified sidewalks. Much like the situation on the roads, a fast moving bike on a multi-use path is the same as a car on the roads, even though the damage they would cause to a pedestrian, child, or pet while riding them is not as often life threatening as when a car hits a cyclist, the risks are similar. Making that situation far more complex is that those paths are indeed paths to nowhere, so for ’transportation’ they hold little value, and worse, in order to make use of them in the manner suggested, it place MORE cars on the roads to haul the bike to and from those paths, at the rush hour you want less traffic.

“Bikes should only ride in bike lanes / there should be more bike lanes”

Most people would agree with this. That said, simple bike lanes really are not the answer. Protected bike lanes, green lanes, and fewer car traffic lanes are better overall solutions. In point of fact, many of the gridlocked roads that are the best bike routes and yet frequently avoided could be improved by eliminating a car lane and replacing it with a protected bike lane. It seems counter intuitive, but that is exactly what has happened in many cities that have done this New York City Protected Bike Lanes HAve Actually Sped Up Traffic. Why? because traditional, narrow, unprotected bike lanes lead to higher risks of crashes at conflict points like shopping center entrances and exits, each of those crashes dramatically reducing road throughput. However, protected bike lanes will never happen if people keep fighting every proposal to improve bike infrastructure on the roads.

“Maybe there is a reason that there are so few bike lanes”

There is, and it was alluded to above. Bike lanes are perceived as adding little value for drivers, and when push comes to shove, drivers will vote for more car lanes, to their own detriment, over bike lanes, every single time. It is not a lack of desire, or need, but a simple equation of too many drivers not understanding the single largest truth of traffic engineering: You cannot fix traffic throughput by adding more lanes.

“Roads are Designed for Cars.”

Perhaps recent standards have adapted to a car primacy, but no, roads are not designed for cars. They are designed for transportation, and the car just happens to be the current ascended mode, but roads predate cars by thousands of years, and interestingly enough, PAVED roads have deep roots in bicycle culture, not cars. There is a really great book on the subject that delves deep into the history of the American road system that we all take for granted these days. Roads Were Not Built For Cars. As an adjunct, looking at our modern infrastructure, and many of the problems that are looming from our car obsession, another great read and aggregation of information about our infrastructure is the book Door to Door.

“Cyclists should register, insure and pay taxes like cars do.”

First, registration is fraught with issues, particularly when you use a blanket statement on bikes, because that means children riding in the neighborhood, but worse the costs of administration of such a program so far outweigh the revenue generated that doing so is a net loss to the property tax payer. Of course, then there is the insurance question. No, cyclists are not required to carry bike insurance, though many do carry bike specific policies, as well as being vehicle owners in the vast majority of the cyclists you are complaining about, they are covered under those car and motorcycle policies. Which brings us to vehicular taxes. Fun fact, the fuel taxes make up the bulk of the road taxes that you are referring to, since tag and ad valorem taxes don’t really make rounding on those numbers. Double bonus fun fact? those fuel taxes don’t cover 50% of the road maintenance budgets of our cities, counties and state. The shortfall is made up through sales and property taxes, and that doesn’t even consider new construction and adding infrastructure because of the sheer volume of single occupant drivers.

“Cyclists should be held to the same standards as cars./Scofflaw/Lawbreakers”

So, legally speaking, they are. Enforcement is an issue, but that is a two way street. It turns out that in studies that didn’t involve law enforcement statistics the results have different conclusions. Though many purport that cyclists break laws more frequently than drivers, and that they do so without knowledge of the law, this, and a couple of other studies support a VERY different conclusion. A conclusion that cyclists, do not break the law any more frequently than drivers do, and that when they do so, the do it in full knowledge of what they are doing, and with rational reasoning behind it. .

“People absolutely need cars to get around.”

No, people don’t ‘need’ cars, but the sure do want them, and it often seems that any push for infrastructure results in a rabid pushback from drivers who just can not see spending the money on bike and pedestrian infrastructure while traffic is so bad. They demand more roads and lanes, which does nothing but bring more traffic, making a bad situation worse.

“The Roads are too busy for bikes”

The short and simple answer here is that the roads are too busy for cars. That is a part of the problem. The assumption is that the bikes are slowing down the cars, but the reality is that the vast majority of the car/bike interactions are on lesser travelled backroads, and the encounters are quirky escalated because the car traffic that is using these back roads to avoid heavier traffic main roads are expecting to travel at a higher speed. Seriously, the entire encounter is typically driven by the issue of too many cars on the roads to start with. Further, those cycling groups are the place where cyclists gain the confidence on their bikes to become commuters, removing cars from the roads.