Anyone traveling about Rolla has likely noticed the return, nay, the growth of bike lanes and bike paths.

Years ago I wrote about the hazards I encountered while riding Rolla Street’s then newly painted bike lanes.  Worse, Lions Club Drive got the treatment, too.  Recently I wrote about the dangerously confused bike lanes along the north side of Westside Shopping Center Connector between the Menard’s and Sally Road. Those lanes are a deathtrap. 

Ever notice the odd irregularly spaced painted lanes along 10th Street at the BNSF Bridge and in front of Rolla High School. Most people think that those are bike lanes; they are NOT. The lines are the fog lines, designating the right edge of traffic lanes and that’s why they do not align with the curb; very confusing. 

Now there are widened sidewalks going in all around town, rumored to be multiuse paths.  That’s quite a conflicted signal since it is illegal to pedal a bicycle on a sidewalk in the downtown business district. But bike lanes and paths never were well thought out.  Most are knee-jerk solutions to poorly defined and misunderstood problems. 

Rolla remains mostly unaffected because “the damage” is still limited and yet to be felt.  But if you read about big cities with bicycle infrastructure, like New York, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, London, Paris, Amsterdam, others, you quickly notice that there are big ugly fights going on between cars, pedestrians and bicycles. The citizens and politicians regularly argue over usable traffic lanes and on-street parking and eventually graduate to restricting or banning cars from certain streets and districts altogether. You might notice that despite plenty of money spent on infrastructure projects, they never satisfy the advocates nor do they achieve their goals as evidenced by traffic statistics. Instead, roadways become more congested, pollution increases, and casualties rise. Oh, and where they exist, mass transit, taxis, and ride-share like Uber & Lyft take a hit, too. If you are really perceptive, you notice that this has little to do with bicycles or pedestrians but is rather about political power, urban planning, licensing fees and taxation. 

The truth is that along properly designed roadways, bicycle lanes are unnecessary.  Cyclists pedal along with and as traffic while obeying the rules of the road.  They freely travel everywhere that roadways lead.  If anything, just build the lanes wider to allow safer passing. The only real consideration is cyclists’ lower speed and that’s why there should be special lanes on long bridges, overpasses, tunnels, and similar choke points.  Such choke points affect pedestrians even more so and are a clear and specific example of useful “multiuse lanes”. 

There’s lots of happy talk about how bicycles might replace cars and thus reduce traffic congestion. This rings true, but is exaggerated to foolish levels by advocates who predict filled lanes of bicycle commuters alongside near empty traffic lanes.  Advocates also suggest that bike-share and similar rental-bike programs will help empty the lanes of auto traffic. Nonsense. Bicycling is first and foremost a fair weather activity. Not too hot, not too cold, dry and calm, or forget it. Many big cities even shut down bike-share programs during winter.  Related to this, studies find that most cycling commuters are not giving up their cars but rather skipping out on mass transit. This is a problem for urban planners because it cuts back ridership and income during good weather and then places extra unfunded demand on the system when it is already strained by bad weather. This ebb and flow of demand also affects taxis and ride shares like Uber and Lyft where they exist. 

Cyclists already go anywhere and everywhere. Separate bike lanes remove usable roadways, thus congesting traffic. The painted stripes do not stop or even slow vehicles from crossing them, so next come demands for protected lanes; some sort of physical barriers separating bikes from cars. Sounds nice until you reach an intersection, and that’s where historically most accidents already occur. 

Recreational pathways like the Acorn Trail are not for commuting. They are for slow rides weaving and dodging among pedestrians, wheelchairs, scooters, strollers, dogs, and children, many oblivious to their surroundings. If you are in a hurry, get off the trails. You belong on the roadway. 

Now, it should be obvious that many people are unable to safely pedal in traffic.  Likewise, many are incapable of driving in traffic. Building bicycle routes for poor cyclists is as clever as having separate roadway networks for unqualified drivers. Cyclists need to learn and develop their skills and those recreational pathways mentioned above are fine for that.  Meanwhile they should avoid main roads and ride along on side streets and if need be, dismount at intersections and walk across as pedestrians. 

When pedaling along Kingshighway and out of town, I simply follow a car, pause or stop for entry into the roundabout and then pedal right through across the overpass, repeat at the second roundabout, and head off down Old Wire Road.  For comparison, the other day I instead pedaled the multiuse sidewalk along Beuhler Park and the protected bridge crossing.  OMG!  I stopped to get on the side path, had to slow repeatedly for the sharp turns and bends, stopped at the marked pedestrian crosswalks while looking back for traffic at Howard Johnson Drive and again at the I-44 E entrance, slowed for the bridge’s narrow protected lane (thankful for no oncoming traffic). I slowed again for the sharp bend at the I-44 W exit while dodging the mud and debris blocking the lane.  I followed the crosswalk over the PetSmart driveway to find that there is no lane to Old Wire Road; it only goes down to the stores. 

Nope, never again. Pedal the roadways; they are safer and faster. 

I hope that I’ve dispelled some concerns and encouraged others to give bicycle riding a try.  Perhaps we’ll meet soon. I’ll ring my bell!