Do you ever read advocacy articles about how bicycling infrastructure will increase the number of cyclists and reduce automobiles on the road, which in turn will reduce traffic deaths, improve overall health, cut back air pollution, and save the planet from global warming and ocean level rise? Too bad that they mostly just mix metaphors and manipulate statistics, a polite way of saying “they make up lies”.
Big city politicians across America are falling in line with “Vision Zero” and “Complete Streets” programs which intend to eliminate crashes and purport to fix many traffic safety problems, and yet the record shows that they fail to improve and often make matters worse. In New York City, after spending millions of dollars creating hundreds of miles of bike lanes, cyclist and pedestrian deaths went up. In Chicago’s “Loop” district, traffic is ever more congested while parking is almost unavailable. In any articles that provide details, usually cherry picked statistics, the only reduction of injuries is to motor vehicle occupants, and that’s likely due to the crawling speed of congested traffic. Think about that.
So, what’s really happening? Big city traffic engineers are torn between two conflicting goals. They want to reduce pedestrian and cyclist injuries but also need to keep motor vehicle traffic moving quickly and efficiently.
The simplest, quickest and cheapest way to deal with bicycles is to simply “share the road” while taking into account the bicycles’ lower speed. In fact, traffic laws already spell out just that and if followed and enforced, no special bicycle infrastructure facilities are required. It really is that simple.
Unfortunately, the oft-preferred solution is to surrender to lobbyists and advocacy groups and construct separated bicycling facilities. These usually start simply enough as painted lanes. Once demonstrated to be ineffective, the demands are for lanes that are physically separated by curbs, bollards or other barriers. Now realize that each lane dedicated to bicycles is a lane removed from motor traffic. Can you say, “Congestion”?
But crashes continue and even increase, especially at intersections where everything literally comes together. So next come special traffic lights and signals attuned to bicycles and pedestrians, typically intended to give people a “head start” across an intersection by holding drivers back and further reducing traffic flow. Recall that there are only 60 seconds to a minute and those seconds yielded to pedestrians and bicycles are taken away from motor vehicles, hence increasing congestion. And then crashes still increase, likely attributed to the confusion of unfamiliar traffic signals.
Meanwhile, the initial construction estimates for all this infrastructure is low-balled and deemed politically acceptable since after all, it is tax money and it “saves lives!” Ignored is the follow-on costs of maintenance and upkeep like patching potholes and sweeping off debris and snow, especially if the lanes are already separated and thus inaccessible to regular street maintenance equipment.
But it doesn’t end there. With crashes continuing and perhaps increasing, the next demand is for a parallel network of bicycle-only routes along with the outright banning of motor vehicles from certain streets, boulevards and designated districts. If this is actually built, and goodness only knows where and at what astronomical expense and construction time (more congestion), it is then likely followed by a counter demand that bicycles now stay off roadways altogether and ride ONLY on the new bicycle infrastructure. At this point, road rage against cyclists goes off the scale and casualties are as much due to violent reckless vehicular assaults as to “accidental” crashes.
But this is still far in the future, at least for small cities like Rolla. So please follow me as I shift gears to the overlooked “Pedestrian Problem”.
The dirty secret of big city bicycle casualties is that the crashes are often with pedestrians. Pedestrians often consider bicycle lanes to be “shared use lanes”, not unreasonable to anyone enjoying park pathways. Also, in crowded urban areas, the adjacent and yet seldom occupied bike lane becomes an extension of the crowded sidewalk. Pedestrians wander in and out, to and fro, left and right, however they choose to meander along, oblivious to the silent yet rapidly approaching bicycle.
Now let me shift gears again to another statistical reality. Most victims of motor vehicles crashes are occupants of motor vehicles. The next largest group is pedestrians. Bicyclists are only a tiny fraction, perhaps one tenth of pedestrians, though statistics are uncertain.
Big city politicians plan and spend fortunes of tax money on years’ long construction of “bicycle infrastructure” that increases traffic congestion while actually further endangering bicyclists and pretty much ignore the far greater dangers to pedestrians. Remember that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are generally the same people at different activities. Those “ignored pedestrians”, are everyone, motorists and cyclists and tax payers. As drivers, they stew while stuck in congested traffic while staring at near-empty bicycle lanes. Yet as pedestrians, they still have very few safe and convenient crossings of many city streets.
I urge local residents to participate in events like the Rolla Transportation Development District Open House to be held February 13 at The Centre. Rolla also has a Pedestrian and Bicycling Committee that should be made aware of issues and concerns.
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!