Peter WalkerWed 3 Jul 2019 07.00 BST
From congestion to cost, there are many entirely misguided arguments in circulation
For all the (slight) progress in some UK cities over mass cycling, we are still at a stage where a leaflet from a local branch of the party of government (see below) will state falsehoods about bike lanes as if they were the undoubted truth.
So perhaps it’s time to demolish 10 of the most common myths about cycle infrastructure. Do by all means suggest more in the comments below.
1. Cycle lanes increase congestion (and thus pollution)
This is perhaps the most common myth, possibly because critics confuse what feels like it’s true with what actually is true: the assumption that if you take some road space from motor vehicles, you get more traffic jams – as with (a commonly used parallel) forcing water down a smaller pipe.
But fluid and traffic are not the same thing, as shown by 60 years of governments trying and failing to road-build their way out of congestion. The idea of induced demand – more road space brings more cars – has been known for decades, and it also works in reverse. This is especially so with bike lanes, which are such an efficient use of the same space that they can often mean the same amount of space carrying more people overall.
Yes, traffic jams have worsened in some cities where bike lanes have been built, but studies show this is largely down to other factors, for example the growth in the number of Uber-type private hire vehicles and Amazon delivery vans.
Most compelling of all, of course, is the fact that motor vehicles cause the congestion in the first place, and the only real way to reduce traffic congestion is to have fewer of them on the roads.
2. Hardly anyone uses them
It seems that on Twitter you’re never more than 10 minutes away from seeing a bike lane critic post a photo of an empty cycle route with the triumphant message: “See?!” Often this is just a cunningly timed picture, but other factors are at play, not least the efficiency of cycle lanes, which means any “traffic” tends to rapidly bunch up at red lights.
Around the world, in just about every city where proper cycle routes have been built, many more riders start using them. One classic example is Seville in southern Spain, where the recent construction of 50 miles of bike lanes led to an 11-fold increase in rider numbers.
3. They’re only used by white, middle-class men/commuters
The myth-busting here comes in two parts: first, it’s not as true as some argue, and second, where it is an issue, this is a sign that you need more safe cycling routes, not fewer.
But yes, poorer people and those from minority ethnic backgrounds do ride bikes. Transport for London statistics show the ethnic mix of the city’s cyclists roughly matches that of the population. In the US, the group most like to cycle (or walk) to work are those from households with incomes of less than $10,000 (£7,930) a year – ie the very poor.
The other thing to stress is that the more obviously safe the cycling in your town or city, the more diverse and mixed the people on bikes. Without proper infrastructure, cycling becomes something of a specialist pursuit, mainly restricted to what you might call the hobbyists – people with the more expensive bike, the greater confidence and the willingness to mix it with motor traffic.
The converse is seen in places such as the Netherlands and Denmark: while “cyclists” – people who have a drawerful of Lycra and an interest in gear ratios – do exist, they’re a different breed from the mass of everyday transport riders, who in socioeconomic terms encompass more or less everyone from royalty downwards.
A series of barely connected bike lanes, such as in London, might be fine for commuters but people who make more varied journeys – for example those (disproportionately women) who need to go to work via a school and back via a shop – require a coherent network, including the other half of the safe-cycling equation, tamed backstreets, where cars are reduced in number and travel at slow speeds.
4. They’re bad for business
Some of the noisiest opponents of recent London bike lanes have been individual business owners, who argue that a separated bike lane and any loss of parking will be fatal to their enterprise.
In broad terms, however, this is completely wrong. Towns, cities and individual high streets are changing in how they compete. The growth of internet shopping means they must appeal more as destinations, which is hard to do amid wall-to-wall traffic.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study of the real-world impact of cycle lanes, undertaken in New York City, found businesses on streets with separated bike routes grew on average more quickly than those without. In contrast, I know of no evidence that points the other way.
5. They’re dangerous for pedestrians
A surprisingly common charge – surprising in that it has absolutely no basis in logic, let alone reality. Sure, some elements of cycle lane design might seem new to Britons – for example, “floating” bus stops where passengers cross a cycle lane to reach them – but when they’re designed well there is no evidence they cause danger.
More basically, there’s no getting away from the fact that motor vehicles are much, much, much more dangerous. On average each year in the UK between zero and two pedestrians die after being hit by bikes. About 400 a year die after being hit by motor vehicles, including more than 60 struck while on the pavement.
As cannot be repeated enough, this is not about cyclists being somehow morally pure. It’s just physics. It’s possible to kill or maim someone if you are a 100kg-ish bike-and-human combination travelling at 12mph, but is extremely unlikely. In a 1.5-tonne SUV at 35mph, it is hideously easy.
Ten common myths about bike lanes – and why they’re wrong | The Guardian
Peter WalkerWed 3 Jul 2019 07.00 BST From congestion to cost, there are many entirely misguided arguments in circulation Cycle lanes have been in the news recently, as have the many often entirely misguided arguments that opponents use against them. For all the (slight) progress in some UK cities over mass cycling, we are still… [Read More]