Sunday, May 30, 2010

From Streetsblog: The Persistence of Bike Salmon

image from streetsblog via Salim Virji from flickr. The Persistence of Bike Salmon

This is a old post from about a month and a half ago, but got me started on my sidewalk cyclist post, as well as mention the sidewalk salmon in a "bikes seen today" post.

It is something that I have thought and read a great deal on, why do we have "wrong way" cyclists.

I have read in a couple places some thoughts that make sense, many are from David Hembrow, many are from Streetsblog and many others are from the depths of cyber space.

In this country the age when you ride your bike dictates the rules you must follow. It starts out with the training wheels on the sidewalk, and then it progresses to regular low speed (although some kids go pretty fast!) cycling on the sidewalk. At a certain age it moves to cycling against traffic, especially in neighborhoods that have no sidewalks. The example is they are acting like pedestrians and feel that this is the safer method, so the cyclist can make sure the car has seen them. I understand why this is encouraged, especially with kids; bikes in the US do not have mirrors included with them. And many are bought at big box stores that do not sell these accessories, and parents who are not clear on the rules themselves, feel that this is safe (or safest) for their child. Finally you must ride in the same direction as cars once an adult, and must act like a car in all you do.

For many people that are starting to enjoy riding again, they last rode a bike when they were a kid, they might be from a generation where 16 meant a car and freedom; the bike was quickly forgotten. When somebody who has not ridden a bike in many years, picks one up today, they revert back (typically) to the last time the rode and the rules that were in effect then, as well as how safe they felt riding a certain way. This typically means riding either on the sidewalk or against traffic, or both.

This is the problem.

In the Netherlands, children do not have training wheels, they learn to balance on scooter type things with two wheels a seat and no pedals, once they learn how to balance which can be achieved in one day with enough dedication, they graduate to regular bikes, sized for them.

As David Hembrow has shown, children's bikes have racks, fenders, lights and breaks just like their parent's bikes. They also have the safe separated infrastructure to ride on and are taught in school to ride like a cyclist. They are not told how to ride like a car or ride like a pedestrian, they are a bicyclist and are neither of the above. So even if they turn 16 and forget the bike for a while with a new car, when they choose to go back, they ride the exact same way they learned as a child, which is safe, efficient, and easy.

It is because of the infrastructure though; we have either sidewalks or roadways here in the US. Cyclists get nothing (really in the vast majority of communities). We have to choose to ride like a car, or like a pedestrian. It feels safer to be a pedestrian on the sidewalk and so many people ride there. David has talked in depth about the ideas of subjective safety; his posts on the topic are worth a read.

However some studies have shown that even with limited on road bike lanes and what would be considered the least effective (and sometimes dangerous) cycling infrastructure in The Netherlands, that rates of wrong way cycling as well as sidewalk cycling are reduced by over 50%.

Bike salmon are a consequence of infrastructure that does not serve a cyclist and only serves pedestrians (not always bad thing) or cars. This is the case with sidewalk riding as well.

I am a firm believer that if you provide true separated infrastructure, away from fast moving traffic on roads over 25mph, roads faster than 40mph create more of a separation and provide under or overpasses at busy junctions, make zones that are 20mph or less have bicycle priority, provide for safe interactions at intersections via roundabouts or bike only lights, and make safe secure staple racks available at any destination and place of business, that the US can achieve the 30%+ bicycle mode share that many cities in Europe, and especially Denmark and The Netherlands have achieved by providing for their cyclists.

Bike salmon will be an endangered or extinct species, if we manage to achieve the goal of true equality on our streets.

We know what needs to happen; doing anything less is tantamount to lip service, and pandering, and in many cases can be more dangerous than nothing at all. It is never too late to start doing it right.

For further reading I encourage a look back through the wayback machine over at David's blog, its a treasure trove for anybody that wants to see how it could be done right.

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