This week there were three very different videos published of bicycle commuting south of the Cheddar Curtain. Taken as a group, I think they provide tremendous insight into the state of bicycle infrastructure in the United States and help to answer why less than one percent of people bike to work even though nearly half of the US population ride bicycles for recreation. They also illustrate what sort of political leadership is needed to get more universally attractive and convenient bikeways constructed.
The first video below is from the great crew at Streetfilms and shows off Chicago’s fab new protected bike lane on Kinzie Street. Protected bike lanes are the wave of the future for built-out urban centers where there just isn’t room or right of way to put in separated trails. By adding the flexible bollards and moving parking to the outside of the bike lane, protected lanes offer the kind of traffic experience most people who ride bicycles are looking for. In every instance where protected bike lanes have been installed, they have dramatically increased the number of people who ride bicycles for transportation.
Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a true champion for bikeways and plans many more miles of protected bike lanes and bicycle boulevards. In fact, he ran on a transportation platform that calls for 25 miles of protected bike lanes to be built during his administration. Emanuel hired Gabe Klein from Washington, D.C. to head the Chicago Dept. of Transportation, in part, because Klein was part of the team at Washington, D.C. DOT that accomplished so much to make their streets safer by adding protected bike lanes in a relatively short period of time when Emanuel lived in the Capitol. Like Washington, D.C., NYC and everywhere else protected bike lanes have been installed, Chicago had a very positive results with their first such project.
From a survey Chicago DOT did three months after the bike lane was installed:
- Of surveyed bikers, nearly 90 percent of them state that they feel safe or very safe on the bike lane.
- Nearly 50 percent of those who were surveyed reported that they feel
- that motorist’s behavior has improved since the installation of the
- Kinzie bike lane.
- Bicycling traffic during rush hour is up nearly 60 percent since completion.
- A study from the CDOT reported that more than 40 percent of surveyed
- individuals admitted to changing their routes in the city to now take
- the new bike lane.
- CDOT reported that since the protected bike lane was installed, bicyclists now account for approximately 55 percent of eastbound traffic and more than 30 percent of all traffic.
These next two videos below come from Chicago’s most fabulous bicycle blogger – Dottie of Let’s Go Ride A Bike. The videos are sped up a bit to fit as much of her 20-40 minute commute in a videos and keep them short enough for most people to watch. I encourage you to visit Let’s Go Ride A Bike where Dottie provides some additional information about each videotaped commute route. If you take the time to explore her blog a bit you will see Dottie is a great photographer and writer. She writes with a very approachable style that leaves readers feeling like they just had chat with a friend. Because her blog is so well done, it is quite popular and the videos received dozens of comments that add value what you see.
In the first video below, Dottie shows a snippet of her preferred commute via a longer route on low traffic side streets through the Windy City. Because she winds her way through the side streets, she does not have a constant stream of fast moving motor vehicles whizzing by her shoulder. She does mention that this route takes her about forty minutes to get to her office. You will also notice that there are no other people on bicycles along her route, whereas the video of Kinzie Street has a a steady flow of people on bikes.
In the last video below, Dottie shows you a shorter, more direct commute route on a busier arterial street with a combination of typical painted bike lanes and shared lane pavement markings (a bike symbol and two chevrons). There is actually another person on a bicycle in front of her for most of the video. Despite the route being on a busy street with lots of cars, the person in front is transporting a child on the back of her bike. Based on every survey I have seen, Dottie and this woman represent a very tiny percentage of the overall people who ride bicycles and are willing to ride in busy traffic. Most people simply will not ride on this route.
I think these three videos offer a lot of insight into the state of cycling infrastructure and why more people don’t ride bicycles for transportation. Surveys show that most people who ride bicycles have a very low tolerance for motor vehicle traffic and will not ride on streets like Lincoln Ave., even with painted bike lanes or shared lane pavement markings. So, if right now, when most people look out their garage, they can’t see any streets on which they would consider riding a bicycle. For the majority of people who ride bicycles, there just are not attractive or convenient bicycle routes from their house to work, so they drive.
While not everyone would ride on Kinzie, evidence has proven that many more people will ride bicycles if there are convenient trails or protected bike lanes and a few quiet side streets that will take them where they want to go. The problem is that even in a very bicycle friendly city like Chicago, with a Mayor who ran on a platform of making the city more bicycle friendly, they still have only a bit under one mile of protected bike lanes on a network of thousands of miles or streets.
Most people in the US don’t live in cities as bike friendly as Chicago with bicycle advocates for mayors. My take-away from these videos is that if we actually want more people to ride bicycles, we need to build facilities like protected bike lanes that more people are willing to ride in. Regular bike lanes do get more people riding, but they are only attractive to a bit over 1% of the population of people who ride bikes. Protected bike lanes and trails appeal to many more people.
My second take-away from these videos is that we need real political champions to take bold steps and break the bureaucratic transportation engineering gridlock. Sometimes this takes putting agents of change in charge of the Departments of Transportation. Chicago did that with CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klien. New York City did that with NYDOT Commissioner Janet Sadik-Kahn.
Imagine if when people looked out their garage, instead of a road system designed just for cars, they could see a complete network of protected bike lanes all tied together by low volume, low speed side streets that would take them wherever they wanted to go. What a different world that would be.
Do you think that this sort of change will happen in smaller cities or does it take the chutzpah of a big city mayor? Is this sort of change only possible in cities where the population actually wants to be a great urban center? Could an alderman who bikes to work, be a similar agent of change in his district or would he lack the support within his district to make such sweeping changes? Are there smaller cities in Wisconsin where grassroots support could change the tide so bicycles get genuinely convenient and attractive bikeways?