Bike Paths: Good or Bad?

Many "serious" cyclists (those who ride most days of the year and really bang out the miles) oppose funding construction of bike paths, because they feel the money could be better spent elsewhere, like improving roads and educating the public on sharing the road.

One very common argument is that building bike paths convinces cars that you don't belong on the road, that instead you belong on the bike path.

I have to agree that I wish drivers were better educated. And I agree that bike paths (and bike lanes especially, but I have different feelings about those) can make drivers believe that we don't belong on the road. But there's still something wrong with this as an argument against bike paths.

Imagine a perfect cycling world. Every driver was informed and respectful of cyclists rights. In this perfect world, I would still want bike paths.

Some criticize bike paths as being nothing more than linear parks. And I agree completely. And I like linear parks. In my perfect cycling world, I would certainly want to use roads for transportation while cycling. But I would also be interested in leisurely rides alone or with my family in a quiet, relaxing setting. If there's a nice linear park five minutes from where I live, I'm there. It's a better alternative than driving 15 miles out of town to the nice country roads, and while I'd certainly like to ride my bike those 15 miles out and back to have the nice ride in the middle, I often won't have the time, and my two-year-old usually wouldn't have the patience for such a ride.

Believe me, no matter how good drivers are to cyclists, there are always some roads that are just not going to be relaxing and enjoyable to ride on. Those four line roads through downtown business districts can seem quite daunting to many cyclists, especially at rush hour. Yes, the good news is that you can ride these roads with relative safety. And this message does need to go out to cyclists and drivers. But it's not ever going to be the place you go on a Sunday to enjoy the weather.

And, even though they are primarily linear parks, they can be used for legitimate transporation, if they just happen to go where you need to go, and if you are respectful of those using the park for a park.

That's all in a perfect world. But we don't have a perfect world. My argument is, why should I have to do without linear parks while I wait (somewhat hopelessly) for my perfect cycling world to materialize. I don't have to wait. Linear parks are enjoyable now, and they promote public health, and community growth, and they promote cycling. Yes we should spend money on education and road improvements. But solely promoting bikes for transportation is a poor way to promote bikes. We also have to promote their recreational use, and a good place to start is among casual in-town riders.

Bike Lanes: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

Bike lanes are a different story. In a perfect world, I would have no need for bike lanes. But in a perfect world, with well-educated drivers, and well-designed bike lanes, I would be certainly use them. But this perfect world argument doesn't work here the same way as it does above.

The main reason is that bike lane design is screwed up with such consistency, I can only think of them as death traps. I honestly think that the traffic engineers in Boston and Cambridge think that "bike lane" and "door zone" are the same thing. Just last year, we had a death, a woman riding in a bike lane (aka the door zone) was doored, and then hit by a bus.

Intersections are also an inherent problem with bike lanes, You have the situation of a rider in the lane wanting to turn left, and a car going straight. Or a car turning right, past a bike that's going straight. Well-designed paint combined with driver and rider education can alleviate these problems, however most bike lanes I've seen around here seem only to encourage conflict.

In addition, I think the argument about convincing drivers that you don't belong on the road is much stronger in the bike lane argument than the bike path argument. The driver can look at me in front of them, and look at the door zone/bike lane next to them, and wonder why the hell I'm not in it. They know just as little about the dangers as the idiot traffic engineers that painted the death traps.

As for promoting cycling, I have to yield a little. I think when people who are interested in cycling see a bike lane, it may encourage them to ride. But the fact is that we are putting them in harm's way. (Some may say you could make this argument about bike paths too, and while it is true that bike paths have high accident rates, they do not have high fatality rates.)

In other words, my argument for bike paths is that we shouldn't have to educate every last rider and driver before we enjoy this valuable resource. My argument for bike lanes is that we should have to wait, at least long enough to educate the traffic engineers, so that we don't build death traps.

And once we did design a safe bike lane, that addressed a bike lanes inherent problems (i.e.

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