Cities in the U.S., including Washington, D.C., where I live, are making significant investments in bicycling infrastructure. Two categories that have appeared just in the last decade, for example, are bicycle sharing and urban bike stations where cyclists can store bikes and get repairs. Bike lanes, or painted stripes marking bicycle travel space on roadways, have been around longer, but some of the new ones are much more sophisticated than what we had ten or twenty years ago.
I used the cycle tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street two weeks ago on my rain-soaked trek home from Climate Ride and was glad to have them. If I were a bike commuter, I would use them frequently.
There is a legitimate debate among cyclists about the efficacy of separated bike lanes compared to full recognition and respect of bicycles as vehicles entitled to use the same roadways as motor vehicles. I’ll confess to a bit of personal ambivalence about it all, especially outside of dense downtown areas. What we tend to call “bike trails,” for example, are actually multiple-use trails where an experienced cyclist must share space with pedestrians, dog walkers, baby strollers with nannies on cell phones, small children on their first, zigzag bike rides, and the like. I generally find cars more predictable and roadways safer for the pace I like to ride. Especially when cars are likely to be turning, I’d rather be in the main roadway where I am more visible.
For an interesting back-and-forth on this set of issues, see the comments on this blog post. I think both sides have a point. For myself, many of my complaints about bike facilities are reduced significantly when it is clear that they are bike-only spaces and used mainly by adults. I think cycle tracks and lanes may be more useful than not in heavily congested areas with good traffic signals.
There’s a terrific summary of D.C.’s experience with new bike facilities here, and this short video from Portland makes a great case for the new generation of bike tracks and lanes:
Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.