Saturday Night Bike Blogging: The Perfect Bikeway

Over on the European Tribune, where I crossposted a couple of these bike blogs, asdf asked:

If bikes are the most efficient way to get around–at least for distances up to a few km–then why do we not have proper bikeways? Smooth pavement, gradual hills, and COVERS to keep the snow/wind/rain off? Imagine a countryside with little bike tunnels going here and there, with cozy, dry riders efficiently making their daily trips…

This is a lovely image. Indeed, a system of bikeways of this could even qualify as a dream.

However, if we start to dream it, we have to be careful that we do not fall into the familiar bad habits of the fading age of Auto Uber Alles … which is to use bikeways as a mechanism to get those pesky cyclists off the road.

If a system of bikeways is done right, then it will create far more bikes on the road of most cities, towns and suburbs of American than we have ever seen … indeed, than most of use have ever imagined. Which means, directly, that any system of bikeways intended to get those pesky bikes off the roads will be bikeways done wrong.

See you over the fold … and remember, as always, this is also a general cycling open thread.


First, what I am not arguing about. I am not arguing about safety here. Head off to Forrester’s site or Ken Kifer’s site, you can find plenty on how the typical “bikeway”, a dedicated lane on the margin of a road or street, is a recipe for increasing accidents for cyclists.

However, that is not a dedicated bikeway. If there are no cars traveling in the lane to the left, there is no danger of a bike heading straight getting caught by a right hook from a turning car. If there are no cars traveling in the lane to the left, there is no more difficulty in executing a left turn than there is for a car on two way street with nothing but automotive traffic.

So, what am I arguing about?

What I am arguing about is how a system of dedicated bikeways integrates with the existing transport system. If a dedicated bikeway is going where you want to go, with pavement, preferably shaded (I personally prefer trees to a roof or sailcloth, but whatever) … that is great. However … what is the likelihood of getting a cycleway extended to each and every household in a suburb, or town, or city, in a way that is completely disconnected from the road network?

Well, unless it is a very small town and one of the handful of mega-gazillionaires did it as a pet project, the likelihood is bugger all.

And yet we have a massive network of cycleways that already do, in fact, extend to almost every household in the country. They are called “streets”.

Indeed, at least here in Ohio, no city or village (“town” is not a legal entity in Ohio) can take away my right to ride on the street. They can offer me the right to ride on the sidewalk, if they wish … but they can’t take away my right to use the public right of way.

Now, a substantial number of death cage riders, aka “motorists”, are either unaware that I have that legal right, or consider it to be something short of a “real”, bona fide right … but they are not a real serious obstacle on an ordinary suburban street. With effective cycling, it is possible to manage them on an ordinary suburban street, because they are not 100% sure that they have the right to drive on ordinary suburban streets with sharing the road.

But I get the distinct impression … and, no, I cannot cite incidents, this is based on what must be hundreds of brief passing interactions since June, over more than a thousand miles of transport cycling, so its just a distinct impression … that the higher the speed limit goes, the more convinced they are that the cyclist has no right to be there.

And here’s the thing … suppose that there was a brilliant bikeway for the last five miles of my ride into the industrial park to get to work. And suppose that more people started riding their bikes using that bikeway. Some of them will then start using the bike for more chores and trips, and some of those trips will be beyond where the bikeway ends … and that will create cyclists on the road.

The Auto Uber Alles Bikeway Ideal

The ideal bikeway from an Auto Uber Alles mindset is one that, one, shuts the damn cyclists up for a while and, two, keeps them off the damn road. So the ideal bikeway is probably a hike and bike trial. It is put into place by a coalition including joggers and dog owners that want somewhere pleasant to walk while their dogs take a crap … and so it is often strung from one parking lot to another, being primarily designed to go from point A back to point A again, in pleasant surroundings.

And, indeed, many of the cyclists on the bike trail drive their car to a parking lot, ride one way, turn around and ride bike, reload their bike on their car, and go home.

I have nothing whatsoever against Bike and Hike trails … indeed, I hope to cycle on quite a number of them over the summer … uh, some summer, in some year, when I can afford that kind of bike holiday. But that is not a transport route. And it creates a community of users who would cry “foul” if anyone came along trying to turn it into a serious transport route, since that would involve paving it, and for many of its users, paving it would be a step backwards.

And, even further, a Bike and Hike trail is compatible with going without a car … there is substantial reason to load bikes onto a car to take to the Bike and Hike trail and back, other than the mindset that bikes are not meant to be ridden on the road, because cars commonly drive right over cyclists as if they were not there. Certainly, if the cyclists are adults with some training in how to ride on the road, they are safer riding their bikes to the Hike Bike trail than driving. Therefore, given nothing more than the mindset that its socially acceptable to ride the bike on the road, there is nothing else preventing the cyclists riding to the Hike and Bike trail, doing their circuit, and then riding home.

While a Hike and Bike trail is a good thing in its own right, it represents an approach to cycleways that can very easily interfere with the design and construction of effective transport routes.

Funding Actual, Factual, Transport Cycleways

The way to address interference between two distinct things that are perfectly fine activities in their own right is to separate them. That is the reason for the original gaps of empty broadcast spectrum between television broadcast channels … and the same thing is required if “Bike Trails” and “Cycleways” are not to interfere.

In civil engineering, the simplest way to avoid interference is to give different types of civil engineering projects distinct and independent sources of funding. So the most straightforward way to protect cycleways from interference from the quite different design goals of Bike Trails is with funding.

Now, I don’t pretend that my argument goes any further than that. I’ve got a dedicated funding source, but feel free to trump it with an even better, with means more easily sold politically, idea. That is to dedicate 1% of all Federal highway outlays to dedicated transport cycleways. The rules would be, the cycleways must be designed to serve the same population and employment centers used to justify the outlay of the highway funding itself, and they must be dedicated, paved, cycleways, not “bike lanes”, and not shared with hikers, joggers, and dogs taking a crap.

Supplementary to that, all highways receiving federally funds where it is, in fact, legal to cycle on the road must have a standard bike route designation located on every speed limit sign … which may also be funded out of the 1% transport cycleway fund.


No conclusions this week, just this little piece of a transport cycling argument.


    • BruceMcF on January 5, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    … to anything, but gosh, it shor is purty.

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