03 October 2009

Fear of Cycling 04 - New Cycling Spaces

Fourth installment by sociologist Dave Horton, from Lancaster University, as a guest writer. Dave has written a brilliant assessment of Fear of Cycling in an essay and we're well pleased that he fancies the idea of a collaboration. We'll be presenting Dave's essay in five parts.

Bend in the Road
We might suppose that fear of cycling has become locked into a downward spiral from which it seems almost impossible to break, unless the practice of cycling can be spatially relocated, and performed under ‘new’, ‘safe’ conditions. This section examines recent attempts to create such new, safe cycling spaces.

For most of the twentieth century, the great majority of cycling in the UK took place on roads. The dominant, widely shared assumption was that (declining numbers of) cyclists shared space with (increasing numbers of) cars, trucks, buses and taxis. Riding in an environment dominated by potentially lethal motorised modes of mobility was a taken-for-granted, normal part of cyclists’ ordinary experience. But over the last decade or so, a fundamental shift in cycling policy and infrastructure has occurred.

Cycle lanes have been introduced across the length and breadth of Britain. Many cycle lanes are ‘on-road’; the use of white lines and coloured paint is intended to mark a boundary between space for motorised traffic and space for cyclists.

Although often criticised and sometimes ridiculed, at its best this infrastructure aims to make cycling journeys more attractive; quicker, easier, safer, more pleasant.

In the UK, recent years have also seen major development of off-road cycling routes, shared not with motorised traffic but with people walking, dogs and horses (for details, see Cotton 2004). Many such routes have been developed and promoted by Sustrans, a charitable organisation committed to encouraging sustainable transport (see Sustrans 2000; www.sustrans.org.uk). These routes are emerging most explicitly around the figure of the cyclist, and they have certainly boosted interest and participation in cycling (Peace 2004; Sustrans 2006).

However, an unintended consequence of their popularity may be that the dominant public perception of cycling is becoming of an activity which best occurs in ‘safe’ and pleasant places (on disagreements around this issue within cycling policy circles, see Rosen 2003; Jones 2004). ‘Normal’ roads are no place to cycle; they are to be feared.

It is worth noting here the long-standing contentiousness, among British cyclists' organisations, of off-road cycling routes. The decades spanning the middle of the twentieth century saw British roads struggling to accommodate the car and the bicycle harmoniously.

A pamphlet produced by the Cyclists' Touring Club and titled Road Safety: a fair and sound policy (CTC n.d.b[c.1935]) states: 'It is often said that there is not room on our present roads for everybody and so the cyclist should be removed. The only traffic that cannot safely use our present roads is high-speed motor traffic, for which special highways should be provided'. In the ensuing battles over which group of users should be 'pushed off' the roads, cyclists eventually 'won', with the development of the motorway network for which they had long campaigned.

However, the rapid growth in levels of motorised traffic meant that there was no going back to 'the golden age' of cycling which they presumably had hoped the provision of motorways, by taking cars off existing roads, would enable. The organisational views expressed in the 1930s, during cyclists' resistance to the idea that cycling should be relocated to cycle paths, ought perhaps to provoke reflection on the situation today. For instance, in Making the Roads Safe: The Cyclists' Point of View, we find the following:

It is impossible to escape the conclusion that most people and organisations who advocate cycle paths are not actuated by motives of benevolence or sympathy, although they may declare that their sole concern is the welfare of the cyclist ... A great deal of the cycle-path propaganda is based on a desire to remove cyclists from the roads. That is why the request for cycle paths is so often accompanied by a suggestion that their use should be enforced by law. Therein lies a serious threat to cycling.
Cyclists' Touring Club 1937, 11-12

Of course the situation today is different. Perhaps most obviously, many people who fear cycling on the roads apparently desire to cycle elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, forms of off-road cycling - not only leisure cycling on ‘traffic free’ routes, but also BMX, mountain biking, cyclo-cross, trials riding and track - all seem to be gaining in popularity. And with the expansion of places to cycle off-road, the expectation grows that such places are the places to cycle.

The road stops feeling like a place to cycle; it begins to feel as though cycling does not belong there. The institutionalisation of this sensibility, anticipated by cyclists 70 years ago, is potentially not far behind. In 2006, the draft of the revised Highway Code instructed cyclists to use off-road routes wherever they exist. These planned revisions were opposed by cyclists, led by CTC, but they nonetheless make clear how the provision of ‘attractive’ alternatives produces the cyclist-on-the-road as ever more out-of-place. New ideas of ‘normal’ are being produced, and it is becoming less normal to see roads as appropriate places to cycle.

Meanwhile, riding on the road becomes an ever more fearful prospect for ever more people. Without any necessary objective change in the conditions prevailing on the roads, the provision of off-road routes increases people's fear of on-road cycling. Further, the promotion of such routes tends to feed (on) this fear. Sustrans’ publicity material, for example, makes regular use of an adjective which has assumed enormous power in UK cycling promotion; ‘safe’. One recruitment leaflet calls on people to ‘help us build safe attractive cycle routes in your area’ (Sustrans n.d., my emphases).

Arguably therefore, today’s youngsters are growing up with the expectation that, if they cycle at all, it will be away from cars. It would of course be wrong to see these shifting sensibilities as unopposed. Cycling advocates are increasingly insistent that today’s youngsters must be trained to ride on the roads, and government funding towards that aim has recently been forthcoming. But tensions around the proper place of cycling constitute a major new battleground of mobility and sustainability conflicts in the twenty first century. It is also worth noting, for what is to follow, that spatial re-allocation of cycling away from the road is shifting the object of fear, from cycling to the cyclist. On off-road routes, the cyclist is no longer so viscerally threatened and endangered, and instead becomes perceived as the source of threat and danger to slower-moving, more leisurely others. The source of fear shifts from the practice to the practitioner.

Before continuing on the theme of fear of the cyclist, I want briefly to summarise this section. The road safety industry, helmet promotion campaigns and anyone responsible for marketing off-road cycling facilities all have a vested interest in constructing cycling - particularly cycling on the road - as a dangerous practice.

Cycling, in other words, is made ‘dangerous’ by these attempts to render it ‘safe’. Each of the cases I have discussed is (perhaps unwittingly) therefore implicated in the production of a fear of cycling. This fear of cycling stops people cycling, and stopping people from cycling is an effective way of continuing the reproduction of a fear of cycling. But now I want to tackle more directly something at which up until now I have only been hinting, the potential relevance of a fear of the cyclist to a fear of cycling.

[Coming up shortly on Copenhagenize.com]


- Cotton, N. (2004) Traffic-Free Cycle Trails (Frome: CycleCity Guides).
- Cyclists' Touring Club (n.d. b [c.1935]) Road Safety: a fair and sound policy (London: Cyclists' Touring Club).
- Cyclists' Touring Club (1937) Making the Roads Safe: The Cyclists Point of View (London: Cyclists' Touring Club).
- Jones, T. (2004) ‘Household Travel Behaviour Adjacent to the National Cycle Network: the Network's Role in Encouraging Utility Cycling', paper presented to Cycling and the Social Sciences Symposium, Centre for Mobilities Research, Lancaster University.
- Peace, R. (2004) 'Damned Lies and Statistics', in Cycle, August/September, 20-2.
- Rosen, P. (2003) How Can Research into Cycling Help Implement the National Cycling Strategy? Review of Cycling Research Findings and Needs, (University of York: Science and Technology Studies Unit).
- Sustrans (2000) Millennium Miles: The Story of the National Cycle Network, (Wilts: Good Books).
- Sustrans (2006) The National Cycle Network: Route User Monitoring Report To End of 2005 (Bristol: Sustrans).
- Sustrans (n.d.) Help us build safe attractive cycle routes in your area (Bristol: Sustrans).

Fear of Cycling - Part 01 - Introduction
Fear of Cycling - Part 02 - Constructing Fear of Cycling / Road Safety 'Education'
Fear of Cycling - Part 03 - Helmet Promotion Campaigns
Fear of Cycling - Part 04 - New Cycling Spaces
Fear of Cycling - Part 05 - Making Cycling Strange

Dave Horton is a sociologist and lover of all things cycling. He is part of the Cycling and Society Research Group, which has pioneered a ‘cultural turn’ in cycling studies and which holds an annual symposium in the UK. Dave works at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, on the project ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’. He tries to do, to write about, and to promote all kinds of cycling, because cycling is essentially good.


Dave Reid said...

I'm curious what the author would think of Copenhagen's cycletracks?

Mikael said...

I've discussed it with him and he says it in the essay: "Although often criticised and sometimes ridiculed, at its best this infrastructure aims to make cycling journeys more attractive; quicker, easier, safer, more pleasant."

The ridiculed part is a British perspective, of course. Cycle tracks have no alternative. There are some quirky theories about bicycles pretending they're cars, but we haven't seen those theories work anywhere in the world. And they've been around for 35 years.

Dave is speaking about off-road cycle tracks/pathways that effectively remove bicycles from anywhere near the roads.

Anonymous said...

To Mikael

The Essay is not really clear on the point of on-road facilitys like you mostly have in Copenhagen (or what kind of cycle tracks are you talking about?). You cite: "Although often criticised and sometimes ridiculed, at its best this infrastructure aims to make cycling journeys more attractive; quicker, easier, safer, more pleasant." This scentence is following directly to: "Many cycle lanes are ‘on-road’; the use of white lines and coloured paint is intended to mark a boundary between space for motorised traffic and space for cyclists." I'm reading Dave Horton as opossing to every form of segregation of cars and bicycles, even on-road cycle lanes.


Anonymous said...

This is a really good series - like many, I've been looking forward to this latest installment. It gives as much to think about as the previous three.

@frank above: if you read this chapter in context, or read the intro, it's made clear that this series is informed by the perspective of UK cycling issues, history & infrastructure (though the topics covered are by no means restricted to UK).
- WeeE

Kim said...

To understand Dave Horton view point it is useful to know a bit more about cycle tracks and cycle lanes in the UK, many of which are awful, if not down right dangerous to cyclist who misguidedly try to use them.

Anonymous said...


Of course I know he is mostly talking about the UK. But Dave Reid asked what Horton would think about Copenhagens cycletracks. In my opinion he is critical about every seperation of cars and bicycles. This includes on-road facilitys often seen in Copenhagen.


Mikael said...

Now I'm sure Dave Horten can reply himself, but like I said I discussed this with him and, like I said, it's quite clear in the text.

I agree with him that marginalising cycling by shunting it offroad to share space with pedestrians, horses and rabbits is problematic.

I also agree that cycle tracks 'make cycling journeys more attractive; quicker, easier, safer, more pleasant'.

If the Vehicular Cyclists are fishing for [desperately needed] ammo, they've come to the wrong place. :-)

Anonymous said...


Vehicular Cyclists, never heard the expression before. But after I looked it up I can say the shoe fits quite well. I have to say im from Germany and using bicycle infrastructure here is far from being "more attractive; quicker, easier, safer, more pleasant" it doesnt matter if its an on-road or off-road facility. In Germany most of the time the only way to cycle "more attractive; quicker, easier, safer, more pleasant" is the way of the Vehicular Cyclists. But I think its not really infrastructure that makes the biggest difference between DK, NL on one side and Germany, UK etc. on the other. Its the Cycling Culture and Tradition you can rely on, meaning a cyclist in DK/NL is respected and perceived as an equal road user by motorists.


kfg said...

"There are some quirky theories about bicycles pretending they're cars . . ."

By a few quirky extremists who do not understand (or do not wish to understand) the actual principles of vehicular cycling.

"Cycle tracks have no alternative."

To those who do not understand (or do not wish to understand) the alternatives. . .

". . .we haven't seen those theories work anywhere in the world. And they've been around for 35 years."

Despite the fact they've been around and workably used by the vast majority of cyclists since the inception of the bicycle.

Both sides can be reduced to looking silly when they state their case in extreme and inflexibly dogmatic terms.

Just a cyclist said...

Not that I'm converting into a zealous vehicular cyclist but this article gave further understanding to some of the backgrounds for their standpoints.

Cyclists should certainly have equal rights to use any roads available (except for highways, of course) - and their presence should also be anticipated by the motor vehicles there. But: This does not and should not cancel the needs for proper cycling infrastructure wherever it is possible.

kfg said...


"Not that I'm converting into a zealous vehicular cyclist . . ."

Just to be clear, neither am I (I spent a part of yesterday dodging kamikaze fuzzy bunnies on a fully separated cycling facility); but:

"This does not and should not cancel the needs for proper cycling infrastructure wherever it is possible."

The only difference between your statement and the statement of the man who laid down the modern, formal principles of vehicular cycling (who, incidentally, as I allude to in the next article, is the very same man who laid down the formal principles of good separate infrastructure, based on the "unproven" theories that keep ships at sea and planes in the air from bumping into each other (mostly)), is that he would say, "Where NECESSARY," rather than "Where POSSIBLE."

He is NOT (as his zealous "followers" are wont to claim) opposed to separate facilities as a dogmatic stance (nor does he state that bicycles are CARS. They are VEHICLES, as are mopeds and horse buggies).

Then we get to quibble about just what is "necessary," or even what is MEANT by "necessary."

And of course there are many places in this world where it is not possible to install Copenhagen like facilities without first bulldozing the entire city flat and replacing it with a model of Copenhagen. If there is "no alternative" to separate facilities in these places then the obvious solution to those in power will be to simply ban bicycles.

And bicycles are part the solution, not part of the problem; as well as NOT being particularly dangerous to ride in most conditions, including on some superhighways (however UNPLEASANT that might be).

Just a cyclist said...

kfg: I recall some vehicular cyclist text somewhere that claimed that the advanced dutch cycle path network actually only are relics from a century ago or so, then serving as auxilliary roads when the dutch expanded their lands by filling in the seashores. Or something like that.
The essence of the text was that this made it possible for them to have their advanced network of cycle paths and that since all other locations in the world lacked the benefit of these relic auxilliary roads, such network of cycle paths would be inconcievable elsewhere.

Now, putting all safety considerations aside, creation of cycle paths in city centres by reducing the spaces available for cars means more restriction for motor traffic and facilitation of cycling. This may sound as empty rethorics but it would sure make an impact.

kfg said...


The separated "cycling" (it's really an American multi-use path and I also have to dodge peletons of skiers (in SUMMER) as well as fuzzy bunnies) facility is the former site of the Erie Canal tow path. If the remains of the canal and towpath had not been there no separate facility would be possible and a limited access arterial would be the ONLY route through that particular corridor.

This may sound as zealotry, but I favor closing most city centers to motor traffic entirely (Ferraraize), and perhaps bulldozing Motor City itself flat and replacing it with a model of Copenhagen. :)

Just a cyclist said...

I think that's BS. Segregated cycle facilities are rarely impossible to create, only some ambition to create them is there.

kfg said...

If you have the ambition (and political power; and capital) of a Haussmann, sure. I've already stipulated the power of the bulldozer.

But some of us like living in our quaint old houses, in our quaint old streets, laid out for and BY goats; and the quaint old courtesy it takes for a cyclist and a Smart Car to share space amicably, because neither has room to pass the other.

Anonymous said...

A great deal of the cycle-path propaganda is based on a desire to remove cyclists from the roads. That is why the request for cycle paths is so often accompanied by a suggestion that their use should be enforced by law.

This quote from the UK from 1937 is interesting.

I have always thought that compulsion to use dedicated cycling facilities is a curious use of the law. If the facilities are excellent, you should not need to compel; if they are deficient in some way, you have no right to compel.

So I was taken aback to hear that facilities are compulsory in Denmark. Even if they are in general excellent, why compel? Somebody somewhere in Denmark must have at some time built a deficient cycle facility.

Perhaps I was misinformed?

Just a cyclist said...

kfg: No, its not at all impossible, well maybe if you live in a mediaeval city core with streets for goats.

Otherwise, a few separated paths to connect suburbs are not at all very expensive to build. They often take the form of Multi User Pathways. (I know, for vehicular cyclists, MUP's are the work of the devil)

Then all that is needed is to snatch space from motor traffic in city centres somewhat more aggressively. I know that it'd hurt but it would have positive side effects as well.

kfg said...

". . .its not at all impossible, well maybe if you live in a mediaeval city core with streets for goats."

You might be surprised at how many of these still exist in the world. The Emperors didn't parade everywhere, nor was everyplace subject to the "Urban Renewal" of the World Wars. Many of them are still trafficed by goats rather than cars (wear your "mud" guards or you'll be sorry. Don't ask me how I know) and so have escaped the Carizing of the 20th century.

In the US, of course, we don't have Medieval cities, we have colonial ones. Same difference (fewer goats, more sheep).

In the Netherlands, of course, they do.

If you poke around YouTube you will find videos of streets in Holland with no cycling facilities (or even pedestrian facilities) because the Dutch have deemed that shared use with vehicular cycling is the right alternative for that "space challenged" area. They seem to cope with it without freaking out or anything.

And you are never going to Copenhaganize (have you noticed that the spell checker doesn't like "Copenhaganize"? What's wit dat?) Marrakesh without a bulldozer. It's going to have to be Marrakeshized if it is to remain Marrakesh.

". . .a few separated paths to connect suburbs are not at all very expensive to build."

These were actually PROPOSED by the "father" of vehicular cycling (the guy who some people claim is dogmatically opposed to all bike paths) 35 years ago as the sort of facility that is pragmatically useful; and in some cases even necessary.

"Multi User Pathways. (I know, for vehicular cyclists, MUP's are the work of the devil)"

I fear for my 80 year old mother when she is on one. I don't want her taken out by some dog walker or a cross country skier. Thus, they are the work of the devil whether I am a vehicular cyclist or not. Please note that in the Netherlands they are actually starting to make dog walking paths to keep the damned dog walkers off the vehicular roads (i.e. bike paths). The dog walkers seem to appreciate it as well, since they tend to get pissed of at the cyclists riding on the bike path where they just want to peaceably walk their dog.

"Then all that is needed is to snatch space from motor traffic in city centres somewhat more aggressively."

I have already stipulated that I favor Ferraraizing. That, however, is not creating a "cycling facility," it's just banning motor traffic from the roads.

:I know that it'd hurt . . ."

In much of America and Britain even banning on street parking would amount to, pragmatically, a ban on car ownership. The populace will not, and likely will not for some decades, suffer that hurt.

Of course *I* have already stipulated that *I* favor . . . but I am not the measure of all things.

". . .it would have positive side effects as well."

I have already stipulated . . . :)

Just a cyclist said...

kfg: Look, another vehicular cyclist cliché is that the dutch cyclists are much less proficient on shared roads than cyclists from other areas simply since they are accustomed to being separated from cars.

Mammals are to be looked out for and to be expected - sure, even more important with the four legged ones. No, I'm not saying that safety in numbers does apply here (as in more cats/dogs on the cycle paths).

Peter said...

Cycling away from cars on quiet, uncrowded bike paths is not only less fearful than cycling on the shoulder of most roads--it is much more pleasant. This is speaking as an American (New York) cyclist.

Some factors leading to the uncomfortable marginalization felt by cyclists on roads are innate and not socially constructed. Cyclists experience car traffic as recklessly, fiendishly fast and sudden, as well as startlingly loud, smelly, and incessant, for example. This experience is visceral, not socially constructed. I do agree that socially constructed fear compounds this natural aversion of the cyclist toward car traffic, but it is not the primary culprit.

Many years ago as a bystander, I saw an unconscious cyclist bleeding a dark pool from the head, her pulse being taken by a paramedic. It is possible she was dying--I don't know. Her rear wheel had been smashed into a pretzel shape by a car. A crowd had gathered. The vision is seared on my brain. That is how fear works; it is "sticky." Does this direct experience count as "socially constructed" fear? Rational or not, wearing a helmet helps me move forward because it feels like that kind of injury will be made less likely.

Dave Horton said...

For info., Mikael did ask me to clarify my thoughts on separate cycling provision. I don't have an entrenched position, but here's what I said:

1. I don't want to vilify off-road cycling infrastructure, which is often great. People understandably want to use it. However, increasing provision of off-road infrastructure for cycling will have, and does have, consequences. One such consequence (and we have seen this in the NLs and Dk) is a re-orientation of the definition of cycling space – the official designation of where you are and are not intended to cycle. Movement is always governed (however successfully) and the provision of new spaces for cycling results in changes to how cycling is governed. This effects how cycling is represented, practiced, the very definitions of what cycling is.

2. The situations in Dk, the NLs and the UK are all different. It is difficult to generalize. My article was written in and reflects a UK context, where cycling either shares (largely ‘unprotected’) space with motorized traffic, or shares (again, largely ‘unprotected’) space with people moving more slowly than most cyclists. It was also written as cyclists’ right-to-the-road were under attack in the UK legal system (the case of Daniel Cadden), mainly because of the provision of (substandard) off-road infrastructure. So it's a political intervention. What's more, it's clear to me that the proper place of cycling will continue to be politically contentious, enormously significant, and a battle to be fought and won, over the rest of this century, a century which'll make or break the future of our species.

3. I agree, many people (understandably, given a fear of cycling) prefer to cycle away from motorized traffic. I agree, we should provide these kinds of facilities, as seen in Dk and the NLs. Such facilities promote cycling. *However*, I argue that the promotion of such facilities via use of the adjective 'safe' tends to heighten people’s fears of cycling elsewhere. Providing such spaces for cycling will also have other effects, including contributing to changing expectations as to where it is more and less appropriate to cycle. Also, the kinds of spaces where people have always cycled (roads) become constructed as ‘too dangerous’. My vision of roads is of civilized spaces through which people move, but where they also can simply be. You don't civilize roads by shunting cycling to the sides, even if those sides are protected. Most of Copenhagen's roads are not civilized. Promoting cycling is about more than creating new spaces for cycling; it’s about fundamentally changing the spaces through which people currently drive cars.

I understand and respect the desire for separate cycling space (although we're not actually getting those in the UK; we’re getting spaces which mix cycling with walking, which creates as many problems/dangers as it solves). But although we can't know for sure, we should be mindful of the potential longer term consequences of the ways in which cycling is currently (in different ways in different places) being re-shaped, and our cities being re-shaped with it. And whilst I would obviously prefer the UK to be more like Dk and the NLs when it comes to cycling, I'd like the UK and everywhere else to transcend such places as they currently are, so that cycling dominates the cityscape (we get hints of such future cities in the present urban cores of places such as Groningen and Ghent, but not I would argue in Copenhagen – although Copenhagen is influential and inspiring). My argument then, is (implicitly) about control and discipline of ever fewer cars as as well as about the control and discipline of ever more cycles.

I hope that helps clarify my position, although as I said, it's a fluid and open one.

Huge thanks Mikalel, for presenting my work. It's great to see people reading and responding.

And a big thank you to everyone who has responded, so positively and with such thoughtful comments.

Dave Horton

Adrienne Johnson said...

It seems to me that the discussion should not be about on or off road paths, but about quality and usability. I do not care if my route is with or without cars as long as I can get where I am going. In my experience, very few shared use, off road paths go to anyplace useful. They do not tend to be along shopping corridors nor do they lead to business districts or transport hubs. Most of these paths seem to be designed to allow people to wander along and pretend they are not in a car clogged city for a few minutes.

Until cycling is recognized as a form of transportation that has particular infrastructure needs, we will have to fight to not share space with horses and pedestrians on glorified sidewalks and pretty equestrian paths.

Anonymous said...

I feel in my city Dublin that things would be better if walkers, cyclests and motorests were treated equal and no one groups rights to road space were above the rights of another group. In a sense the roads are shared space for all. The idea that you are responsible for everybodys elses saftey and also yours.
Promotion of common rules for all Lights , crossings, junctions etc . I think this in a way forward in crowded streets. Seperation just promotes disharmony between people.
We are all walkers, cyclists and drivers but at diffrent times therfore the needs for each group should be promoted

kfg said...


"Look, another vehicular cyclist cliché is that the dutch cyclists are much less proficient on shared roads than cyclists from other areas"

Yes, it is a cliché, nor is it one entirely without validity. On the other hand, if you look for those videos you will see it is also one that is not entirely justified. As I noted, when IN HOLLAND they are confronted with shared roads they don't even seem to notice they aren't in a protected environment and interact with cars just fine. They DO tend to freak when presented with a larger environment without paths though, which suggests it to be a psychological issue, rather than a true skills issue. Fear of the strange.

People who grow up without helmets tend to think wearing them is doofey. People who grow up wearing helmets are scared shitless to even stand next to a bike without a helmet (This girl was just STANDING with her bike, and, like, she feel over and DIED dude!).

People who grow up riding on roads tend to think people who ride on paths are just another form of helmet wearer; their "helmet" being the separation from cars; which is doofey. Cycling isn't dangerous.

I'm afraid when Michael (who I think I'd really enjoy hanging out with. Seems a generally charming and humorous sort of fellow. And he likes bikes) says that there is "no alternative" to separated facilities I hear the SAME thing I hear when an American says "Wear a helmet, moron!"

There ARE alternatives. Sometimes the alternative is just as good, or better. Sometimes they are the ONLY viable alternative. It depends on the circumstances. We live in a world of compromises, not absolutes.


"Cycling away from cars on quiet, uncrowded bike paths is not only less fearful than cycling on the shoulder of most roads--it is much more pleasant. This is speaking as an American (New York) cyclist."

*I* do not NECESSARILY find it so. I am also speaking as resident of the NEW Netherlands. Sure, I find it more pleasant to do mindless laps around Eisenhower Park than trying to actually GO somewhere on the Hempstead Turnpike. I do not find the latter more FEARFUL, however. It's raucous, smelly and more than a bit jangly to the nerves, but it isn't particularly dangerous.

In Warren county I'm often "sharing" a road all by myself. It's very pleasant. When a driver does happen to come along we even often share a wave. There is no conflict to be resolved. Unless he's a logging truck.

"Many years ago as a bystander, I saw an unconscious cyclist . . ."

Many years ago I WAS that cyclist. I was only a teenager at the time. I learned something from the experience. It's been about 20 years since I've so much as scraped a knee, although I ride thousands of miles on the open rode each year. Cycling isn't that dangerous. It's certainly far less dangerous riding a bike on the open road than it is driving a CAR on the open road. Do you have similar feelings of fear when you drive a car?


"My vision of roads is of civilized spaces through which people move . . ."

We are in accord. Civility, however, does not currently seem to be in fashion. I believe that if it were we wouldn't have anything here to talk about.

kfg said...


". . .very few shared use, off road paths go to anyplace useful."

One of my locals actually does. In fact, it's the ONLY direct route open to cyclists going west on the south side of a river, where the shopping mall is. Of course to get to the mall it dumps you off in the MIDDLE of a highway off ramp, with no traffic controls. Run and pray. We haven't had any fatalities there, I think because it's so obviously dangerous that I'm the only one who uses it.

". . .we will have to fight to not share space with horses and pedestrians on glorified sidewalks . . ."

And that are closed to us (in my part of the country) the moment the snow flakes start to fall, even THOUGH it is the only through route for cyclists; which I believe is contra-legal, but nonetheless so. Nor will anything be done about it because of the economy, which is turning more people to utilitarian cycling, because the money is needed for automotive infrastructure related stimulus packages (and a cynic might suggest that government ownership of General Motors might have something to do with this, but I won't go there).

Anonymous said...

kfg, Dave Horton et. al.:

Is there anything negative with giving cyclists the choice of not having to mingle with cars at rush hour? Not many perceive a separated path (even if shared with pedestrians) to pose more risks than to share a road with cars at rush hour. Somehow it seems logical.

Anonymous said...

"Is there anything negative with giving cyclists the choice of not having to mingle with cars . . ."

Ah. That is not something I have been arguing against. My starting point was Mikael's statement that there was no alternative. I have been arguing the alternatives. Separated paths ARE one of the alternatives.

The vehicular cyclist point of view (and I mean the formally codified point of view, not the point of view of some random yob on the web claiming that "bikes are cars." See Effective Cycling and Bicycle Transportation: A Handbook for Cycling Transportation Engineers; John Forester) is that vehicular cycling is the BEST alternative in the vast MAJORITY of cases IF your goal is making cycling a safe and effective means of personal transportation. That's all. If your goal is something else, well, you may need some other strategy; at the expense of safety and/or effectiveness at TRANSPORTATION (note that in Amazon reviews of Effective Cycling there are many COMPLAINTS that it only covers transportational cycling and doesn't cover recreational trail riding. It isn't meant to, because it isn't concerned with it).

The vehicular cyclist point of view does NOT eschew cycling beneficial infrastructure, but believes that such infrastructure should be INNATE in the construction of the road in the first place; that they should be made (where possible) a place where cyclists and cars can mingle without NEEDING to mingle - except where there is need. Although they are not formally separated, under most conditions they DO have their own space, but retain the ability (both physically and legally) to merge into each others for negotiating turns and such. One road; space for all, in the usual left/right hierarchy of lane space by SPEED, not TYPE.

With a road of this sort we might have two formal lanes in each direction, but the "slow" lane is up to a full lane extra wide. We have, say, traffic in the "fast" lane moving at 60 kph, traffic in the "slow" lane moving at 30 kph and traffic in the "wide space" toddling along at 15 kph. Cyclists toddling have a goodly amount of space to do so (a full lane width, they are NOT crowded to the curb), BUT, cyclists who can and WISH to move at 30 can merge fully into the lane; and have the right to do so by virtue of their SPEED (again, not by their TYPE). A car wishing to make a turn on the slow side, slows to 15 kph and merges properly with the toddling cyclists, becoming part of the 15 kph stream of traffic because he is not restricted from it by type. From this point on no hooks by the car are possible, but any cyclist can move out to pass it on the fast side.

OK, all of that just to clarify what is ACTUALLY the formally desired model of vehicular cycling. It is NOT "Just find a road and ride down the middle of it, Dude. Bonzai!"

kfg said...

OK, so what is the possible negative of giving you the choice to ride on the sidewalk/pavement (with or without pedestrian access)?

The key word in there is "choice." Some legal philosophy is necessary here I'm afraid.

In many countries (say, the US or England (I'm not sure what the Scots are up to these days, now that they have their own Parliament)), the road is not merely a bit of transportation engineer's physical plant for moving "transportation units" around; it is a RIGHT of way. A LEGAL concept. A public space, which all members of the public have a right to occupy and "make way." Note there is no mention of vehicles here. We're talking about actual people. Making way on the road is an innate RIGHT of the PERSON. Neither a car nor a bicycle has any right to be there. You can test this by placing a car or a bicycle in a road and watching the results. PEOPLE will get upset about it and the vehicle will eventually be removed by the authorities. It has no RIGHT to be there. It's just a thing, IN the way (obstructing the direction of travel. "Make way" means "clear a direction of travel") of people. Things don't have rights; people do.

Operating a motor vehicle, however, is not a right. It is a privilege given under GRANT by the government. The government may withdraw that grant. The right of way attains to the driver, not the car. The driver "owns the road," not the vehicle. Thus the bicycle driver "owns the road" equally with the motor vehicle driver. They each have a right of way, but - operating a bicycle is NOT a privilege. A person on a bicycle has the full rights of a PERSON to occupy the road. In this sense his legal position is actually superior to that of the motor vehicle operator.

If you are given the choice of the sidewalk/pavement there is the risk that this right might erode and even be taken away, either legally, or merely as a matter of pragmatism (car drivers insist you "get off the road" and onto the sidewalk were you "belong"). If you choose to ride there that's OK, you have the right not to invoke a right. Makes no difference to me. But if I LOOSE an innate right of citizenship to favor a person merely invoking a privilege I might not be happy about it. You might come to find, when it is too late, that you aren't either.

Someday you might wish to ride on a road at 30 kph with cars doing the same; and be forced onto a 15 kph path because of your vehicle type. You have, in essence lost your citizenship and been reclassified as a type of object.

kfg said...

"Not many perceive a separated path . . . to pose more risks than to share a road with cars at rush hour. Somehow it seems logical."

Aristotle deemed it logical that a 10 kg ball falls ten times faster than a 1 kg ball, and so the course of scientific development was retarded by hundreds of years, because what seems logical just ain't necessarily so and perception is a notably faulty thing. Fear of the boogie man under the bed doesn't imply that there IS a boogie man under the bed. Even SEEING the boogie man under the bed does not imply that there is a boogie man under the bed (the inverse of this might be people who swear their helmet saved their life when an engineer can take one look at it and see it either failed catastrophically or failed to do any damned thing at all).

Feeling good about a situation can be the very thing that kills you. I'm distrustful of "feel good" public policy that may/does actually INCREASE risk. I think it's better to face facts, even unpleasant ones, then to rush full speed into a pleasant disaster.

I'm not saying that separated cycling facilities innately fall into this category (although multi-uses certainly do). I WILL say that the risk of them falls according to the degree that they are vehicular ROADS operated upon under vehicular principles though. Thus even cycle roads require vehicular cycling, just without having to mix with cars. the most recent Dutch "paths" would fall into this category.

I'll state this as well. If you wish to ride on a multi-use path, even though I consider the risk to be too high for myself; I don't consider that *any of my business.* Just as my (hypothetical) fear of water should not in any way restrict you from having a paddle in a canoe.

Conversely, if *I* don't fear mixing with cars . . .

Your keyword was, again, "choice." In places where cyclists are RESTRICTED to the paths, is it (and should it even be) to keep them safe, or is it really to give cars unrestricted rights of way on the public roads without all those damned cyclists (who might well be able to move at the speeds perfectly acceptable of a car on the same road, but with much greater personal safety) being there; and who wants to share the road with cyclists? It isn't logical.

Disclaimer: I ACTUALLY ride on open roads and multi-use paths (I do not have the option of modern Dutch style cycle roads. If I did I would ride on those too. Might well even like 'em best, who knows?). I can do so in relative safety on either one, because - cycling is not particularly dangerous.

Just a cyclist said...

kfg: Verboseness is not a virtue...

Your vehicular cyclinst vision of three lanes with two dedicated for traffic under 30 kph would really require some $$ and/or at least the number of bulldozers you proposed earlier...

Now, I am aware of the contentious nature of some cycling related safety statistics... Still, there is one that is not quite as contentious: that cars are the source of greatest dangers for cyclists. No kfg, risk is not only concentrated at the interfaces between cycle paths and roads. Far from, an example is left turns on any "normal" road crossing.

As for multi user pathways, here's a surprise for you: its not that difficult to adapt to their "high risk" subtleties.
I use them daily and there are loads of roller skiers taking up the whole path, dog walkers are not very uncommon either.
However: at rush hour there are far fewer roller skiers and dog walkers or even pedestrians, then its mostly bike commuters (even if they're relatively few anyway).

There is also the option to use the road as well. Maybe not the best choice on a road without a verge but crowded with cars, VC or not. Forcing the cars to overtake you in the opposite lane actually creates dangers for the cars, not that that's the main focus of our discussion...

StefanS said...

I agree with the general tendency of the article. In Germany, cycle paths abound, but when I try to convince somebody to switch to cycling, one of the standard answers is "I would like to, but there are no cycle paths where I need to go". Another phrase that I often hear from occasional cyclists is that they "must" ride on the road.

There are those who say that, even though cycle paths are objectively more dangerous than the road, they are still necessary to address the subjective fears of unexperienced cyclists. The opposite is the case, and this article works it quite nicely: by constructing "safe" cycle paths, cycling on the road is painted as an unsafe practice, and since cycle paths cannot be everywhere, non-cyclists will always have a reason not to switch to cycling.

Thus, cycle paths contribute to a decline in cycling, plus they make life more dangerous for the remaining cyclists.

All this is not to say that I oppose the construction of off-road cycle facilities - there are many in Germany that are a joy to use, and in some circumstances, they enable cyclists to travel as efficiently or even more so than on roads. However, they should be presented as an additional option and not as a "safe" place to cycle because they aren't. During this year's vacation I got back and forth through Switzerland just fine but had two near-accidents on the cycle path around Lake Constance - because certain unexperienced cyclists felt it was ok to fool around in a so-called "safe" environment.

kfg said...


"Verboseness is not a virtue..."

I know and I apologize, but I didn't have time to be less verbose.

"Your vehicular cyclinst vision . . ."

It isn't mine. I am just a messenger. I cited the formal source.

"two dedicated for traffic under 30 kph"

The only more or less dedicated lane is the "slowest/right turn." Nor is this the only version. It is just the multi-lane highway variant. I used it as an example of the principle. There are country lane and city street versions as well. Elucidating every variant would have forced me to be far more verbose.

". . .would really require some $$ and/or at least the number of bulldozers you proposed earlier..."

Absolutely correct. Roadways cost money to build and occupy space. I don't know that this is the least bit controversial. In some places it will be impossible, in others the structure *already exists* and simply needs dedicating. It almost always requires less space, money and bulldozing than a a parallel separated facility. The separation occupies space as well. I do not favor turning the Earth into one, giant "transportation system." Heart is where the home is.

". . .cars are the source of greatest dangers for cyclists."

Also correct, at least away from tornado country; and an even greater danger to pedestrians.

" . . .risk is not only concentrated at the interfaces between cycle paths and roads."

Which is why I didn't say any such thing. It is, however, ONE of the concentration points and often one of the greatest, as per above. That is why the Dutch have sought (rather successfully) to reduce and even eliminate them. I wonder why it took them so long, as the solution is obvious. Run one UNDER 'tother (where I am we did this 100 years ago. Although some of them still exist they have been CLOSED to the public. Yay! As they won't let us use the ones we already have, I don't see them building more). The Danes are moving forward with their versions as well. I commend them.

"multi user pathways . . .its not that difficult to adapt to their "high risk" subtleties."

Again correct: Which is why I said I use them (not daily, but several times a week, maybe 100kms worth); Entirely voluntarily and at low risk. Without any safety "gear" either. Cycling is not particularly dangerous. The speeds and kinetic energy levels are low.

"There is also the option to use the road as well."

Well there ya go.

"Maybe not the best choice on a road without a verge but crowded with cars"

Maybe not; that would be proportional to the degree you can integrate yourself into the flow of traffic. Note that on such a road at rush hour you would likely move much FASTER in a dedicated space. One of the cited advantages of bicycles.

Vehicular cycling philosophy, as noted, however, advocates AGAINST the building of such roads.

"Forcing the cars . . ."

I am not aware of FORCING cars to do anything and passing a cyclist is certainly safer for a driver than passing another car. Cars are dangerous. Even at low speeds their kinetic energy levels are high, as it is proportional to mass.

Perhaps we should force them onto separated facilities where the dangers are exaggerated so they must move slower to remain relatively safe. Perhaps even constantly interrupt their flow. That would make driving cars less effective as a means of personal transportation and turn people to cycling - which isn't particularly dangerous.

Just a cyclist said...

Well,I guess that finally I've gotten an even clearer picture of what Vehicular Cycling, by courtesy of kfg.

In essence the VC vision is about superhighways integrating high speed motor traffic with bicycles and slowing down motortraffic by having the cyclists play a role of some human shields among cars - all in the name of "effective" transportation.

One may guess that its not any coincidence that the inception of this vision coincides with the era of hippies and psychedelia. Don't get me wrong; I do believe that todays lack of the political awareness, commitments and movements of that era (at least as it was in europe) is a clear weakness to the society.

The VC vision, however, does seem to nicely integrate the love message with psychedelia and, well... hallucinogens.

2wanderers said...

While this does make a good case for why the push for cycle paths shouldn't be centered on safety, there are other good reasons for supporting cycle paths.

Namely: they're pleasant. Given a choice between riding on a busy street and riding on a side street or bike path, I'll pick the latter if only for the reduced noise.

Steve Barner said...

2wanderers makes the simplistic argument for separate bicycle paths. Personally, I find them to be more hazardous when I am riding at normal cycling speeds of 30 Km/H and above. At those speeds, risks of colliding with other path users increases dramatically. Paths invariably cross roads, creating additional hazards, and paths that parallel roads are among the most dangerous for cyclists, statistically speaking. I prefer the term recreation path than bike path when referring to these structures.

In my case, there are both lined bike lanes and separate paths on parts of my daily 60+ Km commute. Using the separate path adds several minutes to the ride, as I cannot go with the flow of traffic and must use extra caution around other users. The bike lanes are the epitome of uselessness. The markings stop at every curb cut, with signs indicating "Bike Lane Ends" and "Bike Lane Begins" on either side. The narrow track inside the lane passes directly over numerous storm grates and the surface is invariably strewn with debris and glass, as it isn't swept clear by motor vehicle tires. If anything, the markings actually indicate where a cyclist SHOULDN'T ride, not where it is safest to do so. Yet this path was ballyhooed by the local cycling advocate organization as being a great step forward for cyclists. I wonder if they rely on such ludicrous progress to justify more grant funding.

Mikael said...

'normal' cycling speeds are not 30 km/h. the average speed in copenhagen is 16.1 km and lower in holland.

this is normal people using the bicycle as a tool to transport themselves around their city.

the majority of people will ride when there is bicycle infrastuctrure. then there are the tiny minority who fancy the sub-cultural way of riding.

but it is all about the common good and encouraging large numbers of people to ride at normal speeds. the yardstick is what regular people do, not certain individuals.

Bronwyn said...

As a cycling commuter in London, I have to say a big hats off to Mayor Boris Johnson for his 2010 cycle hire scheme. In a nutshell, this scheme aims to harmonise cyclists and motorists on the roads (which we can all appreciate is a big ask), by creating a number of "Cycle Superhighways" which run in and out of the city. These highways will be painted bright blue for easy recognition and will have all obstructions removed, leaving cyclists with an easier and more smooth ride. While this scheme may not necessarily create a great love between motorists and cyclists, it is a good start.

portlandize.com said...

Much of the specific bicycle infrastructure in the U.S. is of similar quality to that in the U.K., and as such, I can see the perspective that it's at best marginally helpful, and at worst, rather dangerous. Oregon has a law that if there is a bike lane, you must ride in it, unless it's obstructed or some other such things. However, since almost all bike lanes are painted on the sides of streets where manholes and gutters and such are, they are almost all obstructed, not to mention they get filled with garbage by street sweepers, people in cars who throw things out of windows, etc. Not that they're all obstructed all the time, but I find myself pretty regularly having to ride in the road because I can't ride in the bike lanes.

The other issue is that they are terribly inconsistent. A lane will be following the right side of the road, will suddenly end, and then start up again 20 feet ahead between the right and left lanes, to allow for a right-turn car lane, or just simply end and never start up again, leaving the cyclist to suddenly have to merge with fast-moving car traffic.

I have to say that riding on paths that are at least somewhat removed from cars is really nice, for nothing else than the absence of exhaust and noise. I generally don't feel threatened riding in the road in Portland, but it's not always particularly pleasant on some roads.

I think in a lot of places in Portland, simply because of the way the city is laid out, creating car-free routes for bikes would be extremely difficult. The motivation to do so is also limited because in the main part of the city, the non-arterial roads are generally pretty quiet and low-trafficked. Given those things, I've appreciated the City of Portland's emphasis on creating Bike Boulevards, which are just normal streets fitted with traffic calming devices, and now they are experimenting with better signage and street markings and such to emphasize the fact that bicycles are given priority on those streets.

I think it takes time for it to happen, but I think simply trying to reduce speeds on city roads (average speed of traffic from point A to point B is rarely greater than 15-20mph anyway, even on roads with 35mph speed limits) and creating clear procedure and facilities for crossing busy streets makes a huge difference, as well as education, which is probably the biggest failure in Portland. I think 90% of drivers remember only traffic rules that relate to interacting with other cars, not with anyone else.

Pam said...

I live with a fairly avid cyclist...and I have studied some social history and some sociology in my time. So I found the articles interesting. But(as they say) we are where we are...and where I am is in a big car-dominated city. As I am not the most physically co-ordinated of people I am bloody scared on a bike.But now I understand more about why I am scared AND why I have reason to be scared... Anyway, keep as safe as you can all you cyclists; I send you my respects. Pam

Stefan Warda said...

I don´t want to comment the article, but the picture of the Grønne Sti in Frederiksberg taken between Roskildevej and Frederiksvej with the old tree. There are much more interesting cycle tracks with trees in german cities. Here some examples:





These cycle tracks had been built to make cycling safe. The authorities think cycling on these cycle tracks is safer than on the roadway. Therefore long time cyclists had to use these cycle tracks until cyclist went to court and succeeded. The blue traffic signs have been taken away in many cases, cyclists now have the choice to use the roadway or the cycle track, as far as it is possible to use the cycle track anyway. Cyling on the pedestrian part of the pavement is forbidden of course, however. Most cyclists use the pavement, not the cycle track and not the roadway. The result: Nearly no cyclist uses the infrastructure built for him. But to make better conditions for both cyclist and pedestrians is far away. Parking lots or trees still seem to be much more important than good conditions for better cycling.

At least we can say that cycle tracks like this are not built to improve safety for cyclist but to make the traffic flow of the cars better, to improve the condition of car traffic overall.

More pictures show typical condition of german cycle tracks:


The commentors here who are against any seperation of car traffic and cycle traffic have to understand that cyclist who are free in their choice of using cycle track or roadway hesitate to go with the cars but stay on the unsafe and uncomfortable cycle tracks or as described in the cases above on the pavement and get in conflict with poor pedestrians. But with these badly infrastructure the city won´t double the number of cyclist, car drivers will never ride a bike, pedestrians will be anoyed about cyclist.