11/24/10

Realism on Segregated Bike Facilities

I generally agree with this viewpoint, but understand why it would take a lot of flak:
Don’t talk segregation; talk short-cuts. Campaigning for closing off a road entrance here and there would do far more good than demanding Dutch-style protection, and demanding it now, now, now.

In central London, there are an amazing amount of new cyclists appearing. On the roads. And they are not all ‘cyclists’; most of the newbies are ‘people on bikes’. Sure, protected cycle lanes on every road would encourage even more newbies to hop on bikes but such a radical redesign of the country flies in the face of British history. For 100 years, our roads have been modified to suit the motorcar. 1930s trunk roads which were built with adjoining protected cycle lanes were long ago changed into race-tracks for cars. This was wrong and uncivilised but motormyopia is so virulent in the UK it’s going to take a miracle to reverse a century of short-sightedness.

Waiting for a miracle can lead to inaction in the here and now. One of the problems with aiming for the sky is it’s an awfully long way away and it’s easy to get discouraged when you’re hardly off the ground, never mind making it into the troposphere. Yet there are many, many things that can improve the lot of cyclists at local and national levels: the aggregation of marginal gains is a concept from sport cycling but can be just as easily applied to cycle campaigning.
I think a lot of arguments like this come down to a question of constituency-building. Some advocates think that we need to increase the overall number of people on bikes before politicians and local leaders will really become responsive. Others think that the size of the constituency will be forever truncated unless politicians take the lead by building the necessary infrastructure. I'm inclined to agree with the former viewpoint- it's easier to convince individuals to spend money on themselves than it is to convince communities and politicians to dole it out to a minority group. Convince people the utility and benefits of bicycling and the politicians will want to please them by spending on bike lanes, segregated facilities and the like. Though there's nothing wrong with a two-pronged approach, ultimately, it all rests on getting more people on bikes- something that a lot of streets as currently built can already accommodate.

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