Friday, September 4

Vehicular Cycling isn't Advocacy

Sometimes you find stuff that makes you reconsider. In this case; "Bike Friendly Oak Cliff." I visit BFOC on occasion. I find that I cheer for some of their posts, such as when they drag bike racks away from the scrap yard to help populate Oak Cliff, shown here, while others make me think, "what a load of ___." I take a skeptical view of what I consider an unwarranted faith in bike lanes, and in politicians wanting to experiment on cyclists to burnish their "green" image.

Recently, BFOC did a post, shown here, on new Portland Cycle tracks. Contrast it with the post on the same subject from CommuteOrlando, shown here. I commented at BFOC, suggesting that such things would be better kept away from my neighborhood. Then came a thought provoker, in a counter comment, from BFOC kahuna mannytmoto:

September 1, 2009 at 11:17 pm
I can cite hundreds of bad examples of poor car lanes as well, and only yards outside my door. Same for sidewalks, many of which bring very few pedestrians, does that constitute a failed system on the whole? Specifically, the merging of Davis and Fort Worth Avenue is “a bad joke”. As far as your neighborhood, I would direct you to Fort Worth’s recent 2015 plan which announces 470+ miles of bicycle infrastructure, and is far closer to you than Oak Cliff.
I understand exactly where you’re coming from as a Vehicular Cyclist, but the reality is, it simply doesn’t bring anyone out on bicycles. I like to note League Instructor, Paul Dorn, who has not only read and trained under Forester’s Effective Cycling, but is qualified to teach the class:
“I’ve written in the past about the welcome demise of vehicular cycling (VC) among bicycle advocates. As a practical approach to individual cycling, VC makes great sense: “drive” your bicycle as if it were a vehicle, claim your space, signal your turns, ride with traffic.
However, as a basis for bicycling advocacy, VC is negative, pessimistic, and counter-productive. Essentially, VC proponents conceded bicycling’s marginality and didn’t believe the roads could be changed to better accommodate cyclists. Instead they encouraged bicyclists to accept their minority status and adapt to roads designed for high speed vehicle traffic.”

I read it, and then I read it again. I couldn't really find anything I actually disagreed with more than just quibbling. Remember, I did "Yeti" recently. VC is not a basis for bicycle advocacy any more than vehicular motor vehicle operation would be as a basis for wanting freeways. VC is merely the sound practice when operating on roads under law, and it happens to be pretty durn safe even though it contradicts what most people believe about bikes & cars. But advocacy? Probably it is worse than ineffective in a fearful society. On the other hand, I DO feel that freeways should be built consistently with vehicular operation principles, and pedestrian and bike facilities should also be built in accord with proven traffic principles (it would be a stretch to use the term "vehicular" in connection with pedestrians, but they ARE traffic nonetheless). Let the Europeans be the ones to experiment on unsuspecting cyclists.

I think, and I suspect mannytmoto agrees, there's room for all when it comes to facilities (my personal favorites are bike racks and smooth pavement). Personally, I can think of MORE low cost facilities that make things better for bikes, for other road users, and for pedestrians than anybody can afford.

For example, consider the photo at top, shot yesterday afternoon in North Fort Worth. Yes, that's a fence between that cul de sac and the collector street & sidewalk (Coffeetree Drive). No, there's no passage at all through that fence. You can't see it in the photo, but there's an elementary school a tenth of a mile ahead on the left. It cries out for a path. The school has a fence all around it too, but somebody has cut a couple of the bars so kids can squeeze through. If I lived in that cul de sac, I'd use a little path like that. If I was biking locally, I'd bike more often (well, maybe in my case, I'd bike with exactly the same frequency). If I were a kid, maybe my parents might not feel they had to drive me to school - I could WALK. It's SO SIMPLE. Doohickie ID'd a similar situation
here. Just make something like the photo at bottom; taken in a Keller subdivision three miles away. John Allen talks about making community connections for pedestrians and cyclists here. Keri Caffrey talks about it here (there were at least four other good ones so go search the blog). Such facilities DO attract people to biking. Also, and importantly, they don't make things difficult for people (motorized and non-motorized) operating under vehicular rules. Giving without taking away avoids backlash.

As a second example, consider that advisory signs telling two wheeled vehicles how to trigger traffic signals (bicycles and motorcycles) are rare as hens' teeth. Putting up such signs (and painting "sweet spots") sends a reassuring message to cyclists, as well as a "bikes belong" message to motorists in addition to their proper advisory function. They might also reduce red light running. Along my commute route, I KNOW how to trigger the lights and, when they can't be triggered, I have alternate routes. How many people out to ride for the day for the first time in 20 years are going to know? They should succeed, not get frustrated waiting for a light that will never change. Nobody should have to read this blog to learn secrets of triggering traffic lights.

Such things are simple, cheap, and are rarely seen, in Dallas or elsewhere (sorry mannytmoto, not even in Portland). Such things WOULD encourage people to come out on bikes. Unlike some proposals, they don't take from one class of road user to give to another, nor do they invite motorist backlash against safe and legal bicycle operation on the roads due to a mistaken impression that bike lane lines are there to keep bikes "over there." On the contrary, they support the notion that bikes ought to be EVERYWHERE. Oak Cliff could certainly use improved ways for cyclists and pedestrians to get across the freeways, railroad tracks, and the river. Let's get some of the stuff ALL cyclists can agree on done. As ChipSeal has noted, perhaps what we need are better advocates, or at least ones that get the meat & potato work done instead of the fluff. Money's short enough that we can't fund all the simple little projects that EVERYONE interested in bikes can support - we can always tackle the expensive, glamorous ones after we sort out how to get our money's worth from them...


Keri said...

I think the problem is that VC advocates (that is people who advocate for bicycles to be treated as vehicles rather than pedestrians on wheels) have long come across as anti-everything

Part of the problem is that too much stuff that is built decreases actual safety in the pursuit of subjective safety, and symbolic "advertising." It's hard to tolerate that stuff.

The infrastructure you mention — and I really, really favor — is not symbolic or subjective. It offers actual access and actual alternative, enjoyable routes.

The folks in Hackney refer to it as "permeability." I like that. It has a nice ring. Permeability, education and public awareness created a huge mode shift in Hackney. They have no bike lanes.

If you give people something real and make them aware of it, they will use it.

Here we have a few of those little trails but people discover them by accident. They're not part of a route system. There are no systems in place to create awareness of them.

Big stuff like bike lanes and cycle tracks are just pure laziness and lack of creativity on the part of bike promoters. Isn't it great they can use other people's money to build symbolic pied piper facilities?

Yes we do need better advocates. Truly helping cyclists requires real work of finding connections and creating access, empowering people to ride with confidence wherever they need to go and fixing the cultural/civility problems that plague many areas.

Doohickie said...

Doohickie ID'd a similar situation here.

The funny thing about the one I pointed out is that people actually do use it on their cycling routes to work, as in probably several dozen per day, right now. It's just that they have to lift their mounts over two, 3-foot-tall cable fences. If the fences came down, there would be a neat little path worn in within a month.

I keep having a similar conversation like you had with mannytmoto; sometimes I play your side of it; sometimes play mannytmoto. VC is a great, great discipline for increasing your safety and taking personal responsibility for your riding habits. Notice I used "you" in that sentence.

VC is not for everyone, at least not yet. For those not ready to embrace VC, you need effective infrastructure to encourage them to even get out on their bikes. For some, those recreational path or bike lane rides may be as far as they ever go. But for a fraction of them, they will move to a more advanced level of cycling involving trying to get across town through high-traffic areas. They will see the inadequacy of their cycling technique if they try that cross-town jaunt more than once or twice, and maybe they will even read a blog or two, have the argument with us ;-) about how st00pid and dangerous VC is, and then.... actually try it.

The scenario I just described occurs to a very small fraction of cyclists... maybe as few as 1% of those who regularly ride will ever do anything approaching VC. And that is why infrastructure is needed. It's the "gateway drug" that gives the dedicated cager the confidence to get out of their car and try cycling.

But.... sometimes I wish we could get some of those short and sweet projects done.

Steve A said...

Permeability. It's got a nice ring. It's what makes some neighborhoods a cinch to ride through, entirely on low threat roads. People like riding on low threat roads. They like that a lot better than riding on a high speed arterial with only a white line between them and what looks like death on their left. Permeability, it's what those cyclists are doing when they toss their bikes across those three foot cable fences. As I think about it, permeability ought to be right up there with bike racks and smooth pavement.

Speaking of Hackney, I'd love to see BFOC examine what elements of Hackney's success might be applied here. One thing we've got around DFW in spades is good permeability potential. Other than the Trinity River, our problems in that regard are mostly self inflicted.

Keri said...

Steve said: "They like that a lot better than riding on a high speed arterial with only a white line between them and what looks like death on their left."



I have this (friendly) debate with one of my authors. So I'll offer you the counter-argument.

First let's clarify a definition. Vehicular cycling (as in driving a bike according to the rules of predictable traffic movements — vs riding on the sidewalk, against traffic or acting as if stop signs/lights don't apply to bikes — is necessary for safety). Everyone (including children) can drive a bike vehicularly on a low-volume street) Driving a bike on a busy road with high speed traffic is not for everyone. And some people, no-matter how informed they become, may never feel comfortable doing so.

Street redundancy (grid) and permeability to enhance low volume options is essential. People who don't feel comfortable on high speed roads, don't get a high quality ride experience in a bike lane either (with traffic passing faster and closer). In a dense urban or commercial area, side paths and cycle tracks really are not appropriate.

But let's step back to the general population. The primary problem bike lane advocates seek to solve is ignorance. Cultural ignorance. The average person has never received any information in his life to teach him that cycling is safe and easy and a cyclist can operate effectively as an integrated part of traffic.

Doohickie briefly described a process by which the (rare—1%) uninformed person gets informed by exposure to VC material and practitioners.

The practice of effective cycling is compelling enough to convert those of us open-minded enough to give it a try. But trying it is profoundly counter-cultural. It goes against everything we're indoctrinated to believe about traffic and it goes against the prevailing culture of bike advocacy.

Imagine if that was reversed.

Stepping back once more. Ignorance is a state of being uninformed. If people are uninformed about the most effective practices of riding a bicycle, that should be a temporary state, right?

The object is to inform these folks—empower them with knowledge and a few simple skills.

Bike lanes are permanent. So if the cyclist becomes informed, empowered and no longer needs the bike lane, it's still there. And now it's an annoyance. But that's only in a perfect world. The problem with the bike lane is that it lulls people to thinking that's what they need. So instead of developing beyond the state of ignorance, they demand more of them. Worse, the paint reinforces the cultural belief that cyclists belong out of the way, or are not safe without facilities.

Thus the paradigm feeds itself. The public consciousness is infiltrated with the belief that cyclists need bike lanes BECAUSE bike lanes have been the short-cut way that cycling has been promoted.

Imagine if the public consciousness was infiltrated with the idea that integrated cycling is safe and easy and there are ongoing classes for people to learn the fun and simple skills.

The motorcycle industry has created this paradigm.

People who say bike education has failed to increase cycling are being disingenuous. Bike education has never been tried. Look at Steve's experience trying to take a TS101 class. Very few cities have anything close to a sustainable bike ed delivery system. There is zero public consciousness that it even exists.

The failure rhetoric that is heaped on VC is unfair. The practice of integrated cycling is 100% sound, but it goes against the prevailing cultural mythologies and taboos. "It's not for everyone" specifically because most people are unwilling to go against cultural norms.

Good framing and social marketing — especially piggybacked onto the current momentum of livability and sustainable communities — would go a long way to change that. It would cost less than infrastructure without the negative side effects (dependency and backlash).

PM Summer said...

Don't confuse "advocacy" with "propaganda". Folks who "advocate" for bicyclists' rights are truer "advocates" than those who promote the false safety and prejudice of "lowered expectations" and "segregation".

"Channelization" is not an increase in cycling. Portland, which claims a 10% mode share for bicycles, actually has a 3.5% share (2005), but by doing counts at channelized choke-points, they can claim (falsely) a higher mode share (I could do a similar count on Mockingbird Lane near Preston Road, and claim 33% of Dallas motorists drive Mercedes C-Class cars).

The vast majority of bicycle "activity" in Portland (yes, I've been there) all occurs within a few of miles of a dense urban commercial/residential area that is home to over 100,000 students and college hangers-on.

Vehicular Cycling is not a religion, it's a technique, although its opponents want it to be a religion because their belief in the efficacy of segregated facilities is a completely "faith-based". In every claim they make about cities that have successfully used bike lanes to increase cycling, exchange the term "coffee shop" or "indie music store", and you will get the same result.

Steve A said...

Have respect for coffee. My Barista told me she rides HER bike to work.

And durn that Keri, now I'm saying to myself "permeable" or "not permeable but smooth pavement" on all the roads on the way to the gym. And yes, I'm STILL trying to take Traffic 101. Bikedfw says September now.

Think short and sweet projects. As for rights, we need advocates. Advocacy is, however, not this blog's objective.

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