Which do cyclists prefer? Does one encourage more use than the other?
For starters, TXDOT seems to prefer painted bike lanes:
“In particular, one general conclusion that leaps out from the results is that for both cyclists and motorists, bike lanes provide greater comfort and a better operating environment than wide outside lanes.”
In Denton’s case, traffic engineering staff clearly favor Wider Outside Lanes (WOL), which staff publicly stated are good for “experienced cyclists”. As BFOC previously mentioned, Lance Armstrong, an experienced cyclist says:
“There are times I ride in Austin, and I’m afraid of cars, imagine what the beginner cyclist must feel like?
Lance Armstrong’s statement echoes our sentiment that the overall goal of implementing on street facilities like bike lanes, sharrows, cycle-tracks, etc is to safely encourage riders of all skill levels to feel comfortable. We aim to encourage children, college students, parents, and grandparents to all feel comfortable and welcome, as the spirit of the Denton Plan insists that we should reduce the number of vehicle trips. Increasing bicycle, pedestrian, and bus transit mode share is the only way to offset motor vehicle use, and accommodating experienced cyclists clearly doesn’t get us any closer to the stated goal of the Denton Plan.
The following photo, which we recently took in Austin, shows parents riding with their child, clearly feeling comfortable and safe in a new bike lane added to 12th st (and existing car lanes shrunk to 10.5′). This family is a great example of a cycling demographic we never see in Denton: parents and children riding together on the roadway.
Some people might say that lanes offer no protection, as Denton’s traffic engineer Frank Payne openly stated:
“Bicycle lanes will not shelter or provide protection to pedestrians, or bicycles for that matter beyond hopefully a greater visual recognition.”
Your bicycle coordinator is representing an older system that works for perhaps only 1% of the population: what we call the “strong and fearless” cyclist. Basically, we credit the development of our bicycle infrastructure with encouraging more people to ride bikes. There will always be a small fraction of people willing to ride on the roadway in a shared travel lane. But more people will ride if they can get out of the traffic stream and ride in their own dedicated space. Those people are still a small minority–perhaps 7-10% of the population, but they create a presence. In Portland, that’s the group that’s largely responsible for Portland being such a bike-friendly city. They wouldn’t be there without bicycle lanes on the street and other dedicated bicycle facilities. It’s the same story in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Muenster and Beijing: build great facilities where people feel safe and comfortable and people will ride.There is a difference between “safety” and “comfort”. A person riding in the middle of a busy travel lane is likely quite safe. They are not likely to be rear-ended. However, it is also more than likely that the average person is anything but comfortable in such a situation. Likely, they are intimidated by the cars streaming around them, or following them closely while waiting for an opportunity to pass. The cyclist feels like they are holding everybody up. The Dutch emphasize both comfort and safety in the development of their facilities (as well as attractiveness). Comfort is different from safety.One story I like to tell is that I’ve ridden the same street to work for years. Before it had bike lanes I wore lycra, rode my road bike, carried my work clothes in a back pack and rode like hell. Once we striped bike lanes on the street I took out my clunker, wore my work clothes, slowed way down (so I don’t work up a sweat) and feel very comfortable doing so because I then had my own dedicated space. It felt great. Our story is build it and they will come. We’ve built it and we now are approaching 6-8% mode split.
We recently rode the new striped bike lanes in Austin, TX, especially on Dean Keaton, MLK, 12th street, and Chestnutt, and our feeling of comfort was dramatically different than when we last rode these streets on wide outside lanes. The painted lanes seem to inform the drivers as much as the cyclist that “this space is designated for cyclists, and they have a right to be here”. Austin traffic engineer, Nathan Wilkes, explained that the traffic counts for autos stayed the same before and after auto lanes were slightly narrowed and bike lanes were added.
The perfect comparison exists here in Denton, and we challenge all city staff and politicians to ride the city streets on a bicycle, as we do. Ride Oak St from the square to UNT. Then ride Hickory St from UNT to the square. There is a dramatic increase in comfort when using the bike lane on Hickory, and traffic flows smoothly past the bicycles. However, on Oak the traffic often changes lanes to pass the cyclists (thus disrupting smooth traffic flow), and the cyclist feels crowded and out of place. A simple observation of the exponentially greater cycling traffic on Hickory concludes that an overwhelming majority of cyclists seek out a painted facility rather than a wide outside lane. Comfort, safety, and increased ridership are clear goals of the Denton Plan and citizens. A policy of wide-outside-lanes will never meet all three goals, and it certainly won’t encourage cycling in Denton.