Bicycle Infrastructure is Cycling’s Big Problem

bicycle infrastructure
Protected bike lanes would work far better than the pool noodle bike hack.

Better bicycle infrastructure could solve a lot of transit problems. More people on bikes means fewer cars on the roads, more people burning calories and cleaner air.

Cycling advocates love to point to the Dutch cycling culture to illustrate the possibilities. Adopting even a small percentage of their policies would be huge for the United States.

Unfortunately, decision makers at every level of government in the United States simply don’t care. Even those who support cycling are too cowed to front the political and financial resources. Exceptions are rare — all credit to the governments in the Tucson, Ariz., are for their success on The Loop. That’s 130-plus miles of safe, convenient riding.

This is why I have no confidence in an American cycling boom.

bicycle infrastructure
This bike superhighway in Helsinki is a great example of bicycle infrastructure.

Inconsistent Bicycle Infrastructure

I live in the Phoenix area. And you wouldn’t believe how widely our bike lanes and trails vary in quality — often within the same city.

Bike lanes wind up going nowhere. And city planners seem to have no concept of their user groups. Most of the bicycle infrastructure is adequate — barely — for recreational riders going less than five miles. Long-distance commuters and recreational riders have to overcome bike lanes that don’t connect to the corridors they need. They encounter frequent traffic lights and situations where drivers have no idea what to do.

One of my least-favorite examples is a cycling corridor along Pima Road: It has bike lanes on both sides of the street, which is good. But there’s a second bike-specific corridor on one side; the two-way bike traffic adds a layer of confusion for drivers and cyclists.

There are signs of progress, but they come very slowly.

Terrible Lane Maintenance

I’ve lost count of the places where I have to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid obstacles. Potholes and overhanging branches are common around Phoenix. That gives drivers another reason to be annoyed by cyclists.

There are many spots around the Valley where cities have added great bike lanes. But within months, plants encroach. If you build bike lanes, have a plan and budget to maintain them!

Debris is also a problem. Broken bottles and fallen branches litter the bike lanes. There’s no plan for reporting bicycle infrastructure problems. Concepts like help. But if government entities don’t act on the reports, it doesn’t matter.

Speaking of reporting problems: I’d love a cycling GPS that could log problems on the fly to be shared later.

Bike Industry Not Focused on the Problem

I like racing bicycles. I do it a few times of year, and it’s a great celebration of bike culture.

Photo by Ed Buckel.
This isn’t the reality for most people who own bicycles. We need to focus more on people who ride the roads. (Photo by Ed Buckel.)

But bike commuting and family riding are important, too. Unfortunately, the bike industry is uniformly too focused on the Mountain Dew-swilling extreme sports adrenaline junkie cliche. Most people can’t identify with that.

Maybe bike manufacturers could sponsor fewer races, and throw some money into advocating for bicycle infrastructure. Find some room in the budget for a lobbyist to influence pro-bike legislation and policies. That will pay dividends in bike sales and branding.

No Support from Law Enforcement

Every time I ride, I think of people like Rob Dollar. He was one of way too many cyclists who have been run over by drivers. Way too few of these drivers are ever held accountable.

Some police support would also help with drivers who threaten, harass and endanger cyclists. Chesney Parks’ Twitter account is a litany of near-daily conflicts with drivers. And some of the worst offenders are the authorities. The abuses of power are often shocking.

And police don’t seem to take this literal life-and-death situation seriously. According to this article, they look for any excuse not to investigate.

That sends a message to cyclists everywhere: We’re all alone in this.

And that means fewer people will see cycling as an alternative to cars.

Drivers Can’t Deal with Cyclists

Overall, drivers have no clue how to deal with cyclists. Some will try to be polite, but wind up screwing up traffic flow (Example: At a four-way stop, DO NOT wave at a cyclist to take your turn. Treat them like a car so everyone else knows whose turn it is next.).

bicycle infrasctructure
Here’s a great and very cost-effective way to protect a bike lane. Spotted in San Jose, Costa Rice in November, 2018.

Just yesterday, I was heading through a green light. The driver in the oncoming left-turn lane started to turn in front of me and changed her mind — and then repeated the process twice. She then started gesturing at me.

And I’ve had so many cars swerve into the bike lane that I can’t even remember every close call. You can see a great example of this with the red cup experiment. Protected bicycle infrastructure would offer some protection.

Other Reading

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By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.

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