GUEST BLOG: Bike Lanes Serve all
By Yvonne Bambrick
Bike lanes are a non-partisan issue because they serve all. These inexpensive pieces of infrastructure are an important component of the changing realities of urban transportation — not, as many attempt to paint them, a pet project for a small number of commuters.
Cities across North America have been transitioning from merely viewing bicycles as a recreational tool, to understanding that cycling is a legitimate and necessary transportation option. Bicycle infrastructure (lanes, sharrows, bike boxes, etc.) and an active cycling culture benefits drivers, pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists alike. However, infrastructure alone will not suffice — it must be paired with public education.
There are many immediate and positive impacts with bike lanes. They create a dedicated space in which cyclists feel safer, and encourage more people to choose cycling as a mode of transportation — they are a boon to local business and the most affordable and sustainable way to grow our road capacity.
More people on bicycles means fewer people taking up precious road space in cars, and a pressure valve for an overburdened peak-hour transit system. Bike lanes add a greater level of predictability to our roads by showing more clearly where we can expect each transportation mode to be travelling.
With more cyclists on our roads, the phrase “safety in numbers” holds true — the greater the number of cyclists, the more visible they become to motor vehicles and pedestrians. One of the greatest impacts of bike lanes is as a tangible expression of the fact that bicycles have a place in our transportation network.
Economy and Taxes
Encouraging and creating space for people to choose cycling transportation is one of the cheapest, fastest and most effective ways to accommodate our growing population, and to increase the capacity of our roadways to efficiently move people from A to B.
Bike lanes are cheap! A quick look at Portland, a prime example of a North American city that has fully integrated cycling, confirms this. They calculated that their entire complement of cycling related infrastructure — some 300 miles of bike lanes — cost approximately $60 million; the equivalent to the cost of 1 mile of new freeway!
We often hear the argument, ‘If cyclists want bike lanes, they should pay for them.’ Cyclists already do pay for them. Anyone who pays rent or property tax is paying for our municipal roadways. If you compare the relative impact of cars and bicycles on the roadways themselves, on our collective airspace, and the healthcare costs of pollution and a sedentary life that driving promotes, it is quite apparent that cyclists are actually subsidizing automobile drivers.
Cycling is also good for business. A recent study by the Clean Air Partnership conducted in Bloor West Village counters the popular myth that removing on-street parking is “bad for business.”
Their conclusions include:
People who arrive by transit, foot, and bicycle visit more often and report spending more money than those who drive
People who preferred to see street use reallocated for widened sidewalks or a bike lane were significantly more likely to spend more than $100 per month than those who preferred no change
The majority of people surveyed, merchants included (58%) preferred to see street use reallocated for widened sidewalks or a bike lane, even if on-street parking were reduced by 50%.
In this neighbourhood, the majority of merchants predicted that reducing on street parking in favour of widened sidewalks or a bike lane would either not impact or increase their daily customer numbers, and therefore do not believe it will negatively affect commercial activity.
Flow & Congestion
The core function of our roadways is to efficiently move people to and from destinations across the city — not simply, as some still believe, to rapidly throughput automobiles.
Road safety is everyone’s responsibility, and we could all use a refresher on our responsibilities. Due to the classification of bicycles as vehicles, some confusion still exists because of the hybrid nature of bicycles – they are self propelled and human scale, yet mechanical vehicles. While subject to the same rules of the road, bicycles rely on momentum, have no protective shell, and are vulnerable to minor road surface disruptions.
For example, a small pothole or utility cut that might not affect a car could endanger a cyclist. In the absence of clearly designated places for cyclists to ride, the line between pedestrian/vehicular spaces has been blurred. Poor roadway conditions, combined with an often hostile roadway environment, caused in part due to a lack of sufficient infrastructure that would allow all traffic to flow better, and occasional bullying by intolerant drivers has in some cases pushed cyclists onto the sidewalks where they don’t belong.
Ultimately the thing we must all remember is that in a car/bike collision it is always the cyclist that loses – a bit of skin, a week of work, or in the worst circumstance, a life. That loss could be suffered by your neighbour, your child’s schoolteacher, your lawyer, or your brother — we all know and love a cyclist. Bike lanes and public education about road sharing responsibilities and best practice serve all Torontonians regardless of mode. We’re all in this together.
Strength in Numbers
Those who have thus far been courageous enough, given current conditions, to choose cycling transportation should be supported and encouraged, not made to fight for acceptance and respect against ignorant, politically motivated, fear-mongering rhetoric. More people choosing cycling transportation is of benefit to all.
Yvonne Bambrick is the Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union