Comment 39245

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2010 at 10:38:22

Do you know how often people express envy at being able to get rid of a car and bike everywhere?

Heh. I get this all the time as well - even from people living deep in suburbia but would love to be able to cycle around their own neighbourhoods.

However, it's empirically evident that most people, most of the time, are afraid to ride their bikes in mixed traffic; but many of those people would be willing to ride their bikes in bike lanes.

This is true in large part because of perception: people simply feel safer in bike lanes.

This perception does have a basis in fact. Notwithstanding some awkwardness at intersections (i.e. a cyclist on the right is going straight while a motorist on the left is turning right), bike lanes in themselves are safer than mixed traffic because of the physical separation of two classes of vehicles with drastically different speed and mass characteristics.

On a personal note, I've been bicycle commuting for years and the lack of bike infrastructure has never stopped me. After years of experience I feel safe and comfortable riding in mixed traffic.

I was actually opposed to bike lanes for many years due to the intersection issue. What changed my mind was the discovery that the biggest factor in cycling safety is the number of cyclists on the road.

As the number of cyclists goes up, the number of bike casualties goes down - not just the rate, but the actual number. Better yet, the presence of lots of cyclists on the road normalizes it for still other people, who see lots of people cycling and decide that maybe they'll try it too.

That additional cycling traffic, in turn, further improves the safety factor for cyclists, which draws still more cyclists onto the road and further normalizes it in a glorious positive feedback loop.

So: given the strong, diverse empirical evidence that a) people won't ride bikes unless there are bike lanes; b) the mere fact of more people riding bikes it safer; and c) increasing numbers of cyclists produce a positive feedback loop, I strongly support and encourage the construction of a bike network through the city.

The reason I support it now and not in some unspecified point in the future when the circumstances are 'right' for bike lanes is that the very installation of bike lanes is an integral part of the bootstrapping process by which cycling is normalized among residents and, hence, the local culture.

As I keep saying, people respond to incentives. We may respond irrationally at times, but, as Dan Ariely so elegantly argues, we are at least predictably irrational and can hence plan our policy strategies around what we know about human nature.

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