Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Cycling is a passion; or rather, it can become one. Passion is one of those words that is not easy to explain, although Wikipedia has an explanation as good as any I’ve seen.

It has to be experienced to really know what it is. Cycling has become a passion when someone rides a bike for no other reason than to experience the joy of riding a bike. If you have a passion for something in life, you are truly living. Without passion, a person is simply existing.

People who say, “Cyclists shouldn not be on the road because it is dangerous,” just don’t get it. It is like telling a surfer it is dangerous to go into the ocean because of shark attacks, the surfer who is passionate about surfing is not going to stop.

It is not that cyclists and surfers are crazy, foolhardy, with little regard for their life. In fact, the opposite is true; if one has a passion for life, the last thing that person wants is to end it. On the other hand, if one cannot engage in their passion, they are no longer living anyway. Life becomes a pointless existence.

Passion can include anger, especially if someone suggests I should not pursue my passion, which happens to be riding my bike on the road. It is a road bike after all, and just as a surfer must surf in the ocean, a road bike must be ridden on the road.

On a website named Bike Iowa, is a strange piece by a no doubt, very educated man. He is John Pucher, PhD, professor of urban planning and transportation in The Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

His advice starts: “Exercising outdoors is great fun and good for your health, but it can also be downright dangerous. Hundreds of thousands of walkers, runners and cyclists are injured on our roads each year, and thousands are killed.”

A strange way to encourage people to ride bikes in Iowa. (I’m assuming that is the purpose of a website named “Bike Iowa.”) Later he gives this advice to cyclists: “Whenever possible, ride on a trail, paved shoulder, bike lane or bike route, or on a traffic-calmed street, where there are fewer cars and speeds are low.”

Professor Pucher seems to favor segregation of bicycles and automobiles judging by articles he has published; however, is segregation the answer? You cannot segregate the whole country, or a whole city for that matter, automobiles and bicycles have to come together at some point. How can people learn to coexist by segregating them?

Spending millions of dollars on special bike paths, only reinforces the view that cyclists don’t belong on the road. The moment you build a bike path, it is then taken over by joggers, moms with baby strollers, dog walkers, and the rest. I am not suggesting these people don’t have rights also, but where do you stop the segregation?

Professor Pucher also states, “Walking and cycling can be made safe; they are roughly five times safer in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.” The difference is due to safer facilities and more considerate driving and not safer behavior by pedestrians and cyclists though of course, we can all start there.”

The reason cycling is safer in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany is because there are more cyclists. Granted you have to make the roads safer to encourag people to ride, to get more cyclists on the road.

The problem today in the USA automobile drivers are not thinking about cyclists, and are surprised every time they come upon one. When you have nearly as many bicycles on the road as cars, a motorist cannot help but be aware of cyclists.

More bikes, less cars; everyone slows down and they still get to their destination quicker because of less congestion. Another factor in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany is that almost everyone driving a car, at some time other rides a bike; hence the more considerate driving.

Professor Pucher would appear to be a friend of cycling, but is he passionate about cycling? On the other hand, is he just passionate about urban planning?

I found the article via this post


Anonymous said...

(I hope that I haven't posted this twice)

The real issue that is ignored here, is that cycling is actually safer than being in a car:


and probably safer than being on foot, even in countries where bicycles are not segregated:


Despite this, no-one says one should wear a helmet driving, or high visibility gear while walking, nor is the blame game that goes on around cycling (where the victim is blamed, as they are perceived to have done something dangerous, as opposed to the car driver who did something actually dangerous) associated with driving a car or walking.


Anonymous said...


90% of the advice this urban planner gives in the linked article, is the same advice you yourself have given many, many times. Don’t let the first paragraph color your judgment of the dude. It’s not hard to read the intent of paragraph one either, as this is reasonable advice to the “general public” who are often unskilled wobbly “persons on a bike” as you like to say.


Anonymous said...

I disagree and think Dave is being consistent in his views, that those of us who are passionate or serious about cycling are always lumped together with people on bikes (POBs)

Urban planners would herd us all together on bike paths, out of sight and out of the way of cars. Newcomers should be encouraged to ride on the road, how else will they learn the required survival skills?

Andrew, stop whining and ride your bike. :-)

Ron George said...

I didn't see nothing too wrong with the planner's statements, I think his position is such that he would only give advice leaning towards safety. There's no real point in questioning how passionate he is about bikes, although it would be nice if he knew that cars and bikes should share the road, and can co-exist if attitudes change.Whatever..

Hagus said...

Dedicated cycle ways are only successful if they are just that - dedicated to cycles. The problem is that the millions of dollars needed to build them can only be justified if the paths end up multi-use. Ever tried doing a group training ride on a shared cycle way? I didn't think so. They are fine for people tootling around on the weekends, not for passionate cyclists trying to get some miles under their belts.

Creating a network of dedicated paths, however, is totally redundant when you already have a full network of roads are your disposal. It would be far cheaper to, as Dave suggests, just encourage more people to cycle so that drivers become more aware.

The threat cyclists face is another facet of the fast paced culture we live in. We've become so used to zipping around at many miles per hour in our cars, that small inconveniences like being careful around a cyclist seem like huge deviations from the norm.

I think American society needs to slow down in general. Fast food and fast living is the mantra here, and it's slowly killing everyone. Doing a handful of things slowly is a lot more enjoyable than doing dozens of things at a breakneck pace. Ask any European.

Anonymous said...

A common phrase with the word passion - blind passion.

All I am saying is don’t allow our shared passion for cycling to blind us to the fact that the majority of bicycle owners are recreational riders. My brother and sister in law come to mind. They are 50ish suburbanites who enjoy a dozen rides a year or so on closed to traffic MUT’s. They are fairly typical occasional bike riders who would be well advised to “whenever possible, ride on a trail, paved shoulder, bike lane or bike route, or on a traffic-calmed street, where there are fewer cars and speeds are low.”, no ifs ands or buts. I don’t plan to encourage them to get out on the main streets, and they have enough common sense to avoid them.

The non-residential roads that I, a cyclist, enjoy riding on, have a posted speed limit of 35-55mph. Many basic skills are required to safely navigate these roads, skills that passionate cyclists take for granted for themselves and their fellow enthusiasts.


Anonymous said...

I agree with EE.

It takes a fair amount of skill to ride on the roads, especially in New York City.

Dedicated bike paths might make more people passionate about the sport and about commuting for relatively short distances.

When there is not a critical mass of cyclists, the motorists feel free to push cyclists out of the way. When more cyclists are on the road, motorists become more aware - "Hey, that could be my wife, mother or daughter I'm about to sideswipe".

I note that the passionate surfer doesn't often have to deal with speedboats (only the occasional shark). The passionate runner has numerous paths and can easily dart to a sidewalk if necessary.

Bikes and cars really don't belong together in heavily-trafficked roadways. And certainly, only the highest skill-level cyclists can navigate effectively and know when to "take the lane" etc.

In New York, the dedicated bike paths on the Hudson and East rivers are fantastic and make commuting so much easier for a larger mass of people. Now we just need bike lanes on the Avenues that are not inches away from parked cars (dooring hazards) or blocked by taxis and delivery trucks.

There are still about 22 cyclists a year murdered (I mean killed) by cars in New York City. To say that riding a bike is safe on the City streets is a cavalier attitude. Just because we want to maintain the right to ride on the streets, doesn't mean we should give up pressing for separate, dedicated bike paths, separated from traffic, that will allow more people to safely navigate the streets.


Anonymous said...

If it's written by Dr. Pucher than why is he quoting himself?

Anonymous said...

I’m a runner, and I don’t wish to be lumped together with lowly joggers.

I play hardball, and those insipid softball teams should be banned from our municipal ball parks.

I’m a six handicapper, and it really pains me to share the links with a bunch of hackers.

As an expert skier, I believe novices should try the black trails as soon as possible. How else will they learn the required survival skills?

Can we laugh a little at elitism, even when it‘s our own?


veloben said...

Looks like the author was just trying for the most attention getting lead in he could think of by taking the tone that things are really dangerous out there.

A little deconstruction of the 2006 CDC data may bring some perspective

* 170,048 pedestrians were injured and treated in hospital
emergency departments

No data on how these injuries occured, but it's a nice scary number.

* 4,784 pedestrians died Again a number in isolation. What does this mean, how does it compare to other causes of death, how does one gauge relative risk without comparative numbers? You can't.
* 74% of pedestrian fatalities occurred in urban areas Well about 74% of the population lives in urban areas. Accidents involving people will tend to happen where there are people.
* 79% at non-intersection locations Odd, most of the road exists between intersections. And like people accidents, road accidents happen on roads.
* 90% in normal weather conditions Well yes, I suppose normal weather is more typical than abnormal weather.
* 69% at night OK, maybe this tells us something, but not much.
* 466,712 cyclists were injured and treated in hospital
emergency departments
OK the ped sample didn't include cyclist and more that 2x cyclist had injuries requiring treatment compared to being a ped. The lack of break out data makes this just a scary number.
* 773 cyclists died OK the message is - "Don't walk" 6.2 times as many peds died as cyclist. I'm riding my bike, way safer.
* 73% of cycling fatalities occurred in urban areas Got to move everyone out of those dangerous urban areas...
* 68% at non-intersection locations.. and cluster them at road junctions.
* 27% between the hours of 5 and 9 pm. Maybe the Slacker life has something. Get up at noon, go to 'work' at 4 and miss all the death and destruction.

Other than the 'give up using the roads for safer, but separate and non-existing bike paths' spiel the articles seems a re-hash of the usual beginning of the season common sense.

A passion is good and several passions is better. Keeps things fresh and cuts down the time available for work.

Good though provoking post, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Living in Portland, I feel like we're finally at a point where, for drivers, disregard of cyclist can only be done intentionally. I'm not sure I buy the argument that riding the roads like a vehicle requires some high level of skill. Confidence, yes, but that's not the same. It's an attitude. Cars and bikes can share roadways. I continue to believe that. But due to the American car-centric status quo, it means that in the give-and-take necessary for it to happen, the drivers are going to have to give a bit more. One step I'd like to see is a mandatory 20 mph speed limit on all residential streets and 35 on through streets in city limits.
I think advocating for separate bike infrastructure is detrimental to cycling in general. It sends the message that it's a dangerous activity. But worse than this, it stems from and continues to support the primacy of the auto. Lets move beyond that to transportation policy that's truly multi-modal.
I'm NOT opposed to recreational trails for bikes (or multi-use paths) just as I'm all for more hiking trails in the right context. But don't propose them as transportation policy. They're for recreation, kind of like long skinny parks, and need to be viewed as such.

mark worden said...

With the price of gas heading up to 5 bucks in the near future and probably up to $10 over the next few years--there are going to be a lot more bicycles use to commute to work and to get around. I think that is great, not only for the environment, but for the health and welfare of people who do it. With greater use comes more political power ($$$) to fill the need for more bikeways and safer bikepaths on existing roads.

Anonymous said...

I don't see anything wrong with either recreational/scenic bikepaths (even if multi-use) or dedicated bike paths and lanes where it makes sense. But the longer term, more comprehensive solution is simply to have fewer cars on the road. This means affordable and fast public transit that isn't meant only as transportation for the poor and car-less students. Stop building roads and start building transit. Start thinking not about cycling paths, but some car-less streets in urban areas. In fact, ban cars altogether in urban cores and/or make it very expensive to use them there. Fewer cars clogging our cities will mean a better safer environment for everyone, cyclists included. Keep in mind that we need a broader view, because today's cyclist is tomorrow's pedestrian and transit user.

The price of gas issue is not the only one, even though it's the one being highlighted on 24 hour news channels in minute by minute NFL-style play-by-play reporting. Much more important in my view is the environmental impact of an all-car civilization and its daily negative impact on our health. Poor air quality in our cities should be a much bigger issue than the price of gas is.

I'm not sure what all this has to do with passion for cycling, but for those who have that passion, the needs are different than for those who use a bicycle as transportation. I've been passionate about cycling as a sport for some 38 years myself, but I don't think we can expect society to cater to passion. However, we can expect it to cater to transportation needs as well as the health needs of its citizens.

Groover said...

I agree that one of the reasons why riding a bike is safer in Germany, the Neherlands, Denmark etc because motorists are educated and trained to watch out for cyclists. Every driving school includes how to overtake a cyclist, what minimum distance is required to safely pass etc.

It for sure also helps that you see A LOT more bike riders on the road therefore there is awareness.

But I noticed one other thing when I was in Germany in October: Here in Oz kids ride bikes. Maybe. And just for fun in their spare time. Most average Australians stop riding a bike as soon as they get their license and never look back. In Germany people continue riding their bikes to commute, run errands, socialise or just go for a Sunday afternoon ride. They never stop riding a bike, even if they have a license. Basically everybody is bike rider. That helps being considerate.

Anonymous said...

While it's true that cyclists, runners and pedestrians are injured by cars on roads, the solution is not to create separate paths, but to actually address the problem and teach everyone to "Share the Road".

Anonymous said...

Making communities cycling friendly for everyone is a good start and a person passionate about social justice can help make it possible:

AMR said...

As I read, I must agree with mtmann, and groover of course :-).

Although, it is important to build bike paths for recreational riders, children and everyone else who wants to use them, for those who use bicycles to commute, or for training, bikepaths aren't ideal. Roads are! Or, roads should be.

Cyclists should have every right to use them safely. As suggested previously, it is time for education, lots of it. Firstly, by the introduction of a “bicycle awareness component” to the licensing procedures. Secondly, by implementing advertising campaigns addressing our existence, to put it simply. And thirdly, by changes of the road user legislations (not necessarily in that order and/or limited to those).

In places like Australia, and the USA as we hear, a lot of drivers aren't prepared to share the roads and that should now be looked at as an offensive behaviour and as such, be discouraged by policy makers and law enforcements organizations. Where we live, some of the resources are being used to impose the use of helmets, lights, bells, reflectors, etc, on cyclists riding on bikepaths. Frustrating, really, when on the roads we are getting abused and pushed towards the kerb on a regular basis.

In better a note, I like the word passion. Curiously, I had the word and the same, and my preferred, definition highlighted on my blog since I started it. I have always been passionate about one thing or another, pretty much leading me to different and wonderful obsessions in life. At the moment, cycling is a passion.

And I feel lucky and timely!

Thanks for the post, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Mtmann wrote: " I'm not sure I buy the argument that riding the roads like a vehicle requires some high level of skill. Confidence, yes, but that's not the same. It's an attitude. Cars and bikes can share roadways."

Unfortunately, attitude doesn't protect you from a sideswipe or cellphone induced inattention or simply nasty driving by a cabbie. In less dense areas, sharing the road is a fine idea. It is a lot harder on the trafficky streets of a major metropolis.

In a collision between a car and a bike, confidence doesn't protect you from an extended hospital stay or the coroner's slab. The ton(s) of metal and glass protecting a motorist lets him/her drive away without a scratch.

Biking on city streets IS dangerous (and so is motorcycling). To ignore the existence of the danger is to put one's head in the sand. Taking the road does make it safer much of the time, but not against an inexperienced driver or a cabbie focused on getting his next fare.

Riding in the Netherlands is not less dangerous because everyone is "sharing the road". That's a part of it, but the main reason is that more cyclists are on the road period, so the very presence makes them mainstream and something cars need to watch out for. Also, the Netherlands does have separate bike paths in areas; some cities have very restricted car access.

Separate bike paths will not result in throwing cyclists off of the streets. It will result in more people using their bikes to get around, which will result in more bikes on bike paths AND the streets which will result in more awareness and acceptance from motorists.

Motorists, even cabbies, will think twice about cutting in front of a cyclist if there is the possibility that a family member or friend could be on that bike.


PaulS said...

I was at a Velo Cities conference back in 1991/1992, hosted by the EICMA (one of Europe's largest bicycle trade shows). Transport planners from Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Switzerland agreed that creating segregated cycle routes had served to stimulate the use of the bicycle as a means of transportation. It removed one of the primary barriers, which was the fear of sharing the road with automobiles. As cyclists grew more confident on their bicycles, their fear of sharing the road with automobiles diminished. In my view there is a need for dedicated cycle routes, bike lanes, bike boulevards, and more government-funded advertising to educate car drivers about the rights and fragility of cyclists using our roads.