How NOT to lobby for bicycle lanes
A recent study by the Department for Transport in New York concluded that the segregated bike lanes not just they don’t slow the car traffic, but indeed they sped it up. But nobody really questions why is it unproductive to sell such benefits.
New York is one of the big metropolis where the cycling infrastructure starts resembling to what we see in Copenhagen or Amsterdam. I’m referring here especially to the much anticipated segregated bicycle lanes which in the Big Apple cover around 50 km. Paris, London or any other big cities still dream about such things while New York started this segregation process in 2007. London, for example, only has in plan 30 km of segregated bike lanes, which are due to be developed starting March 2016.
It still appears pretty difficult to convince the large majority of the population about the benefits of such investments and the argument that the segregated bike lanes offer more protection to cyclists often falls short in the debate. It’s no wonder than that the lobby for such infrastructure has to find new ways to convince those who are more reluctant.
Just to make the things clear: I do want bike lanes and I do want segregated bicycle lanes where it is the case to have them. And when the Department for Transport in New York (DOT) made the proper case for them last year, showing that they benefit the local businesses, I was happy to see such an initiative that calmed down the spirits of different local entrepreneurs worried about the public access to their businesses. But the last study from DOT seems to me not to serve at all the real interests of cyclists. Let me explain.
A few days ago, DOT has made public a study about how the segregated bike lanes in New York not only make cycling safer, but more than that, they sped up the car traffic. This is done thanks to two design elements. The first has to do with narrowing the car lanes while keeping their number the same. The second is about the so-called ‘pocket lanes’, which allow drivers get out of the way of moving traffic when they’re making a left.
What the DOT claims being a consistent benefit presents nevertheless a big problem, relating to the way this is made to somehow please the majority of the population. One can see how the switch is made from the classic (and inefficient?) discourse about the cyclists’ safety to a greater speed for cars. What happens is somehow contrary to the many useful initiatives to reduce speed in cities and to consequently discourage the use of cars.
The effect of selling such ‘benefits’ can be dangerous precisely because the positioning of the bicycle is one sub-altern to the car. What is implied is this: the bicycles don’t stand in the way of the cars, the drivers can speed up without any problem. This take is wrong, at least if on the long run we want to make the bicycle an alternative, not a sub-altern mobility means, to the car.
Main photo: Behance.