Bike Friendly streets de-privileged

A specific case was a couple of years ago when Bike Friendly Streets were all the rage. I thought it was the craziest thing I had ever heard of. It’s a suburban solution. And it makes sense in some communities around the city for sure. But in the communities I cover, gang and other issues mean that the side streets are actually not that accessible to most people. They stick to the main streets because those are neutral, busy (lots of eyes), and folks feel safer, even if they’re more likely to get run over there. Also folks aren’t riding for pleasure a great part of the time—they need the most direct route…which are the main thoroughfares. So the idea of spending money to implement all of this stuff that nobody but the occasional white person who was riding through the community could use made me insane.

—Sahra Sulaiman in a comment on her article on the women’s march, posted on LA Streetsblog

I really appreciate these kinds of impromptu comments because in my view they clarify the issues in a very quick and decisive way. I have generally felt not particularly fond of the bike-boulevard concept because I think that all streets should be accessible to bicycles and pedestrians. It is my belief that the creative process that leads to establishment of a bike boulevard necessarily implies the designation of a complementary route as an “traffic sewer,” a condition which doesn’t attract bicyclists. Or put another way, once the bike boulevard is designated, bicycle traffic will shift from the main road to the bike boulevard, leaving people who want to access the main road’s attractions by bicycle more vulnerable. As Ms. Sulaiman notes, the BFS doctrinally avoids the direct routes that save people time. Shortcuts, however, are more valuable on a bicycle because the two wheeler’s slower speed makes each mile of detour more onerous than it would be in an automobile.

I have stated previously that when the authorities take an interest in

Over the long run, it feels to me as if I am slowly accumulating a body of evidence that carefully disputes many of the most cherished truisms of bicycle advocacy. It takes a long time and leaves me with the sinking feeling that many people whose wisdom I have counted on are engaged in a process that supports only a small sliver of the population on bicycles.

Communicate safety in the future…

…By building better streets that look and feel safer to people on the fence about getting on a bike every now and then. It’s not rocket science.

Streetsblog commenter, 12/17/2015

I haven’t responded to this comment on my soi-disant authoritative comeback to all safety-based arguments: How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today? It’s been sitting there for more than a year now.

The answer is obvious; those streets are there already but nobody is riding on them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the safety of riding a bicycle. Every weekday afternoon I pedal through the quiet leafy streets of northeastern Queens and only on rare occasions do I see another person riding a bicycle. Again, my observation is confirmed. People will ride bicycles when it makes sense for them to ride bicycles, but not now; at present they just find it easier to drive around and do their errands. Nothing is stopping them from bicycling; there is not a lot of traffic, there are no steep hills. They just feel more comfortable driving.

In order to change this I humbly suggest moving away from safety promotion toward promoting the enjoyment of bicycling and the fun it involves. I am sitting inside on a sunny day and I am itching to go out and ride; why don’t more people feel this way?

Envisioning the New World

Most of my blog posts are prompted by Streetsblog comments. Something written down catches my eye and I start cogitating on it. Once in a while I can extract a new post from the thinking I do; often times it just reduces down to one of the messages I’ve already identified. I see no need to write a new post about the same thing every time it catches my eye.

Several regular commenters this week have been discussing transportation mode share (the proportion of trips made by car, transit, bike, or foot), and how to change New York City’s mode share to increase bike and foot traffic. I support this goal and read posts and comments on the subject eagerly. The advantage of mode share over other frequently discussed goals is that mode share is quantitative; it can be measured. Setting quantitative goals is, I feel, a positive, because I see the drawback of qualitative goals to be in their expansion citywide. Many people, I have indicated, suffer from subjective worldview, where they are chiefly concerned with their own circumstances or their own ride to work. It’s not debilitating, but it does make open discussion difficult as the subjective worldview holder cannot compromise on goals; progress out of sight is not progress to these advocates. So choosing as a goal to increase bike-walk mode share has the benefit of being widely desirable without prescriptively suggesting which interventions go where.

The discussion about mode share (and here) soon starts to drift away from the goal and instead boomerangs back to the qualitative style, where advocates tout their favorite interventions and their likelihood to increase bike-walk mode share.

My takeaway from the discussion is this: our contribution as internet commenters is pretty much limited to a laundry list of interventions that should, one hopes, result in the desired change. But the interventions are more tangible and more desirable than the change itself. We all have one-track minds, racing from the present to a future cycling nirvana along a predetermined course.

But if I have one goal in this series of bicycle-related posts, it’s to herald that there is more than one way to get to nirvana, and concomitantly, to suggest that slavishly copying what works in other places may not be the best way to get to nirvana here. New York today is nothing like Amsterdam 50 years ago, so it’s unlikely that New Yorkers doing what was done in Amsterdam 50 years ago would naturally win for us the Amsterdam of 2016 as our future of 2066. And additionally, who knows tomorrow? Is the Amsterdam cycling boom of today actually durable, or in 2066 will it be the Dutch who are copping ideas on bicycle urbanism from the New York of the teens?

For this reason I appreciate Steven Fleming and his Velotopia, which serves as a convenient outer bound to scoping efforts in service of a better world for bicycling. If we really wanted to make New York a bicycling city, I like to say, we would fill in the East River. I don’t actually anticipate this happening, which is helpful, as conceding that a certain goal is unattainable is the first step to generating actually attainable goals.

So here are some questions: would common-and-garden urbanist interventions improve bike-walk mode share, are these interventions actually attainable, and are there other interventions that might also improve bike-walk mode share?

It’s a truth about statistics that bringing up the lagging indicators makes the biggest change to the overall figure. Conversely, improving the areas where indicators are most positive makes little difference. This fact suggests addressing the least-urban parts of New York City first, before trying to improve the most urban. It also suggests that if the most urban parts of New York (Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, the Bronx south of Fordham Road) were judged separately from the suburban parts, the bike-walk mode share would be quite impressive. And most importantly of all, it’s the built environment that determines how people get around it.

My direct experience with suburban New York City is in northeastern Queens (Whitestone and Bayside), a suburban landscape with single family homes on small lots. Business districts are low-rise and stretch only a block or two. Downtown Flushing, however, is more built up, with newly erected 10+ story towers dominating the landscape. In Whitestone and Bayside, I see parents driving their kids to the bus stop and multiple cars parked in front of the houses. If families are looking for good schools, easy commutes to Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut, and yard space, Bayside and Whitestone seem like good options. The urbanist plan would be to develop more densely around the train stations, with multifamily apartment buildings, but this concept is not keyed into increasing bike-walk mode share, as that part of Queens is more than 10 miles away from midtown Manhattan, a little far to bike. It’s a good concept, but it is not going to increase bike-walk mode share.

Note also that traditional dei-ex-machina solutions to increasing bike-walk mode share, e.g. sudden rise in oil prices, end of subsidies for motoring, have the effect of lowering house prices in suburban neighborhoods, which then makes them more desirable for people who can’t bike, walk, or subway to work and need places to store motor vehicles.

Interviewing the Elves

Figuring out why people who choose not to do something don’t in fact do it is like attempting to interview the elves who live inside your refrigerator but come out only when the light is off. People already working for a company might tell you what makes them unhappy. But these complaints won’t necessarily pinpoint the factors that keep women and minorities away from studying computer science in the first place.

Eileen Pollack, “What Really Keeps Women Out Of Tech,” New York Times, Sunday Review, page 3, 10/11/2015

Pollack’s metaphor is a trailer-load of apt when applied to the perennial question of bicycle advocates, “How do we get more people in the saddle?” One problem I see advocates having is that their own good fortune (or commodious circumstances) blinds them to the struggles that people at present considering whether to ride a bike actually face. This is an error that I have previously noted and categorized as a kind of fundamental attribution error, but I think it’s actually deeper than that. I see fundamental attribution error when I see bicycle advocates dismiss other people’s apparent reasons for not riding a bicycle as laziness or unfamiliarity. But the error that Pollack identifies is made on a different level.

Simply put, someone already bicycling sees his or her perceived choke points and difficulties as pervasive. The best example of this is the missing Second Avenue bike lane. Between 59th St and 34th St, there is no Second Avenue bike lane; there are signs along the leftmost traffic lane that say, “Bicyclists May Take Full Lane,” but not green paint or even a reserved door-zone lane. Commenters, some of whom are actual real-life bicycle advocates, are complaining on Streetsblog all the time about this, even hijacking posts about bike lanes in other parts of the city to do so. “Why are the authorities painting these subpar bike lanes in Washington Heights when the Second Avenue bike lane is still missing,” for instance.

From a wide-angle perspective, it’s clear that a New Yorker’s decision whether to bike or not to bike on any day is probably very little influenced by those 25 blocks without a bike lane. Plenty of people, after all, are not bicycling into midtown Manhattan at all, let alone the East Side. Here’s where Pollack’s insight comes in. While we can fairly easily attribute ridership to the presence of a bike lane on a certain street, it is more difficult to attribute the lack of ridership in the city overall to the absence of a bike lane on a certain street. The Second Avenue advocates’ argument is that better bicycle infrastructure on those 25 blocks will have some kind of domino effect, the riders irresistibly drawn by the lane’s presence channeling like a spring tide along all other bicycle infrastructure in Manhattan, thus by safety-in-numbers creating more and more bicyclists until all 8.3 million of us New Yorkers are hastening to and fro on two wheels.

This argument blithely assumes that there are no other constraints on bicycling in midtown, that nobody is hunting in vain for a bike share bicycle, or unable to find a safe place to park, or obliged to leave work after dark (or leave home before dawn). It recalls the old chestnut, the reserve army of bicyclists, in this case waiting in their midtown offices with padded shorts on for the Second Avenue bike lane to be opened.

I fully agree that the lack of the Second Avenue bike lane does make bicycling to Brooklyn from midtown more hairy and fretful than it needs to be. But this effect is only noticeable if you are already bicycling to Brooklyn from midtown (like, I expect, most of the advocates). Bicycling advocates have already worked through all the other difficult aspects of commuting by bicycle (finding the parking space, packing the clean shirt) and the implementation of the full Second Avenue bike lane is the one thing that would make their commute easier. Pollack’s insight is that the one thing for the advocate is likely not the one thing for someone ready to get in the saddle.



No Reserve Army of Bicyclists

I doubt that there is a reserve army of bicyclists ready to hit the streets, awaiting some particular intervention. By “reserve army,” I refer to a mass of potential bicyclists whose role in society is to keep bicycle-focused interventions coming. We advocates are constantly being told that one thing is standing in the way of mass cycling. Whether that one thing be the rolling Idaho stop, or a protected bike lane, or a strict liability law, or peak oil, or bikes in buildings, or showers at work, or a bike valet, or that self-driving wheel, I don’t think any single intervention is going to make that much difference in getting people into the saddle. I believe however that interventions like those I mentioned do have value in communicating the value of the bicycle to the culture at large.

I arrive at this conclusion following my two posts (1, 2) on “Who is the Marginal Person on a Bike.” If I cannot easily identify a single kind of person who is the marginal person on a bike, how can I blithely assume that there is, in hiding, an entire battalion of them?

As usual, I am merely extending the insights of Dr. Adonia Lugo. In this post she elaborates on the gap between normal and normative when it comes to bicycle riding. She points out that each of us approach culture and transportation differently, and my extension of her statement is that it each of us will require different prerequisites in order to feel comfortable with getting into the bicycle saddle.

I have believed for a long time that people will get in the bicycle saddle when it makes sense for them to do so. This also contributes to my notion that there is no reserve army of bicyclists, as each person’s sense of when it is a good idea to get in the bicycle saddle is different. As advocates for bicycling and generally empathetic people, we have to engage with individuals as individuals, and avoid assuming that they are all equally ready to get on the bicycle.

Another way to think about the reserve-army concept is that it ignores the role of culture in promoting bicycling. Perhaps as Dr. Lugo suggests, people who have been to Copenhagen and Holland return with the idea that bicycling can (and ought) be normative. I’ve previously identified this as the vacuum-cleaner approach, the point being that the bicycle can be just another household appliance like the vacuum cleaner, which is used regularly but doesn’t inspire a lot of devotion or the wearing of special uniforms.

My own experience at the Secret City suggests that the bicycle is not exactly normative for Americans and that young, healthy people, in an environment with bicycles and without privately owned motor vehicles, do not jump into the bicycle saddle in large numbers.

What does this matter? What are the consequences? If there is no reserve army of potential bicyclists, why should you care?

One, advocates can move toward a multifocal approach that empowers individual people on bicycles and away from the single-intervention model of advocacy; two, advocates can engage with bicyclists who are actually bicycling instead of the shadowy reserve army of potential bicyclists; and three, advocates can begin to celebrate bicycling for the joyful activity it can be, instead of regarding it as a transportation chore that needs to be made routine.

Safety Promotion vs. Bicycle Promotion

No doubt you have read about Vision Zero. Canonical Vision Zero thinking means, as I understand it, that authorities create a system that limits the death-dealing aspects of motor vehicles to allow for ordinary humans to safely take part in street life. This Sarah Goodyear interview with Matts-Åke Belin is a pretty good introduction to the original version of the concept.

The execution of the idea here in New York seems rather stale from the perspective of the livable-streets advocate. People are still getting run down by automobile drivers, and authorities still don’t seem to care. Going back to the Belin interview, he shies away from a punitive approach toward a more mechanistic one that sees the street as a system, and both the driver and the pedestrian as points of failure. We Americans are more familiar with a highway-centric view that regards only the pedestrian as the point of failure and takes for granted the astonishing car-on-car violence that we see every day.

As advocates of bicycling, let us bear in mind that Sweden, though a safe place to use the street, is not therefore a priori a bicycling Nirvana. Nobody describes Stockholm as a city whose lifeblood flows on two wheels. The Swedish culture that Belin describes is one where people mix on the street with cars that are traveling slow enough not to kill or maim. This is different from how blogger David Hembrow describes Holland, as a place where cities are designed to keep automobiles away from people on foot and bike.

A look at the descriptively named Vision Zero View website, you will see that New York’s idea of Vision Zero matches up pretty well with the Swedish emphasis on infrastructure design as the key to allowing humans and motor vehicles to coexist. I can envision a New York that does get the speed limit down to 15 mph in residential areas, but that still allows cars to drive through and to park freely on the street.

Bicycle advocates naturally advocate for safer streets. People on bicycles are extremely vulnerable to motor vehicle violence. So we advocates are inclined toward supporting any kind of safety initiative, in the hope that it will result in fewer bicyclists being killed and maimed. Certainly, a Vision Zero New York would have that effect.

I doubt, however, whether it would drive up the rate of people bicycling.

Assume there is a “safety deficit,” that people feel that bicycling is not safe enough for them to take part. Then, assume that vigorous attention has remedied this safety deficit and it’s not there any more. Bicycling is just as safe as people want it to be. Now, let’s ride! In order to encourage our fellow citizens to mount their bicycles, we need a marketing campaign that touts the safety of bicycling as well as its other benefits.

The same marketing campaign to get people into the saddle post-remedy could however also be used pre-remedy. How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today?

People will get in the bicycle saddle when it makes sense for them to get in the bicycle saddle. Spending time trying to make bicycling safer is a worthwhile way to spend time, but I don’t see how it gets more people into the saddle.

I agree with Hembrow. I believe that sharing the streets with motor vehicles, even slow-moving Volvos, diminishes the enjoyment of bicycling significantly. The goal of Vision Zero is not to remove motor vehicles from the streets, but to create an environment where motor vehicles can interact safely with people on foot or bike. This kind of environment is always going to be more favorable to motor vehicles because their spatial requirements are so much greater; cars are much larger and take up much more street area than bicycles or people on foot. Committing to Vision Zero goals means accepting an environment that is not particularly favorable to people on bicycles, an environment that does not necessarily devote more space to bicycles, but asks people on bicycles to share the space they need with newly tamed motor vehicles.


Nine fallacies or blurred areas of bicycle advocacy

1. Fundamental attribution error, assuming fallaciously that poor people are not as informed about bicycle transportation as rich people, especially rich people who ride bikes. It is not the case that poor people are unaware that bicycles exist or can be used to go from place to place more cheaply than the bus. It is also not the case that motorists stuck in traffic are unaware that bicycles exist. The flip side of this is the aggressive hunt for people who are absolutely unaware that bicycles exist, who are used as straw men to be set ablaze by the writer’s fiery rhetoric and incendiary logic. See ‘Poor People and Bicycling,’ ‘Despairing Season for Riding a Bicycle.’

2. Subjective worldview, assuming perhaps incorrectly that the advocate’s daily ride is representative of all locals’ daily rides, and therefore that fixing problems along the advocate’s route will make a big difference in ride quality across the city. The other way to conceive of this is to consider the impossibility of ranking poor bicycling conditions across a vast city like New York, especially since truly poor-quality bicycling repels bicyclists, including well-meaning bicycle advocates. See ‘Your Ride is Your Perspective,’ ‘Poor Infrastructure Is Everywhere.’

3. Masochism, or ‘Overcoming Obstacles for Fun.’ Sure, everyone wants to be more virtuous, but bicycling, like most activities, doesn’t make sense for people if it involves too much hassle, discomfort, and frustration. Getting on a bicycle in the wintertime is frustrating and uncomfortable. See ‘Despairing Season for Riding a Bicycle.’ It’s best to recognize this overtly and work on constructive ways to alleviate it, rather than celebrating the suck and hoping that other people are just as masochistic as the advocate. Conversely, masochists fail to celebrate actual joy in the performance of bicycling technique in favor of second-order benefits, like cardiovascular exercise and the ability to perceive the streetscape at pedestrian time-scales. This is tangentially related to Early Adopter Syndrome, in which people who get in on something at the start are consigned to using kludgy, inconvenient equipment to accomplish their goals, while people who start later on benefit from improvements in design. Just think of how much effort and specialized equipment were required in the early 2000s to get one’s bicycle to one’s Manhattan workplace and secure it there; now we have bike share and bikes in buildings!

4. Fighting for inadequate provisions, like these good people complaining that the bike lane on a relatively quiet street hasn’t been repainted, though the street has been marked with a double yellow center line, or this guy suggesting bike paths in highway medians. Oh, the noise! and smell! Let me give you a suggestion. If it would look weird to see a bicycle there, as in “Dad, look! There’s a guy on a bicycle! In the median!” perhaps that’s not the place for a bike lane. Nobody wants to look weird and out of place. Addressing the first issue, is there someone who decided not to bike on Seaman Avenue because the public-works department took away the bicycle lane? Maybe that marginal person on a bike just put the bike back on the balcony and took the bus instead.

5. Focusing on safety promotion instead of bicycle promotion. Assume there is a “safety deficit,” that people feel that bicycling is not safe enough for them to take part. Then, assume that vigorous attention has remedied this safety deficit and it’s not there any more. Bicycling is just as safe as people want it to be. Now, let’s ride! The same marketing campaign to get people into the saddle post-remedy could have been used pre-remedy. How are we in the future going to communicate the safety of bicycling in a way that is not true today? People will get in the bicycle saddle when it makes sense for them to get in the bicycle saddle. Spending time trying to make bicycling safer is a worthwhile way to spend time, but I don’t see how it gets more people into the saddle. See Safety Promotion vs. Bicycle Promotion.

6. Overreliance on imported models. Instead of doing the onerous anthropological work of figuring out who is actually riding a bicycle and how, work that is a natural but perhaps not obvious prerequisite to encouraging more people to ride bicycles, lazy advocates prefer to import models wholesale from the Netherlands and assign them to local populations.  This overlaps somewhat with fundamental attribution bias, especially when zealous Omafiets riders attempt to explain how less doctrinaire bicyclists are doing it wrong by using the bike they had in the garage to commute. Americans are constantly being informed by these kinds of advocates that we are not riding correctly, that all we need is the right kind of neighborhood, the right kind of intersection, the right kind of bike lane, and the right kind of bike and we will be on our bicycles just like the Dutch. Well, yes: if Dutch bicycling is correct then we would do well to build new Hollands everywhere. But if bicycling is so fantastic, why does it have to be done with exactly one kind of bike, and one kind of street? I would prefer to support multiple variations of bicycling technique as I cannot authoritatively pronounce one way better than another.

7. Great expectations from aggregate data. The more people are counted, the more we are supposed to know. But what would we do any differently, knowing 10 times as many people as we thought were using the bike lane? It’s my considered opinion that bicycle infrastructure installation is not particularly dependent on descriptive statistics. The reserve army of bicyclists is not training on rollers, waiting for Mayor De Blasio to build it a bike lane.

8. Measurement bias. Rides that can be measured become the yardstick, and the data that can be conveniently gathered from open data repositories somehow becomes the entire story. I would like to know what the spread and success of local bike shops says for the technique, as local bike shops actually turn bicyclists per se into consumers and job creators, but that data is a lot harder to find. Easier to see how many people are using the local bike share kiosk. This goes along with subjective worldview, as the people who are doing the measuring are the ones providing the worldview.

9. Historical bias, e.g. “Bicycling: Now Safer Than Ever.” Bias toward the past, and what happened in the past, and away from the future, and what we plan to happen. We overvalue the incidents that happened in the past, and neglect to take into account recent interventions to address those incidents, and undervalue what will happen in the future. It took me a while to see this one as its own fallacy. It can be viewed, however, in the inability of safety interventions to change people’s attitudes about the safety of bicycling. Folks will always remember how unsafe it felt the last time they got on a bicycle… in 1999.

Hembrow on velocity

To encourage people to cycle, cycling must be fast. It is important that cycling journeys are made efficient and safe as otherwise cycling does not compete with other modes of transport.…No-one has time to waste on inadequate infrastructure which slows them down. There is no demographic group in this country or any other which wants their journeys to take longer than they have to and no excuse whatsoever for building infrastructure which has that result.

—David Hembrow, A View from the Cycle Path blogger

From the canonical Dutch cycling infrastructure blog, a good reminder that cycling, even in Holland’s bicycling Nirvana, must make sense to people doing it. We are not going to build a new society on bicycles from the efforts of people trying hard to go slowly. In order to make riding a bicycle a realistic choice, we have to use our street grid, not meandering greenways.

Who Is the Marginal Person on a Bike, part 2

Who is the marginal person on a bike? I use the word “marginal” to describe the very next person getting on a bicycle. I want to know who this person is, because as a bicycle advocate, I am hoping that more people get on bicycles, and I would like to know who they are and what their needs are so I can support them with my advocacy.

When I went over this previously, I suggested a couple possible alternatives for occupational or residential criteria to identify the marginal person. I have thought about this a little more since then, and it seems to me that the most intriguing way to look at this person is to ask whether he or she is riding for recreation, or riding for errands and commuting. As I see it, advocacy efforts for each of the two genres of bicycle use are diverging, like Darwin’s finches.

Recreational bicyclists are tiresomely described as riding expensive bicycles and wearing bright, stretchy clothes. Bicyclists who ride to get from place to place many times choose to emulate elderly Northern Europeans, wearing suits, carrying umbrellas, and riding bicycles with 19th-century accouterments like skirt guards and enclosed chains. In terms of advocacy efforts, recreational riding has the three-foot passing rule, which is steadily making its way across the U.S., and transportation bicyclists boast of efforts to create protected bike lanes. Lost in the mix are the so-called invisible cyclists, the immigrants without drivers’ licenses who are bicycling to get to work from home without benefit of lights, reflective uniforms, or rear luggage racks.

Why is this important to determine who is the marginal person on a bike? Because bicycling is a technique, and the people who are on bicycles are using the technique. The marginal person on a bike, in one view, is the person who just learned to ride a bicycle. This is a person who is now riding, who wasn’t riding this morning. To follow through with the argument, in order to get more people on bicycles, it would make sense to teach them to ride.

The flip side of this is that riding a bicycle doesn’t mean that the person is going to be running errands on his or her bicycle. Is that OK? Reading Michael Andersen’s blog post about People For Bikes’ Isabella, the tween whom we envision using our coming-soon bicycle infrastructure, I see her world as described in the blog post to be weirdly utilitarian. It’s full of destinations, but the journeys don’t merit a mention.

I am the father of two small children, and I can confidently aver that the journey is often the most exciting part of the trip. So I’m confused. Isabella needs bicycle infrastructure so she can get from place to place, but not so she can actually enjoy riding a bicycle. As Andersen points out in his blog post, “The ultimate goal of the Green Lane Project — and, we’d argue, of all modern bicycle infrastructure — is to get Isabella where she wants to go.” There’s no mention of active transportation here, so presumably Isabella’s bicycle and her neighborhood’s Modern Bicycle Infrastructure is just a placeholder until we can get the magic-carpet thing worked out.

As I have mentioned before, it is bizarre to discuss bicycle advocacy without the slightest nod toward the joy inherent in bicycle technique. Bicycling, even in a motor-vehicle-free nirvana, can be time-consuming, arduous, and uncomfortably sensitive to weather conditions. When it’s a nice day, however, it’s a joy to be outside, moving, using your body. Bicycle advocates who do not emphasize that more bicycle infrastructure permits joyful bicycle riding at will are like contraception advocates who fail to mention that birth control can enable more joyful sex.

So, as an advocate, I will confess that my ultimate goal is to get more people on bicycles, because it’s fun to ride and I want to share that with others. My goal is greater than providing people with an alternative way to run errands. The whole point of commuting by bicycle, as I see it, is to allow more of that joy into your life, substituting the autonomy and physical pleasure of bicycle riding for either a dull and listless mass-transit journey or an expensive and alienating motor vehicle trip.

Poor Infrastructure Is Everywhere

Folks complain about lack of safe bicycling conditions to justify more infrastructure spending. “Ordinary” people (women, not young men) don’t get in the bicycle saddle because it is not perceived as a safe way to get around. So in order to get the bicycle mode-share numbers up, authorities ought to provide safe ways for these people to travel.

But this argument holds true for pretty much all forms of transportation. Generally, infrastructure everywhere, especially in low-income areas, is degraded. Walking conditions are terrible, with poor-quality sidewalks, lack of street trees, lack of crosswalks, lack of amenities along the route, lack of adequate lighting at night, and speeding traffic close at hand. Frequent curb cuts and front parking lots create dangerous mid-block car crossings for people on foot and elongate potentially attractive windows from window-shoppers walking by. I don’t have to mention the depressing number of people on foot killed by vehicles failing to yield while turning into crosswalks. If conditions for people on foot are poor, and pretty much everyone has feet, why should we expect anything better for people on two wheels?

This argument can even be extended to facilities for motor vehicles. What Charles Marohn calls “stroads,” those 45-mph stretches of county roads that traditionally stretch between the town limits and the highway exit, are extremely poorly designed for automobiles, as the only safe way to make necessary left turns is to install a traffic signal that slows all traffic to a stop at the interchange with each strip mall.

Moving on to the question of why in the face of such complete degradation it should be important to get more people into the bicycle saddle, I can assure you that the answer, in perfect sincerity, writes itself. We need the bicycle because a person on a bicycle can maintain the pedestrian perspective that lets cities unwind into endless strands of enriching streetscape while traveling five times faster (therefore further) than the person on foot.