Last modified on 3 December 2010, at 21:07

Lentis/Bicyclists in Cities

There is an ongoing debate in America between bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians as to whether or not bicyclists belong on public streets, sidewalk, or neither. This animosity is exacerbated in large urban cities with large numbers of bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians. This chapter will focus mainly on the relationship between American road infrastructure, perceptions that shaped this infrastructure, and bicycle ridership.


History of Roads for BikesEdit

The League of American Wheelman (now known as the League of American Bicyclists) was founded in 1880 due to the rising popularity of bicycling. The League lobbied for better roads, literally paving the road for the automobile.

Major road infrastructure in the United States was built in the 1950s when cars were touted as status symbols and considered the societal norm. American civil engineers did not consider alternative forms of transportation when designing city streets. As bicycling became more popular, bicycle traffic encountered the effects of poor design. Many bicycling solutions had to be built around existing infrastructure, which led to further problems. This is especially true in urban areas where land is even scarcer.

Bicycle UsesEdit

There are many uses bicycles: utility, work, sport, recreation, etc. however, in the United States, they are mainly advertised as toys for children.

Apache bike ad from the 70's.

Are bikes Considered Vehicles?Edit

Legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia categorizes a bicycle as a vehicle. Therefore bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists. Bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians feel very differently on this matter due to their perception of right of way and of who belongs where.

Why Do People Bike?Edit

A survey by the University of Texas found that people bike for fitness and health concerns (88%) followed by pleasure, enjoyment, or leisure (87%). (Note: participants were allowed to choose more than one option as to why they chose to bike.) From a public health perspective, bicycling promotes physically active lifestyles.[1] From the same survey, it was found that those who bike to work identify an important reason to commute by bike is being environmentally friendly (82%). From a transportation perspective biking can alleviate negative consequences of automobile use, reduce traffic, congestion, air quality degradation, energy consumption, and high dependence on foreign fuels.[1]

Though the cost savings is potentially significant, the primary motivations to bike is due to exercise and enjoyment, therefore economics alone is unlikely to motivate a significant number of people to take up bike commuting [2] From the League of American Bicyclists press release for Bike to Work Week 2009, “biking to work is fun, builds morale, encourages camaraderie and is a great way to get active in your community. Additionally, employers who promote biking to work have more active employees that are more alert, healthy and productive. Biking reduces your carbon footprint, reduces traffic congestion and saves money."[3] However, the main reasons for how commuters choose their transportation means are travel time and convenience.[2]

What Factors Affect Bicycling?Edit

Factors that influence an individual’s decision to bike include: individual and household demographics, individual attitudes and perceptions, and infrastructure characteristics and safety.[1]

  • Individual and household demographics:
    • The US Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey reported 765,000 bicyclists, which is 0.9% of the total (138,600,000) number of trips made. Of the 765,000 bikers to work, about 205,000 are women (27%) and 561,000 are men (73%). [4] One explanation for the disparity between gender bike ridership is that women are more concerned about safety, particularly with vehicular traffic [5]
  • Individual attitudes and perceptions:
    • Increased perceived presence of bicycle lanes and trails are positively correlated to increasing bicycling ridership because they are perceived to be safer.[6]
  • Infrastructure characteristics:
    • Studies show that people are willing to travel 20 minutes extra to use an off-road facility than to use an in-traffic facility with no bike lane and on-street parking.[7]
    • Higher levels of bicycle infrastructure are positively correlated to higher rates of bike commuting [8]

How Does Infrastructure Affect Bicycling?Edit

High speed limits create animosity between drivers and bicyclists when bicyclists cannot bike as fast as the drivers' desired free flow speed. It also creates create an uncomfortable biking situation when bicyclists are passed by such high speeds vehicles. Therefore high speed roadways deter bicycling.


Storm drains are found exclusively in the gutter pan of the road. Drivers tend to “push” bicyclists towards the far right of the lane even into the gutter pan. A car is able to drive over the storm drain grate with no problems, but if the grate is positioned parallel to the road, the spacing between the grate openings is wide that a bicycle wheel can get caught within the opening. This is a serious safety concern for a bicyclist though it does not affect cars or pedestrians. Poorly implemented grates are problematic for bicyclists and provide evidence that the designers of the street did not consider bicycle traffic.


Potholes in the road.

Potholes can be quite deep and bad for a car's suspensions; however, the potential car damage is not nearly as bad as the potential bicycle damage. Bikes are much more likely to pinch a tube and get a flat when biking over a pothole, unlike a car which can drive right over it. Thus, potholes act as a deterrent to bicycling are very abundant in cities.

Okay to enter sidewalk.


Sidewalks were created as a shared use path in transportation infrastructure.[9] to separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic. In some locations can be shared by both pedestrians and bicycles, but they are primarily designated for pedestrians. With the introduction of ramps onto sidewalks as stated by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, bicyclists have became more prevalent on sidewalks. These ramps made it easier for bicyclists to move from street to sidewalk very easily and smoothly. This causes conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists on the side walk with bicyclists traveling at relatively faster speeds than pedestrians; therefore serious injuries and even fatalities may result from a collision. Sidewalks are often misused by bicyclists to avoid traffic and bypass street delays. Because bicyclists weave between the street and the sidewalk, this creates confusion and hazardous situations for bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians.

Other bikers, like BMX bikers, may use sidewalks for tricks and recreation. Many Facebook groups can be found that express the frustration of pedestrians with all types of bicyclists. When pedestrians abuse other designated areas, for example, by walking in a bike lane, this would cause bicyclists to swerve into the car lane, creating an even more dangerous situation.


Bike lane sign.

Bike lanes also known as segregated cycle facilities are shown to increase the perception of safety [6]. Many surveys indicate that having safe bike lanes would increase bicycling.[2] Distance is an important factor when choosing whether to bike or not [2], and one study reported that bicyclists are willing to lengthen their travel distance by 0.5 to 0.75 miles if it meant biking on off-road bike facilities. [10] There are also studies that show correlation between increased bicycling with increased connectivity of biking facilities. [2]

Bike lanes are often abused by automobiles with cars, delivery trucks, and taxies seen double parked in the bike lane to reduce impeding adjacent car lanes. This requires bikes to maneuver around the parked vehicle into adjacent lanes. A lot of crashes also occur with bike lanes adjacent to parked cars. The University of Texas survey reported 4 % of participants experienced a crash with half the crashes from vehicles moving in and out of parking spaces and one-third from the driver of a parked vehicle opening the door into the bike lane (“dooring”).[1]

Hazardous car door zone causes "dooring".

There are those who oppose bike lanes. Leslie Sicklick, an anti-bike lane activist, said of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “he’s taking my rights away as a driver” in response to the new implemented bike lanes in Brooklyn.[1]

Segregated bike lanes have an implicit message that bike lanes are for bikes, not cars, therefore some bicyclists are also anti-bike lanes because they believe bicycles belong in the same lane as cars. When bike lanes are present, drivers exhibit road rage against bicyclists when they do not stay in the bike lane. Some drivers go to the extent of petitioning for bikes to go back onto sidewalks, which in several cities is illegal. These opinions are very apparent in the plethora Facebook groups dedicated to roads are for cars with an equal number dedicated to roads are for bikes.

Protected bike lane with stripped "buffer zone".

Designated bike lanes make bicyclists feel safer about biking in traffic, however, drivers may pass a bicyclists at a closer distance. It also gives bicyclists a false sense of security because drivers get confused and drive in the bike lane, causing additional hazards. With bikes out of view, drivers are less aware of bicyclists. This becomes especially dangerous when bike lanes end and requires merging with traffic or when a bicyclist wants to change lanes. Being in the same lane with cars will ensure increased bicycle awareness.

In contrast, with lack of bicycling facilities, bicyclists may feel they do not belong anywhere, therefore some bicyclists believe they can do anything, like recklessly running red lights and stop signs, this counteracts organizations that promote bicycles as vehicles and promote bike lane implementation increase bicycling (see Bikes Belong Coalition and People for Bikes).

Implementing bike lanes in cities is costly. Even though bike lanes cost significantly less relative to car lanes, many cities' transportation infrastructure have a well established road network. Therefore, a bike lane would require narrowing or reducing existing car lanes. Narrower lanes make it difficult for vehicles to safely pass a bicyclist without swerving into adjacent lanes. Drivers may choose to wait until the lane widens before passing the bicyclist. This could lead to slower traffic (which is beneficial to bicyclists, but frustrating to drivers) and increased congestion.


Urban Sprawl - the desire to live in the suburbs and commute to work by car – is one of the main reasons and motivations the US infrastructure heavily favors car traffic. Bike commuters tend to live in close proximity of their work place; however, commuting from suburbia to inter-city may add a significant distance to daily commute. Increase distance equates to increased travel time and many studies show that with increased distance and travel time, bike commuting decreases. [2]

ConclusionEdit

Societal values during the establishment of the existing road network is apparent in the current transportation design of city streets. Along with societal norms of owning a personal automobile within the US, this is a major barrier hinders the increase of bicycling within cities. Especially within dense cities, animosity and anger increases between bicyclists, drivers, and pedestrians as designated facilities are abused and varying perceptions of right of way are expressed.

Future ConsiderationsEdit

Things to consider:

  • Off-road infrastructure such as separate bike paths and multi-use trails
  • Technology within infrastructure such as inductive bike sensors and bike signals
  • Social perceptions of bicycling as environmentally friendly and healthier (bicyclists' superiority complex)
  • Bicycling in cities versus suburbia and rural areas
  • Bicycling culture and societal norms in other prevalent bicycling countries

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b c d Sener, I. N., Eluru, N., & Bhat, C. R. (2009). Who are bicyclists? Why and how much are they bicycling? Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 2134, 63-70.
  2. a b c d e f Goldsmith, S. A. (1992). Reasons why bicycling and walking are and are not being used more extensively as travel modes. In National Bicycling and Walking Study. Publication No. FHWA-PD-92-041, pp. 1-87. Retrieved from http://katana.hsrc.unc.edu/cms/downloads/CS1_WhyBikeWalkNotUsed1992.pdf
  3. League of American Bicyclists. (2009, May 11). Bike to Work Week 2009 [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.bikeleague.org/media/press/bike_work_week09.pdf.
  4. (2009). U.S. Census Bureau, 2009 American Community Survey . Unpublished raw data. Retrieved from http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DatasetMainPageServlet?_program=ACS&_submenuId=&_lang=en&_ds_name=ACS_2009_1YR_G00_&ts=
  5. Garrad, J., Rose, G., & Lo, S. K. (2007). Promoting transportation cycling for women: The role of bicycle infrastructure. Preventive Medicine, 55-59.
  6. a b Moudon, A. V., Lee, C., Cheadle, A. D., Collier, C. W., Johnson, D., Thomas, S. L., & Weather, R. D. (2005). Cycling and the built environment, a US perspective. Transportation Research Part D, 245-261.
  7. Tilahan, N. Y., Levinson, D. M., & Krizek, K. J. (2006). Trails, lanes, or traffic: Valuing bicycle facilities with an adaptive stated preference survey. Transportation Research Part A, 287-301.
  8. Dill, J. & Carr, T. (2003). Bicycling commuting and facilities in major U.S. cities: if you build them, commuters will use them - another look. Transportation Research Board 2003 Annual Meeting, 1-9.
  9. Chapter 14. Shared Use Path Design. Retrieved from http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/sidewalk2/sidewalks214.htm
  10. Shafizadeh, K., Niemeier, D. (1997). Bicycle journey-to-work: travel behavior characteristics and spatial attributes. Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 84-90.