Much to my surprise, my article Do We Overvalue Bike Lanes? got quite a bit of traffic in the few days since I posted it. As best as I can tell the article was picked up on Tyler Cowen’s excellent Marginal Revolution blog, Robin Hanson tweeted it, Arnold Kling blogged about it, got re-tweeted a bunch of times, shared on Facebook a lot, and posted to Reddit here in the bicycling subreddit and here in the cyclingculture subreddit.
Being a contrarian opinion, I thought the article would be somewhat controversial but the overwhelming response was very, very positive. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and agreed with pretty much the entire premise. There were even plenty of cycling advocacy groups, who I thought would find something to object to, were pretty much in total agreement.
However, there were several responses that were negative. These responses generally fell into the following categories:
- “But I ride my bike to work on a road with a bike lane and I love it!”
- “You obviously haven’t seen study X that shows that bike lanes reduce accidents by 90%!”
- “You used such a poor example of a bike lane that it’s hard to take your argument seriously.”
- “You are obviously one of the ‘fearless’ cyclists and are therefore out of touch with the 8 and 80 year old bikers. Leave your opinion out of this and defer to the real experts.”
I’ll address these objections one by one.
1. But I love my bike lane!
Of course my argument wasn’t that all bike lanes are bad or that your favorite one is bad. My argument was that we end up with too many bike lanes for the reasons I outlined. I suspect that the bike lane that you have in your mind as you read the article is further to the right on the continuum in the graphic I posted. In that case, you most likely agree with my premise! It also might be that there are few if any of the particularly poor bike lanes in your area. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
2. Studies show that bike lanes reduce accidents by 90%, therefore a bike lane can’t be bad!
This could also be referred to as the “You just haven’t read the study I have – the important one that settles it for good” objection. When someone refers to a study that shows overwhelming evidence that bike lanes reduce accidents it shows me that you haven’t thought about the issue deeply enough and you are, in fact, supporting my premise by pointing out a major reason why we end up with too many bike lanes. I believe that many of the studies you reference (like this one) do prove something – they gathered data that they didn’t come up with out of thin air. My objection is not to these studies in and of themselves – my objection is to how they are referenced and cited as if they are quantifiable proof that we should use bike lanes in all circumstances. This is the confirmation bias and social desirability bias on full display.
If you’ve formed a confident opinion based on a study or two and haven’t looked at counter arguments then I think you’re very likely going to have a flawed viewpoint on this complex topic.
3. You used a poor example of a bad bike lane therefore it’s hard to take your argument seriously
The general idea of this response was “Of course that’s an example of a horrible bike lane, but these aren’t the kind of bike lanes that are used now – we’ve learned and do it better now.” To some extent I think this is true. In our town if a similar road is built I don’t think this type of design would be chosen. However, there are many miles of similar bike lanes all over town, some of which were built fairly recently. The common thinking is that these bike lanes aren’t hurting anybody – people feel safe. I feel that there is, in fact, more danger by having the lanes there and our continued tacit endorsement of them sends a bad message to the community.
4. You’re a “fearless” cyclist so your opinion actually doesn’t matter
This is probably the most commonly used tactic and one of the main reasons we end up with more bike lanes than is optimal. One group was apparently so threatened by even the suggestion that not every bike lane is good for cycling that they circled the wagons on Twitter. They quickly try to categorize me as one of the “strong and fearless” cyclists on this continuum:
Labeling someone as “strong and fearless” is often used within the cycling community as a subtle ad hominem way of ignoring an inconvenient perspective. My article was quite tame and I thought very reasonable given the fact that I wasn’t born “fearless” – a very short time ago I was very new to bicycling having it basically forced upon me via a running injury. I find it strange that in the cycling advocacy community the more experience a cyclist gets, the more others within the community feel they have license to stereotype that person and safely ignore what they have to say precisely because they have more experience. I’ve seen this on multiple occasions on a local and national level.
It seems to me that there’s some sort of inherent insecurity in some parts of the cycling advocacy community that the overall community of cyclists is more diverse than their united front implies.
Other Minor Points
One comment suggested I use the term “crash” instead of “accident”. There’s some people in the cycling community that strongly push for this and it’s easy to understand why. The term accident implies that “well, golly, there’s not much we can do to prevent this – these things just happen!” This group insists on the term crash since in a lot of cases there is fault and something could have been done to prevent it. I totally understand this point but I’ve never been convinced that this semantic argument matters as much as the proponents think it does. Maybe a commenter can convince me that it’s worth it!
This person suggested that my continuum was possibly the “worst infographic ever”. I guess that’s possible but I thought it was pretty good – in fact, one planner asked if he could use it for social media/presentation purposes.
Any comments? Leave them below.