Frames of Mind: Why Did We Not Cycle?

There has been a great deal of talk about the recent English study that urges policy makers to ignore the views of experienced cyclists and bicycle activists when designing infrastructure, and to focus instead on the views of those who don't cycle. The idea is that answering the question "Why don't they?" will provide greater insight into what is needed for the majority of the population to find bicycling appealing.

I tend to agree with this premise. As cyclists in a non-cycling culture become more experienced, it is only natural that they undergo a shift in perspective. Situations that used to feel awkward, difficult or dangerous to them (and still do to the majority of the population!) no longer feel that way; they can no longer place themselves in their former frames of mind. By no means immune to this effect, I too no longer see cycling in the same light as I did a mere two and a half years ago. But I've been trying to think back and remember my attitudes from the time when I didn't ride. Why didn't I?

Probably the major reason was a failure of imagination on my part:  I did not understand how bicyclists could safely share space with other road users. Seriously, I could not imagine it. The difference in speed was drastic. It was confusing that sometimes there were bike lanes and sometimes there weren't. What about merging? What about intersections? It all seemed downright absurd. I tried to watch other cyclists on the roads, but that was not reassuring in the least. They weaved around cars. They sometimes obeyed traffic laws and other times did not. All I saw was chaos. And I witnessed many close calls between cyclists and motorists, which only intensified my skepticism that cycling was in any way safe or normal. It was not until I discovered the world of friendly bicycle blogs - some of which practically spelled out in encouraging baby talk how to ride a bike on the street - that it began to (slowly) make sense. And if you're thinking that I must just be exceptionally dumb, be assured that most non-cyclists I speak to express the very same lack of comprehension I recall in myself. "You ride your bike right on the street? But how?..." I explain it step by step, but they are skeptical. The very notion of bicycles sharing the road with cars is too much to swallow for the general population, and I think many of us have lost touch with that.

The other aspect of my former mindset is somewhat difficult to admit, but here it goes: I found the vast majority of cyclists I came in contact with unappealing. And no, I don't mean just the ones in lycra. If anything, it was obvious that those were of the racing variety and simply had nothing to do with me. What I mean is that I found the attitudes of the self-identified "transportation cyclists" I happened to meet over the years unappealing. Many of the ones I came into contact with struck me as cantankerous, self-righeous, dogmatic and overall tedious. Maybe it was just bad luck that I happened to meet those particular people. But an impression formed in my mind of what being a "cyclist" in the USA entailed, and it was a negative impression. As a college undergrad, I remember this student who would always arrive late to my favourite seminar, interrupting the professor mid-sentence with the banging of the door and chairs. She would remove her bicycle helmet revealing sweaty hair, then plop it down loudly on the table. "Had to lock up my bike!" she'd announce triumphantly, as if this not only excused the lateness but also made her superior to those who did not share this tremendous responsibility. She would then sit down, produce a jar of peanut butter from her backpack and proceed to eat out of it with a spoon for the duration of the seminar - waving said spoon around when participating in group discussion. That image more or less sums up how I perceived "cyclists" until several years ago.

But my alienation from cycling would not have been complete without the occasional visits to bike stores - which, until two or three years ago, had nothing to offer but roadbikes and mountain bikes. I would walk in, optimistic, and walk out convinced that a bicycle I felt comfortable enough to ride did not exist on the market. It is amazing to think that in a relatively short amount of time, the selection of bicycles has changed so dramatically - but still, only in some parts of the country, and only in select bicycle shops. It is also amazing to think how much influence the bicycle industry's output has on the types of cycling people believe are accessible to them. Before the category of "city bike" was finally created for the North American market, the concept did not exist here as far as salespeople in bicycle shops were concerned. And, consequently, would-be consumers such as myself did not think it existed either.

For those of us who began riding bikes for transportation in adulthood and have since changed our views of what that entails, I think it's beneficial to try and remember our former attitudes. What were our reasons for not cycling before? What were our concerns, fears, misconceptions? What was difficult to understand and what was easy? And how did we feel about other cyclists? Do you remember this about yourself? And finally, do you agree with the idea that the feedback of timid would-be cyclists is more informative for infrastructure decisions than that of experienced cyclists and advocates?


  1. I used to ride quite a bit when I was young, with friends to go to friends places. Then I started riding more seriously doing 100km every Sunday and shorter rides during the week. I stopped years ago for 2 reasons, in 1989 in Australia we ended up with mandatory helmet laws and cycling decreased substantially. 2 I got hit by a car on a high speed freeway.
    I started riding again earlier this year and now ride 52km a day to/from work and ride weekends for fun. I go to the shops to get things, I ride everywhere. And I am spending much more (so much for saving money) not only on bike related products but food. The dollars that no longer go into the car tank go into my stomach which has flattened as well.
    We have plenty of idiots on the roads in Australia that think they are the only ones paying for them and bike riders should not be there, seperated bike paths/lanes have helped me get back onto a bike.
    Asking a non cyclist what it would take to get them on a bike would be a good start. Getting them past the hurdle of must have clothing is important as well as cyclists here are associated with sport only, viable transportation is not considered. Level of fitness was a worry when I got back on my bike but I needed to remind myself that I'm not in a race.
    And then there is madatory helmet hair, no female wants it and in Australia you have no choice.

  2. I only skimmed your post but here's what I've said before: it takes a leap of imagination to ride for transport.
    If you find it unappealing that is either a failure to think independently previously or an accurate assessment of all risks or both.

  3. So, let's presume that they don't cycle simply because they are lazy, which is the same reason most people don't do any active stuff. How do you design infrastructure to fix that? In that regard, I do not think you were typical. The lazy person will simply come up with excuses. If one is addressed, there will always be another. After all, even in Copenhagen and Holland, cycling is a minority activity.

  4. As someone who is slowly moving toward city cycling, I agree with you, especially about going to a local bike shop. Once, I went to one, and they put me on a road bike. I tried to tell them that it was really uncomfortable, but they didn't understand and insisted that it was the most comfortable bike. Now that I have found these beautiful dutch style bikes, I am in love!

    Today in the window of a local bike shop I saw the new 2012 Trek Cocoa. It looks similar to the european bikes, but with simulated lugs on an aluminum frame. I hope to see reviews how it compare to the Electra Amsterdam or or even the dutch ones. I rode it briefly and it didn't seem as comfortable as an Amsterdam. I hope Trek sends you one to review soon.

  5. Lazy?.. Yes, let's assume not.
    In fact, to be honest I cycle *because* I am lazy. It is seriously the easiest option for me.

    1. I rode all around campus in college, but it wasn't until five years later that I thought of cycling as a real and realistic form of transportation, mostly because most of the roads here (Durham, NC) are either multilane highways or narrow two-lane roads with nowhere near enough room to pass safely. Oddly enough, having children (especially one who will spend hours happily in a bakfiets but cries as soon as she sees the carseat) made me rethink what was possible. Now we cycle pretty much everywhere within a five-mile radius, but prefer sidepaths, greenways, and bike lanes because of our very slow speed, and disliking the smell of exhaust while biking.

  6. I think that consideration of opinions of those that don't cycle is very important. Right now I am kind of in-between being a transportation cyclist and driving. Having wanted to bike more but being too scared to for the longest time, I definitely understand the need to develop to provide for new cyclists. Cycling on streets with fast cars and figuring out all the rules and ways to stay safe by yourself is daunting and scary. With driving you are taught how to do everything, but with transportation cycling you mostly have to figure things out for yourself.
    At the same time, experienced cyclists have a lot to offer. They know the ins and outs of the area and know where it's lacking.
    In the end, I think we should provide and develop for everyone concerned -- the experienced and potential cyclists. I think this is a good quote from the article:

    “In the NHS we often get things imposed upon us without consultation. It’s critical that all users of a service are consulted and it’s folly to suggest that the views of committed cyclists should not be taken into consideration. There’s nothing to fear from taking into account the views of experts, alongside the views of a lay audience. By not listening to all users, policy makers risk making the wrong decisions, decisions that have to be reversed later, usually at great expense.”

  7. Steve A: Cycling is not a minority activity in the Netherlands. You are confusing transportation mode share with the percentage of people who use bicycles for transportation.

  8. Speaking of the Netherlands, I would say that niether American cyclists nor non-cyclists are at all well-informed about what it would take to substantially increase the mode share of transportation cycling. It is demonstrably a solved problem, but the English-speaking world seems intent on disregarding the evidence from those few places where cycling is successful, and trying to (badly) re-invent the wheel. Why?

  9. @SteveA: I wouldn't describe people who drive/don't bike lazy. Given, I have witnessed some awfully lazy acts (driving less than a mile to pick up take-out), I wouldn't say that people don't bike BECAUSE they're lazy.

    Often it is simply the way that our physical environment is built. Right now in the US our surroundings are predominantly built to suit transportation by car (low density building and money going to support that sort of infrastructure). It is often just the easiest to get around. Of course, there are places (like Boston or other colonial-era cities/towns) that existed before the car and are sometimes more easily traversable by other methods.

    I'm just waiting for when the price of gas sky-rockets and traveling by horse becomes the Next Big Thing, and people start lobbying for horse parking and horse lanes. It'd be like the wild west. Or colonial America. The price of hay is cheaper than the price of gas! Who's with me??!

  10. Honestly, it just didn't occur to me. Even though I'm a non-driver (for medical reasons), the idea of using a bike as transportation was completely off my radar until I moved to my first big city, and even then, I didn't consider it, because I had public transportation. I also didn't really LIKE riding a bike as a kid (my dad is a horrible teacher), so yeah, the idea of using a bike to get around didn't click once.

    Ironically (or maybe not), I didn't start cycling seriously until I moved to the suburbs. As bike-unfriendly as the suburbs are, they are even worse public transportation-wise, unless you only want to go downtown, and even then, hope you like waiting! So I had to find a way around or go crazy, so bike it was. Falling in love with it came very quickly, but it was still a "transportation method of last resort."

    I don't know how well my experiences port to other potential cyclists because it's a little out of the norm to be unable to drive yet able to ride a bike. However, as peak oil develops I think you'll see a lot more people who don't live in PT-heavy (or even PT-having) areas start to cycle because there really is no better way to cover short to medium-sized distances in a relatively short period of time. Whether they grow to love it or not, well, that's up to them. The question of what we need to do to entice people to cycle is going to disappear very quickly as we realize that cars as they presently exist will not be around within a few generations.

    P.S. I totally get what you mean about cycling being lazy. In fact, I think if anything it's made me *more* lazy and impatient: I can't be bothered to walk more than a mile anymore, and waiting for buses is out of the question except in very inclement weather. I'm totally the urban cyclist equivalent of the person who will jump in their car to go to the Walmart down the street. (Except I'm not burning any fossil fuels, which is a major difference... but still, the bicycle is a labor-SAVING device. The truly non-lazy would walk. Or crawl!)

  11. My first fear was traffic & city congestion and not knowing that I could navigate through it safely. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston and biked around town as a child. But after college I lived in LA for years, and wanted to bike but didn't know *where* to do it. I thought I would have to haul a bike outside the city or to the beach or something to ride it. (The only cyclist I knew then did that.) It didn't really occur to me that I could bike on the roads right in front of my apt. It was when I moved to a different LA neighborhood that had clearly painted bike lanes running in front of my apt that I realized I could bike right there. Somehow bike lanes gave me permission to bike. So that’s when I went and finally bought one.

    I think it is important to consider the opinions of those who don't bike- but not exclusively. I've been teaching some friends how to bike around town lately and it's surprising to go back to that mindset. The big question seems to be "Where should I be? What should I do?" in all those situations that require more complicated decisions than are covered in the MassBike pamphlets. I could imagine this translating into more lanes, buffered lanes, road markings, bicycle signals, etc. But wouldn't an experienced commuter cyclist advocate for the same thing?

  12. I think there is a portion of the population that won't get off the couch. But, I am one of the laziest people I know and the only reason I cycle is because I'm too lazy to deal with the stress of driving and being car-laden! :)

  13. I am still quite aware of what kept me from transportation cycling in my previous life: my commute was relatively far and/or very hilly. I also did not have a comfortable bicycle/equipment for doing this kind of riding. My mountain bicycle equipped with whatever saddle it had bruised and tortured my sit bones.

    I tried to ride to work a couple of times when I lived in SF-- it was about 10 miles from the city core where I lived to a near south suburb where I worked-- a distance of over 10 miles. I am sure I could easily do this now on my mixte or even my 3 speed. But the public transit was really so easy, and my bicycle hurt my posterior so much. It was decided. And for getting around the city, I was content to walk.

    Next, the situation was even worse when I moved to SD-- again my commute was over 10 miles and even more hilly, and yes, I still had the same really uncomfortable bicycle and saddle. I did the ride a few time and gave up.

    Take 3: I move to Seattle and again live atop a really large hill. The bus is pretty convenient, and I could not imagine riding my bicycle up that enormous hill, though now, my distance is much shorter-- only 3 miles or so. Then I discovered this blog and LGRAB, and I ditched the old mountain bike and got a vintage mixte and a Brooks saddle. I fell in love with riding in the city, and have been doing it daily ever since.

    I seriously attribute the majority of my ability/happiness riding for transport in having the right equipment, especially a saddle that feels good (which was inspired by reading blogs such as this one).

  14. Great post.

    I’ll lob this one in. My view is that as we start coming down off the undulating plateau of peak oil production (and looks like sooner than we might want to believe) that suburban/automobile living arrangements are going to be enormously difficult, and ultimately unworkable. Good bye cheap and reliable sources of highly concentrated energy! The drive from automobile-scale living to a human-scale living arrangement could be quite relentless, and unwilling to present the usual plethora of options and color choices.

    During a turbulent transition period in tough economic times I think bicycle transportation will seem less like a quirky lifestyle choice to people. I believe actually there won’t be much choice on these matters and so there won‘t be a need for convincing anyone. At some point we should see throngs of frowning lumpenproles plodding along, pedaling or walking to where they are going, whether they derive satisfaction from it or not. When rationing begins, and lines start forming at the gas pumps, I think we’ll see quite a lot more bikes on the road, and perhaps we’ll be complaining about the shortage, cost and lack of choices of bike tires. Boy, that would suck.

  15. OK, lazy may not be the right word, but many of my neighbors drive to their mailboxes to get their mail. What sort of infrastructure would change that?

    WRT Holland, of course I intended to refer to mode share in describing cycling as a minority activity. Even in the US, most people at least claim to have ridden bikes. In Holland, most days and most places, there are more cars than bikes, even though a lot of those places are easier to access by bike and motoring is very expensive.

    In the final analysis, it is the person who motors despite the inconvenience who loses out. I always try to remember that and treat my motorists kindly. Well, unless the cyclist encounters a skunk. On that day, I'd rather drive. ;-)

  16. "but many of my neighbors drive to their mailboxes to get their mail. What sort of infrastructure would change that?"

    Well you do not say how long their "driveways" are and what kind of crazy wildlife they've got living there - you're in Texas after all! : )

  17. The days when I re-organize the house hold to take the car instead of the bike really boil down to cargo capacity. I don't have that much on my bike and I have the classic 2 adults 1.75 kids household to shop for.

    I bike a lot these days, but I still see transportation biking in my city as the domain of men and singletons.

  18. Steve A: The vast majority of people in the Netherlands use bicycles routinely for at least some of their trips in any given week. That is very different from " the US, most people at least claim to have ridden bikes". The point is that cycling is a normal, everyday means of transportation to (not necessarily *for*) everyone there. There's no question of "If I wanted to get there on a bike, how would I do it?"

  19. About ten years ago, a friend passed along to me his Rivendell catalog. I was instantly addicted to the catalog and to Rivendell, but it never occurred to me to actually ride a bike. After all, I had a car for my weekday commute and I had two good feet for my in-the-city errands. Also, San Francisco hills are huge. No way I could ride up them. Then, about three years ago, I spotted a used Rivendell X03 in a neighborhood shop. I didn't buy it, but it got me thinking.

    Now I have a bike. I ride it on all but the steepest grades. I'm glad I got it. But I'm still a novice, and might well qualify as a "timid would-be cyclist." I think it's best to seek the infrastructure input of non-riders and beginning riders. They're the ones who need to be encouraged to ride, right? Also, the solutions that they propose might well serve all riders, whereas the infrastructure input from experienced riders might just serve experienced riders. Of course I would never suggest that experienced riders are selfish or smug or dogmatic or tedious. Well, OK. I'll suggest that some of them are.

  20. Great post. I agree with most of it, except for the idea that unexperienced/non-cyclists views should prevail over that of experienced cyclists.

    Again, this is coming from someone who started biking in an already cycle-friendly environment.

    There are issues in cycling infrastructure design that non-cycling people simply cannot understand, i.e. it does require experience to finally perceive the problems or potential problems. I am thinking about lights, lighting sequences, intersection issues etc. Unless you've been on a bike often enough, a lot of this flies above your head. You see those issues with your pedestrian/motorist eyes.

    It took a lot of time before I finally understood bike boxes and their utility. Other experienced cyclists would try to explain them to me, and it would not make sense. I used to cross big intersections the pedestrian way. And I can see tons of unexperienced folks still doing that or other dangerous/messy methods.

    Another one is the danger in acting on a green light at the same time as cars in the absence of cycle specific light: lots of people only realise that cars will turn into them or cut them off only once it has happened to them. You can talk it through, tell them to position at the front of the car, to jump start at the *pedestrian* signal instead of waiting for the green. It does not register most of times.
    In this, experience is key. Same with passing distances. Or door zone buffer. Newbies necessary distance perception is distorted and risk is under or over estimated. I used to freak out with cars passing me at 2 meters.

    Perception of time and timing is not reliable with unexperienced cyclists. They exagerate most of time. I listen to my sisters tell me how long it takes them to cycle to places (and how much faster their bus/car trip is), yet when I do it with them, it is always wrong, you can cut those bike estimates by half and multiply the car trip time by 2 and the bus by 1,5. Systematically.
    This affect design. You do not want to waste time and money in fixing what is only a perception.

    At the beginning, I would have had cycle paths even in deserted streets that only see two cars and three cats in a day, just to feel safe. That's nonsense of course.
    I would have had more off road than on road paths, and believe me the end result would have been a huge recreational network and nothing utilitarian. I did not mind doing big detours just to feel safe going through parks.

    Anyways, if cycling infrastructures are well designed, they should suit everyone, experienced or not.

  21. As for my perception of cyclists, you said it all.
    I will add that most of them stunk of armpit sweat. They were always bulky with tons of backpacks, plastic bagged stuff which I hate. They always looked like they were back from camping which I hate. And those grease stains... Ugh...
    Those are university memories.
    Then from work experience, the image improves a bit. Those bike messengers would stink even more but somehow, it was less of a problem as most of them were damn hot. Plus they were useful and reliable. During tax season, this is crucial. But they were arrogant and daredevils. Nope.

    In addition, I am sensitive to style and looks (not overly but a little bit). I like a nice bike. And I like a clean sleek bike. Here, people are proud to have dirty, filthy bikes. They brag about how little they paid for their bikes: if you paid more than 75$ (*Canadian*) you got screwed. They sit on ragged out saddles with all the foam coming out, if any left. They duck-tape everything and love it.
    I am yet to find the bike shop wherefrom my bike will not come back disgusting. Grease fingerprints everywhere. Usually I have to give the bike a full bath before I can sit on it otherwise I ruin everything I am wearing. They love recycling ang reusing random old parts and see no problem in having non-matching fenders, tires, grips (I am not talking about style effects here). Some of these bikes really look like contemporary sculptures which I hate.
    It was always about the mechanics of the bike, "you know getting yer hands dirty" type of attitude which I hate. I really don't see a problem in dumping the bike in a shop and picking it later, even for changing grips.
    All of these were *MAJOR* turn-offs more than anything infrastructure related.

    I started cycling for real when I realised some normal people cycled as well. I saw journalist Stéphane Bureau on a path once. Some professors, elected folks. My husband has a nice collegue, a nutcase (cycles through - 40 celsius) but a normal guy all sweet and funky who cycles litterally everywhere in his business suit.

    Oh yeah, there is a major slope that held me back for a while as well. But someone freed me by explaining that I did not have sweat my butt up the hill: it is ok to just push the bike. That advice changed my life, especially that I never applied it! Yet, the knowledge of it freed me up.

    So basically, I agree with everything you said. However, I think infrastructure planning and design is the affair of experienced folks.

  22. My reasons for not cycling for transport were the usual to do with distance, hills, traffic and sweat, though I did sometimes cycle to work in spite of all this. I mainly cycled as a workout. Then I got an illness which meant I couldn't work out much anymore, though I could usually do a less intense ride, so I started thinking about cycling more for transport. I really thought a "girls bike" would be better than my racing bike for this. Then one day I saw a girl ride up to the ocean baths on a girls bike wearing a flowing dress, heels, and with a large crate on the back of her bike. Not long afterwards I got a girls hybrid bike and started to ride more for errands and the like.
    I have noticed that whenever new shared tracks are built around here they immediately become populated with walkers and riders. Many people report that they start commuting along the new track on local radio, so good infrastructure helps a lot in the uptake of cycling. But there is a network of tracks that is not well publicised, though the cyclists know of them all. If those informal tracks were better linked together and then publicised, I think there would be a much greater use of them by new cyclists. But I don't think the current non cyclists would be in a position to have the knowledge to make such suggestions. It is kind of like asking non road users for ideas on how to construct a highway ....

  23. I think your point about non-cyclists perceiving cyclists as "other' is a valid one. Most people here in my college town would probably believe that cycling is the domain of either helmetless, backpack wearing, fixie-riding students, or lycra-wearing roadies, and therefore can't imagine themselves doing it.

    I spend my share of time in lycra and riding a road bike, but I also spend a lot of time in regular clothing that most middle-aged women would wear, and ride a city-style bike. I also wear a helmet and smile and wave a lot at drivers. (I don't know if smiling and waving makes any difference regarding encouraging people to ride, but it makes me feel better toward my fellow travelers on the road.)

    Most of the non-cyclists I talk to who are my age or thereabouts (mid-50s) don't ride because they can't imagine sharing the road with automobiles.

  24. I didn't start riding until I moved out of home, mainly because my mother wouldn't hear of it. She was terrified that I would get hit by a car, even on really quite suburban streets (I had to tell her that I was riding on the footpath, even when I wasn't).

    After that I stuck with the familiarity of a car because moving out was a huge adjustment and it took a few months for me to make evne bigger ones.

    So yeah, mainly it was because my parents were paranoid.

  25. I totally understand where you are coming from.

    But I've had a dilemma ever since I've been involved in bicycle advocacy many years ago.

    Isn't it unethical to build bicycling infrastructure that will make naive bicyclists FEEL safer when the infrastructure does nothing to reduce risks and may actually increase them, at least for bicyclists with a little experience?

    Now recently, advocates have said that it is OK to do this as the "safety in numbers" effect will reduce risks even if the infrastructure is slightly unsafe.

    But 1)I'm not sure this effect is real ( a recent Copenhagen study did a "before and after" study in the city as new facilities went in and found they all decreased safety); and 2) Even if it is a true effect, the bicyclists taking part in this effect should be aware of how they are being used as "bike cannon fodder" to increase the numbers until the effect starts being significant.

    So I no longer participate in that aspect of bicycling and let someone else worry about these ethical issues.

  26. I didn't start cycling seriously until I moved to the Netherlands. When I was 21 a large chevy hit-and-run'ed me into a ditch. I had to walk my Raleigh home with bruises the sizes of baseballs.

    America was a scary place, especially when fools will happily push you in the ditch then burn rubber when they see you aren't dead.

    When I moved to the Netherlands, everything changed. All motorists are cyclists first. They grew up with bikes and most of the Dutch I know only use the car as the last choice. There are 1.6 bikes for every 1 resident.... so there are more bikes than cars. In a country with 16 million people and 20+ million bikes, there are NOT 16 million cars. This site quotes only 7 million cars at most. One for every 2 people.

    When I am on the streets, bikes get priority and it shows. Cars will stop for me at intersections where they have right of way first. The driver allows me to go first by his choice. I see 3 and 4 year old children on regular roads with mom and dad.

    When America gets that level of respect for the rights of other road users, I will rejoice.

  27. mmm ... one of the interesting things about living in Inman again and biking down the Hampshire street 'bike highway' is being able to run a daily survey of the various types of cyclists in the city. How many people wearing lycra. How many people rocking flourescent Deep V's. How many people with milk crates. etc.

    That one street, if anything, illustrates that there is a "Silent Majority" in urban cycling -- the mountain bike riding, backpack-bearing, clip-on fender rocking (if that) PersonWhoIsNotACyclist. They don't need chainguards. They don't wear padded shorts. Many don't even bother with lights (or turning them on when they do have them). There are probably five of them for every carbon, fixie or Pashley that I ever see day-to-day.

    Yet, when we discuss 'cyclists vs. 'non-cyclists': and talk about how 'cyclists' get in the way of (recruitment/car-bike relations/safety, etc.), it frequently becomes this straw-man substitute for someone's least favorite bike tribe whether it's the hipsters or racers or proselytizing soapbox transpo preachers, and how this general distaste damns everyone who rides. Our weak human inclination to prejudice a group for the worst possible stereotype takes over. It's easy to miss the dozens of people who quietly get around on a mountain bike or hybrid and just fixate on those few loud individuals who may or may not be making an ass of themselves.

    I started as one of those PersonsWhoIsNotACyclist. I had my Trek hybrid with the little $20 Blackburn headlight and rack with folding wire baskets, and I rode that around the city for years. It was faster than the T, easier for finding parking, and, yeah, riding on the streets was a little scary, but I cheated with sidewalks and doing pedestrian lefts until I got comfortable.

    I think that a lot of people start at that and move on to some new class of cyclist, a few quit when they find that it doesn't agree with them (traffic, equipment mismatch, fitness) and many, many others stay in that category. Most of the urban cyclists that I know buy a hybrid with a minimal amount of accessories and ride it into the ground over three or four years, then buy another one whenever a critical number of parts reach end of life. The bike isn't something that they want to spend a lot of money on. For those of us Cyclists who own a car, and look at it as a tool to move a lot of bulky stuff, many city cyclists just look at their bike as a tool for running errands in the city and kit it out with the minimum number of things that are required for that.

    I think that the Hubway is probably one of the most promising initiatives towards getting more of these sorts of folks on the road. A large blocker for individuals to start riding (besides StreetsAreScary) is cost of initial investment and a general worry about upkeep and maintenance. I also know a lot of people who got a bike, rode it for the summer, and then put it in a basement and forget about it during the winter, then when summer comes back, tires need to be reinflated and bike needs to be tuned up, but they just don't want to bother with lugging it to a shop. City bikeshare totally closes the gap on that usage pattern, and I hope it does well (and expands to greater coverage! jeez, I *pine* for the day that it gets to Cambridge)

  28. In answer to your last question:

    I certainly do NOT agree with the idea that the feedback of timid would-be cyclists is more informative for infrastructure decisions than that of experienced cyclists and advocates. I think such a policy is killing novice cyclists. I think it's morally bankrupt for transportation engineers to knowingly kill more cyclists to create a world that allows people to transition comfortably from the automobile to the bicycle. If people can only be persuaded to cycle by implementing an infrastructure that will kill some of them, then the planners should give up the plan and let the people stay in their cars until financial considerations force them to cycle.

  29. I guess I'm lucky in that I learned to ride during the 1970s in England at a time before the bike shops went road-bike-and-mountain-bike crazy, and in a time an place where cycling in the road with traffic was completely accepted.

    Still, as I think back, I tend to think that how I practiced cycling back then was gutter-riding. I seem to recall commutes in the early 1980s where I was being passed very closely on narrow roads.

    It's only in the past 15 years or so that graduated to cycling well into the lane. In the last two years, I've participated in LAB classes, I've even participated in the League Instructor course. I've also read many studies on so-called 'bicycle infrastructure' and I'm no longer shocked to see traffic engineers pushing for such infrastructure even though they themselves admit it's more dangerous. Why am I no longer shocked? Because I understand that their overriding goal is to get bottoms on saddles, and if that kills a few cyclists, it's a price they're willing to pay. Heck, there's a Danish study that outright admits this.

    Anyway, all I can do is warn people of this, and urge novice cyclists to get on the road and avoid cycling on 'bicycle infrastructure'.

    One thought: isn't it interesting how even its proponents call it 'bicycle infrastructure'. I mean, I think it's ironic and telling that it's not called 'cyclist infrastructure'. It's sort of a freudian slip, in that even its advocates subconsciously admit that it's not for cyclists, but for bicycles (or perhaps more specifically, the bicycle industry). Now I'm all for *bicycles* having infrastructure. The thing is, I think it's more important for us *cyclists* to have infrastructure that supports us. Bicycles don't feel pain when they're crushed under a truck while cycling out from a bike path into an intersection, or when a cyclist gets doored in a poorly designed bike lane. We humans do.

    Thankfully, we DO already have 'cyclist infrastructure': it's called the road. The trick is to get novice cyclists comfortable there. I think it's possible to do that - but only if government and cycling advocates stop pushing for dangerous infrastructure, and start pushing education.

  30. I think that it is an intriguing idea to interview non- cyclists, because of course their views don't get heard in the drive for advocacy. (I'll say as an aside that it's tough enough to get advocacy goals accomplished even just taking into account the views of more experienced cyclists.

    However, there are a lot of traffic design points that are counterintuitive.
    The classic example of this is the idea that stop signs and stoplights will "calm" traffic. Seems obvious, but doesn't work in practice- you get more jackrabbit starts and speeding to beat the light, and less actual attention to one's surroundings.

    Riding on the sidewalk (or the wrong way) are examples of things that might "feel safer" to a novice, but actually might not be in practice.

    I think that education in elementary schools, increased visibility of transportation cyclists as positive role models :) , better infrastructure ,and increased diversity of types of people on bikes (so that people can see themselves instead of the other) are all things that would help non- cyclists get over the hump to make cycling seem accessible.

    I'll say that I think that bike share systems seem to be a real promoter of cycling for all walks of life because it's so much simpler than committing to a bike (selecting it, purchasing it, storing it).

  31. Having worked at least part-time in the bike biz consistently for many years, I can definitely say that, yes, a lot of cyclists love the opportunity to tell you how you're wrong about something, and yeah, it's pretty annoying.

    There are plenty who will tell an aspiring bike commuter that they HAVE to buy a certain type of bike to ride to work, or that the tires they have are completely unsuitable or whatever, and I can see that being pretty discouraging (and often wrong or unhelpful).

    It has been good to see the proliferation of blogs like this that counter the intimidating and irritating know-it-all-ness of some of the rest of the online cycling community.

  32. Haven't read the report yet but would suggest from the suggested policy of ignoring existing cyclists & activists, and instead making consideration for potential cyclists, on the face of it I'm inclined to agree.

    * Existing cyclists in the UK are a splintered bunch with two extremes - pro infrastructure & pro vehicular cyclists

    * Activists & groups are similarly divided

    What I hope the report is basically hinting at is summed up simply by Merlin, regarding the mass cycling culture fostered in the Netherlands "It is demonstrably a solved problem, but the English-speaking world seems intent on disregarding the evidence from those few places where cycling is successful, and trying to (badly) re-invent the wheel. Why?"

    Good question Merlin.

  33. Being involved in bicycling and advocacy since the 1970s, and spending a lot of time studying the causes of bicyclist/auto driver accidents, as well as single bicyclist accidents, I have a pretty good idea of what causes accidents and how to reduce the number and severity of these accidents.

    However, most of what I know works will not necessarily attract more bicyclists who are afraid of traffic and/or be politically expedient.

    Door-zone bike lanes certainly do NOT make anyone safer. In fact, most on-street or near-street bicycle infrastucture does not improve safety and often makes it worst. We all know that.

    Lower speed limits, enforced, will reduce severity of accidents. Better designed intersections - typically with turn lanes for each direction of travel - and teaching bicylists how to use them ( like car drivers), will reduce accidents. Getting impaired people off the road ( impairment due to street drugs, perscription drugs, age-related deficits, or talking on the cell phone) will reduce collisions.

    Perhaps the biggest thing that would get more people on bikes is more respect from automobile drivers. If I know I can get on a bike and not be passed too closly by a car if I don't take the lane or have a car left hook or right hook me if I ride too close to the curb, would make a lot of beginning bicyclists more willing to use bicycles for transportations.

    Infrastructure does none of the above, but that's what you are going to get if you ask naive bicyclists - they'll want separated sidepaths, the most dangerous infrastructure possible

  34. "many of my neighbors drive to their mailboxes to get their mail. What sort of infrastructure would change that?"

    I know folks like this. One of them, in a heated discussing, declared that even if a metro station was to open across the street (i.e. less than 10m), she would still drive.

    They're hopeless.
    There is nothing to be done with these kinds of folks other than wait for Peak Oil or squeeze them out of their cars with drastic measures.

  35. To Ian's comment, I have to say that, having cycled extensively in the Netherlands, the cycling problem is not solved there at all, despite the fact that many casual cyclists think it is. What they have is a policy that favours casual cyclists at the expense of commuters. That is only solving a small portion of the problem, and again, the reliance on segregated infrastructure tends to place cyclists out of motorists' consideration and thus kills and injures more cyclists than the alternative when the two merge (as they must at some points).

    Anyone who has cycled in the Netherlands in an area that doesn't have the 22kph timed light system that exists in a few places can see quite clearly that cycling in the Netherlands is about half as efficient as it should be. Basically, they have a dumbed-down and slowed-down system that is optimized for the casual cyclist. That would be fine if everyone cycling in Holland was a casual cyclist, but many need to commute, and as things stand, Dutch commuters are better-off using less efficient and more costly modes of transport.

  36. Fascinating point to ponder; excellent discussion. Time after time, we see the same points brought forth:

    --Bike paths that feel safe draw cyclists while biking on roads seems iffy.
    --Cars "feel" safer and more convenient (sweat factor)
    --People really don't know any regular folks who bike commute, especially moms schlepping kids.

    Thanks for bring a great ambassador for everyday cycling! I know I'm inspired to get out there and ride because of your blog.

  37. I didn't used to ride my bike more because everything just seemed so far away and it seemed like it would be a real hassle to try to get there on my bike. I also didn't want to be all sweaty and gross. It wasn't so much a fear thing as an inconvenience thing.
    It's funny because I can't imagine thinking that way now. About a year ago, I got a Montague folding bike, which I can take on the bus with me, or put in my trunk if I'm going to drive. I can park outside the city now and ride my bike to work - which is a short enough ride that I don't get too gross, and I don't have to worry about parking, and traffic is almost a non-issue for me now. It's funny because a bike used to seem like the most difficult inconvenient way to get around, and it has turned out to be exactly the opposite.

  38. It's the parking, people.

    I never really thought of myself as a person who didn't bike -- but my use of the bike over the years has corresponded to the ease of parking a car at my destination. Nine years (more or less) in graduate school, working on a campus where I couldn't park a car, pretty much made the choice for me.

    Now I work on a campus where I could, if I wanted to, park a car -- but I'd have to pay $250 for an annual permit, and having biked for those nine years, that just doesn't seem worth it to me. If everybody in the U.S. had to pay to park a car at all locations, I'm pretty sure biking mode share would increase, pronto.

  39. Interesting.
    I rode a bike consistently when I was a kid (along with riding horses) until I got my driver's license. We lived in the country and suddenly I could get to the city! I didn't start riding much until college where there was a large cycling contingency, road and mountain biking. I didn't start again until graduate school, stopped again until I realized that the bus and walking took a long time to get around and I could get some exercise by riding my bike. That lasted for a couple years.

    Then after several more job changes that put me in various locations around the city the 2001 earthquake hit Seattle. It was impossible to get around due to the closed bridges except by two modes: walking and biking. I started then with regularity and never stopped. There weren't many cyclists. Drivers could be atrociously aggressive and there were no bike lanes or other bike specific infrastructure on my route whatsoever. I learned by rote, by trial and error, being careful to learn the laws along the way (I was never a red light/stop sign runner).

    The people I meet now who would like to cycle from my area (south of the city of Seattle which suffers a large lack of infrastructure that the north part of the city enjoys) state the number one reason is fear of cars; male/female it doesn't matter. They recognize drivers can be, and are, dangerous and it scares them. They don't know how to negotiate a bike on motor-friendly streets. The next barrier is route choice. It's not easy to find the way out of my area to downtown, even with bike maps. I have been volunteering to ride with people when they need it and that seems to help some get going. There's lots of construction and not much signage. A new, good bike route that was added two years ago down the street from my house isn't even published/listed on the latest maps that were distributed in my area!

    I think that everyone must work together, and especially the city governments are an essential promoter of cycling not only by adding the infrastructure (over the complaints of motorists) but by providing ample spoken and written support (something Portland, OR does heads and heels over Seattle) which is sorely lacking as infrastructure is added.

    It's a complex issue that I don't think is easily solveable in a motor-centric world.

  40. Montrealize said... "They're hopeless.
    There is nothing to be done with these kinds of folks other than wait for Peak Oil or squeeze them out of their cars with drastic measures."

    I agree! The former is inevitable, and the latter is culturally and politically not doable in US or Canada.

  41. So interesting to read others' thoughts on this. Oddly enough I never had concerns about distances, hills or bike parking, it never occurred to me to worry about that. Of course now that I actually ride, these are things that come into play all the time.

  42. @Chris the funny thing is now I think driving 10 miles for an errand is too far out of my way, but I'll hop on a bike and go the same distance for a similar errand with no compunction.

    The fear of cars is a hard one to get around. Even after all my years of bike commuting and dealing with traffic, there are some days and some routes that I dread dealing with. Even on relatively safe roads the constant noise of cars zipping by at 50+mph can be somewhat tiring in itself. It's still less stress than driving, but I admit it's nice when I finally get out of town and onto the lower-traffic parts of my commute.

  43. Matt I can relate. There are days I wake up and dread the bike commute. For some reason though, on some days I am grateful and its perfect.

  44. For me, riding a bike to commute would be literally impossible at this point. My commute it too far, and too hilly, for that to be practical unless I were incredibly hardcore. Riding a bike that would allow me to travel quickly enough in the mornings, would also mean owning something I don't find comfortable to ride. The weather would be miserable as well. So I never really considered biking as a viable alternative to commuting by car. Living in the suburbs is really the only way I can afford to own my own home: my job is in the most affluent area of Puget Sound, so getting closer is not an option.

    What gets me out and biking is having bike paths nearby. Preferably mildly scenic ones, with parking at each end and a nice long stretch to ride on without stopping. Yeah, it's repetitive to always ride the same four or five routes, but that's okay. They are relatively safe, well-paved, and I enjoy riding there because I know I'm not going to get plowed by a motorist. I might get knocked over by another cyclist, and that would hurt, but the chances of getting killed are pretty small.

    More bike paths/multi-use paths. Put 'em all over. That's what got me cycling again as an adult, and I bet that if they were close by more neighborhoods, many more folks would ride.

    I also second the idea of more variety at bike shops, and how about great places to buy rehabbed used and vintage bikes? I can get used and vintage cars or furniture rehabbed, but with bikes, it's Craigslist or nothing most of the time.

  45. " I would say that niether American cyclists nor non-cyclists are at all well-informed about what it would take to substantially increase the mode share of transportation cycling. It is demonstrably a solved problem, but the English-speaking world seems intent on disregarding the evidence from those few places where cycling is successful, and trying to (badly) re-invent the wheel. Why?"

    I'd say it's because the strategies used by cities in the NL and DK are not necessarily applicable to American cities. I know that's a contentious idea in itself, but I believe that cultural differences and topographical differences do matter. That is not to say that something similar is impossible in the US. The approach just needs to take lots and lots of US-specific factors into consideration.

  46. "I know folks like this. One of them, in a heated discussing, declared that even if a metro station was to open across the street (i.e. less than 10m), she would still drive."

    I know it's unfashionable to dislike public transportation, but I think it is understandable why so many people are resentful of it: It forces us to give up control. We live by a centralised schedule, not our own. It's kind of scary if you think about it. The car on the other hand gives the illusion of being entirely independent. I call it an illusion, because in a city you will in fact be stuck in traffic most of the time, trapped inside that car, but the illusion remains and society reinforces it. I think that cycling and walking can be quite appealing to those who dislike public transportation, precisely because these are more independent means of getting around a city than both pt and cars.

  47. I think what got me into cycling was the promotion of a different type of cycling from the City of Sydney coupled with what I had seen and experienced in Japan , Copenhagen (Amsterdam and London came later) .Finding a bicycle shop called Tokyo Bikes in Sydney that reflected my experiences overseas, was important and continually reading blogs like lovely bicycles where a sharing of ideas and product reviews create a community that I can identify with.The separated paths stared in Sydney made the beginning riding easy and made me feel legitimate. I was lucky in that my daughter who had ridden track and road made the switch with me to transport cycling so I had a knowledgable companion.A lot has changed in a year -I now will ride with cars ; it doesn't mean I like it but in some areas it is the only way to connect up the cycling paths. I have ridden in Assen, Netherlands for a day and that was heaven.I could only ride in London because I was use to vehicular riding. I wouldn't ride if I had to have the rigmarole of having special cycling clothes or shoes and if it wasn't for practical modes like getting myself around .This is what I enjoy.

  48. Cheap and plentiful gasoline over a 60-year period has resulted in a living arrangement where distance (and with it – topography and the elements) hasn’t mattered. Wealth accumulated over the period was invested in building stock and hard infrastructure, as well as methods of conducting commerce, under the premise that this massively-dispersed automobile-scaled living arrangement would continue in perpetuity. Some have said this will go down as the greatest miscalculation and misinvestment in human history. I think that just may be true.

    It is possible to live well in some neighborhoods in some American cities where walking and riding a bike are workable transport modes for attending to all of a family’s basic needs. But most people do not live in these conditions and couldn’t if they wanted to. A family needs a good job, good schools, affordable rent, access to goods and services, and a social life. Our current arrangement can provide for this if you drive a car and/or in some urban areas (or parts of urban areas) if you use transit. I can see where the thought of walking or riding a bike would lead to concerns of surrendering on some of these things, or compromising on quality, security and comfort, whether that’s real or perceived.

    Because gasoline was readily available and cheap, distance didn’t matter, density was no longer necessary, and we dispersed our living arrangement far and wide. This is what we built and we now have to live in it. Deliberately changing this boondoggle to something more livable can only be done very slowly or it presents disastrous economic, social, legal and political problems. A modern American family has inherited what we have steadily built over the decades, and is trapped (whether they consciously think of it that way or not) in the arrangement. They can only hope to hold a good job, send their kids to good school, realize cheaper gas, and obtain a bigger/nicer car for making it all happen.

    Higher energy prices and difficulties in keeping all the cars running should drive people back toward living in denser and less auto-dependant arrangements because proximity and distance will once again matter and present obvious advantages. With this comes new and local economies and community. As things begin to trend toward those conditions, walking and biking will begin to make a great deal of sense to people.

    Presently I think we are in a denial phase about this being where we are headed. Partly cultural (i.e. car = freedom) and partly because we are massively invested in something and hate the idea of it not working out. Anger goes with denial, so it’s not surprising to me that issues of bicycle transportation are often met with such disdain or smug indifference by car lovers and strip mall fanatics.

    Where cars have conquered distance, the great disappointment is we haven’t addressed the problem of time as well as we’d like to, what with the alternating of sitting in traffic jams and our being compelled to speed whenever we can get away with it. How frustrating. Funny thing is how often people underestimate how long it takes to get somewhere by car, and overestimate how long it takes by bike or on foot.

  49. Oh dear lord, your peanut butter bike girl has broken me. I have not had the best of times with super commuters, myself. The mixture of exclusive and nerd is just too much.

    The report made me think of the story of the kitchen tool company OXO who make the good grips line of products. The founder's wife has serious arthritis and they love to cook. He wanted to make her life easier so hired industrial designers to re-imagine kitchenwear. It turns out lots of people appreciate a can opener that's easier to hold, not just those with arthritis. I think approaching cycling infrastructure from this perspective of taking care of our most vulnerable would help all of us. So, I'm all for it!

  50. I can only speak for my little corner of Australia but one of the most helpful 'transitional' bits of infrastructure for me as an adult returning to cycling was the pavement. Cycling on footpaths is allowed here and was actively encouraged in the 1990s. Before the idea of cycle lanes running alongside cars shoved bicycles into a purgatory between pedestrian and driver, the footpaths were constructed from square pavers like you might find in a suburban backyard. These were prone to sinking and creating a hazard for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Gradually they replaced the cracked, worn and uneven pavers with smooth, rectangular sections of poured concrete almost twice the width of the old pieces (room for overtaking!), with almost seamless joins and gentle ramps where they met road. The city introduced them as 'Cycle paths' although they certainly would have made footpaths more accessible for people in wheelchairs, mobility scooters and even people on foot. The suburbs have wide roads anyway, providing for a comfortable environment to regain cycling confidence but having the knowledge that if I feel unsafe I can always zip on to the pavement until the hazard passes is a valuable psychological 'assist' when I'm cycling on busier streets. Of course, the newer cycle lanes which run by the train lines here are the height of cycling confidence as they are almost completely separate from cars. Inner city cycle lanes are still terrifying to me as some of them run down the centre of the two car lanes! I've only tackled them once so far and that was following a Lycra wearing 'Roadie' friend.

  51. @Beery - I'm not sure that your opinion of cycling in the Netherlands is shared by David Hembrow - a blogger who lives over there.

    He has a few videos on the website that show both masses of commuters on bikes, and also plenty of fast cycling in the form of velomobiles.

    They also show children cycling in what appears to be a far safer environment than the road network around where I live - where I cycle with my kids. Would I let my 9 year old ride from one side of town to the other alone on her bike? Kidding myself that she is safe amongst motor traffic?

    No, the idea is ridiculous...and tends to be propagated by people who the report suggests should be ignored.

    And I used to be of that opinion too, until looking at it from a parental point of view - a view that shares the same concerns of those less confident or less able to ride amongst fast traffic...current conditions in the UK exclude a heck of a lot of people from getting around on a bicycle without feeling safe doing so.

  52. I think Neighbourtease just nailed it!

    Build infrastructure for the most vunerable user. I know of very few parents that would allow or even want to allow their elementary school aged child to ride on a street.

    I don't expect to ever see what exists in the Netherlands here in the US, but we could certainly do better than what we currently have.


  53. @Velouria

    "We live by a centralised schedule, not our own. It's kind of scary if you think about it."

    Montreal is a total island, so coming from the suburbs, you need to cross bridges. Well, guess what, it so happens that everybody converge on said bridges at the same time everyday!
    Personally I know of nothing more centralised or more scary than Montreal's rush hour traffic jams.

    "The car on the other hand gives the illusion of being entirely independent. I call it an illusion, because in a city you will in fact be stuck in traffic most of the time, trapped inside that car, but the illusion remains and society reinforces it."

    The question now is how do we burst that bubble, if feasible even?

    Yet, you also have hardcores who tell you: "Well, in my car, I am comfortably seated, I have air conditioning, I can grab some McDo and wait patiently, I listen to the radio/CD/ipod, I have heated seats, bla bla bla".

    I think we underestimate the number of these and the severity of their case.

    There was a study that came out recently (I only have ref in French unfortunately) that revealed that most motorists have a 45 min tolerance each way in their commute...
    That's 1h30 in a day!!! And plenty do more, and they're ok with it because that's the key to their lifestyle. Altering said lifestyle is never an option...

  54. @ Velouria

    "I know it's unfashionable to dislike public transportation"

    There's another reason here: it take double the time.

    Service has not followed sprawl (which is normal, we should encourage urban densification) and whole areas are transportation deserts.

  55. Given that I *walk* up the hill home if I have time, I really doubt that I don't cycle from laziness.

    I think I have two reasons.

    1. My knees really don't like the motion, whenever I've tried an exercycle.

    2. I find the idea of coping in traffic without indicators and decent rear-view mirrors terrifying.

  56. I think it is valuable to ask noncyclists what they think and what they would want in cycling, but in the end, people who do bike should be forming policy etc.. A noncyclist has many unjustified fears and inexperience. The UK is also grappling with major obesity rates and trying desperately to get people exercising- anyway to get people on bikes is being sought.
    As you found out, it wasn't that hard to let go of the car, to bike for transportation, to share the road etc. As scary as it looks, 99% of the time it is fine to bike with traffic.
    As a life long cyclist I cannot fathom why people do not bike more. I just figured it out as I grew up, learned the legal rules of cycling on the road and got out there and did it. I did not have a car, hated the bus and discovered a wonderful network of trails and streets to get me around the city when I was young.
    It hasn't always been easy when I grew up in a car crazy bike hating town and now live in a rural area. But I also lived in Vancouver that has some of the best bike networks I have seen and used.
    You surely realize that your aversion to cyclists with attitude had as much to do with your lack of experience cycling as with certain individuals' bad attitudes. Also remember people-especially guys in their early 20's can be such know it alls acting like they are doing something nobody has ever ever done before.
    The annoying cyclist in your class did not by any stretch of the imagination represent most cyclists. In university loads of students biked with no fuss. We got asked alot of questions and were treated like crazy people though. In fact, it was more like we had bad attitude tossed at us from noncyclists! Now that you bike, you can imagine how marginalized some of these cyclists must have felt-hence their attitude. With little or no infrastructure, rude drivers and absence of the current culture, I can tell you they would have been having a tough time 'sharing the road'.

  57. I totally forgot, but there was a recent canadian study stating that something like 75% of canadians have never taken public transportation to work/school. That includes cycling, walking etc..
    mind boggling, but ties into the comments about our culture being built around the automobile and the 'freedom' it brings.
    Now, my mom recently came to visit and she rented a car. It was nice being able to get around quickly and go to some nice lakes further away. But for me to be able to afford a car, insurance, gas etc I would have to have another full time job and it would in fact ruin my health and quality of life.
    so biking with the occasional bus ride it is!

  58. One thing that hasn't been mentioned re: non-cyclists/non-PTers is safety. Not even traffic safety, per se, but total terror at the idea of being out of your pod for more than three minutes at a time and interacting with others who might be poorer and darker than you. When I first moved to a city and started taking a bus everywhere, my mom worried every single day, absolutely certain I'd be robbed or murdered. She, herself, has never taken public transportation in her entire life, because of this fear. This sounds insane (and quite racist!) to city dwellers, but when I've talked to other third-generation small town residents or suburbanites who've moved to the city, most of them have experienced something similar with their own parents. I don't see a way around this fear, other than the inevitable depletion of oil reserves.

    And honestly, my mom's a retiree, and I think she would rather pay $10/gallon and almost never leave the house than explore alternatives. Sad but true, there are just some people that will NEVER, EVER be "converted." And while it's important to know these people exist I don't know how consulting them about cycle or PT facilities will help anything. It's like asking an ethical vegetarian what it would take to get them to try some meat. Just not going to happen.

  59. Sorry for being slow to respond, but...

    "I'd say it's because the strategies used by cities in the NL and DK are not necessarily applicable to American cities. I know that's a contentious idea in itself, but I believe that cultural differences and topographical differences do matter. That is not to say that something similar is impossible in the US. The approach just needs to take lots and lots of US-specific factors into consideration. "

    Balderdash. After the second World War, bicycle usage declined sharply in the Netherlands as automobile usage rose. It wasn't until the mid-1970s when a campaign for safer streets for children got support that they started building what would become their current transportation infrastructure. The alleged "Dutch bicycle culture" is a result of that infrastructure, not it's cause. And as for population density and topography in North America, that's sheer nonsense. Manhattan, for example, has a much higher population density than anyplace in the Netherlands, with plenty of room on its streets for Dutch-style infrastructure, and basically no hills to speak of. In fact, very few American cities are so hilly that bicycling is particularly difficult -- hilly terrain is not particularly suitable for building cities, after all. The big advantage of having such infrastructure is to make short trips within cities safe and convenient by bicycle.

    Claiming that we need to take special "US-specific factors into consideration" just provides a cop-out for those who would rather paint some lines and stencils in the existing door zone so they can pretend that they've built high quality bicycling infrastructure. What you say sounds eminently reasonable, but upon careful consideration of the evidence, it amounts to hollow excuses.

  60. I believe that those transportation planners who feel it best to ignore the views of experienced cyclists in designing bicycle infrastructure, should commute to work on roads designed by non-drivers, and eat lunches planned for them by people who do not cook.

  61. I rode a lot as a kid (raced, wrenched, centuries, crashes, one bad hit and run), continued to ride to work some days when I lived in California (including the day of Loma Prieta quake; traffic was pretty awful), quit when we moved to Boston (traffic, confusing roads, potholes, snow).

    Restarted because of bad blood chemistry, oil war, global warming. A 300-mile bike trip with boy scouts was a big help. I have a ten mile commute, which I do several times per week on a bike. Nowadays, I ride a cargo bike (can handle most shopping trips) with platform pedals (no cleats or clips -- I ride more that way) and with a chain case and IGH (keeps my pants and leg clean). Has lights because it gets dark, has upright handlebars, but very narrow (because I tried many different styles, and liked this best). Has snow tires in the winter because the MM trail gets icy.

    Used to be Effective, but quit after a few decades. John Pucher's Simon Fraser University lecture was a big help there; the Netherlands have the numbers to prove what works, both for ride share and safety. Also quit caring about The Law, again because of the numbers -- it never did anything to get me respect as a cyclist (old, male, large, that helps), the law doesn't prevent us from hurting other people because we pretty much don't hurt other people already (1 pedestrian death per year by "pedalcycles", 3000 by "cars and light trucks") and the law fails the rational nanny state test, because far more people are killed from driving-induced lack of exercise than are killed in bicycle crashes.

    To get more people on bikes, I would copy what worked in the Netherlands and other parts of Northern Europe. About a third of the US population lives in places that dense; some of us (Cambridge, Somerville) live in places that are denser than Dutch cities with a 50+% ride share (Groningen).

    On bike lanes, agreed, not so safe. I would paint the door zone red, and leave a green strip far from the doors. On the other hand, a bike lane would have prevented the nonsense I had to put up with yesterday riding into Harvard Square, where some clown decided he would squeeze in on the right to prevent me from filtering forward to the stop light, and then tried to squeeze forward to prevent me from cutting back to the right after passing him on the left. (Didn't work, of course). I don't have time to "negotiate" with jerks like that, and neither does anybody else. Bike lanes get rid of that irritation -- assuming that they are unobstructed, of course.

    I am much more anti-car than I used to be; based on the numbers, I think that is a rational attitude. I do still own one and drive it often, but I make a continuous effort to be careful and try not to be in a hurry.

  62. I believe that those transportation planners who feel it best to ignore the views of experienced cyclists in designing bicycle infrastructure, should commute to work on roads designed by non-drivers, and eat lunches planned for them by people who do not cook.

    I find these analogies to be quite thought-provoking, in assorted different directions...

    The argument against listening to the existing cyclists presumes that the goal is to increase the numbers of people cycling. Clearly, the existing cyclists have at least had their minimum requirements met, but the non-cyclists have not, so it makes sense to pay them more attention. This tacitly assumes a few things about the existing cyclists which are not necessarily true:

    1. They are cycling by choice, not because they have no other options.

    2. They won't increase their bicycle usage (and decrease motor vehicle usage) in response to infrastructure changes.

    3. They won't decrease their bicycle usage, regardless of what changes are made.

    None of these assumptions are valid. A false line has been drawn between "cyclists" and "non-cyclists", and a further assumption has been made that the existing infrastructure does not vary significantly based on destination for an individual cyclist. I think that there's an even better group for the authors of the study to focus on: people who cycle for some trips, but not others, based on the routes available. For example, my wife goes almost everywhere by bicycle, except to work -- because it would be necessary to take either a much longer-than-necessary route, or travel on roads that make her feel very uncomfortable on a bike.

    That's really all I ought to say, but I cannot resist pointing out the irony of the "commute to work on roads designed by non-drivers" comment (so, "commuting" == "driving", does it?).

  63. For me, geography (geology?) had everything to do with whether or not I cycled. I grew up in a very hilly suburb right outside of a mid-sized city. Very hilly. There were no flat roads, anywhere, that weren't highways. I would ride a bike to my friends' houses on my street as a kid, but not beyond that. All of the roads were narrow, winding, and steep, generally with no shoulders at all, and certainly no bike paths or sidewalks. I only lived about two miles from school, but if I plug the route into mapmyride, I see two categorized climbs. Same to get to any sort of grocery store, library, park, etc. If you're starting from zero, with no cycle-specific fitness, this makes cycling seem basically impossible. Even for a fit person on a light roadbike, cycling in the area would have been challenging. It would not have been possible at all, really, on any kind of heavy city bike laden with books or groceries.

    So no one cycled, except... my dad, who would drive his bike over the hills and into the flatter bits at next to the rivers/streams in the valleys, where he would park and unload the bike for a short commute into downtown. So I guess that's where I got the idea that you could, in theory, commute by bicycle.

    I also didn't cycle in college at all, for similar reasons, I guess. The town(s) immediately surrounding my university were flat and perfect for cycling (as you well know), but the university itself was perched on a hill, which was frankly just easier to walk up and down. So walking and public transit it was. I wish now that I had thought to have a bike in college, but no one else did at the time, so it never really crossed my mind. I did, however, spend a semester abroad at a university on the outskirts of a small town, and used a bicycle to get around everywhere while I was there.

    It wasn't until after college, when I was out in the "real world" that I got into cycling. There was a bike path (off road, through the woods, etc.) behind my first apartment bldg, and I thought it would be fun, so I got a hybrid and started hitting the trails every weekend. Then I started commuting occasionally, making farmers market runs, etc.

    And the rest is history. I never considered driving to be a viable option for a commute, so I've always lived somewhere where I could easily bike or take transit to work. I just do whichever is easiest/quickest. Right now I take transit, but would like to switch to cycling if I can find a way to somehow still look professional at work (warm climate/no showers/business formal). I've also recently started road cycling for fitness purposes, which is fun and challenging.

    For me, it has never been about fear, just logistics. I think this puts me in the minority. Most people who I talk to about cycling in my current city (LA) are terrified of riding in traffic. I think the danger/fear factor here is what keeps most people off of bikes, and I definitely think that if the goal is to get more people cycling, it's just as important to consider the non-cyclist's viewpoint when making policy/planning decisions as it is to consider the veteran cyclists.

  64. Here's what drives me crazy:

    I stopped driving in 2001 because I couldn't afford it anymore. I just walked and took public transit.

    I lived in a suburb with *terrible* public transit. It was awful. It took me absolutely goddamn forever to get anywhere. I frequently had to accept rides from coworkers and friends.

    And I don't have any idea why I didn't ride a bicycle. The only thing I can think of, is that I tried riding to work (a mile each way) one summer and thought it was too much work. In hindsight, the bike was a piece of crap, my saddle was too low, and the tires were underinflated, so yeah, it was hard. So I guess I assumed that riding everywhere would be too difficult.

    I didn't start cycling until 2006, when I moved into Portland (as opposed to a suburb thereof) with friends who all had bicycles.

    But now I think of all the time I wasted waiting for buses in lonely suburban bus stops and I'm aghast at myself. What in the hell?

  65. @Merlin: One issue with consulting current cyclists about infrastructure planning is that we are Not Normal. See (PDF) for one discussion of this. A fair number of us either are, or were "Effective", and have probably developed a truckload of skills to cope with our crappy infrastructure and indifferent drivers. And we have had about 40 years to try Effective Cycling, and it is a proven ride-share failure, so we should try something different if our goal is to increase ride share (to get people out of cars).

    I've been thinking a bit about how we're supposed to "get to Amsterdam", and I am a little stumped. It's a great goal, but no-way-no-how do we have generally have the political support for that kind of change. The most I can hope for is that we would start targeted and small in places where it almost could not fail to succeed (e.g., Somerville, Cambridge -- super dense, mostly flat, lots of students).

    And also, bike shops are mostly selling the "wrong bicycles", especially for our undermaintained winter-beaten roads. For me, two inches is the minimum tire width (but they need to be slick or nearly so, for the usual case of rolling on a road); I want to be able to regard traversing a bump or pothole as merely a vertical swerve. Of the people I know who have recently been badly hurt in crashes, it was potholes that caused the crash. This is unlike the Netherlands, where they apparently spend money to maintain their roads and paths.

  66. "One issue with consulting current cyclists about infrastructure planning is that we are Not Normal"

    It's so healthy that we can admit it : )

    Do you really think bike stores are still selling the wrong bicycles compared to, say, 2 years ago? I have sen some radical changes, including overhearing salespeople recommending wider tires and upright step-through frames. If you like slickish 2"+ tires, you should try the Urbana bike I reviewed a few months back. It laughs at Beacon St's potholes. I am going to miss it this winter.

  67. Wasn't reading your blog till just recently, so didn't know about the Urbana. Bike Stop in the MM Trail has a Torker Cargo, that's another option for a serious errand bike.

    I think they are still mostly selling the wrong bikes. The Big Brand manufacturers seem very slow to change, and are much more about selling the style of a utility bike, instead of the fact of a utility bike. The myth of "skinny-tire = low rolling resistance" simply must die; it's not true, at least not when Big Apples are in the mix. Notice how few shops around here stock Big Apples (or Fat Franks, or anything else by Schwalbe)? Imagine all the crap mountain bikes around here, refitted with really nice tires, and what an improvement that would be.

    My fat tires of choice are Big Apples. For roads around here, I'm still trying to decide if front shocks are worth it. My gut reaction is that they are not, but when I had an xtracycle with front shocks (which I wore out), I inadvertently rode through at least one pothole at 30mph that I would have expected should have collapsed a "normal" front rim. All I got was a sharp smack in the hands as the shock bottomed out.

  68. Just saw this. Don't know why I didn't cycle before - it just never occurred to me to take it up again since childhood. A weekend in Brussels at the beginning of 2008 with 3 others where we hired city bikes reignited my interest. Still, no regrets as in my opinion, as a fan of hubgeared city and commuting bikes, I don't think it's ever been a better time to be a cyclist.

    I'll tell you something though - I'm in the UK BTW: your comments regarding unappealing cyclists and bikeshops that don't sell anything you want to buy hit the nail right on the head for me - you write exactly what I think!


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