Breaking: Bike infrastructure debate officially over


Municipal leaders, advocates, and engineers in cities from Toronto to Tulsa, take note: The absurd debate about whether or not investing in bicycle-friendly streets is good for cyclists (and everyone else) is over. Done. Kaput. No longer deserving of a moment of your attention.

This debate has divided and distracted bicycle advocates for decades. I won’t give it any more air time here, and at any rate there is nothing new to say, but if you’re interested in exploring the one cycling topic more tediously and verbosely discussed than helmets, maybe start here.

For finally making the common sense of bike infrastructure in the US indisputable, we have the intrepid folks in New York City to thank. They have proven excellent in recent years at not only installing human-scale bike infrastructure, but quantifying its impacts.

In 2007, New York City added protected bike lanes, also known as “cycle tracks” to two previously car-centric one-way arterials in Manhattan, 8th and 9th Avenues. (This short movie explains more.) These lanes—basically, regular bike lanes with a physical barrier (often parked cars) and special signals at intersections in order to separate people on bikes from people driving and walking—were controversial before and after construction, with lots of dithering and yammering about how they would hurt business and freight, cause crashes, hold up traffic, and waste time and money.

The city’s transportation department released a study last October, however (I’ve been busy and just got in on the game this week), that puts much of that criticism to rest, with a zing. (Read about the study here or download the PDF here.)

First, on safety: True to form, this bike infrastructure did more than make cycling safer: The study found a 35% decrease in traffic crash related injuries to all street users on the 8th Ave path, and a whopping 58% on its 9th Ave counterpart.

Meanwhile, retail sales income in locally-based businesses along the 9th Ave lane went up as much as 50%. Yep, half again what they were before 2007. And this was during a recession. In the same period, borough-wide retail sales only increased 3%.

Protected bike lanes do cost money to install—with every penny furiously contested—but next to nothing compared to routine roadway maintenance and expansion projects. And instead of continuing to cost the community, they boost business, grow the tax base, and save money for the people who use them. And they even create smoother traffic flow for people who must still drive.

What’s not to love? No more debates, no more excuses. We cannot afford *not* to invest in safer, more profitable streets for cycling—and for everyone. And we likewise cannot afford to give a moment more of our energy to engaging or debating with so-called bicycle advocates who persist in fighting against improvements that are essential to our communities’ health, safety, and solvency.

The real debate should not be about whether or not to invest in bike infrastructure, but about how your city can create the most, the fastest.

It’s time for us to move on. If your city’s leaders don’t get this, it’s time for them to move on too.

PS: Here’s some more analysis from BikePortland.

Another note: I further make the economic case for bicycling in my forthcoming book, Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy (Dec 2013, Microcosm). I’ve also written extensively about this online and have an older zine on the topic available here.

13 Responses to “Breaking: Bike infrastructure debate officially over”

  1. Jym Dyer May 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    • All you have their is the truth. Unfortunately, the antis campaign on lies. They say there wasn’t public process, they say the city’s numbers are made up, etc. According to them, I only rallied for the bike lanes because Janette Sadik-Khan has my number on speed dial (if only). They’re using the same script against the bike share, more or less.

    The media hasn’t been very responsible. The anti’s voice has mostly been tabloid-driven, some hack taking their lawyer’s words at face value and emotionalizing them. Plus there’s one writer, Grynbaum at the _Times_, who lets the fuss die down and a day later, takes the lawyer’s words at face value and writes it up in blander prose.

    Some of the same tactics have just popped up in San Francisco, in opposition to improving Polk Street. Same lies about lack of public process, same claims about the city’s research, etc. Plus “Agenda 21″ wingnuttery, because why not?

  2. spare_wheel May 7, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    A million dollars buys a mile of cycle-track or dozens of miles of wide door-zone free bike lanes. Based on my experience with dangerous under-engineered separated infrastructure in North America I vote more bike lanes.

  3. MVH May 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    I argue for reduced speeds and car removal over bike lanes, but in many highly congested areas such as NYC well-designed bike lanes are a spectacular investment.

    • spare_wheel May 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      Absolutely agree. The best bang for our bike infrastructure buck is to dedicate pre-existing roads entirely or mostly to bikes.

  4. David Malcolm Carson May 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    Sort of. I think there are different kinds of critiques of bicycle infrastructure, but the most common thread seems to be that poorly-designed bicycle lanes sometimes make things even less safe for the bicyclist. I don’t know that very many people have argued that the protected bicycle lane/cycle track concept as implemented in NYC was poorly-designed. Out here in Los Angeles, the DOT was been going wild installing unprotected, un-buffered bicycle lanes flush against parked cars on streets with multiple lanes of 45-50+ mph traffic. As an experienced urban rider, I find such lanes uninviting at best, terrifying at works, so I imagine the “interested, but concerned” riders will not be using them at all.

  5. Esther May 8, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    Reduced speed limits are definitely tied to the economic benefits in the NYC study.

    Other bicycle infrastructure shows mixed benefits in studies – the ‘bike boxes’ at the front of traffic lanes at traffic signals in Portland have been followed by a doubling of right hooks.

    Dropping speed limits in congested areas is cheap and effective. Enforcing lower speed limits can have its own economic benefits.

  6. Paul January 4, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    The big thing the people in city planning need to realize is that people will choose to cycle if it is a quick and convenient way to get around. Too often cycle lanes are put places where it is easy but not where people actually want to go. The evidence from New York is really that you have to make tough decisions to have a positive impact. Removing a lane for a motor vehicle and replacing it with segregated cycle lanes doesn’t have to slow down traffic if it is done in the right way because reducing conflicts between different modes of transport can speed up traffic flow overall and getting people to choose a bike instead of their car obviously reduces congestion.


  1. Breaking: Bike infrastructure debate officially over. Via @ellyblue #bikenyc | - Exercising for fun and fitness in the New York City area by Anthony Olszewski - May 8, 2013

    [...] Bike infrastructure debate officially over. Via @ellyblue … [...]

  2. RT @BrooklynSpoke: Breaking: Bike infrastructure debate officially over. Via @ellyblue #bikenyc | - Exercising for fun and fitness in the New York City area by Anthony Olszewski - May 8, 2013

    [...] Bike infrastructure debate officially over. Via @ellyblue … [...]

  3. Daily archive | Chipcinnati - May 9, 2013

    [...] Bookmarked Breaking: Bike infrastructure debate officially over | Taking the Lane [...]

  4. What would you buy? | Pedal on Parliament - May 11, 2013

    [...] money to spend on a few cyclists, then we’re not the only ones to benefit. New York’s recent evaluation of its investment in protected bike lanes found that retail sales along the route went up 50%, [...]

  5. Bike Infrastructure is Great for Local Businesses | Posts by Gina - August 21, 2013

    […] I saw the title of this Taking the Lane post back in May, my first reaction was more along the lines of, “wait a minute? How is this […]

  6. The Debate About Bike Infrastructure Has Been Settled | NYBC - January 2, 2014

    […] streets more dangerous for cycling simply didn’t come to pass. Network blogger Elly Blue at Taking the Lane says the debate has been […]

Leave a Reply