In the comments to a post below regarding bad bike-lane designs, Jason Roberts of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff provided an odd list of cities with bike lanes (mostly small to medium sized, affluent, ethnically homogeneous suburbs and college towns). These cities were all recipients of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) "Bike Friendly Community" (BFC) Bronze award.
The efforts of these cities to accommodate bicyclists pales in comparison to what Dallas has accomplished, in terms of both on-street facilities (800 lanes miles of routes, 600 miles of which would qualify as bicycle boulevards) and off-street facilities (100 miles of trails either constructed or funded for construction). However, apparently the LAB's BFC staff fed Bicycling Magazine the false information that resulted in Dallas being deemed the "Worst City in America for Bicycling". The criteria? No bike lanes (because none are warranted).
John Schubert, a well respected and recognized expert on bicycling (and former LAB vice-president) recently posted the following on his website in regards to whether or not a town should apply for BFC status.
The discussion lamp is now lit for this post.
Bike Lanes, Bureaucrats and Bicycle Friendly Communities
By John Schubert
My view is that the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC) award program is so sadly corrupt that it should be shunned.
I simply don’t see how a community can pursue that award without the effort having a negative effect on (1) physical facilities for cycling; (2) the ever-uphill struggle to conduct government operations efficiently; and, most importantly, (3) safety.
I say this with some expertise in all these areas.
In the cycling area: I have been writing about cycling since 1975 and working as an expert witness in bicycle accident reconstruction since 1981. I’ve seen just about every accident cause there is, and I’ve seen just about every effort, both the good and the bad, to increase cycling’s popularity. I am familiar with just about every way that education, social attitudes, facilities, and lack of facilities can either increase or decrease the accident rate. I am familiar with many popular misconceptions about safety and promotion. On the government operations front: For just as long as I’ve been involved in cycling, I’ve been watching, at a very close level, the governments of the communities where I’ve lived and seen their successes and failures in trying to function well. I think I’m an expert in what makes local government work well, and what makes it work not so well.
I’ve served for 11 1/2 years on my local school board, where I am currently chair of the budget and finance committee. In February 2009, Moody’s increased our bond rating from A1 to AA3, putting us among the top ten or so boards (out of 501) in the state. Since school boards are not free to raise taxes, our managing the budget well enough to get an AA rating in the worst bond market era in many decades speaks volumes about our management.
BFC awards government bureaucracy. LAB’s Andy Clarke made that clear when he turned down the BFC award to Vandalia, Ohio in 2004. Clarke wrote Vandalia a letter telling them what they would need to do to get a bronze award. Clarke’s list of reasons included several specific requests for more government spending and more bureaucrats hovering over bicycling (in a not-very-big city, no less!) and, of course, more miles of bike lanes. And not one word in the letter referred to quality and design standards for bike lanes.
My objection to the promiscuous promotion of bike lanes is old news. Even today, 28 years after the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) tried to improve the state of the art of bicycle facility design, through the publication of its first edition of its Guide to Bicycle Facilities (AASHTO Guidelines), abysmal stuff gets built, and the nation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on dangerous designs.
The AASHTO Guidelines are far, far from perfect. They provide only the first step towards understanding how a bicycle facility can be worse than no facility at all. (Even LAB’s policy statement on bicycle facilities says so!) But in these 28 years, the AASHTO Guidelines have either been ignored entirely or minimally interpreted.
Door zone bike lanes, bike lanes that put cyclists in conflict with pedestrians trying to get to the bus, bike lanes that put cyclists in motorists’ blind spots at intersections, bike lanes that have dangerous sewer grates, broken glass and other junk…. truly, bike lanes in America are an experiment that has failed. The people who advocate bike lanes have had decades to show that they could enforce quality control, and they have failed to do so. Ominously, many states that build the worst bike lanes also have state laws requiring cyclists to ride in them! And too often, bike lane advocates refuse to discuss quality control.
But the public is so conditioned to think that this is “doing something” for bicyclists that too few people stop to view the benefits of building nothing, instead using the money to keep the pavement in good condition, and educating the cyclists how to use the road.
Bicycle Friendly Communities doesn’t reward this far superior alternative.
I won’t discuss every type of bikelane-caused accident in this essay, but one that really should make the conscience scream is the “coffin corner” bike lane. In a “coffin corner” bike lane, the bike lane is striped solid to the intersection, so that the bicyclist who plans to ride straight through the intersection is positioned to the right of right-turning motor traffic.
Does this look dangerous to you?
The Bicycle Friendly Communities program favors “coffin corner” bike lanes and gives them awards and verbal praise.
Coffin corner bike lanes kill people. The bicyclist riding straight is in the blind spot of the turning motorist. The city of Amsterdam (yes, THAT Amsterdam) had four fatalities in barrier “separated” coffin corner bike lanes in 2006. In 2007, Portland, Oregon had two fatalities and Seattle had one. In 2008, Washington DC had one. In 2009 so far, Minneapolis has had one. (Minneapolis’s was a bike lane on the left side of a one-way street, and involved a collision between a bicyclist and a left-turning motorist.)
Corruption run rampant: shortly after the Portland fatalities, the Portland bicycle coordinator announced that he was not changing this bike lane design. LAB Executive Director Andy Clarke praised the Portland coordinator for his “courage” in sticking with this design. It would have shown far more courage to admit a tragic mistake.
This is not a simple case of “it was just an accident.” The Portland bike lane design violates absolutely every common-sense principle of traffic engineering, violates the AASHTO guidelines, violates other traffic engineering standards books, and requires bicyclists to put their faith in motorists’ ability to see a rapidly moving tiny target pop into view in a rear-view mirror that is inevitably vibrating, while also scanning for other traffic, pedestrians and road hazards in front of the motor vehicle.
I don’t think most people realize just how radical and irresponsible the coffin corner is. It is put there specifically to lure unskilled and unaware cyclists to use their bikes, and puts them where they are in the most danger. It disappoints me bitterly that LAB is willing to compromise safety so much to put “butts on bikes.” Why not instead teach these unskilled and unaware people what they need to know?
When Bicycle Friendly Communities decides to slam the door shut on dangerous bikelane designs, I will reconsider my opposition. But that is unlikely to happen. Mr. Clarke has made it clear that he favors these designs, and he simply doesn’t address the mechanics of the accidents that these designs encourage. Sadly, he has the support of his board of directors in these opinions.
My objection to the bureaucrats is this: adding bureaucracy rewards the act of adding to the cost of the process, rather than measuring and rewarding the result.
If a community can create good conditions for cycling, then it isn’t LAB’s business to demand X number of bureaucrats or Y number of dollars spent involved in the process. Indeed, much of what has been accomplished in Pennsylvania has been accomplished by putting measures that benefit bicycling in other budgets. This avoids the political problem of making the bicycle budget a target, and it also ensures that every dollar spent benefits as many road user groups as possible. This philosophy of benefiting more groups, rather than one group taking from another, is at the core of good government. But you won’t hear LAB talking about that when they ask for facilities just for bicyclists.
I don’t measure success by counting dollars spent or by counting the number of bureaucrats assigned to discuss a problem. I don’t think anyone else should either. Turning back briefly to the example of my school district, I stand by my AA3 bond rating, fairly low cost per student, small administrative team and very good college acceptances as proof that a government organization can get good results without just throwing more money and bureaucrats at a task.
I am well aware that some cyclists have a lot of civic pride, and want to see their communities recognized for cycling. There is some chance of an alternative national award, administered by a coalition of state organizations. Let us work towards that, rather than seek this so badly tarnished BFC award.