‘Cities for Cycling’ could have huge impact on bikeway innovation

more bike boxes springing up-8.jpg

Tired of waiting for innovation.
(Photo © J. Maus)

An exciting new coalition of America’s largest cities has joined together to push for more innovative bikeway design guidelines. Cities for Cycling, which will formally launch in Washington D.C. on December 8th, will look to break the shackles of rigid federal roadway design guidelines that have long had a stifling impact on bikeway innovation in the United States.

The new coalition was the brainchild of two Portlanders — former city bike coordinator and now planning consultant Mia Birk and current City of Portland Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield. The impetus comes from a realization that current federal design guidelines for bikeway development are outdated and incomplete.

The goal of Cities for Cycling is to provide support for urban transportation planners looking for guidance in building the next generation of bikeway networks — guidance that the highway-oriented federal government is not willing to provide. The coalition will also create a new manual of bikeway designs that includes technical information and best practices gleaned from what has proven to work in the world’s most bike friendly cities.

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Currently in America, street design guidelines are the domain of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities and the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). These companion manuals are considered to be the bible for traffic engineers, offering persuasive guidance on what types of facilities and designs can and can’t be installed.

Unfortunately, the AASHTO/MUTCD guidelines are painfully slow to innovate and their lack of official recognition of new bikeway designs is a significant barrier to a more bike-friendly America.

BAC meeting - October-5

City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield
wants innovation to be easier.

The problem boils down to this: If a bikeway design treatment — like bike boxes, bike-only signals, cycle tracks, bike boulevards, and so on — is not listed as an approved design in the MUTCD, many engineers are unlikely to use them. Engineers can still install these innovative facilities, but they must apply for a “Request to Experiment” and be subject to FHWA oversight. But the majority of city traffic engineers don’t take that step, either because bikeways aren’t a high enough priority, or they don’t have the time to go through the process, or they’re simply intimidated by the FHWA and have concerns about legal liability for doing anything not wholly approved by the MUTCD.

The result of not being able to develop state-of-the-art bikeway networks has made it difficult for America to make significant gains in bike use. Currently, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 0.55 percent of Americans use a bicycle as their primary means of getting to work.

“The feds are in a tough position, they’re almost in a regulatory role instead of being in a leadership role… Their agenda is highways, but this is an urban issue, a city issue. We want them to get out of the way.”
— Rob Burchfield, City of Portland Traffic Engineer

Portland’s City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield knows the perils of this problem all too well. After two people were killed by right-turning trucks within 11 days of each other in 2007, he worked with Mayor Sam Adams to install green-colored bike boxes throughout the city. Bike boxes were not approved by the MUTCD, but Burchfield had studied them at length and had seen them first-hand in world-class bike cities in Europe.

However, the bike boxes put Burchfield on the hot seat. A local critic of the bike boxes, Bob Shanteau, wrote a letter to the FHWA threatening to sue PBOT because the treatment had not yet been adopted into the MUTCD (more on that fiasco here). The Portland Tribune published a story a few days later detailing other criticisms including concern from a high-ranking official at the Oregon Department of Transportation. Burchfield — who had filed a request to experiment with the FHWA — was forced to defend the designs. The FHWA eventually stepped in and made PBOT test out the bike box design without the highly-visible green coloring.

In a recent interview, Burchfield acknowledged the difficulty this issue poses for the FHWA. “The feds are in a tough position, they’re almost in a regulatory role instead of being in a leadership role. They’re saying, ‘We have these rules. You have to do this… and if don’t you we’ll sanction you’.”

Burchfield realizes that it’s not realistic for the FHWA or AASHTO to be leaders in setting bikeway design standards. “Their agenda is highways, but this is an urban issue, a city issue. We want them to get out of the way.”

The bike box fiasco, says Birk, who worked with Burchfield in the 1990s, was the last straw. “The criticism we got from the bike boxes made it clear to us that we felt there was a need for cities that wanted to push forward to band together.”

Birk, who now develops bike plans for cities throughout the country, says she gets calls everyday from cities wanting to install innovative bike facilities. “Unfortunately, there’s not one place I can point them to with the information they need.” In the meantime, she says, “many cities are proceeding in absence of that guidance.”

Says Birk:

“We came up with this idea, recognizing there are a handful of cities really leading the charge… and that if we put our heads together we are going to be greater as a coalition than as individual cities working alone. We asked ourselves, how can we capitalize on Portland’s leadership, band together, and move the agenda forward?”

Back in October, Burchfield and Birk hosted bicycle transportation planners and traffic engineers from several major U.S. cities including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, and New York. The group (which at that time was tentatively named the Progressive Bicycling Cities Coalition) heard from a panel of European experts. One of them, Hans Voerknecht from Dutch cycling organization Fietsberaad, singled out the AASHTO/MUTCD guidelines for sharp criticism, saying they are “completely counterproductive”:

“Were these guidelines a means or an end? I think your consider them an end to the conversation but they should be a means to get more people cycling. Saying, ‘well those are the guidelines’ is like a detective looking for a murder weapon and saying well, ‘I can’t look in the bedroom because the guidelines say I can’t trespass on the privacy of the people.”

When asked if she feels Cities for Cycling is headed for a power struggle with the committee behind the MUTCD, Birk said she hopes not, but that it’s a “possibility”. “Maybe we influence them, maybe we converge into one big happy family.”

In the end, Birk says this effort is about making cities more bike friendly. To do that, she says, “It’s negligent for us to not look at the best practices out there.”

Cities for Cycling has been adopted as an official project of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. On December 8th, NACTO and the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings will host an event and panel discussion in Washington D.C. to officially launch the project. U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, New York City Department of Transportation Commission Janette Sadik-Khan, and artist/musician David Byrne will hold a panel discussion moderated by Bruce Katz from Brookings.

A website for the new project is in the works.

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13 years ago

Can you please clear this entry up for me, Jonathan?

“After two people were killed by right-turning trucks within 11 days of each other in 2007, he worked with Mayor Sam Adams to install green-colored bike boxes throughout the city.”


“A national magazine columnist went so far as blaming them for the two deaths and the Portland Tribune followed suit.”

I don’t know the (whole) history here but I don’t understand how the columnist could possibly blame the bike boxes on the two deaths if they were installed after the two deaths?

Joe Adamski
Joe Adamski
13 years ago

as unglamorous as policy and standards are,adoption of a reasonable and implementable ( is that a real word?) set of standards nationwide will do more for encouraging transportation cycling than any ten Lance Armstrongs could do. As PBOT discerned,if I don’t feel safe,I’m not going to ride. A hearty thank you to Rob and Mia for taking this on. I expect they will receive more than a fair number of brickbats, as bikes are regarded by many as toys, not transportation.
Is there a website for this effort? This is something I would like to follow, as undoubtedly,they will need a lot of support changing the model currently in place. So much attention is paid to somehow, making cars ‘greener’, when the discussion is how to minimize our reliance on cars in general. Getting the next generations out of cars will require reasonable and workable policy and design. And the good design will influence transportation for decades,or centuries to come. I’m probably stating the obvious for the Portland crowd,but in my travels, I have come to see how far we have to go,as a Country.

Spencer Boomhower
Spencer Boomhower
13 years ago

Exciting stuff! Looking forward to learning more about this effort.

13 years ago

Hey Bob,

Why did you make the bike boxes green? For all of us non-engineer types that utilize this traffice control infrastructure, what does green mean? I mean, it’s been around for a while and everyone pretty much thinks it means “GO”!

Seriously, it seems like a pretty silly color to choose for the intended purpose.

All that aside; Good work on organizing to address those folks in Washington. Best of luck in your endeavor.

michael downes
michael downes
13 years ago

A worthy undertaking and timely. Good on yer’ Rob & Mia.

13 years ago

This sounds like something worth keeping an eye on. Is “Cities for Cycling” a going concern or just a concept? I don’t see anything on the web from them.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)


it’s an official project of NACTO… you don’t see anything on the web yet because it’s still too new.

13 years ago

Jack-a (#1) – good question, i wondered the same thing. The “national magazine columnist” in question – John Schubert of Adventure Cycling – blamed the bike lane design, not the (at that point in time non-existent) bike boxes.

sorry for the confusion guys… i’ve edited the story. thanks. – Jonathan

Joel Batterman
Joel Batterman
13 years ago

Tremendous news. The country owes Rob and Mia big time.

13 years ago

Yeah !
Push back on entrenched subsidies.

Devian Gilbert
13 years ago

i like Bike Boxes
I wish Monterey, Ca had them!

when i was in Portland, I was simply amazed.

love Portland!

Peter Smith
Peter Smith
13 years ago

this seems like excellent news. a great idea.

thinking of the background-painted sharrows in long beach (which I absolutely love, and are absolutely necessary in 99% of America) made me think we really needed a more flexible, faster-moving regulatory system. i had no idea others were already plotting behind the scenes. how better to change the system than by challenging its legitimacy with a rival organization? 😉 (hey, we’re all friends here, i know.)

i guess there’s not a whole lot we can do to support the new effort right now except to make a big deal about it on December 8 and then talk about the importance of being able to implement the safest proven design patterns as quickly as possible, and be able to experiment with new designs.

added it to my calendar. hopefully, Brookings will have a webcast. that’d be cool.

man, big development. it really does seem hopeful sometimes — like things are starting to fall into place.

oh — i’m assuming Mia meant ‘band together’ instead of ‘ban together’.

13 years ago

It’s too bad that in just two years much of the bike box paint has been chipped away to wash down the storm drains to the river.

Mike Hendrix
Mike Hendrix
13 years ago

Just as a clarification, the FHWA requirement to experiment does not necessarily prevent a jurisdiction from installing a “non-conforming” traffic control device. I can see plenty of these devices throughout the country.

I believe that the FHWA *can* recommend that the federal government not give any money to a jurisdiction which does not comply with the MUTCD, however, that has never happened. Also, the request to experiment helps protects the jurisdiction in the case of a lawsuit.

The MUTCD is a slowly updated manual. It is the nature of the beast. The most recent version which is called the 2009 manual may not be released until next year. The previous manual was from 2003. One of the benefits of this long time frame is that bad designs can be whittled out of the manual to prevent new installations (for example, bike lanes to the right of right turn lanes were allowed up to 2000). Of course, other effective and proven methods to both increase bicycling and bicyclist safety have to wait as well.

As an alternative, there may be a way to incorporate updates more frequently. Some people may have noticed the flashing yellow arrow. Technically, this is not allowed in the current MUTCD. However, the FHWA released a (I am not sure of the exact name) advisory allowing the installations. Maybe, actions such as this can be used for other items such as bike boxes.

Innovation is a great thing but the last place I want to see innovation is where a motorist from out of town is trying to find their hotel in a rainy night and ignores a traffic control device because they don’t know what it means.

13 years ago

@ #8 and Jonathan –

That makes more sense now. Thanks for the clarification. You’d think I could’ve figured that out on my own…*groan*

Anywho, great article. I love that these kids are forming a coalition to push better infrastructure. You know how the saying goes…if the Gov won’t do it for us, we do it for ourselves. 🙂

Keep up the great work and do please let us know how to help or donate if needed.

Mia Birk
13 years ago

Hi – wanted to give a big shout-out to Mayor Sam Adams and his Transportation Policy Director Catherine Ciarlo. Their leadership and support have been invaluable. Also want to acknowledge the amazing work of Jon Orcutt and Jeannette Sadik-Khan in NY, and their tremendous energy and vision. Bikes Belong, the national bike industry coalition, is also involved, as well as other national groups. Numerous other cities will be involved as this thing evolves. Mia Birk

13 years ago

I would still like to know why Rob Burchfield is willing to ‘experiment’ widely with bike boxes, but after more than five long years of waiting is still reticent to do so with sharrows markings, a design which has already been proven up in San Francisco by Mia Birk and her staff at Alta (link below).

Certain heavily used bike routes like East 28th have been crying out for sharrows treatment for years, yet cyclists still have not been provided with the proven benefits of sharrows on routes like this. Why is that?


John Schubert
13 years ago

The assumption behind this initiative is that the only way to attract people to cycling is to use bikelanes and cycle tracks of unproven design. Mr. Maus’s editorializing would have you believe that this is a nonconcern, i.e. that the designs I call “unproven” have sterling safety records.

Since bikelanes and cycle tracks are indeed implicated in numerous serious injuries and deaths, in Portland, Seattle, Washington, DC, Cambridge, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Virginia, Berlin (need I go on), the assumption is worth revisiting.

In other words, can you only attract the non-cyclist with a facility that presents dangers s/he might not understand?

In my opinion, the answer is no. A thousand times no.

You can attract the noncyclist and the novice cyclist in ways that are absolutely consistent with maximizing his/her safety.

Some footnotes:

(1) “They did it in Europe” doesn’t constitute proof. First of all, I have studies from Helsinki, Amsterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen showing increased accident rates tied to specific geometry of their special facilities. Second of all, if or when a particular intersection design works in a European city, that is undoubtedly due to numerous elements: the training of the motorists, the training of the cyclists, the signal lights, societal willingness to accept slower traffic (including slower bike traffic) due to an extra signal phase that adds delay for all road users, a high rate of cyclist compliance with those lights, and, finally, the paint on the pavement. If you import _only_ the paint on the pavement, you are not properly copying the design that you say works.

(2) Jonathan Maus, Roger Geller and Mia Burke will NEVER be injured in left cross, right hook, motorist driveout or dooring accidents. They know how to avoid them. Where I differ with them is as follows: we are all designing for the novice who doesn’t have a clue about these and other accident types or how to avoid them. I view their preferred designs as having a few lousy measures that will sometimes, maybe usually, prevent some of these accident types. To me, that’s not good enough. I want these novices to have absolute immunity from as many accident types as possible. I don’t like to see people get hurt! And to that end, I am not willing to “attract” new cyclists with poor bikelanes or cycletracks which the rider must disobey to ensure his/her own safety. We shouldn’t be asking novices to outthink a poor design. I believe that traffic control devices should be consistent with the safest possible bicyclist behavior, and that well-performed education can teach people how to use the roads (and, where applicable, off-road facilities) safely.

(3) What’s the alternative? We are often told that vehicular cycling “doesn’t work.” Hogwash. It works well, and it produces a sterling safety record. What we do know is that John Forester failed to make it attractive, and perhaps at least partially because of that, Roger Geller dislikes it. That doesn’t mean that someone with better salesmanship than Forester (that would be just about anyone) couldn’t make it far, far more attractive. In fact, that _is_ what is happening in a few pockets of resistance (“vehicular cyclists run amuck” in Maus’s peculiar characterization in an earlier article).

(4) Don’t bother with the lecture about the “fearless.” The new vehicular cyclists running amuck are disproportionately female and beyond middle age. I realize that many people genuinely believe you have to be young, male and fast to be a vehicular cyclist, but that is simply dead wrong.

John Schubert

13 years ago

“(3) What’s the alternative? We are often told that vehicular cycling “doesn’t work.” Hogwash. It works well, and it produces a sterling safety record. …”

(4) Don’t bother with the lecture about the “fearless.” The new vehicular cyclists running amuck are disproportionately female and beyond middle age. …”

Schubert, for whom would you say vehicular cycling works well?

Who might be some examples of new vehicular cyclists running amuck are disproportionately female and beyond middle age? Are you saying that middle age and older ladies in significant numbers are asserting their right to ride a bike on the street?

Vehicular cycling works well for people that are serious about biking, assertive, and well conditioned for negotiating their way on a bike down streets filled with many motor vehicles. My impression is that for most people that aren’t particularly serious about biking, but do need some form of practical transportation to get to work, or go to grocery store to pick up a few things, Vehicular Cylcing doesn’t work.

For them, riding a bike out in traffic is impractical, uncomfortable and dangerous. Because of this, they’re going to jump in the car or minivan with all the comforts of home (soft seat, heat and AC, stereo, cargo space)even if it’s for a trip that takes only 5 minutes drive time.

From your first footnote:

“… Second of all, if or when a particular intersection design works in a European city, that is undoubtedly due to numerous elements: the training of the motorists, the training of the cyclists, the signal lights, societal willingness to accept slower traffic (including slower bike traffic) due to an extra signal phase that adds delay for all road users, a high rate of cyclist compliance with those lights, and, finally, the paint on the pavement. …”

All of that seems reasonable, but from an initial starting point, Europe’s been working on and fine tuning their infrastructure for a long time. The U.S. has to start somewhere too, just as Europe did. The U.S. can borrow ideas from Europe to devise its own effective pedestrian-cycling infrastructure, but has to apply those ideas to meet its own needs.

The Maus article describes to me, an internecine struggle between transportation infrastructure people. They can’t get their heads together and agree on enough issues to keep them from wasting lots of everyone’s time and money. Birk and Burchfield seem to have some of the right ideas, but facing so much entrenched opposition from motor vehicle obligated interests, on a national level, it’s hard to see much in the way of good improvements in infrastructure happening very soon.

13 years ago

Right now, as far as I can tell, the majority of the designs that Birk and Burchfield are pushing are not all that different from the segregated sidepaths of yore that have been thoroughly disproven as being hazardous to cyclists due to their amplification of conflicts with motor vehicles at the numerous intersections and crossings that are inherent when these types of sidepath designs are overlain on the type of street grid Portland has.

Attracting novice cyclists to disproven and inherently dangerous facilities disguised by a new name – cycle tracks – and a bunch of Euro-propaganda is not only disingenuous, but most likely also exposes the city to heaps of new liability.

13 years ago

Burr…”…thoroughly disproven…”.? How did they amplify conflicts with motor vehicles?

I read a few of the type of studies you speak of. What I drew from them, was that collisions occurred because adequate traffic controls were not incorporated into intersections where main roads and sidepath/bike boulevards met. If I remember correctly from the studies I looked at, these intersections didn’t have traffic lights. They only had stop signs, or maybe signs on main roads that said something such as ‘bike sidepath’.

We already know that lots of people aren’t especially enthusiastic about stopping at stop signs, waiting patiently for a vehicle to enter a roadway, or waiting for a vehicle to pass so the roadway can be safely entered. A light would get most of them to stop.

It seems to me that a number of bike boulevards/sidepaths leading from neighborhoods surrounding the Fred Meyer out on 82nd/80th and Foster could persuade some people inclined to casual riding to choose a bike, rather than a car, to go shopping for a few things. If the trip is easier by bike than it is by car, and nearly as safe…which it could be…people would probably try it. Responding to criticism of being a nation with too many physically inactive over eaters, more Americans everyday are looking for just that kind of exercise to help keep themselves from being overweight and out of shape.

13 years ago

Sorry, but I don’t think you’re going to get physically inactive overeaters onto bicycles just because you build a segregated bicycling facility in their neighborhood.

There are already plenty of safe, low traffic neighborhood streets these people could cycle on and they don’t do it.

Plus, Portland will never be able to allocate the kind of money required to install separate phase bicycle signals at every intersection along every cycle path. Did they do it for any of the arterial crossings in the recent reconstruction of the I-205 bike path? Have you priced traffic control signals lately? Hint – new signalization costs something like $100K per intersection.

13 years ago

I don’t think it’s conditions on low traffic neighborhood streets that are discouraging people from making short trips from home to store, school, church and so forth. It’s unsignaled connections across heavily motor vehicle trafficked roads between their house and destination that are discouraging them.

To minimize collisions, there probably doesn’t have to be a signal at every intersection with a cycle path. A neighborhood might only need one or two signaled crossing points two and from its own quiet, low traffic streets across bordering major thoroughfares.

Maybe people wouldn’t bike, even if such crossings existed. It seems worth a try though. Somewhat like I said earlier, if improvements like this can make a trip by bike easier, more enjoyable and even possibly quicker than a trip by car, people might be persuaded to try it.

On some streets out in my area..Beaverton…I’m noticing more people on bikes that certainly look to me as though they might be people that have decided to depart from being physically inactive overeaters.

Such a person I saw last week looked to me to be serious about it; had a newer, practical, step through bike…that actually fit the person…concentrating on the road and putting a little muscle into it.

13 years ago

I’d say it’s more about lack of safe access to major commercial destinations. Bike boulevards are fine for tootling around the ‘hood but don’t get you to a whole lot of the destinations people normally drive their cars to.

13 years ago

how much does one of those manually tripped signals like the one at ne brazee and 15th cost? you hit the button, the light changes, presto. having lived in that neighborhood across from the elementary school, however, I can tell you that the presence of that excellent device has not resulted in very many kids walking or biking to school, even though the entire attendance zone is less than a mile radius.

13 years ago

We will be a true cycling city when we incorporate buffered and cycle tracks on major business districts, and major major streets like Powell, MLK, and Division, 39th, etc.

We talk about Copenhagen and Amsterdam and how that is the goal, or to be better than those cities.

What makes them so attractive? Complete lanes just for bikes. That is it. Without this element we are just more a cycling city when compared with most “American” cities.

Now that Portland has proven to go so far with limited resources, we need to take it to the next level.

“Cities For Cycling” could be the one to put real world necessitated cycling facilities into real world America. Out of the box, and based on existing/sometimes modified versions of proven designs used in top notch cities over seas.

It just needs to be so obviously easy to hop on a bike if your confident riding everywhere or a 70 yr old on the bike for the 1st time off to Walgreens for heart meds.

We need to be the city that “got it”. Hopefully other parts of the U.S. will do the same.

I am all about helping this cause.

Where do I send a resume?

13 years ago


I often ride over Holgate S. to Woodstock at 42nd.

THAT is a location in need of a crossing for bikes and peds.

If we added painted bike boxes, a proper fire signal with a wide section open to cyclists to confidently cross…I think cycling would grow further in Woodstock and the surrounding area.

It needs to “feel” safe and be obviously designed to give people confidence as they bike to destinations.

13 years ago

are #28…I don’t exactly what type signal you’re talking about. How much did it cost? Good question. Check out the following article editor maus wrote in which he describes a signal that costs $35thousand.

Rapid flash beacons…maus-bikeportland

To get kids to walk to school, I imagine it takes more than putting up a traffic signal to allow safe crossings. Due to age, some would need to be escorted. If kids could be, but aren’t walking, there may be other reasons for this. Parents probably know why…they have to want it to happen.

Burr #27…isn’t the Fred’s out on 82nd a major commercial destination? I would consider it to be. The place has millions of dollars of stock that people have need of every day of their lives. Many people in the neighborhood are probably going over there at least 2-3 times a week…some of them even more.

I consider Cedar Hills Crossing shopping/restaurant/entertainment center out in Beaverton to also be a major commercial destination. Today, in Beaverton, I rode over to a nearby neighborhood within the same city established boundaries that include the neighborhood I live in(covers a lot of territory).

The center of this neighborhood is less than a half mile north from the mall. Nice neighborhood; 50’s houses, well maintained, quiet streets. If someone wanted to walk or bike south part of the way to the mall on a quiet neighborhood street in this neighborhood(there is such a street), they’d be fine until preparing to leave the neighborhood at Walker Rd, where there is no signal. Walker is often a very busy road; what I’d consider to be a major deterrence to encouraging very many people from making such a trip.

Upon crossing Walker, the rest of the trip by foot or bike is better(traversing the parking lots of Office Depot and Borders, finally coming to a signaled intersection at Jenkins Rd, the last barrier before entering the mall proper.)…but not great by any means. A dedicated, broad, clearly marked and lit pedestrian walkway from Walker east-west to the mall could be greatly helpful towards encouraging people to leave the car home for occasional trips by other means than motor vehicle.

People that are of the inclination or up to the demands of riding a busy street can of course, ride Cedar Hills Blvd. located on this neighborhoods eastern border and also that of the mall further south.

Just a small part of one example indicating why task specific infrastructure is needed if there is ever to be some relief from the dependency upon motor vehicles many people in the metro area are subject to.

13 years ago

a-a-argh!…make that “…from Walker north-south to the mall…”.

Robert T.
Robert T.
12 years ago

wsbob asked: “Schubert, for whom would you say vehicular cycling works well?”

My answer would be, it works well for anyone willing to try it.

Yes, many people are afraid to try it. But part of the reason is they read columns from people like Maus who claim riding on ordinary roads is dangerous, and that we must have oddball facilities for safety. Maus will never tell them that cycling is safe, and they don’t know enough to detect the lies.

And I say “oddball facilities” because that’s how many of the brilliant, visionary or innovative ideas look to this engineer. I know from experience that there are bike facility designers who can’t grasp that a straight-through cyclist should not be guided to the right of a right turning motorist – and what could be more obvious? They don’t get that riding against traffic is dangerous. They can’t understand that car doors pop open. They ignore the cities that ripped out barrier-separated bike lanes because of the dangers and accident records. Above all, they think that if things go horribly wrong, all that’s needed is a different color of paint on the road.

Roadway design standards exist for very good reasons. Those reasons are grounded in analysis of traffic motion and operator habits and capabilities. Even trained engineers sometimes have difficulty envisioning the effects of “innovative” (or deviant) facilities. Yet every motorist, every “planner,” every landscape architect, every bike rider and especially every bike “advocate” thinks he can design the perfect, safe, innovative, weird facility.

And if it goes tragically wrong? More paint!

I say stop the scare stories. Stop the fiction that you must have someplace “special” to ride a bike. Teach cyclists to ride competently and teach all motorists to cooperate. Most already do, so it shouldn’t be hard.

(Geez, don’t you guys ever ride on regular roads? Is it really so hard for you?)

Adams Carroll (News Intern)

For the record, I love vehicular cycling. I do it and it works well for me.

HOWEVER… not everyone rides like me and VC methods are not feasible in all situations.

I believe in riding VC when possible.
I believe in creating streets everyone can feel safe riding in.
I DO NOT believe in becoming an idealogue for any one way of riding so much that I become angry, insult others, or detract from other methods being used to get more people to ride.

It’s too bad this VC/facilities thing has turned into such a pissing match.

12 years ago

Some people do not feel as you do, Robert. I share much of your sentiments…but there is likely 20% of the population we are not reaching because they do not like sharing the same road way with 3000 lb SUV’s and no matter how much education we provide, they may never ride a bike “unless” we provide cycle tracks.

Why do people confidently ride bikes in Copenhagen and Amsterdam? They have a lane all their own the majority of the time.

Cities with goals of 50% rider ship have facilities such as this.

Do you think Portland will get even half that much riders with bike lanes and boulevards? I am extremely skeptical unless gas is $10 a gallon. Then we might get 25% of the population here riding bikes over driving, at best.

John Schubert
12 years ago

My earlier attempt to post my remarks got butchered by control characters (my bad), and the web software won’t let me repost the whole thing. Here are the missing pieces:

” new vehicular cyclists?”

Many I’m familiar with are in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and in the Orlando, Florida area.

“middle age & older ladies are asserting their right to ride on the street?”


“Vehicular cycling … serious … assertive, and well conditioned”

Phulleeze. I reject this characterization. It is a myth.

I’m 57, I ride a bike I bought used for $80, I’m slow, and I ride vehicularly. I was doing just that today, slowly, on a borrowed foldling bike, on the traffic sewers of Orlando. I’ll soon be writing an article about the success of teaching vehicular cycling to people my age, people on single-speed coaster brake bikes, and cycling novices, in another Florida city (where the mode share is far higher than Portland’s!)

“for most people that aren’t particularly serious … Vehicular Cylcing doesn’t work.”

When it’s bundled with the “young and fearless” myth, of course. That’s why the myth is so damaging.

It’s EASY to teach safe cycling to a non-cyclist. The non-cyclists accept the logic of avoiding hazards and blind spots. It’s the ones who’ve been socialized into the dependency of the bikelane culture who are hard to teach.

I can ride anywhere. I don’t need a bicycle culture city to ride. I don’t get up on the sidewalk when the door zone bike lane comes to an end. I dislike learned/taught dependency.

I reject the notion that vehicular cycling is too difficult for the masses. It’s EASY to learn if it’s taught correctly.

The existing teaching methods aren’t that good, and the aura around them is gravely flawed. But that is changing.

“Europe’s been … fine tuning their infrastructure for a long time. The U.S. has to start somewhere too.”

The U.S. should start by studying the highly elevated rate of facility-caused crashes in Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki and Amsterdam. English-language reports are readily available.

I’ve already pointed out that they’re only copying pieces of these already-flawed European systems. Would you want to trust your life to a surgeon who copied the most superficial pieces of a procedure he’d learned from overseas? No? They why trust your life to a traffic engineer who did likewise?

“The Maus article describes to me, a … struggle between transportation infrastructure people. They can’t get their heads together….”

Maus, Birk and Burchfield have never showed up at the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. That’s where the work gets done. People get maimed and killed as a result of individual traffic movements, and it is the study of those movements at a granular level of detail that produces a good menu of tools for the designer. I think bypassing that work with a press release is professional malpractice.

Also note the coercion that produces the mode shares you see in Europe. A new car that costs $20,000 in the U.S. costs $60,000 in Copenhagen, thanks to a 200 percent tax. Perhaps that appeals to you personally, but please recognize what a waste of time it is to attempt to promote it politically. Also recognize how much it would alienate people who lack your intensity of commitment, but might be partially allied with you.

John Schubert

12 years ago

The only thing the MUTCD is applicable to in this case is traffic signals and signage. Otherwise, it has absolutely nothing to do with road/bikeway design.

12 years ago

Not exactly a bright moment for me…I’d forgotten that the MUTCD also includes pavement striping, so yeah, there’d be some impact with bikeway design, though moreso with retrofitting existing facilities and not so much with new construction.

12 years ago

I think the cheapest and most politically viable way of improving bikeability in cities is to optimize side streets for bicycle traffic, and to install specialized bike/ped crossings at busy arterial streets, highways and waterways. Our bike boulevard’s work well, as do our dedicated bridge paths and specialized arterial crossings. I also see a lot of bicycle pedestrian bridges over highways in the Silicon Valley area of California, which can be very helpful in areas where the only way to cross a highway is to navigate a cloverleaf interchange.

The success of European cycle tracks is mixed to begin with. I found that the cycle tracks in Stockholm actually made riding far more of a pain, as many were narrow and prevented me from passing slower riders. They also inhibited vehicular left turns and forced me into using pedestrian crosswalks. The cycle paths in Gothenburg were designed better — they were much wider, which mitigated the degree of annoyance that I felt by not being able to do vehicular left turns. One can argue the extent to which these paths work in Europe, but I don’t think they can easily be transplanted to most North American arterial streets, which are full of driveways, pullouts, parking lot entrances, etc.

Stockholm’s modal share is about the same as ours at 7 percent, and Goteborg’s is twice that at 14 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_share). However, I don’t know that the quality of cycle track necessarily correlates with bicycle modal share. A previous poster already noted the 200 percent tax upon automobiles in Denmark, and European countries are also notable for their tolled highways, high gas taxes, high parking fees, etc. Modal share might be higher in certain European cities in part because of they degree to which they financially punish driving.

Financially punishing motorists for the express purpose of increasing cycling rates while also tearing out entire lanes of traffic to build cycle tracks is not going to be politically viable here. Any strategy of increasing bike-friendliness by making motorists — who, like it or not, constitute the majority of Americans — dislike us more than they already do is going to be a losing one. Bike advocacy needs to be disassociated with anti-car politics.

Robert T.
Robert T.
12 years ago

Jonathan Maus wrote: “For the record, I love vehicular cycling. I do it and it works well for me. HOWEVER… not everyone rides like me and VC methods are not feasible in all situations.”

That’s only because there are small percentages of our roads that have been very badly designed. In my experience in hundreds of cities, VC works almost everywhere.

The problem I have with your type of advocacy is that the public is made to believe that VC just doesn’t work – that riding is always dangerous without some special paint, or barrier, or hat, or sign.

Wait! Scratch that! It should be paint AND barrier AND hat AND sign. So we take a city that already has thousands and thousands of riders, and we say “It’s not good enough. On these slow, narrow park blocks, we’ll build BARRIERS or other crazy inventions to confuse people and create surprise conflicts so it LOOKS safe to novices.”

And we get the flip side – the woman who told me she’d love to bike, but she can’t ride a bike in her quiet residential neighborhood because there are no bike lanes!

JM: “I believe in riding VC when possible. I believe in creating streets everyone can feel safe riding in.”

Forget the “everyone.” Be reasonable. You can completely re-design America and still find people too timid to ride. You’ll never get “everyone.”

You want people to feel safe? Then stop telling people it’s not safe to ride on regular streets. Stop saying we need paint and barriers and special clothes and our own traffic lights to be safe. Start showing them that bicycling IS safe.

“It’s too bad this VC/facilities thing has turned into such a pissing match.”

I agree. It’s too bad a couple prominent VCers are rude and obnoxious and in-your-face. But it’s also too bad that facility advocates ignore any science of traffic moves.

Door zone bike lanes and “facilities” that put me to the right of a right turning car or truck can kill me. Pardon me for not being excited by that.