Should Bikelash be Over?: NMA E-Newsletter #675

Even before the pandemic, bike lanes were springing up all over the country in cities large and small. Most motorists weren’t happy, mainly because fewer travel lanes typically translated into longer trips through congested traffic. During the pandemic, the rate of cities building bike lanes and banning cars on streets rose dramatically. The anti-car crowd used every trick in the advocacy playbook to make this happen.

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail recently posted an opinion piece entitled: Is the War against Bike Lanes Finally Over? The writer proclaims:

“Bike lanes, in Vancouver and across Canada, have grown from political flashpoints—and ideological signifiers—to standard-issue civic infrastructure. They’re being built everywhere.”

The article pointed out that the critical element is that many bike lanes in Canada are protected and not just white lines drawn at the side of the street. The paper’s editorial board even used the term ‘induced demand’—build it, and they will ride it. A cited Boston study used “causal inference,” i.e., an educated guess, to suggest that protected bike lanes increase bike traffic by 80 percent.

The problem with protected bike lanes is that cities generally put them on arterial roads, taking out parking and narrowing the driving lanes. Gridlock generally ensues for drivers who can no longer drive the speed limit. As evidenced along Venice Blvd. in Los Angeles, those protected bike lanes are inconsistent from block-to-block. Intersections are a complete mess. Compounding the confusion, bicyclists emboldened by Vision Zero often use an Idaho stop—stop signs mean yield, and stoplights are stop signs—which drivers and pedestrians don’t always anticipate.

Narrowed lanes are more difficult for first responders to move through during an emergency. If there are protected bike lanes at the side, drivers have nowhere to pull over to let police, ambulances, and fire trucks through. Not only that, when protected bike lanes are built in areas susceptible to forest fires, they can become death traps, as happened to 85 people trying to flee Paradise, CA, during the Camp Fire in 2018.

The anti-car media loves to tout their goal of eliminating private car ownership as we know it. Groups are becoming more emboldened than ever before. In early November 2021, for example, the Los Angeles-based Streets for All announced its 25×25 Challenge. The group wants city leaders to endorse giving 25 percent of street space back to the people by 2025. If implemented, this program would expand bus and bike lanes, pedestrian spaces, green space, outdoor dining areas, plazas, and what some folks call ‘slow streets.’ Los Angeles has 55,360 acres of streets with 61,358 intersections. However, most residents still drive to work, and one of the most congested cities in the world will likely become even more so.

NYC Streets for All has a similar 25×25 campaign. New York City just elected Eric Adams, already being touted as ‘the bike mayor.’ He might be the kind of elected official to push the 25×25 project through.

UK’s The Guardian newspaper recently posted a piece about the bikelash paradox. Even though bike lanes are opposed by many, public officials who endorse them win votes. This is especially true in many European cities, Australia, and Canada.

In America, mayors can also get elected on the promise of adding bike lanes. During his campaign, the aforementioned Eric Adams promised to build 300 miles of new bike lanes in the city that never sleeps.

Motor City Mayor Mike Duggan easily won reelection in November. In 2018, he released his four-year, 82-step plan that focused on Detroit’s traffic flow, transit options, protected bike lanes, speed bumps, and even lowered the speed limits. He recently saw the most extensive one-year buildout of protected bike lanes in the US.

As protected bike lane infrastructure is built, resistance to using the 85th percentile rule to determine proper speed limits is often a byproduct. Motorists get hit with a double whammy, dealing with longer trip times caused by increased traffic congestion while watching lightly used bike lanes absorb their tax dollars.

So, the emphatic answer to our own question of whether bikelash, the organized opposition to the building of bike lanes at the expense of drivers and driving, should be over is NO!

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!