Brakes needed in bike-path push

Excerpted from Robert Whitcomb's"Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.

Alex Marshall, writing recently in, raised some cautionary notes about the bike-path mania in some cities.

The biggest one is whether it’s worth it to eat up a lane of car traffic to assign the space to bicyclists.  Have cities adequately forecast the number of people who are likely to use bikes and maybe even give up their cars? We see a lot of dedicated bike lanes with very few bicyclists.  Perhaps in a city with a lot of college students, such as Providence, adense and carefully planned network of bike lanes can make sense. But what would be the tradeoff against what might be heavier motor-vehicle traffic congestion created by removing lanes?

And safety would call for many bike lanes to have physical barriers separating them from car and truck traffic rather than just lines. Many of these lanes now are too dangerous, especially compared to Europe’s.

I learned in Europe, where I used to work, and rode a bike a few times in the Netherlands, that compared with the U.S., car and truck drivers there bear much more legal responsibility in crashes with bikes than do bicyclists. That’s simply because the former are driving fast, multi-ton machines. “It’s a standard sometimes known as ‘default liability,’’’ Mr. Marshall says. We need that in America. (I wonder how the coming of self-driving cars might affect all this.)

U.S. jurisdictions should look at their traffic laws and make adjustments.

Perhaps after a few years of adding bike paths, communities might very rationally decide to turn some of them back to cars, trucks, buses and install light rail. My own preference is for cities and states to focus on mass transit, not bike lanes. But, of course, they’re both admirable.

-- Robert Whitcomb