An article this week in USA Today outlines a growing movement around the country toward integrating bicycles into traffic patterns in a substantive way. The idea, the newspaper says, is to reduce bicycle accidents and create” safer roadways for non-motorists.”
“More and more cities across the nation, including 712 jurisdictions across 32 states, have been moving toward implementing “Complete Streets” policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. These policies are meant to make streets more accessible for commuters of all types, as opposed to simply motorists,” the newspaper reports.
In practice, what this often means is the construction of protected bike lanes. USA Today notes that in Seattle alone almost 1000 on-street parking spaces have been eliminated in favor of bike lanes over the last four years. A bike lane separated from traffic by a median is obviously far, far safer than simply painting a bike lane line down the side of an existing road. As with most public policy decisions, however, this one involves trade-offs, and as USA Today writes the move toward better, safer bike lanes often leads “to a heated fight for curb space, as parking spaces are taken out in favor of bike lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian walkways, and even parklets, small parks built by extending existing sidewalks into neighboring parking spaces.”
It is not surprising that support for bike lanes drops among motorists when the construction of those lanes involves reducing or ending on-street parking in some areas. As a Portland bike accident attorney, however, I hope that drivers around the country can take a big-picture approach to this issue. We all agree that on-street parking is hugely convenient. That, however, needs to be balanced against the health and safety benefits that come with protected bike lanes (not to mention the fact that the better bike infrastructure is the more likely it is to take cars off the street – thereby improving the driving experience for people who remain in their cars).
The USA Today article documents objections to the extension of bike lanes in famously bike-friendly cities like Seattle, St. Paul and Princeton. This is proof, perhaps, that even in places known for an environmentally friendly and health-conscious approach to commuting it is possible for drivers to feel they have been pushed too far. That, however, would be the wrong way to look at the issue. To achieve significant healthy outcomes our cities will have to make many moves to accommodate vehicles other than cars. It is not too much to say it will often involve rethinking a century or more of urban planning. Implementing these changes will be a sign that we as a society are beginning to think long-term. That, in turn, will ultimately be good for everyone using our streets and sidewalks – motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike.