Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Vehicularists" and "facilitators"

Slate recently published the article "Stop Means Stop: How do we get bikers to obey traffic laws?." It goes beyond the usual take on cyclists, that we are all scofflaws, and touches on many of the controversial topics in cycling today, including the Idaho Stop law, and vehicular cycling vs. segregated facilities:
Today's cycling activists generally split into two groups: "vehicularists" and "facilitators." Proponents of "vehicular cycling" believe bikes should act as cars: occupy full lanes, stop at red lights, use a hand signal at least 100 feet ahead of a turn. That's the best way to make cars—and policymakers—aware of bicycles and to respect them as equals on the road. When it comes to making roads safe for bikes, vehicularists tend to favor training, education (most cities offer bike safety classes), and enforcement. Cyclists should not grouse about moving violations, the vehicularists argue. It is a sign that they're being treated as equals.

Facilitators, meanwhile, say we should change the laws and the environment to recognize the innate differences between bikes and cars. That means special facilities like bike lanes, bike paths (elevated trails separate from the road), and even Copenhagen-style traffic lights for bikes. It would also mean changing car-centric laws that don't make sense for bikes, like the rule that says you need to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.
Both sides have good points. The challenge the "facilitators" have is redesigning and implementing a whole new infrastructure at great cost. Many of our trails and bike lanes do not connect. We already have connected road system; the real challenge is how do we make our roads more bike-friendly. By narrowing lanes and creating wider outside lanes we can use the existing pavement more effectively at little cost.

Bike lanes and shared use paths can be effective if properly designed and implemented. They will continue to grow in popularity, but in the meantime we need to make our roads into complete streets, that can be safely used by everyone.

To read more about the bike lane controversy raised in the Slate article, see the Examiner article "Do League of American Bicyclists instructors have a role in advocacy?"

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