All ages?

Bicycle industry lobbyists and populist cycling advocates are marketing an “all ages” vision of cycling to the American public. Consider this photo, which appeared in a Streetsblog post promoting “equity”.

Prospect Park West with child on tricycle

Prospect Park West bikeway. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov, appears here under fair use rights.

The facility shown is a two-way sidepath alongside Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, New York.

Does “equity” consist of adult bicyclists’ having to take care and slow way down for children on small bicycles with training wheels? We love our children, but on the other hand, the path was not crowded in the photos, and so it doesn’t draw attention to that problem. This is a two-way path, too narrow for safe overtaking in both directions at once.

It could be asked whether it’s fair to ask motorists to slow down because bicyclists are using streets…but then bicyclists using the street may have chosen it to avoid a path crowded with little children, or otherwise not safe at the speed they travel, indirect, doesn’t go where they want to go — not suitable. The right of bicyclists to use the streets is fairly well established in the USA, though with some disturbing limitations, and is of of crucial importance in a this very large country which, unlike the Netherlands, is not table flat over much of its extent, with raised flood barriers between farmers’ fields, ideal for siting pathways.

Here’s another example, from a presentation by Cambridge, Massachusetts bicycle coordinator Cara Seiderman:

Design users, from Cara Seiderman's February, 2009 presentation on cycle tracks

Design users, from Cara Seiderman’s February, 2009 presentation on cycle tracks

Seiderman’s PowerPoint slide conflates several issues. Little children are unpredictable and unsafe, whether on streets or on paths. The elderly woman is likely to be predictable and cautious — she isn’t going to dart out as another cyclist is overtaking. But nobody is wearing a helmet. One of the little girls has a front basket that looks as though it is about to fall off. The elderly lady is wearing black ninja clothing, riding a black bicycle with a black basket.

What does cycling look like when children set the pace? Here is a video showing a school run in a new housing development in Assen, in the Netherlands:

and an older video of the same run:

I suspect that in Dutch cities, as in big cities anywhere, parents are concerned about allowing their children to travel independently. There are other hazards besides traffic hazards: fixed-object hazards, crime, just getting lost. I don’t see children riding on the Amsterdam streets in Andy Cline’s video, linked from his blog here.

The cycling I see in the Assen videos, shot in a new housing development, is similar to how casual and child cyclists ride on crowded shared-use paths in the USA. Small children, and the frequent risk of collision, set the pace at times. The cycling shown is faster than walking but provides not only less exercise per mile, also less exercise per minute!

It would be nice if suburbs in the USA were designed from the ground up so bicyclists and pedestrians had pleasant, direct routes, and children could get around without traveling on busy streets. Some suburbs are: but in most cases we have to build on what we have. I’ve discussed this issue before and made what I think are some practical suggestions.

22 responses to “All ages?

  1. Charlie Denison

    “Does “equity” consist of adult bicyclists’ having to take care and slow way down for children on small bicycles with training wheels?”

    I would say yes, sometimes it does. Just like if one is walking down a sidewalk and a child is walking with a parent in front of us, we have to slow down and walk around them when there is room to do so. If anything, it’s a good reason to ensure that cycle tracks are sufficiently wide to serve the variety of people using them. For the two-way cycle track above, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a cyclist to cross the center line to pass a child or other cyclist, just as one does on a multi-use path in the Boston area. It might delay us a few seconds, but that’s okay.

  2. There is no expectation of an 8 to 80 competency range on any public road. One expects that users have minimal competency to operate on the public space. I don’t think there should be a lower standard on bicycling facilities meant to be used by adults. This argument conflates sidewalks, which have pretty much zero assumptions on competence, with cycling facilities. That is a dangerous road to go down.

  3. I think there is a longstanding problem in our society where a person who is in a hurry and is impeded by a person in less of a hurry thinks the other person is the problem. If you are in a hurry and someone is in your way, YOU have a problem and it has nothing to do with the other person. Why are you in such a hurry anyways? This applies to motorists and cyclists, or whoever happens to be the fastest mode.

    While we currently have an assumption of competence and expediency for road users, it has not always been so. Before motordom, streets were used for a variety of non-transportation purposes, like market stalls, playing games, public gatherings, etc. The conversion of these free public spaces into high-efficiency people-pipes is a great loss in my mind. If speeds are dramatically lowered, then once again we could have “mixed use” streets along with “mixed use” zoning.

  4. I presume a modicum of competence, not speed. If I have to slow down a tad to wait to overtake, that is fine, whether I’m in the car or on the bicycle or motorcycle. I do expect road or path users to have some basic situational awareness and ability to ride in harmony with others.

    I’m constantly hearing about the good old days when streets were for sitting down and having a picnic (slight exaggeration). Lots of paradigms shift, including this one. We give up things and gain things, and never agree on the merits when one’s own ox is gored. I do think we need to calm and slow down neighborhood streets a lot, and have occasionally gone down the street armed for confrontation (with a pooper-scooper bag of fresh, fragrant dog poop) when walking my dogs and someone comes barreling down in their suburban assault vehicle.

  5. I clearly said in my post that low-speed connectivity is good. I have advocated it for decades. Modern civilization, however, could not exist without spaces in which safe travel at faster speeds is possible and rules of travel are established to prevent conflicts. We call these spaces collector and arterial streets, expressways, rail lines, ship channels and airspace.

    • Since you’ve advocated for decades about low-speed connectivity, you should recognize the paths of the area in the linked videos as being those designed primarily to provide low-speed connections (PDF). Those paths are generally virtually empty as kids don’t just tool around the neighborhood on their bikes all day long, so the types of conflicts present in the videos really only occur during the time when school begins/ends for the day. If someone feels that they simply cannot stand to ride at the pace of the children, then just avoid riding near the school when it’s likely to have a lot of children near it. Ditto for nursing homes/parks/shopping centers–in short, wherever/whenever it would be reasonable to expect an elevated number of riders at the extremes of the ‘8-80’ spectrum. Also, recognize that the sidewalk is a de facto extension of the path because of the angled curbs. This is by design allow riders to use the sidewalk to pass if necessary. It really isn’t that much of an issue since most people ride instead of walk to begin with. Finally, you’ll hardly find many training wheels cluttering the path since the children learn to ride pretty early in life. The videos show literally dozens of children who’d likely still be wobbling on training wheels here in the States deftly riding along.

  6. “…collector and arterial streets, expressways…”

    The problem is not the existence of these higher velocity, higher LOS streets. Its the lousy design that has permeated modern urban/suburban development, to wit, it is impossible to get anywhere without having to use these %$#@! facilities, and that seriously impedes cycling for all but the, dare I say, “strong and fearless”. I saw the stark contrast between new and old city in Calgary a decade ago and wrote it up for the Calgary Outdoor Circle. At the time I was just recovering from a serious back injury, and I was anything but “strong and fearless” and frankly, fled to the old city and Calgary’s then excellent pathway system.

    John has in some of his past posts described work-arounds for these new developments using public rights of way that connect the cul de sac developments to each other and to schools, playgrounds, etc. Maybe John can provide links to his past articles.

    Older cities built on a grid system, including Albuquerque, provide secondary roads that are quite useful as bicycle boulevards, even for young and old folks. We used such streets in our 4th Grade BikeEd program in Honolulu, managed and owned by the Hawaii Bicycling League.

    I will note here one serious flaw, from my perspective as former HBL President, on the 8-80 movement. We asserted at the time that the 4th grade was an appropriate cognitive age of development to teach kids roadway cycling. IIRC, that generally is about nine or ten years old. Not 8. I am not sure we should assert, without good support from childhood development science, that earlier is better. If there is such support, perhaps someone can link to it.

    • Actually I provided a link to my Web page about connecting suburban sprawl developments in the blog post, but here it is again. The photo on that page, which I shot out the window of an aircraft making its descent into Dulles airport, is the one for which I have had the most requests for republication.

    • I fully agree with Khal here and the above reply by John. Expressways (I will use the term to mean all high-throughput roadways) aren’t analogous to the previously-mixed-use streets, they are basically an new invention of the last century. It is very unfortunate that many cities are build almost exclusively with these expressways so that it is impossible to move without using them. Traditional VC wisdom tries to train people to cycle on these expressways that are designed to be high-efficiency people-and-goods tunnels.

      I’m not opposed to expressways, but when they exist, there needs to be a separate parallel facility for cycling when it’s in a populated area. If we had roads that were NOT expressways, then harkening back to the “good old days” when everyone could use them isn’t quite as ridiculous (or revisionist).

      Possibly the root of our disagreement would be that I would call a 50 km/hr street with 2 lanes in each direction an “expressway” while others might reserve the term for higher-speed or grade-separated roadways.

  7. Traditional VC wisdom teaches to ride in a vehicular fashion, etc, etc. I won’t elaborate here in the interest of time. I doubt a lot of VC aficianadoes (including me, and perhaps JSA if he counts himself among the pajama and BF Goodrich sandals set) would encourage folks to ride on fast arterials if there is an alternative that provides good connectivity. Problem is, often there is not, and a roadway cyclist is stuck with what is out there. That’s not a problem with the VC philosophy as much as it is with modern urban design.

    • What, pray tell, is the pajamas and BF Goodrich sandals set? Once I have a definition, I may be able to formulate a response to your comment.

      • VC= Vehicular Cyclist
        VC=Viet Cong

        Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues
        Words and Music by Tom Paxton


        “…We all lit up and by and by
        The whole platoon was flying high.
        With a beautiful smile on the captain’s face
        He smelled like midnight on St. Mark’s Place.
        Cleaning his weapon, chanting the Hare Krishna.

        The moment came as it comes to all,
        When I had to answer nature’s call.
        I was stumbling around in a beautiful haze
        When I met a little cat in black P.J.’s,
        Rifle, ammo-belt, B.F. Goodrich sandals.
        He looked up at me and said,
        “Whatsa’ matta wit-choo, baby?”

        He said, “We’re campin’ down the pass
        And smelled you people blowin’ grass,
        And since by the smell you’re smokin’ trash
        I brought you a taste of a special stash
        Straight from Uncle Ho’s victory garden.
        We call it Hanoi gold….”

  8. The ‘8-80’ crowd makes a mistake similar to that made by those who lump cyclists in with pedestrians. Cyclists are not pedestrians, even if pedestrian advocates think cyclists are part of the family. For ‘8-80’ we find daily transportation cyclists lumped together with a child riding around the block to the park with grandpa. While facilitating a way for those two to get to the park is a laudible goal, the emphasis on that goal is a detriment to the future of cycling as a transportation alternative. The advocates cannot see it that way. Nor can they see how it cuts the other way too. A local city program official recently showed off a favorite image while touting local ‘sucesses’, that of a very young child-under 5- riding on a ‘protected’ (with concrete curbs) cycle track. It looks cosy to the uninitiated, but I noted that the child is approaching the point where the right-turning motorist likely will turn across the child’s path, which occurrence I very much doubt the child is equipped to handle. The facility to me appears to require more skill and situational awareness to ride on safely than even sidewalk riding.

  9. I spend a fair amount of time in Italy. Bicycles are ubiquitous and roads and streets are completely shared experiences. While perhaps not fully legal, cyclists seem to share pedestrian zones in cities with gente a piede. In the commuting hours, one also sees many people dressed not unlike the lady in black…furs, suits, etc… Nobody seems to think this odd, and there don’t seem to be concerns about collisions, passing, age, etc… Having said these things, I don’t know their morbidity/mortality statistics, but it seems that the single biggest thing is that cyclists are regarded as expected. I will also note that a motorist who strikes a cyclist is in one heap of trouble even if the cyclist seemed to have been “at fault” by US standards.
    I’ve advocated elsewhere, the simplest and most direct – and possibly least costly – answer is to change our liability laws to reflect that in any collision, the larger (heaviest) of two collidants is automatically assumed to be at fault. No need for bike lanes or discussions of speed etc…

    • In the USA, we have an obstacle to changing our liability laws as you propose. It is the presumption of innocence in our system of criminal justice. Less draconian measures may be possible, for example, we do have no-fault liability insurance coverage in some states. The presumption that the motorist is always at fault amounts to a license for bicyclists to ride any way they may like, even if it flies in the face of safety and of the traffic law. Looking at Dutch examples, you’ll see that the presumption doesn’t extend that far. Dutch cyclists do look out for themselves, within the different expectations of their cycling culture. Note also that most small children in the videos are riding with parents, not by themselves. Even in the Netherlands, a motorist obeying the traffic law cannot be held at fault when a bicyclist darts out into the street and the motorist is unable to avoid the collision.

      If we are to expect people of all ages to ride bicycles everywhere, then we must expect some bicyclists who ride like children to show up everywhere, because some of them will be children. It is only possible for children to be safe then if others use extraordinary caution. There’s a tradeoff between safety and mobility of the population at large, and the age at which children are allowed to use transportation modes which pose increasing levels of risk to themselves and to others. Societies around the world have decided that this age is 16 or higher to obtain a license to operate a motor vehicle. The 8 to 80 slogan would have it be 8 to allow a child full freedom of travel on a bicycle. At that age, children traveling independently aren’t even safe on paths among other bicyclists.

  10. I watched both videos all through. I saw no crossing motor traffic, and, so far as I could recognize, no places at which motor traffic could cross. This makes lovely videos for foolish people, but I know of no way to get around town without having to cross the paths of motor traffic. Therefore, until I see what’s done where the real traffic problems are, I regard these videos as being no more than deleterious propaganda.

    • John: actually, in the newer video:

      0:35 — A car yields to bicycle traffic on the path. and the young woman in black turns her bicycle to the right into the roadway. The Google Street View (see below) shows that she will be crossing the street which parallels the path, to continue on another path.

      1:07 — a car crosses the path.

      1:19 — Cyclists turn right into a path which crosses a street. At 1:11 you can see a car crossing what appears to be a crosswalk where that path crosses the street. The Google Street View (see below) shows that there is a continuation of that path on the other side of the street.

      1:31 — Cyclists are headed for street on a path to the right and are slowing down, apparently for a car which appears a couple of seconds later. The Google Street View (see below) reveals that the path to the right ends at the street: there are only parking spots opposite.

      1:35 — That car turns left and without slowing, crosses the path on which some cyclists ahead of the one with the camera continue. The camera cyclist turns left before reaching that location.

      Shark-tooth yield markings and stop lines for the motorists are visible at the first two of these locations; they are probably also at the others, but not visible in the video.

      Looking around to find the location of the video, I found streets near schools in Assen used by both bicyclists and motorists, for example this one. I finally found the location by noting the street name Parenstraat on a street sign around 0:35 in the video. The video starts around here and you may move forward in the Google Street View to follow the route on parallel streets. The Street View reveals that there are numerous additional locations where motorists must cross the bikeway to park at their homes, generally with driveways consisting of dual wheel tracks with flat gray slabs between the street and the path.

      Also of note in the video is the large number of cars parked on the grass strip between the street and path in the first leg of the route. Evidently, car ownership outstripped the availability of designated parking spaces. Many of the cars are parked close enough to the path to produce door-zone and walk-out hazards. If riding on this path, I’d be concerned about these, and also about the crowded conditions for overtaking the many very slow cyclists, the erratic weaving of some children, the number of people standing around and potentially walking out into the path, and the bicycles parked so they would have to back out into the path.

    • The main point of that video is specifically to show how parents ride with their children and even transport themselves to school when provided with an option that doesn’t involve riding in the midst or next to heavy, fast-moving traffic, not show intersections. Of course, you’re right in that it is necessary for different users to meet at some point or another. But to that end, both David Hembrow and especially Mark Wagenbuur have produced so many videos on Dutch intersection treatments that it isn’t even funny. Intersections can also be seen in almost all their other videos even if they aren’t specifically ocusing on intersections. Also specifically germane to this particular development and basically all newer ones is that it was planned from the very beginning to minimize crossing points for main routes (those specific videos are the majority of the direct route from the suburb of the school run videos to the city center) and where they do exist, efforts are taken to keep ’em separated.

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