A million bucks to build it, another million to tear it out

Build it wrong, and you may have to spend as much money tearing it out as you did putting it in. This is not a new problem — it is the story of public housing developments of the 1950s, now being torn down; of a number of urban Interstate highways, and of recent road reconstruction as well — see the “money quote” at the end of a post I wrote earlier today, on another blog.

Some people are going to say this won’t happen with today’s cycletracks, but I predict that it will, for three fundamental reasons: most of them are poorly designed; robotic safety equipment in motor vehicles will make the only kind of crashes which they prevent, hit-from-behind crashes,  a non-issue within 30 years; and mode shares will change, in some ways which are predictable, others not, so the paradigm of cars vs. bikes will then be not only unfair, but also obsolete, like a black/white segregated school system in a community which has experienced a wave of Hispanic and East Asian immigrants. The ascendancy of electrically assisted bicycles, already underway, is a step in that particular direction. Motor motor scooters, cargo tricycles, pedicabs…just ain’t gonna fit.

Patricia Kovacs, of Columbus, Ohio, has diligently recovered documents about a cycletrack failure in that city in the 1980s, from the archive of the Lantern, the University of Ohio’s student newspaper,. She explains them as follows:

A cycletrack was built on High Street for 11 blocks along the east side (business side of the street) of Ohio State University. This was a 4′ bike lane at street level, with a 3′ service island on the left of the bike lane. One of the articles of the day called it an 11 block bowling alley.On the west side of the street (campus side), a yellow line was painted in the middle of the sidewalk to separate the pedestrians from the “bike path” (this side at sidewalk level).

The cycletracks were a failure. The 3′ service island did not prevent the cycletrack from being used as a loading zone. The cycletrack collected trash because the university, the city streets department and the city parks department pointed fingers at each other regarding who was responsible for maintenance. Nobody had a sweeper that would fit in the 4′ gutter. This area of campus has/had at least 3 bars on each block, and you can imagine the broken bottles on the weekends, especially during football season. The only good thing about this cycletrack is that it brought the local bike shops a lot of business patching flat tires.

The cycletrack on the west side was a hazard to pedestrians and cyclists. There might have been signage or pavement markings to indicate the “bike path”, but everyone ignored it. How is a pedestrian supposed to yield to a cyclist when crossing the street? This is one of the major issues I see with the new cycletrack designs.I was a graduate student when this cycletrack existed, and I recall riding in it once and then avoided it like the plague.The city spent $1M to build the cycletrack in 1980, and spent another $1M to remove the cycletrack in 1986. I’m surprised it lasted that long.

I have attached several articles from the Lantern, the OSU student newspaper, about these cycletracks. The articles include more details on the problems with the cycletracks for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and business owners. The article titled “Bike paths cause more harm than good”, has a photo of the gutter cycletrack. The article titled “Renovation nearly finished” shows a cyclist riding the wrong way in the gutter cycletrack (I guess he figured that was safer than negotiating the pedestrians on the other side). The article titled “Street renovation improves safety” cited a 29% decrease in crashes. Well, since they stubbed off 4 out of 11 streets, you would expect crashes to decrease by 36%. And who knows if the crashes included bike/ped crashes?

The articles: September 24, 1980: “Renovation nearly finished”

October 13, 1981: “City cannot clean up bike path”

October 27, 1981: “Street renovation improves safety”

July 9, 1982: “Bike paths cause more harm than good

January 27, 1986: “Bike path victim of bad planning”

November 28, 1986: “Building a New Look”

4 Responses to A million bucks to build it, another million to tear it out

  1. Reminds me of that old adage: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

  2. It is also the story of public stadia. Another sort of human-power oriented facility.

  3. I know what the cycletrack advocates will say, “Oh, but now we know how to design them well.” To me, a well-designed cycletrack is an oxymoron.

  4. Rochester, NY is spending good money to rip out the Inner Loop, an expressway designed in the mid-20th Century for traffic patterns that never materialized. I suspect there are plenty of these stories. Honolulu, HI, is going ahead with its rail system in spite of objections that such a structure does not have the flexibility to change with the times and paradigm-shifts. In Honolulu’s case, a linear people mover along the south shore makes a lot of sense. Connecting it with residential valley communities is another story, as far as people using it.

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