Home / General / A Robert Moses for Bicycles?

A Robert Moses for Bicycles?


An interesting argument that we need Robert Moses and Le Corbusier-type architects to remake our cities to become bicycle friendly:

If Henry Ford were reincarnated as a bike maker, Le Corbusier as an architect of buildings and cities for bikes, and Robert Moses as their bike-loving ally in government, today’s bike plans would be far more ambitious in scope. Ford would be aiming to sell billions of bikes, Corb would be wanting to save the whole world, and, even if it took him a lifetime, Moses would be aiming to leave a permanent mark.

They would want to give bicycle transport a leg-up, like the leg-up the motorcar received from farmlands being opened for suburban development. So who are our modern-day, bicycle-loving Le Corbusiers? And what, exactly, is their task?

In any era, the preoccupations architects share with planners stem from whatever mode of transportation is on everyone’s minds. The Cooper Union Professor of Architecture, Anthony Vidler, describes the first half of the twentieth-century as a period when architecture derived its authority from machines; if we read Le Corbusier, we see ships and airplanes, but most often cars.

Designers were fascinated by cars for at least forty years, beginning with Le Corbusier’s 1925 plan to rebuild much of Paris, with towers in a park and sunken freeways. Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Buckminster Fuller and others designed car-centric buildings, and even some cars themselves, at a time when mass car ownership, freeways and sprawl, were still only fantasies.

Designers are at a similar juncture with their thinking about cycling today. Today it is mass bicycle transport that is a fantasy, but that doesn’t stop architects – including Ron Arad, West-8, Carlo Ratti, Bill Dunster, NL Architects, Atelier BowWow and Bjarke Ingels – from designing bike-centric buildings, and even some bikes.

I don’t necessarily have a dog in this hunt since I don’t bike as much as I should, but I think it’s an interesting argument, particularly given what I consider to be the overreaction against big central planning throughout society.

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  • joshua buhs


    • Informant


  • Randy Paul

    Amsterdam is a great example of an older city that adapted well to bicycles.

    • GoDeep


      In their case I don’t know that there was much to adapt to. As such an old city–narrow street, population dense, etc–bicycles have a ‘comparative advantage’ to cars. The racks & stacks of bikes there is breathtaking; adds a charm all its own.

    • runasone

      Wouldn’t older cities actually be able to adapt a little easier though? A city built for pedestrians and carriages, and then adapted to handle car traffic, would seem to be easier to make bike-friendly than a city built around the automobile.

  • This is sort of OT, but last weekend I was talking to some guys from downstate about certain neighborhoods in NYC, and they were adamant that Moses had basically cut off parts of the city – coincidentally the ones that had major African-American and Hispanic populations – from the nice beaches and parks that he created otherwise. The specific example they used was Red Hook, and how it’s basically disconnected from the rest of the city such that it’s almost impossible to get in or out of there via car without the highway.

    I wouldn’t know, just so we’re clear, since I’ve been to NYC about twice in my life; this was what I gleaned from their discussion. At one point one guy straight-up said Moses “didn’t like black people” and then whispered something like “racist motherfucker” into his breakfast, so I figured that was as direct a comment as I would get.

    Can anyone confirm or deny any of this? I had no idea what Moses was like as a person and probably still don’t, and I haven’t read much if at all on him.

    • McKingford

      There is certainly a lot of evidence to suggest that Moses was a racist, but no smoking gun. The more important point is that you don’t *want* a Robert Moses, because his vision of city-building was ultimately inimical to urban living.

    • snarkout

      “The Power Broker”, Caro’s magisterial biography of Moses, lays out the claim pretty clearly that Moses didn’t like black people and didn’t want them in his parks. (Some of the specifics, like the claim that the height of the bridges on the way to the public beaches of Long Island were set so that busses from New York couldn’t bring people in, are apparently not true, but I think it’s hard to argue with the overall thrust of the argument.)

      • hylen

        A great book. Highly recommended.

      • Breadbaker

        He also set the water temperature at city pools he didn’t want blacks at at a temperature he believed they didn’t like.

        • Oh FFS. We have an anti-Semite and a racist. Did Le Courbusier like to place punt puppies?

      • mark f

        It also has passages in which great new parks are built all over the city, but not in the black neighborhoods.

        • CP Norris

          To say “the highways were built to cut black people off from the parks” is sort of conflating two different things. Highways cut black neighborhoods off from everything. There were also lots of parks built in ways that excluded black people.

    • Anonymous

      One example may be the fact that public transit service to the city’s most diverse borough Queens is shockingly bad: coworkers who lived in Queens & commuted to Brooklyn literally had no choice but to DRIVE (& park – my god the hassle & expense). Keep in mind: these are the 2 most populous parts of the city BY FAR (~2.5M each). Service to the less tony parts of Brooklyn is similarly bad. Contrast this with the century-long crusade to build the 2nd Avenue subway so Manhattan (which has only 1M people and is 1 mile wide total) can have TWO subway lines serving its east side (thereby saving some of the city’s wealthiest a 1500-foot walk). Don’t know how much of it Moses was responsible for, but he surely earns some blame.

      • JustinV

        The Queens situation is pretty dire once one gets very far into the borough, but i think there’s a certain amount of cart before the horse here. The tony parts of Brooklyn are tony largely because they have good transit (same with the hipper parts of Queens like Astoria and Long Island City (and to a lesser extent Jackson Heights) which makes it easier to for young professionals to commute into Manhattan. They didn’t get transit because they were tony. Many of the more suburban seeming parts of Queens and Brooklyn were, in Moses’s time, white neighborhoods – they were left out of the transit network in order to preserve their whiteness, so minorities couldn’t get there. It’s changed now, so that transit is desirable – and Queens is served by dozens of pretty good bus lines. The 2nd Ave Subway will be of benefit to, among others, a tremendous number of people in Chinatown and Spanish Harlem, and the far East Side who might use a subway on 2nd Ave, rather than the 4, 5, 6 that is already on Lexington and thus closer to the rich people. Anyone who has ever rode the 4 or 5 between Brooklyn and the Bronx will know that it isn’t primarily serving wealthy whites (wealthy UES whites wouldn’t necessarily take the subway anyway) and is overcrowded. The 2nd Ave Subway has been in the works for decades and has been delayed all that time partly because it was never a priority for the city’s wealthy (NIMBYism brought down the elevated that served that area in the ’40s and ’50s) and would be or service to PoC and the working class.

        • LeeEsq

          Its also important to note that by the time they started building subways into the drive to build mass transit systems in America largely stopped and policy was starting to favor cars. LaGuardia started the IND mainly to provide Queens with subways. The original plan was to cover all of Queens but they didn’t have the money.

        • philadlephialawyer

          Yeah, there is no either/or situation here. We need the Second Avenue Subway, and more subways, and/or subway extensions, in Queens too. The Second Avenue line would be more about serving the communities mentioned in the above post, not the wealth, and the walk saved would be well over 1500 feet along most of the route. Also, the Four, Five and Six routes are just too damn crowded. There are two lines on the West Side, and there ought to be two on the East Side too.

          And there is one subway that connects Queens and Brooklyn directly, without ever going through Manhattan, the “G” line. Also, the M, J,Z and A lines start in Queens and go through Brooklyn before reaching Manhattan.

          I also question the part about bad subway service in Brooklyn. Brooklyn has an incredible amount of lines and stations. Very few areas of Brooklyn are far from a subway, and plenty of less “toney” areas have more than adequate service.

          Unlike Robert Moses’ projects, the subways were not really built to keep Black people “in their place.” They were built to connect workers with jobs, and to spur development in the far outer boroughs.

          • Hob

            “Very few areas of Brooklyn are far from a subway” – sort of, but that doesn’t mean the subway will take you where you want to go. The lines in Brooklyn and Queens are mostly laid out like a commuter system for people to travel between Manhattan (or the downtown areas of those boroughs) and various points further out, not to get around within the boroughs.

            Holding up the M, J, Z, and A lines as examples of transit between the outer boroughs is quite a stretch. First, three of those are basically the same line, except for 7 stops that are only served by the M. Second, it’s technically true that they start in Queens and go through Brooklyn, but you’re talking about quite distant areas of Queens. No one thinks of those as ways to get between Brooklyn and Queens. There’s really just the G, and it’s a very slow, roundabout route.

            • philadelphialawyer

              Most subways in general are laid out to get people to and from work. Really, most of them are laid out to get people to midtown and lower Manhattan, and back. So, singling out Brooklyn for the lack of “connector” subways makes no sense. The Bronx and Queens are no different. Except, if anything, the subway net is so extensive in Brooklyn that one can actually use it, with a little ingenuity, and with buses, to travel within Brooklyn too, more so than in Queens and the Bronx.

              As for the lines between Brooklyn and Queens, well, the A and M are separate from the J/Z for many stops. And the J/Z starts in Jamaica, a major transportation hub (LIRR, JFK tramway). And the A stops at JFK also. So, while I’m not sure about what people “think” of them, the fact is these lines do connect Brooklyn with Queens, and with important, if “distant” parts of Queens. Then too, of course, the G connects the less “distant” parts of Queens with Brooklyn. Odd too that you should criticize the G for being “roundabout” at the same time you claim that major areas are left unserved. If the G was straighter, it would just mean that many more areas did not have direct, Brooklyn/Queens service.

              • Hob

                You really think that it’s “odd” for me to “criticize the G”— or that I was suggesting replacing it with a single, less meandering route, and ending serving to its current stops? Really?? The G is a perfectly nice train, I’m not criticizing it personally, but it’s really unfortunate that it is the only way to get between non-distant Queens and Brooklyn. If you don’t think it is a ridiculously slow way to do so, you’ve never had to take it on a daily basis.

                None of what you’re saying is particularly relevant to the posts you’re responding to. It’s inarguably true that the transit system is pretty bad for anyone who needs to get from most parts of Queens to Brooklyn or vice versa; you can point to Jamaica all you want, but that’s clearly not what Anonymous was talking about. And for heaven’s sake, I wasn’t “singling out Brooklyn for the lack of ‘connector’ subways” as compared to Queens and the Bronx; I was agreeing with Anonymous and LeeEsq that the outer boroughs in general don’t have great all-around service, and then I responded to you singling out Brooklyn, my point being that just having a lot of stations does not necessarily make for great all-around service.

                • Hob

                  Sorry, in my first paragraph “ending serving” was supposed to be “ending service.” And I left out the clarification that I did not mean there should be a faster route instead of service to the current G stops, but in addition to them… but honestly, that should go without saying. You are really stretching to make it sound like no one who’s unhappy with the current subway plan could possibly have a point.

    • jon

      Much of the logic and legislation for the location of highways and infrastructure required(s) the purchase or taking of the lowest valued properties – in part as a means of lessening public expenditures. So, it can be defended as good, fiscally responsible public policy.

      Highway locations are also simplified by building them as straight and level as possible, and otherwise minimizing construction costs and difficulty. In many places, this means selecting routes close to rivers and waterfronts. Places that tend to be floodplains. Poor people are more likely to live in lowland areas. It is to be expected that road construction is more likely to impact poorer people and more vulnerable populations. It is also obvious that more affluent and politically engaged populations are likely to be more successful in thwarting efforts to built highways where they live.

      Urban Renewal projects’ purpose is to improve areas of squalor and poverty. This intentionally targets poor, immigrant and ethnic areas. There is a process which justifies the public taking of property by eminent domain, in which buildings and land are declared to be ‘decadent’, which necessitates the seizures. While the impulse behind urban renewal was often genuine and noble, so many of the actual projects did as much or more harm than they were trying to alieve.

      • Lee Rudolph

        As the covert slogan of the day went, “Urban Renewal means Negro Removal”.

        • LeeEsq

          Many of the most infamous urban renewal projects were in areas dominated by working class whites though. This is especially true for the early ones. Moses’ infamous destruction of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx was in a Jewish neighborhood, it was basically the center of Sephardic Jewish life in NYC at the time.

          • Lee Rudolph

            Right. I should have specified that “the day” of that slogan was the mid-to-late 1960s.

            But, you know, my impression is that (then…) the Sephardim were basically the Negroes of the Jewish diaspora, anyway: among the “not our kind, dear” crowd, they were very much “not our kind”. (This impression is of course open to correction from them as know better.)

            • JL

              Being mixed Ashkenazi/Sephardi/Gentile, that’s somewhat my impression now. Among the people who know what Sephardim and Mizrahim are, anyway.

              I mean, a lot of Sephardim are 1) a Hispanic culture that is 2) to a large degree from the Middle East (a lot of Sephardim are from Turkey, Syria, North Africa), neither of which exactly make you the epitome of whiteness.

              • LeeEsq

                I don’t know. Its really hard to tell an Arab from Syria/Lebanon/Israel, Greek, Turk, or southern Italian apart for the most part if you only have looks to go by. Most of them have a generic Mediterranean appearance.

            • LeeEsq

              The Grand Concourse had a lot of Ashkenazim today, they were the majority. As far as the Sephardim being the blacks of the Jewish Diaspora, its complicated; especially since Sephardim get mixed up with Mizrachi a lot.

              Sephardim of actual Iberian descent traditionally viewed themselves as the Jewish elite. Being of pure Sephardic descent was the closest to hereditary nobility in traditional Jewish society. When I vacationed in Costa Rica a couple of years ago, I ran into an Israeli family where the wife was very proud that her husband, surname Pinto, was pure Sephardic. The Sephardim of the Grand Concourse were pure Sephardim and probably saw themselves above their Eastern European Jewish neighbors. Their Ashkenazi neighbors were probably only vaguely aware of this.

              In modern Jewish society, Sephardic is often used a synonym for Mizrachi, meaning east in Hebrew. The Mizrachi are the Middle Eastern Jews and very roughly hold the place that Hispanics do in America during the early days of Israel. They were heavily involved with politics from day one, especially the Yemeni community. There has been a lot of marriage between the Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Mizrachi Jews so most younger Israelis are a bit of this and that.

              • LeeEsq

                I should also add that to their non-Jewish neighbors in NYC, Jews were Jews and the distinctions made between the different communities were lost on them.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  Wikipedia sez “Moses was born to assimilated German Jewish parents in New Haven, Connecticut.” So he presumably knew to whom he was doing what.

                • LeeEsq

                  The Central European Jews in America had a very difficult relationship with the Eastern European Jewish immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th century. A lot of this was out of fear of non-Jewish reaction to the very unassimilated Ostjuden.

              • Lee Rudolph

                In modern Jewish society, Sephardic is often used a synonym for Mizrachi, meaning east in Hebrew.

                Something I did not know. Thanks for the information.

                The Mizrachi are the Middle Eastern Jews and very roughly hold the place that Hispanics do in America during the early days of Israel.

                Interestingly, the only person I know (of) surnamed “Mizrachi” was Mexican.

    • Bruce Vail

      Having read Caro’s book several times and having lived briefly a stones throw from where the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway divides Red Hook from the rest of Brooklyn, I say your friends are largely correct, if guilty of some exaggeration.

      Red Hook is in not isolated from the rest of the city by the BQE as much as by being bypassed by the subway system. And many Brooklyn neighborhoods then (and now) are racially segregated in a way not created by Moses (but perhaps reinforced by him). Moses did no favors for Red Hook, but he did not create its isolation or race problems.

    • Informant

      I thought it was a known fact that Moses was a racist? I’m more surprised to learn that there’s apparently doubt about the subject. Everything I’ve read about Moses for the last 25 years or so has been pretty explicit about it.

  • McKingford

    I don’t think this is the right way to look at it. After all, Moses and Le Corbusier were ultimately very wrong, and I can’t imagine the state of Western cities if their dreams had reached full fruition.

    The beauty of cycling, and cycling infrastructure, is that it does not require grandeur. Cyclists generally aren’t asking for the moon, but basic and functional infrastructure along the lines of Complete Streets. It isn’t architectural vision that is holding back the kind of investment in cycling infrastructure that we need, but political will – the car lobby is a powerful one. Here in Toronto, any proposed bike lane is met with stiff political resistance invoking the language of “the war on car”.

    I imagine the author is contemplating something like this. But the Netherlands has wonderful biking infrastructure that is otherwise not grand in scale; there’s just a lot of it, because there’s a political commitment to treating cyclists as equals, and which recognizes the benefits of bikes. In short, the floating cycling bridge is the exclamation mark, but the sentence has long since been composed.

    • Hanspeter

      from the link:

      “A Floating Suspension Bridge” o_O

    • philadlephialawyer

      Yeah, the notion that Corbusier, much less Moses, should be the model is more of a frightening than hopeful

      And part of the benefit of biking is that no grant infrastructural projects are needed for it. Bike lanes are narrower than car lanes. As mentioned, bikes just fit in naturally on narrow, medieval streets and alleys.

      Notice too, that in that photo, which is where what we in the USA would call an interstate highway crosses a major street, there are only two cyclists but over twenty five motor vehicles. The roundabout is in Eindhoven, and, as you can see, there is more of a sense of suburban, US style sprawl there than in Amsterdam.

      Which goes to show that this expensive piece of street furniture is necessitated not so much by cyclists, but by the car oriented infrastructure which cyclists have to cross in that environment, if there is to be a bike route at all. In my view, the “solution” is not so much building roundabouts like this one as it the “Complete Streets” mentioned above. Development that, from the start, takes into account peds, bikers, and motor vehicles is much better than having to build, after the fact, fancy suspension bridges for the odd cyclist bold enough to make his way through an unfriendly, car based environment.

      • Richard

        Seconded. I can’t imagine an idea worse than having a Corbusier/Moses type try to transform a city into his image of what the city should be (despite what the residents might want it to be). At one time, after his “successes” in NYC, Moses was enlisted in a drive to tear down the New Orleans riverside and construct an elevated freeway on the south side of the French Quarter fronting the river and along Decatur Street. In other words, destroy what is unique to New Orleans.

  • Lige

    I don’t think the existence of those sorts of people are even possible. Bicycles have been around for over a hundred years and have not had nearly the same transformative effect as automobiles. Not to mention that all the people mentioned did their stuff before all of the ills of automobile culture had really manifested. On the other hand have you been to Portland lately?

    • DocAmazing


      Bicyles have had a tremendously transformative effect. There’s quite a bit of literature on the role of bikes in early US feminism; bikes also improved transportation for people who could not afford horses. The first large highway project in Southern California was a bikeway.

      • Global effect as well, not at all captured by the US experience.

      • djw

        One of the approximately 17 Wright Brothers themed museum/historical sites in Dayton is at the original location of their bike/print shop in West Dayton. It’s easily the best one, in part because there’s a fantastic collection of hysterical anti-bicycle propaganda centered on the terrifying and civilization-threatening spectre of bicycle aided freedom of movement for women.

    • MH

      This could not be more wrong.

      Even leaving aside the (significant) link to early feminism, there have been any number of industrial and social changes directly linked to the rise in cycling.

      The rise in cycling was what led to the drive to create safe asphalt roads throughout large parts of the country, including the creation of what later became the Federal Highway Administration, without which cars would not have been able to take off as a useful thing in the first place.

      And large parts of the technology invented and perfected in the bicycle ended up spreading out broadly, such as inner tubes in tires, and ball bearings, or creating the infrastructure and skilled workers involved in manufacturing things like sprockets and washers. Without that manufacturing early automobiles or other machines would have prohibitively expensive and tricky on any large scale.

  • sparks

    As much as I loathe a certain class of bicyclist (all the Little Lances and Mr. Hipster Fixies who can’t seem to realize that an intersection with a stop sign means they should stop to let waiting traffic cross), I am also a cyclist and I see a lot of things that need to be done to not only city infrastructure but also to bicycles to make them more practical for daily use. I don’t think I want a Robert Moses type of city designer because one solution will not work in all parts of the country. Different locations could require radically different solutions to making biking available to most. Some basic guidelines about density, business siting, and road grading I’d accept, anything more rigid I might rebel against.

    • JMP

      Or that they’re supposed to stay the fuck off the sidewalks, and that red lights actually apply to them to. But most cyclists seem to be actively trying to run down and kill or maim pedestrians.

      • The sidewalk rule varies by state, but I have had things to say to jackasses who seem to think I’m a mirage or something. And for some reason, bells, horns or even shouting “On your left” have become uncool.

        However, police will ticket bicyclists who use the streets but don’t follow traffic rules. Which is a hilarious thing to see.

        • Hanspeter

          In New York, the police are known to park in bike lanes and then use the opportunity to ticket cyclists for going into the car lane to get around them.

        • GoDeep


          Some cyclists really act like they have a death wish–for either themselves or for others. In Chicago the only ppl who drive worse than cabbies are cyclists.

        • philadlephialawyer

          Don’t get what’s “hilarious” about it.

          Bikes are supposed to use the street, not the sidewalk in NYC (except young children) and are supposed to stop at red lights and so on. When they don’t, they should be ticketed.

          Bikes are great, but with the new emphasis on biking, especially in midtown and lower Manhattan, there have been a lot of incidents of folks, tourists, mainly, who perhaps don’t know the law, biking right on the sidewalk, which is totally unsafe for pedestrians. New York City sidewalks are crowded, and often not as wide as they should be. While I realize that facing NYC motor vehicle traffic on a bike is probably nobody’s idea of a good time, still, the law is the law, and, more importantly, pedestrians, including the elderly and the disabled, count on that law.

          Bells, horns, “on your left,” meh. Stay off the sidewalk with your bike in NYC! If you don’t think you can hack riding in traffic, then don’t! Subway/bus/walking is a great way to get around Manhattan, and environmentally friendly too.

          • Hob

            I took Shakezula’s point to be that it is hilarious (in a bitter laughter way, not in a joyful way) to see tickets handed out for traffic infractions but not for illegally riding on the sidewalk. You seem to be responding as if someone said riding on the sidewalk was a good idea. No one did.

            And what on earth did you mean by this: “Bells, horns, ‘on your left,’ meh”? You do realize that those are referring to proper bike behavior on the street, right?

            • philadelphialawyer

              “I took Shakezula’s point to be that it is hilarious (in a bitter laughter way, not in a joyful way) to see tickets handed out for traffic infractions but not for illegally riding on the sidewalk. You seem to be responding as if someone said riding on the sidewalk was a good idea. No one did.”

              That is not how I read it. He said, in response to a post imploring cyclists to stay off the sidewalks and follow the rules:

              “The sidewalk rule varies by state, but I have had things to say to jackasses who seem to think I’m a mirage or something. And for some reason, bells, horns or even shouting ‘On your left’ have become uncool.”

              Which, to me, sounds like he is talking about riding on the sidewalk. Why would you say “on your left” if you were riding on the street? Peds on the sidewalk don’t care where you are, if you are on the street, and car drivers are on YOUR left, not vice versa, no?

              “However, police will ticket bicyclists who use the streets but don’t follow traffic rules. Which is a hilarious thing to see.”

              Which still makes no sense in terms of riding on the sidewalks or not. Ride on the street (where it is illegal to ride on the sidewalk) AND obey the rules of the street. Somehow, that is “hilarious” to Shak. And I still don’t get why, even as a “bitter” hilariousness (whatever that means).

              “And what on earth did you mean by this: ‘Bells, horns, “on your left,” meh?’ You do realize that those are referring to proper bike behavior on the street, right?”

              Um, no. I did not realize that. And JL, below, says this:

              “However, yes, if you’re in a jurisdiction where sidewalk biking is legal, and that’s where you’re riding, you should slow for pedestrians, shout ‘On your left; or use a bell, and generally not be a huge douche about it.”

              So, I took it that these procedures were for sidewalks. Sorry if I got it wrong. But that is where, “on Earth,” I got the wrong idea (if it really is the wrong idea) from. And, from context in Shak’s post, it is not all clear to me that I DID get it wrong.

              • DocAmazing

                Part of what’s hilarious, if you actually follow these things (bicyclists have to) is that, in most towns, bicyclists are more likely to be ticketed for infractions than cars are, despite the greater lethality of cars. Here in bike-friendly SF, we have police stings for bicyclists rolling stop signs; there’s plenty of video of cops writing tickets for those cyclists while cars are blowing the same stop sign in the background.

                Grimly hilarious, but hilarious nonetheless.

                • philadelphialawyer

                  Not sure what the beef is. When a “sting” is going on for bikes, naturally the cops can’t be stopping cars too. Anyway, the stop sign applies to bikes, something that many bikers, unlike car drivers, seem to not understand, or, if they do, they don’t care.

                  Then too, I would like to see some real statistics about “likelihood” of ticketing. As opposed to general statements from someone who seems to have a dog in the fight.

                  In any event, and statistics aside, still not seeing any “hilarity,” grim or otherwise. The laws apply to bikes. Cyclists break the laws. The cops give them tickets. Ha! Ha!? Um, no.

                • DocAmazing

                  The cars are more lethal. Ha, ha.
                  We’re concentrating on the bikes. Ha, ha.
                  Walking my dog tonight, I was almost hit twice by cars while I was in the crosswalk with a green light, while in one of those instances a police car was right there in view. Ha, ha.

                  What could be funnier than false equivalence?

              • Hob

                “Why would you say ‘on your left’ if you were riding on the street?”

                Well, that’s the kind of question you might want to look into before you start throwing around strong opinions in a discussion about bicycling…


                It’s true that in areas where biking on the sidewalk is allowed, some riders think that saying “on your left” to alert a pedestrian is an acceptable substitute for ringing a bell. I’ve never thought that’s a great idea, since a bell makes it a lot clearer that there’s something approaching other than another pedestrian. But they’re doing it because “on your left” is the standard warning for passing someone on their left in the bike lane. If you really can’t figure out what the point of that would be, please stop giving people advice on how to ride in the street.

                And again, Shakezula was very clearly not saying it is a good idea to ride on the sidewalk in places where it’s prohibited like NYC. You are the one who’s making it all about NYC.

      • Malaclypse

        But most cyclists seem to be actively trying to run down and kill or maim pedestrians.

        This is silly and offensive. Most of us too busy trying to avoid cars, that break traffic laws all the time. If we want to compare pedestrian deaths, I kind of suspect cars do a lot more.

        • sparks

          Most? I’m not so sure. Cyclists very nearly hit me two different times as I was walking in my own neighborhood. Many cyclists on streets are as inattentive as drivers, even texting as they ride here.

          • GoDeep

            A lot of cyclists have a devil may care attitude. Its like they think they’re little kids again & can ignore all the traffic laws that cars obey–whizzing through red lights & stop signs like they’re mere suggestions, or carving betwixt & between cars like they’re some Ginsu knife & not flesh & blood.

            And I say this as a someone who used to cycle for my commute.

          • DocAmazing

            Many cyclists on streets are as inattentive as drivers

            Interestingly phrased. So motorists do dumb things, but those dumb things are only a problem when bicyclists do them.

            • philadelphialawyer

              Who said that? It is bad when either one does it, and actually worse when cars do it (because they are faster and heavier).

              Still, like many a victimized group, cyclists seem particularly resistant to the idea (as your post shows) that they can victimize as well. Car drivers are jerks, often enough (not always) and that hurts (or even kills) cyclists. Therefore, cyclists CANNOT be jerks? Or hurt pedestrians? Not always, but often enough, they can and do.

              • Lee Rudolph

                I’m thinking this would be a good time for a nice, relaxing ketchup break. Down tools, lads!

                • Malaclypse

                  Let us toast to friendship, with a vodka martini!

                • Hogan

                  So how about those [your local sports team here], huh?

        • DocAmazing

          You don’t have to suspect anything. In San Francisco, we had two high-profile bicycle-pedestrian deaths in the past two years; the press went to town. In the meantime, over a hundred pedestrians and bicyclists were killed by cars.

          If you don’t like statistics, there’s always physics. Kinetic energy is 1/2 the mass multipied by the square of the speed of the object in question. Since cars have at least ten times the mass of bikes and travel at one-and-a-half times to twice the speed (a bicyclist going twenty mph is haulin’ ass; a motorist going thirty is grumbling about slow traffic), it’s pretty simple math to see that the car is more potentially lethal than the bike. (Hell, it’s got far more energy than a bullet, but that’s another story.)

          • philadelphialawyer

            The press went to town, perhaps, precisely because the deaths were unusual. Car kills ped is like dog bites man. Bike kills ped is more like, if not quite like, man bites dog.

            • DocAmazing

              And that leads to really stupid policy-making, as the public keeps hearing “man bites dog” and the cops keep patrolling for dog-biting men.

              Now we have cops tripling their enforcement against bikes, and doing nothing more about cars.

              Good thing we have a press that recognizes that cars are orders of magnitude more dangerous than bikes…don’t we?

      • Maccheerful

        Where I lived bicycles were allowed on sidewalks and Seattle’s bicycle police frequently spent time on them. Sidewalks let you escape getting stuck in traffic, one of the major delights of bicycling through a city.

        That said, my own view was that on sidewalks pedestrians had the right of way and if needed one should slow, or even stop bicycling in order not to come too close. Those bicyclists who believe otherwise are jerks. And because humans bicycle and many humans are jerks, there’s going to be fair number of them.

        • Karen

          There are also little kids, who are too short on the bikes for drivers to see. They use bike on the sidewalks. This applies even to kids who are old enough to bike to school alone, say, 8 or 9, but still too short to be visible from a car.

        • DrDick

          Here in Montana, bicycles can travel on the sidewalks, which is a major nuisance in some neighborhoods because of narrow sidewalks, but pedestrians always have the right of way, both on sidewalks and in crosswalks/at corners. Far too many bicyclists ignore this rule (more so even than our idiot drivers). Another problem I have with bikes on the sidewalks is that too many riders just blow across the street crossing without even looking, assuming that they have the right of way (which they do not). This is really dangerous since most people use the bike lanes and drivers are not expecting someone moving that fast to come off the sidewalks.

          • huffy

            Blowing through an intersection on the sidewalk, especially if they are riding against traffic, is my only real complaint with cyclists. The rest of their minor misdeeds are vastly outweighed by the poor behavior of my fellow automobile drivers.

      • JL

        Maybe they’re trying to avoid those asshole douchenozzle drivers who can frickin run over them and face little to no consequences because everyone will jump to blame the cyclist. Maybe they got sick of being yelled and honked at by drivers who think they aren’t allowed to be on the street.

        However, yes, if you’re in a jurisdiction where sidewalk biking is legal, and that’s where you’re riding, you should slow for pedestrians, shout “On your left” or use a bell, and generally not be a huge douche about it.

        • sparks

          It’s not really legal here to ride sidewalks. They are too narrow in most parts of the city to accommodate both a bike and pedestrian traffic. The bigger problem is sharing sidewalks with skateboarders.

        • DrDick

          That is not a major problem here, at least in most areas (there are a few trouble spots). Also, if you hit a bicyclist with your car the police here seem to assume the driver is at fault (we were voted one of the most bike friendly cities for a reason).

      • Well, I’d happily ride on the bike path except those have become the push your stroller, walk 4 abreast, walk your dogs anything but ride a bike paths.

        • DrDick

          Also a pet peeve of mine.

        • sparks

          Ugh, that happens here, too. There is an excellent bike trail that has over the years been encroached by joggers, walkers, and even riders on horseback. The only reason the trail was built was for biking.

          • KadeKo

            We may not be talking about the same place, but I think we are talking about the same behavior: “Mall walking”.

            It’s no good for ped paths. (In my area they’ve had to paint stripes onthe ped path to suggest that walkers don’t wander all over the place, and put up signs.)

            Also no good, as others have mentioned, for real city sidewalks.

            (Disclaimer: Suburbanite, much closer to ped paths than sidewalked small cities, let alone large ones.)

          • JL

            I don’t mind joggers and walkers on my local rail trail (never seen a horse there). I’ve jogged, walked, and biked on it.

            The problem is when people don’t use good etiquette, blocking the whole path and not responding to bells or shouts of “on your left” until you’ve done it ten times and they finally realize that you’re addressing them. If people would stick to the right unless they’re passing, and let other people pass them, it would work fine.

        • Ditto.

          And too often little packs of occasional cyclists riding snail’s-pace, chatting with their pals, who look at you like you’re a lunatic if you ring your bell to get past them.

          Also, in my city, bike paths designed with too many twists and turns, blind corners, traffic stops, pedestrian crossings. Terrible lack of flow. Often it’s better to ride with the vehicles on the roads if you are really trying to get somewhere.

      • aidian

        Cyclists ignore traffic rules because of conservation of momentum. Cities are designed for cars, and making them stop frequently isn’t a huge burden on drivers the way it is for cyclists. Why should someone on a bike be penalized further for the poor decisions of city planners and state DOTs?

        • Malaclypse

          Because cars have more kinetic energy than a bullet. Because every time you blow a light, ten drivers think of bikes as being outside of traffic laws, and adjust their own actions accordingly.

          • DocAmazing

            I do tire of adjusting my behavior to accommodate people whose attitude is “I could kill you right now, so get out of my way”. That’s not terribly productive, either.

            Lots of places are working on adopting the so-called Idaho stop–stop signs would mean “stop” for motorists and “yield” for bicyclists. The main argument against it comes from the “it’s your problem that I might kill you” motoring crowd.

            • Fosco

              From my own experience, it’s much less “I could kill you right now, so get out of my way” and much more “please stop making it so difficult to not kill you.”

          • JL

            I don’t blow through lights, but in return for this, I’d like drivers to stop honking at me for taking longer than a car would to get going again. I can’t accelerate from a full stop as quickly as a car.

        • L2P

          I’ve never understood this. Stopping in a car is just as much a burden for cars as for bikes. It’s actually worse for a car bc it loses so much more energy at a stop than a bike. Stops are the main reason my mpg is 20 less in the city. It seems like other than bikers not liking to stop there’s not a lot of reason for all vehicles to obey stop signs.

          • JL

            It’s about burden to the vehicle’s operator, not the vehicle. When you’re in a car, it’s not your strength and energy that’s getting it going again from a full stop. It’s fuel-inefficient, but not physically difficult. Not so for a bike. It’s especially annoying when the light is right at the start of an uphill, because having to start the bike cold up a hill while having lost all the momentum you had gained going into the hill can be hard.

            • L2P

              We need this because it’s annoying to bikers to stop? We don’t usually compromise safety because safety annoys somebody. Maybe if you can show that it doesn’t actually compromise safety for vehicles to blow through stop signs you’d get somewhere.

              • Dan Miller

                If we don’t usually compromise safety because it annoys someone, how can you justify having a speed limit higher than 5 mph? There’s a balance between safety and having a practical form of transportation, and Idaho stop laws attempt to recognize that balance properly.

  • Dollared

    This is a stupid concept. Bicycles are not transformative. They are great transportation solutions for certain people, in certain climatic conditions, in certain types of urban geography, in certain types of terrain. I like bikes and use them when I can.

    What was transformative about cars is that none of those boundary conditions applied once an enclosed motor vehicle could go up a hill at more than 25 MPH, carrying even an elderly or disabled person to their destination of choice. Now THAT was transformative.

    • DocAmazing

      Cable cars and streetcars performed that function before automobiles were invented.

      • But how much of that infrastructure existed outside of towns?

        • LeeEsq

          Actually quite a bit, there used to be a type of street car called the interurban that was kind of cross between a tram and a commuter rail road. They connected various towns and cities and many of the lines did go through rural areas.

          • Davis X. Machina

            This era left its mark on the landscape.

            My Maine town exists primarily because it was at the common end of the trolley lines out of three small cities, and then the interurban barns located there.

            Framingham, MA, is the hub of Metrowest for the same reason — west of Boston, east of Worcester, when what would become Route 9 was execept for cobbled village centers a dirt road…

          • Ohio once had a very extensive interurban network.

            There are a few places where the old tunnels still exist.

        • DrDick

          In St. Louis, it was possible to ride out to the Meramec River, several miles out of town.

          • DrDick

            That should read, in the teens and twenties. My grandmother (the biker girl) used to go out there with her friends on the weekends. It was a state park and very popular with the working classes.

            • Bartleby

              It’s been said before (by others), but your grandma seems like she was pretty great. That picture is awesome.

              • DrDick

                She had a pretty big impact on me, though I only saw her once or twice a year. A very strong personality.

    • Fosco

      I’d like to see more discussion about this aspect. Climatic and geographic conditions seem really limiting to widespread bicycle use. I used to live in Oregon, and as much as I may have wanted to bike around town, I didn’t want to be soaking wet from the waist down everytime I wanted to travel when it was raining (which was pretty much every day). Now I live in DC, and I’m told that the local bikeshare company has been having problems with distribution: all of their bikes end up downtown every evening, because the city slopes that way and no one wants to ride back up the hills. There’s not much that infrastructure can do about those types of problems.

      • I used to live in Oregon, and as much as I may have wanted to bike around town, I didn’t want to be soaking wet from the waist down everytime I wanted to travel when it was raining (which was pretty much every day).

        I live in Oregon right now and bike commute every day. There are these things called “rain gear” and “fenders” that keep you from getting wet. Lots of really wet climates have lots and lots of cyclists. Rainy weather is no excuse.

  • Chris Mealy

    Erik, if you live in America, you don’t bike as much as you’d like because the infrastructure is terrible and dangerous.

    Here’s a really nice video about cycling in Groningen. It’s really not that hard to make a place nice for cycling. You just need to put cars in their place:


    • Dick Gregory
    • Chris Mealy

      Good lord, I must have been sleep deprived when I wrote this. Absolutely you need a Robert Moses of cycling. It’s too hard to make incremental steps away from auto dependence. You really need a big leap to go from a car system to a walk/bike/transit system.

  • J B in Taipei

    Caro has made this point himself: the problem with Robert Moses wasn’t just his goals, but how he achieved them- that is, with no regard to the human or financial cost. A Robert Moses for transit or cycling would presumably work with business and political elites to divert as much public funds as possible to building monumental infrastructure that served the needs of the 1% first and the upper middle class secondly, but would be of little use to the poor and would suck up so many resources that little would be left for other purposes or even maintenance. For example, you would end up with world-class cycling facilities in Manhattan but still have shit transit in places like Red Hook, or you would have plenty of bicycle-friendly TOD that was made possible by razing poor neighborhoods and forcing the poor into car-dependent exurbs. Moses accomplished a lot but it had a huge cost, and it his methods were very undemocratic.

    • Davis X. Machina

      ….forcing the poor into car-dependent exurbs.

      That’s the peri-urban landscape in much of the world, and we’ll live to see it soon, the consequences of 10-dollar-a-gallon-gas: falling-down spec-built McMansions carved into flats — insta-favelas — served by something like these.

    • The prophet Nostradumbass

      would presumably work with business and political elites to divert as much public funds as possible to building monumental infrastructure that served the needs of the 1% first and the upper middle class secondly, but would be of little use to the poor and would suck up so many resources that little would be left for other purposes or even maintenance.

      It’s almost like you’re describing the BART extension to San Jose here in the Bay Area.

    • Halloween Jack

      This. The book is titled The Power Broker, after all, not That One Guy Who Built A Bunch Of Shit.

  • Breadbaker

    An appropriate idea poorly delivered (invoking Robert Moses is not going to help any argument). Here in Seattle we are finally, for the first time ever, creating some bike infrastructure that is not purely “mixed use”. Mixed use means “five students on their cell phones taking up the entire trail and not noticing any bikes that have to get out of their way.”

    • STH

      Here on the eastern side of the state, “mixed use” means human on one side of the path, dog on the other, and leash stretched between. My partner, a former London bike messenger who will have cycled about 6500 kilometers by the end of the year (he’s out on a 200k ride as I type this), says the mixed use paths are too dangerous and prefers the street. I don’t have the nerve for either one.

      • Agree with your partner.

        Once you get the sense of it, that is, the boldness to claim your piece of the road mixed with the caution that knows every driver is a potential idiot, streets are most often the way to go. Bike paths are designed for recreational riders, with all the hassle and delay that entails, even as they’re advertised as transportation links.

  • herr doktor bimler

    Buckminster Fuller and others designed […] even some cars themselves

    Fuller’s blithe estrangement from reality — to the point of designing a car with no rear vision suggests — that the first priority here is to keep the starchitects and cult designers locked safely away in a cupboard somewhere.

    • +1

    • herr doktor bimler

      Now I am wishing for some city to hire Philippe Starck as their new city planner.

  • ploeg

    Robert Moses actually built a lot of bikeways back in the 30s, when the Great Depression led many to buy bikes instead of cars.

    It’s worth noting that most of Moses’s power came from the revenue that was generated by his toll bridges, which was collected from motorists. Moses collected the money to fund his projects year in, year out, when other agencies had to go to City Hall or Albany to get their funding. And the more cars there were, the more money Moses had to do things.

    • philadlephialawyer

      At least one of the bikeways mentioned, the one on the old Vanderbilt highway in Queens, was not “built” by Moses. The highway, which had been run as a private toll road, became an obsolete money loser, and its owners simply gave it to the city. It was quite narrow, even for a two lane road, and Moses designated it a combination bike/ped path instead. It is quite beautiful and connects Alley Pond and Cunningham parks, as well as serving as part of a larger “greenway”/bike route.

  • Thlayli

    “Atelier BowWow” is an awesome name for a company — especially for one which is not in the dog-grooming business.

  • N__B


  • Anonymous

    Loathe as I am to say it, the closest thing we have today is Mike Bloomberg and his transportation commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan, who have made expanding biking NYC more of a priority than any other municipal administration I can think of. It’s disappointing he didn’t at least mention them.

  • Malaclypse

    We already have really good bike infrastructure – roads work perfectly well. The problem is that some auto drivers believe that, if they see a slow-moving vehicle that is smaller than them, will behave very differently than when they see slow-moving vehicles that are larger than them. In other circumstances, we would see this as dangerous bullying, and work to enforce laws that are already on the books.

    Also, look before you open your doors. And hang the fuck up, and never ever text while driving.

    None of this takes money. It takes people remembering that bikes, and pedestrians, are every bit as entitled to use roads as cars are. Given the choice between a 2-mile bike trail, or 500 “Share the Road” or “Same Road, Same Laws” signs, I’ll take the signage, thanks.

    And before someone throws out some bullshit about gas taxes, those fund highways. The roads we use are funded by property taxes, which we pay as much of as auto drivers do.

    • Maccheerful

      As a bicyclist, I disagree on the priority of bikeways vs signs. (Not that I oppose putting up as many of those signs as possible).

      People are going to continue to be people and thus prone to egoism and and assholery and cars are going to be continue to be much larger and faster than bicycles which means that driving near cars is always going to be a stressful experience and the sheer amount of forceful reeducation that would be needed to significantly improve driving such that it does not feel like it poses a danger is beyond doing.

      After awhile one can, kind of, get used to bicycling in and around a stream of cars but it’s the kind of skill and tolerance of stress that is not going to be much available to any body a slice of the population. Contrast that to Rotterdam, a city I visited recently, where every damn part of the demographic saunters along on their bikeways.

      • Maccheerful

        And because there is no edit function here I add by reply that it’s not just egoism and assholery that makes bicycling around cars stressful but their blind spots, and distractions. I’ve been in a car and barely noticed until almost too late a bicyclist and been a bicyclist and barely missed getting hit by a car. Neither is much fun.

        Slowing traffic down in cities might help, but not by much, and you’d have to get top speeds at 25 or below before I think it’d make much difference.

    • JL

      As much as I would really appreciate the signage (since my commute goes through an area where there are very few cyclists and most drivers really don’t accept their presence), it would be really nice to avoid the whole problem with trails.

      Most of the bad parts of my own route probably aren’t practical for trails – they’re through the downtown of an old industrial town and I can’t think where a trail would go – so in that case, yeah, signage. Probably a better idea than my (driver) spouse’s half-joking suggestion of hitting certain cars with my bike lock.

      • GoDeep

        In some cities–LA, Austin, come to mind–certain sections of the city are poor for bicycling. They have narrow roads, winding roads through canyons or hills. And, yet, they’re practically a magnet of bicyclists. Maybe its just me, but when I cycle to work or elsewhere I take pains to avoid unsafe routes. I don’t see most other cyclists doing that.

        • JL

          Not a lot of canyons in metro Boston, and almost everything is a narrow road. :) The parts of my route that I consider bad are a bad because they are busy, in areas where not many people bike, and have lots of intersections and required lane changes (i.e. lots of sudden morphings into and out of left-turn-only or right-turn-only lanes).

          The only way to avoid them (and also avoid equally bad roads) would be to go along the river path, which would increase the total distance of my commute by 50% or so.

    • DrDick

      While, as a sometimes bicyclist, I sympathise and generally agree, this is not a one way street. There are lots of bicyclists around where texting while riding, listening to their iPod and oblivious to the world around them, riding with no hands and insisting on riding down the center of the road when there is a clearly marked bike lane. Both groups need to accommodate the other.

      • DocAmazing

        In other words, you’re seeing bicyclists behaving as stupidly as motorists.

        • In my bike messenger days I was comforted by this belief: for every perceived cycling infraction that inspired an angry citizen to phone a tirade into the local call-in show, a thousand (ten thousand?) vehicle transgressions had occurred, with nothing more than an eye-roll or a raised middle finger in response.

        • DrDick

          While I know it is not true everywhere, motorists here are actually pretty considerate of cyclists (also pedestrians), though there are always assholes everywhere. I have never had a problem with motorists myself and I ride quite a bit when the weather is nice. There are areas of town, mostly a couple of major streets with mostly commercial development, where it is a problem )largely because of lots of out of towners headed to the stores).

          Our situation is a bit unusual because we are a college town and pretty ecofriendly. In consequence we have lots of young, stupid “immortals” who mostly bike, as well as a lot of really aggressive, arrogant, and self-righteous eco-bikers who think they can do whatever they want and should have priority on the world because they are saving the planet (just to be clear, most environmentally minded cyclists here are NOT like that and they are a small minority of the biking crowd, but very annoying).

          • This sounds like you could be in Corvallis. Are you in Corvallis?

            I am, and bike commute almost every day (except on the very rare snow and/or super-icy day then I take the bus).

            I’m lucky to live in a part to town with a multi-use path right next to my house, that takes me half way to work, at that point I have a two-block stretch on a street with a nice wide bike lane, and then I’m back on paths and into campus. I’d rather be a bike on campus than a car any day.

            Lots of cities in Oregon seem to be pretty progressive about bikes. Portland’s an obvious one — the first new bridge being built over the Willamette river there since the ’70s is bike/pedestrian/light rail only — but smaller cities like Corvallis have been ahead of the curve. I think it mostly takes a somewhat forward-looking city planner/council that can put in place regulations that say things like “hey, if you’re re-paving a street/putting in new housing/whatever, you need to add a bike lane to the street while you’re at it. That’s what they did here a long time ago, and we’re now reaping the benefits with a very rideable city that’s really nice to bike in.

  • LeeEsq

    I really don’t understand the current fascination with biking as the solution to our previous mistake of auto-centric transportation. What we need is more public transportation. Preferably this would be rail-based but I’d make do with BRT or trolley-buses. The idea that Americans will become a nation of bikers like the Dutch or the Danes is silly. Its growing more popular but a lot of people are going to want shelter from the elements.

    I also highly disagree with the premise of the article. The reason why biking works in many European cities is that there cities are built on a human scale and are much more compact than many of their American equivalents. The European cities that are hundreds of square miles in size are not bike dominated cities.

    • Maccheerful

      It rains in Denmark and the Netherlands. A lot. People deal with it, as much as they deal with walking in the rain. And in those countries the bike lanes extend for many kilometers out into the country, it’s not just a matter of a compact center.

      And I think you overestimate the compactness of European city centers. There are a lot of people who live in associated suburbs a fair distance from the center. But where bike lanes are part of the thinking the distance is not so great.

      And I would at all times prefer a bike to public transportation if there’s ever a real choice (i.e. not carrying luggage for example or a distance of less than 10 kilometers). With a bicycle you have the advantage of individual choice over where to go and more chance to explore the neighborhoods.

      • JustinV

        Rather than rain, I’d be more concerned that poor people would be shunted to biking in the sunbelt where summer temperatures could be a hazard. It’s a lot hotter in the US than Northern Europe. Not that transit is a day at the beach, but busses and trains can be air conditioned.

        • sparks

          I was thinking this as well. If we want biking to be a reasonable option in the US, it still won’t be everywhere and it won’t be during certain seasons. Heat will be the big issue, but snow and ice will also affect some areas. It’s not a panacea, but with expanded public transit can be made viable in quite a few areas.

      • LeeEsq

        The average major European city is much smaller in area that the average American city. You have a few cities that are comparable in size like London or Berlin but most are smaller. According to Wikipedia, Amsterdam is about 85 square miles in area and has about 800,000 people in it. The metropolitan area is only 701 square miles in size with a bit over two million people.

        Charlotte, North Carloina has about the same number of people has Amsterdam but covers nearly 300 square miles in the Charlotte proper. The metropolitan area has about 2.3 million people, about the same as Amsterdam’s, but sprawls over 3,200 square miles.

        Compared to American cities, even the larger European cities are compact and dense. The sprawl of the average American metro area or even the anch

        • LeeEsq

          forgot to finish or even the anchor city needs to be brought under control in order to make them bike friendly.

          • GoDeep

            Population density is key to a lot, both the ill suitedness of bikes to the American urbansphere & the relative lack of public transit.

            Bus-trolleys might be viable economically in many cities , but I don’t understand the fascination with rail in cities like Austin. Cities with far too little population density for it to ever work.

            Of course, political will is part of the equation as well. As a kid my hometown had a (very) small public bus system. It was notoriously late & unreliable. Thirty years later after the city has gotten much poorer the bus network has expanded somewhat, appears to be efficient, and has a growing following.

        • Maccheerful

          And there are American cities of similar size, smallish, but less density. But for purposes of analyzing bikes, so what? It’s not the density that makes bike riding attractive, it’s the ability to go some distance without taking your car with you.

          In fact you’d assume that a less dense city would have more opportunities, not fewer, to install some decent bike infrastructure, like paths or dedicated intersections. The Dutch countryside is not hugely dense, but it does support bike riding.

    • MaxUtil

      I don’t know if I’d call Berlin “bike dominated”, but it has a good, healthy share of bikes and is roughly the size and population of Los Angeles.

      I don’t think much of anyone thinks bikes are the solution to all people for all problems. But they are a very strong complement to public transit and serious bike infrastructure can be put in for a minuscule fraction of the cost of any real public transit construction.

      • LeeEsq

        At least from what I cane tell, bike sharing is the current fad in urban transpiration. To an extent its understandable because, setting up bike sharing programs and bike lanes is a lot cheaper than building light rail and subway lines. You can also set bike lanes and bike sharing programs up faster than you can build rail transit.

        The thing is that I can see Americans giving up their cars for rail based transit or even better busses than I can for bike sharing.

        • MaxUtil

          OK, but it’s not either/or. You can have bike sharing and transit. In fact, they serve as very good compliments with the bike share making up for “last mile” limitations on many transit systems that can’t be built out to have a subway station every couple blocks.

      • Ian

        Berlin is only the size of LA if you’re comparing city populations–hardly a good match. Greater LA, in the sense of the whole 5-county conurbation, is somewhere around 18 million. Berlin-Brandenburg as a whole is around 6 million.

        None of which is to say that LA shouldn’t have more bike paths. But it faces automobile congestion that is simply unimaginable in Berlin.

    • philadlephialawyer

      I agree, for the most part. Cycling is fine, for the fit, for the young, for the daytime, for folks without disabilities, for folks who don’t have to carry stuff, or kids, for folks who can dress casually at work, for when alcohol is not being consumed, and for the nice weather. But public transit, not bikes, are, or should be, the real replacement for cars. For point to point, commute to work-commute home transit, buses or trains are much better in terms of an all weather, all year, all person solution. Not so great for multiple destination trips, in which bikes are better (at least for those who can use them).

      • MaxUtil

        Sure, but we’re not looking for “the replacement for cars”. We’re looking for transportation options that serve a portion of the population better than relying virtually completely on cars like we do in many areas now.

        I really don’t get the “we should have transit, not bikes” argument. Unless you think we’re not capable of doing two things at once, there is really so few conflicts between the two. Even the money argument is pretty pointless given that the cost of bike infrastructure is essentially nothing compared to any large scale transit project.

      • Halloween Jack

        Cycling is fine, for the fit, for the young, for the daytime, for folks without disabilities, for folks who don’t have to carry stuff, or kids

        I saw lots of people on RAGBRAI, the annual week-long bike ride across Iowa, who didn’t fit into the above categories. (Not all of them did the whole distance, but a surprising number did a significant part of it; I saw one double-below-the-knee amputee, and lots of older cyclists. As for “fit”, well, that’s relative.) Also, of course, I carry stuff on my bike all the time, and ride at night.

    • Shouldn’t be either-or, really. Public transportation needs good pedestrian opportunities to be really effective: “last mile” problem. And public transportation, done right, can also be accessible to bikers, extending their physical and environmental range.

    • Why not build covered, even elevated, bike highways along the same corridors used for major roads and transit routes?

      There used to be a website dedicated to such a plan, (something 2000, my faulty memory dimly recalls), but i’m finding nothing on the Google.

      Anyone remember this?

  • Jager

    I ride about 120 miles a week and have since the early 90’s. I also drive and nothing pisses me off more than a pack of weekend cyclists all dressed like they are competing in the Tour de France taking up an entire lane of a 45mph 4 lane street at 10-15 miles an hour when there is a bike lane available. Last Sunday a saw a large group run a red light and when someone honked a them, 5 or six flipped the driver the bird and said what appeared to be “fuck off.” Assholes.

    • JustinV

      It seems to me as a driver, cyclist, and pedestrian (way more of the last two than the first one) that the sh!t slides down hill. Cyclists rightly feel like many cars drive dangerously and don’t respect their right to the road. NYPD in particular is notoriously bad to cyclists – parking police cars in bike lanes, ticketing people for dismounting on the sidewalk rather than a foot earlier on the road. However, pedestrians rightly feel that many cyclists ride dangerously and don’t respect their right to the path/sidewalk. I am 100% on the side of cyclists vs. automobiles, but I am also nearly bowled over by dudes on the sidewalk when a bike lane is available, blowing through a stop light while I am in the crosswalk, or riding though a park area with clearly posted dismount signs about twice a month. A car can kill you, and that is where the change needs to happen. But a bike running full speed into me might break my arm or knock my head against the pavement. People, it turns out, are often self-centered jerks regardless of their mode of transportation. I think improved bike infrastructure would go a long way to keeping a safe distance between the three groups and allowing free flow of bikes and pedestrians.

      • Lee Rudolph

        People, it turns out, are often self-centered jerks regardless of their mode of transportation. I think improved bike infrastructure would go a long way to keeping a safe distance between the three groups and allowing free flow of bikes and pedestrians.

        Alternatively, more Stand Your Ground laws!!!

    • JL

      I am curious where you live that this is a common phenomenon. I don’t disbelieve you, but I also never saw it either where I grew up (my parents were competitive cyclists and would ride in packs that were two abreast quite often, but they were going faster than that, not taking up the whole road, and there were no bike lanes anyway) or where I live now (not a lot of 45mph roads and I’ve rarely seen bikes on any of them).

      • JustinV

        I saw this in Colorado a lot.

      • Jager

        In and around Westlake Village-Thousand Oaks, CA. Plenty of the major local streets around here are divided, 4 lanes with speed limits from 35 to 50 mph. They all have bike lanes.

        • Jager

          My UCLA granddaughter is a serious cyclist (rode from Berlin to Istanbul this past summer and does a Century every 3-4 weeks) thinks the weekenders who get all dressed up racing outfits are like a guy who takes his Mazda Miata out for a Sunday drive in a helmet and fire suit.

          • ThrottleJockey

            I used to bike back & forth to UCLA as well. That area is one of the few areas of LA that’s safe to regularly ride in so long as you stick to neighborhood streets & avoid Wilshire. The only danger I ever faced was when an undergrad decided it would be funny to suddenly jump in front of my bike & yell, “Gotcha!” and I very nearly broke both our necks swerving & braking to avoid her.

  • jon

    The autocratic, command economy approach to planning and infrastructure development is absolutely the worst way to proceed. Yes, we need central and coordinated planning, particularly for transportation networks. And we need things built well, quickly, and in a fiscally responsible manner. But we need there to be much more widespread public engagement and buy in when conceiving and developing these plans and projects.

    Just because bicycles are less intrusive and damaging to cities than autos does not excuse arbitrary and insensitive planning and construction. And just because it is generally good to build facilities for bicycles, that does not mean that any project would be appropriate in any location.

    What we need are more roads to be appropriate and safe to bikes on everyday. That makes the best use of limited public space, too much of which is already devoted to roads and parking. Separate bicycle facilities are really an admission of defeat, and a surrendering of the roads to cars which are then further enabled to be recklessly hazardous to cyclists and pedestrians.

    Where other cities in the US and Europe have made an effort to fully integrate bicycles, collision and injury rates have fallen a year after implementation. If becomes better and safer for motorists, as well as for bikes and pedestrians. But this requires making it quite clear to motorists that they must drive well and that injuring others is unacceptable and bears steep penalties. Road design, signage and signals, some bike specific facilities, and education and enforcement are all part of an integrated system that produces remarkable results. Traffic also tends to move more smoothly and with less overall congestion when this is done, so everyone gets multiple benefits.

    • Malaclypse

      What we need are more roads to be appropriate and safe to bikes on everyday. That makes the best use of limited public space, too much of which is already devoted to roads and parking. Separate bicycle facilities are really an admission of defeat, and a surrendering of the roads to cars which are then further enabled to be recklessly hazardous to cyclists and pedestrians.


    • JustinV

      I, for one, would love to see people ticket for parking in bike lanes much more often. I live near an NYPD office and the cops and people with business there park in the bike lane everyday. It’s infuriating. Also, hitting a bike that wasn’t running a light or making an illegal turn oughtt to mean a temporary suspension of the license to drive.

      • jon

        I’m shocked that there isn’t the presumption that the car that hits a cyclist or pedestrian isn’t a case of assault or manslaughter. The car is a dangerous weapon, and the driver has the obligation to be aware and in control of it at all times. Yes, there are some genuine accidents. But too many places treat every collision as nothing more than an unfortunate accident, and you often see police being more sensitive to the emotions of the driver than to the injuries of the pedestrian or cyclist.

        • Malaclypse
        • MaxUtil

          Part of the problem is embedded in the term “accident”. I’m sure 99.9% of auto collisions are un-intentional. But for some reason we act like that means that the driver should bear no responsibility for their actions. When you operate a large piece of machinery, you are liable to do so safely. “Whoops, I didn’t see you” is an excuse we only accept with cars, not with guns, forklifts, baseball bats, etc.

    • JL

      I do think bike infrastructure would be useful for kids, newbies, people with babies in a safety seat on the back of the bike or trailer being pulled by the bike, that sort of thing. Those are groups that may not feel safe on the roads even if the roads get a lot safer.

      Also there are some areas where, say, a rail trail, is a hell of a lot more convenient than the roads in the area (the Minuteman Bikeway in the Boston area is one of these – I’d much rather use it than the relevant roads to get to anything nearby, even given perfect safety of the roads). I love rail trails and inter-city bike trails and want to see more of them.

      I do, however, worry that things like bike lanes will cause drivers to be even more hostile to cyclists that are in the not-bike-lane road – and most bike lanes that I’ve seen don’t have provisions for turning left across a multi-lane road, or avoiding right-turning cars that were in a right-turn-only lane and don’t realize there’s a bike coming up that’s going straight. And then there are bike lanes that are within dooring range of parked cars. IIRC, it’s intersections where bike/car collisions tend to happen, and usually when I see bike lanes they aren’t set up well for intersections.

      • jon

        Bikes are fine on sidewalks, when they’re going slow. Me, I rode in the street once the training wheels came off.

        There’s also plenty of great spots for bike trails. They’re just not needed or helpful everywhere.

        One of the largest problems with bike trails is that they tend to have very high and severe accident rates when they do rejoin or cross vehicle roads. It’s a real problem that cars become conditioned to not seeing bicycles, which then are not perceived to belong or have justification to be in the road. Motorists just don’t expect bicycles until they are surprised, and have no time to stop or miss them.

    • Maccheerful

      How is it impossible to have roads inside cities where cars are alerted to the problems of pedestrians and cyclists

      And also: bike trails, particularly for high volume routes? I keep thinking of Rotterdam where both were provided.

      And baike lanes are an admission of defeat? It’s an admission that a car driving at even 20 mph or so is still going to be more dangerous to the bike than vice versa and that a large chunk of the population, little kids and old people and scaredy cat middle aged people like myself prefer not to bicycle in stressful situations where possible.

      • jon

        I didn’t say it’s impossible. Indeed, it’s highly possible, commonplace in many areas, but has to be done properly to work well and be safe.

        Bike lanes should really be reserved for situations where they’re absolutely required, or there are highly desirable reasons to install them and other solutions won’t work. A bike lane is more more paving in a place that might otherwise be a wider sidewalk, trees or parkland.

        Cars are dangerous. But their drivers have to be tamed, and it can be done. Otherwise, we descend into a circumstance where the only safe place is to be within a speeding car. That is corrosive to society and civilization. Many other things can be dangerous, but we have developed expectations that people will not randomly commit mayhem with them. We call those events crimes, and bring the full force of the police, courts, and social norms to bear on the transgressors. You can kill someone with a car with less concern for consequences than if you had shot them. You don’t like stress? Well let’s make progress to reduce the stress of being on the road, so it’s comfortble for every type of user.

  • JL

    Bike safety is a hot-button topic for me right now because of an incident a few days ago on my bike commute where I was sitting, with lots of cars, at a light, during rush hour, in preparation for turning left, and the guy behind me became very angry that there was a bike in front of him. He started screaming at me out his window, starting with “Why the fuck are you in the street?” and proceeding from there, calling me a dyke and a cunt and saying (well, screaming, all of this was screaming and roughly every fourth word was some variation on “fuck”) that he was going to run me over.

    I was really freaked out. The town that my university is in is an old industrial town with few cyclists in the downtown, and I routinely get honked at or told to get off the street/on the sidewalk, and I’ve been called a dyke once or twice before, but never something where someone is screaming at me for a good minute or more while slurring me and threatening to kill/maim me (and given how he was acting, I believed he might do it).

    Unfortunately I didn’t get a plate number, just a general description (in the dark) of guy and car. I sucked up my unease with cops and reported it to the police the next day, knowing that it wasn’t like they’d be able to find the guy but figuring that it might be useful for documenting and tracking patterns of anti-cyclist harassment or something. Plus when there’s violent behavior plus homophobic slurs that gets into hate violence territory and I know that people who fight that kind of thing care a lot about documentation (I’m going to mention it to my local NCAVP program too, for that reason). The cop was polite but indifferent; I had to push to get him to take down some of the details that I did have.

    Anyway, I guess the point of telling this is that we could make a good start at making things better for cyclists by educating drivers on what cyclists are allowed to do, putting up signage to reinforce this, and cracking down on drivers whose behavior crosses over into the crime or moving violation realm from the asshole behavior realm. Infrastructure is also nice, and I talk above about how much I like rail trails and how some people are at extra risk and may not feel safe biking on the roads even if the roads are made much safer. But the really low-hanging fruit might be really helpful here.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Wow that completely sux. In college I cycled a lot, now I have a motorcycle. I can’t always avoid jerks, but I avoid more of them now than when I bicycled.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Not that it’s relevant in any way, but I would just like to take the opportunity to note that I must have been one of the last cohort of Western Union bicycle telegram boys (summer of 1966, after my first year of college), in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, mostly business telegrams to businesses, but once a condolence telegram to a black family a ways out Euclid Avenue (not as far as Hough; this was a few weeks after the Hough riots).

    We got 75 cents a week bicycle allowance (fixing a flat cost a buck, and flats were very easy to get).

  • Joey Maloney

    I’m surprised there’s no mention yet of electric-assist bicycles; are they not yet common in the USA? (I’m expat for several years; there are scads of them in my city.) They’re perfect for people like me, urban dwellers at the point of incipient geezerdom. No way I could pedal crosstown by myself any more, but with an electric bike it’s eminetly doable. Easy to maintain, nimble in traffic, no parking headaches, no licensing or insurance fees, and comparable in speed to public transportation.

    • I’ve seen them but they don’t seem to have really caught on here.

    • Malaclypse

      I’ve seen them in bike stores, where they seem to be about 3X the cost of a comparable hybrid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody riding one.

    • DocAmazing

      They’re catching on in the Bay Area. One hip thing now: electric-assist cargo bikes for urban parents.

      • Malaclypse

        Also, trail-a-bikes. Mini-Mal and I have a metric century as our goal next summer. She maxed out at 42 miles this year, which is pretty good for 7.

    • herr doktor bimler

      They’re popular in Wellington (NZ), which is blessed with hills — and wind — but no temperature extremes. The mayor rides around town on one.

  • ThrottleJockey

    Who needs Robert Moses when you have Harley Davidson?

    Motorcycles & scooters may not be zero emission, but they’re pretty darn efficient. You can get a bike or a scooter that gets you 65, 85, or even 125mpg.

    Anymore I only use my car when there is inclement/poor weather or if I have shopping. But for everything else my motorcycle is way greener, way cheaper, and way funner!

    • Because sitting on a Fat Boy tends to make one a fat boy. I get exercise when I ride my bicycle.

      Plus a Harley is more of a fashion statement really than a form of transportation.

      • ThrottleJockey

        And a Soft Tail is even worse!

        You’re right abt the fashion statement thing. Most Harley riders talk abt their bikes like they’re prom dresses. I’m more of a VROD kinda guy, but there are plenty of bike/scooter options for every wallet size, body type, and attitude. Bikers face dangers but we avoid a lot of the pissy drivers that cyclists like JL above can’t avoid.

        • ThrottleJockey

          And a Soft Tail ss even worse for your ass!

          Need that 2nd cup of coffee now.

        • Back in the day I had one of the infamous three-cylinder two-stroke Kawasakis. The horsepower all lived up in the high revs.

          First time I opened it up went something like this:

          1000 RPM – Nothing
          2000 RPM – Zilch
          3000 RPM – Nada
          4000 RPM – Huh, I thought these things were supposed to be quick?

          5000 RPM – OhmygodohmygodohmygodI’mgonnadie!!!!!!!!!!

          • sparks

            Ha! The guys I knew with Kawasaki triples were always the most crazy riders, the kind who would pull wheelies in traffic. I subsisted on a Yamaha RD 350, later on got the RZ. Fun enough less the terror factor.

            • In my case the wheelies in traffic weren’t by choice.

              I was pulling out into traffic once when it hit the powerband unexpectedly and the front wheel came up.

              I was crossed up like the guy on the cover of Motocross Magazine.

              • ThrottleJockey

                I hear you there. My first bike wasn’t really all that fast as far as top line goes, but man was it torque-y, just gave me a fit if I bump or something.

              • sparks

                I remember riding the freeway to work on my very last motorcycle, a Honda XR600. It fishtailed whenever I twisted the throttle at anything above 45 mph. Made going to work very exciting. It could wheelie easily, too. Probably the worst bike I ever rode.

    • ChrisTS

      I hate to be a naysayer, but motorcycles and motor bikes are noisy as hell. And, while I am sure you are an exception, all the complaints people have about cyclists weaving in and out of traffic apply just as much to the motorized kind.

      • DocAmazing

        Noisy is useful. Clueless motorists, windows rolled up and stereo blasting, near-miss me & my bike on a regular basis. They don’t near-miss loud motorcycles. Ban stereos in cars and then we’ll talk about the noise scourge of motorcycles.

        • I’m sympathetic to the argument that the noise of a motorcycle improves the safety of the driver, but it’s still a fact that they are indeed noisy. This would be a definite issue with any plans to massively increase the number of motorcycles on the road. For that and other reasons, I just don’t see any attempts to substantially increase the ride share of motorcycles as a useful alternative.

        • Unless your pipes face forwards and the Doppler Effect doesn’t exist, I’m not going to hear you coming I’m just going to hear you going.

          Since the majority of “loud pipes save lives” people I see are riding without helmets, I suspect that safety really isn’t the reason they put straight pipes on their Harley (and it’s almost always a Harley).

          Meanwhile the streets aren’t littered with the corpses of Honda Gold Wing riders, who I never see without a helmet and never have loud bikes.

          • ThrottleJockey

            I think there’s something to the argument, if I’m at a stop light or slow traffic & someone’s on their phone I rev my engine sometimes if I think they don’t see me, but for the most part the loud pipes thing is too much testosterone. Kind of the same way all that testosterone makes them “forget” their helmets at home.

  • I live in a suburb of Columbus Ohio. If I wanted to ride my bike to the grocery store a mile from my neighborhood I’d have to get on at least one major road and take my life in my hands.

    There used to be plenty of country roads nearby that I could bike on but suburban development has taken most of that away.

    This puts me in the silly position of having to put my bike in the car and driving to some place where I can ride my bike.

    I like my cars but I really wish I wasn’t forced to drive for every stupid little errand.

  • Sly

    I can understand the sentiment: what [x] needs is a rockstar administrator to kick ass and take names in order to get things done. I see it a lot in my own field, where lots of school districts think all they need is the right ass-kicking, name-taking superintendent to fix everything. Sometimes it works out; a neighboring district hired a superintendent almost two decades ago (still there) who not only transformed the school system for the better, but the entire town. However, lots of other times you get the person who is the most politically well-connected and not the one with the most or right kind of expertise, and you end up with Michelle Rhee.

    Moses fell into the latter category for a whole host of reasons, making the analogy a bit troubling.

    • Manny Kant

      Moses achieved a hell of a lot more (for better or worse) than Rhee ever did.

  • Adrian Fenty made a significant improvement for bikes in DC. Schools? Not so much.

  • jkay

    The author must hate we bikers, then, because wasn’t Le Corbusier one of the radically worst architects ever, whose designs are today are still immiserating the poor? ; it’s like wanting Cheney or that nice Hitler as bike czar. And Moses was no angel as pointed out inthread. And I’m starting to wonder if he also wants Ford the FASCIST at this rate.

    And the thread’s right that the bike’s different in what it can do. And reality’s about gradual, a bike lane extension at a time like here in Austin. Even the Interstates weren’t built in a day.

    I’d point out that racism, or today classism has always been too part of the motives for every design and always will be too there. That’s as true of subways and roads as everything else. DC’s bad because it was designed so that bullets could reach the people far.

  • Ed K

    I think the counter-argumet to this is simply to read Jane Jacobs and then think for a second about what Moses did and what Le Courb would have done to urban life if he had his druthers.

    Yes, cycling is a really awesome form of transportation in cities. We should be moving heaven and earth to create more and better cycling infrastructure. We should be encouraging development that makes cities walkable and bikeable for a whole host of reasons having to do with what healthy urbanism actually looks like. But we need to be doing those things in a way that doesn’t involve demolishing the city as it is, which is precisely what Moses and Le Courb took as their starting point.

    I get the sentiment, but can’t think of a worse example

  • Halloween Jack

    There’s been some mention of the fitness aspect in this thread, but not as much as I’d expect. One of the impetuses (impeti? impetae?) for encouraging cycling is to improve health generally, something of concern in major urban areas where health care may cost even more than it does elsewhere.

  • I know this thread is dead at this point, but I just found this online cycling map of Corvallis. Blue lines are street with bike lanes, green lines are off-street multi-use paths.

    We have it pretty good here, all thanks to some forward looking folks 20 years ago (give or take a decade).

    • Just to further beat this dead horse thread, here’s a timely article. Here’s a tidbit:

      Here’s a list of U.S. cities of 65,000 or more residents in which workers are likelier to commute by bike than Portlanders are:

      Davis, Calif. – 19.1% of workers commute by bike
      Boulder, Colo. – 12.1%
      Palo Alto, Calif. – 9.5%
      Eugene, Ore. – 8.7%
      Cambridge, Mass – 8.5%
      Fort Collins, Colo. – 7.9%
      Berkeley, Calif. – 7.6%
      Santa Barbara, Calif. – 6.9%
      Madison, Wisc. – 6.3%
      Missoula, Mont. – 6.2%
      Portland’s estimate, meanwhile, was at 6 percent for 2012, just ahead of Gainsville, Fla. Corvallis, Ore., which is home to Oregon State University and a bike commute mode share just short of 11 percent, would rank third nationally if it were large enough to make the 65,000 population cut.

      (emPHAsis mine on that last bit — yay Corvallis!)

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