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Why drivers should support bicycle paths

If you are skeptical about bike lanes, I understand. This form of street design is still new and virtually unheard of in many places.
Photo by Mário Rui André/Lisbon for People

I'm cycling along the street near my house on a relaxing Friday evening. After a few blocks, however, I arrive in a busy area and immediately feel the cars behind me, revving their engines - are undoubtedly angry drivers behind the wheel wondering why they're stuck behind an idiot cyclist.

If you've ever ridden a bicycle on the street, I bet you've had this experience. When cyclists join car traffic, the vehicles behind them inevitably have to slow down due to the basic fact that bicycles are slower than cars. Drivers are frustrated by the slowness and cyclists feel threatened by the proximity of speeding cars. It's a bad situation for everyone.

Every trip I make by bike reminds me of how dangerous this mode of transport is when combined with fast-moving vehicle traffic. But it also reminds me of how practical and accessible cycling is. Every minute on my bike is a minute I'm not wasting gas and causing wear and tear on our family car. Every time I lock up my bike at a new destination, I save on bus fares. Every time I pedal is time spent exercising, not in a gym that costs me money a month to use.

More significantly, every time I cycle, I'm saving my city money by commuting in a lightweight vehicle that doesn't damage the road and doesn't accumulate maintenance costs that my local government probably hasn't budgeted for.

What I've realized, as someone who rides a bike and drives a car, is that drivers benefit a lot from bike lanes; they just might not realize it. The average motorist's reaction to a bike lane being installed in their neighborhood or along their daily route is anger at the precious road space being taken away from cars and given to bicycles.

Here are three reasons why motorists should celebrate and defend cycle paths instead:

1. Cycle lanes make traffic better

Let's recall the scenario I described at the beginning of this article: if I had a bike lane instead of having to ride directly in the flow of car traffic, I could have cycled easily and safely, and the cars could easily and safely pass me, without their speeds being affected by my presence.

Now, the cycle lane would have narrowed the traffic lanes a little, forcing a slight decrease in the overall speed of the road, but the traffic flow would be consistent - no sudden deceleration due to the presence of a cyclist.

Marked bike lanes also make the rules of the road much clearer for everyone. For motorists, there is no longer any need to slow down and swerve away from a slow-moving person on a bicycle, or be confused about how to overtake a cyclist. The cyclist is in his own space and pedals at his own pace.

2. Cycle lanes make better use of one of the city's most precious resources: public space

Imagine you're the co-owner of a local restaurant. You invested some money to help the restaurant get started and now you have a 10% stake in the business. One day, you stop by for a bite to eat and realize that there is an entire room - more than a third of the restaurant's space - that is completely empty.

How would you react? You'd probably call your fellow business partners or talk to the general manager, and insist that the space be put to better use. Maybe it could be rented out for special events. Maybe you could add a second kitchen there and use it for catering. Ultimately, perhaps the team could use it as extra storage to free up space in the main dining area. But whatever happens, you know that as an investor whose money is helping to pay the rent on that store, you don't want to see an inch of that space go to waste.

Our streets are not so different. Most of the day, many streets in your city (and especially the parking areas) are completely empty. The investment you make in your city through taxes is used to pay for things like these roads and is being completely wasted.

This is a imperfect metaphorBut the key point is that, with a little effort (for example, painting a bike lane in the city), your city could be taking a very valuable local resource - land - and putting it to much better use. Adding a bike lane unlocks huge potential for people who might not want to cycle without them. And there are many places where we can do this with minimal impact on the space available for cars.

3. Cycle paths save your city money - and you save money too

Governments and municipalities spend millions of euros a year on roads. With a comparatively small amount of money, cities could paint bike lanes on the streets where they are most needed and allow many more people to choose cycling over driving for at least some of their travel needs.

With a little more money, cities can use beacons or planters to create protected cycle paths where residents can cycle even more safely.

These small investments have the potential to seriously reduce the maintenance costs of your city's streets and roads, because bicycles create very little wear and tear compared to cars.

If you're skeptical about bike lanes, I understand. This form of street design is still new and practically unheard of in many places. It makes sense that you'd be concerned about changes to your city's best-known streets.

But I hope I've elucidated a few logical points here: bike lanes make streets safer and easier to travel on for all. They also give these streets a much better use than with their current design. Finally, cycle paths have the potential to save our cities a lot of money in their municipal budgets.

Let's use our streets in the best possible way. Let's make sure our taxes are getting a good return on investment. And let's make our communities places where everyone can get anywhere, safely and economically. That's how you build a strong city.

Article by Rachel Quednau, originally published on the North American site Strong Towns. The text has been reproduced here with some changes, namely translation and adaptation of contextual parts, under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


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