Saturday, December 3, 2011

Should Some Roads Only be for Cars?

North and South Winooski Avenue is a thoroughfare in Burlington that is marked for cyclists in various ways: sharrows, a wide lane, and without room or designation depending upon where you are in its 2-mile length. With piecemeal bike improvements its proponents want it to be the southbound bike route through the city. This road spans the North End retail district, to busy downtown, to quiet residential neighborhoods.

I pedal this route often, especially on the separate bike lane along a one-way half mile corridor. It's pleasant and I can let my thoughts wander to the pedestrians, trees, or businesses en-route.

Approaching the intersection. Bike lane disappears.
I wait in right lane, then go when light turns green.
At a traffic light in downtown where North Winooski becomes South Winooski, the one-way abruptly becomes two narrow alleys. Without a concession to bicyclists, I am propelled into lots of traffic. I take the whole lane because hugging the curb allows autos to squeeze by. I've considered riding on the sidewalk, though it is technically illegal as the walks are painted with "walk your bike" signs. Mind you, this is only for three blocks, but my senses are on 360 degree biker-alert.

In intersection. Notice how close the autos are. Two lane
traffic in each direction.
It was in this district that a car eased behind me. I checked my mirror. It wasn't dangerously close. The passenger leaned out the window and yelled "Get off the road. Roads are for cars!" This verbal slander doesn't normally phase me so I continued on, not giving an inch. The car cruised at a slow speed, fortunately, and went around when the left lane was free - oddly doing exactly what they should!. Interestingly enough, I saw the same altercation, with another cyclist, half a block further on.

Even if I take the lane cars zoom past. Notice the lack of green space between
lane and sidewalk. I've heard talk of reducing this 3 block zone to two lanes,
adding a bicycle lane. It won't come soon enough!
Later that day I mentioned the incident to my husband as we often share our crazy driver stories. He shook his head. "What about the safety of the situation? Cars are bigger. They win. Maybe some roads should only be for cars."

What? Those words came out of my husbands mouth? He's a fairly regular bike commuter too. With all our proclamations of "share the road" - and I am one of them - what if some cyclists would rather not share?  If my husband feels that way, how many other cyclists do? And, more disturbing, is this a defeatist attitude or is it just a practical viewpoint from an aging cyclist?

So, would my husband have chosen to not travel those three blocks? Would he ride on the sidewalk and risk a ticket, or go 4 blocks out of his way to avoid the area? We didn't talk about it. I'd like to think he'd stand up for a cyclist's rights, but as he ages he's become aware of his mortality, and he certainly has a right to his own opinion.

So, I leave you with these thoughts. As cyclists, we avoid some roads in favor of others - that's a given. But do particular road conditions push you over the edge? And, at what point do we allow cynicism to control our bike advocacy?


  1. Turncoat. I would make him sleep on the coach. ;)

  2. I think local conditions and specific circumstances should be considered in answering your question. I'm not sure about the road in your example, but if the photos are any indication I tend to side with you and would ride and do exactly as you did. That little orange paint arrow (the left one) in the third photo of the intersection is about where I would be on my bicycle after merging safely into the lane. OTOH there is a five lane semi-arterial street I have to ride every day where the cars average about 50 mph at rush hour, and while it certainly would be legal and is also possible for me to turn left onto it and to take a lane there, and I sometimes do when conditions permit, merging into 50 mph auto traffic at rush hour is beyond my skills and confidence, and far beyond most car drivers' skills and confidence I might add, so I frequently ride the sidewalk there, unless it's being used by pedestrians, in which case I just wait, or take my chances on the street. Which is also legal in Arizona, so I feel fortunate in that regard.

  3. There are already roads "just for cars": freeways.

    It's individual choice whether or not a cyclist uses a road. Let's not limit the choices for all of us.

  4. John Forester, known for cycling advocacy would have called what you did vehicular cycling and would have been proud of you for taking the road and doing the right thing. Vehicular cycling is a term that motorists do not understand - and the US needs to better educate motorists. A bicycle is a vehicle and does belong on the road, not just some roads. in regards to your husband, I think he was just concerned about your safety - and thus, yes, we all do sometimes concede, as much as we hate to do it. I admit, in certain road conditions - I know I'm not going to win, and I don't give a damn whether riding on the sidewalk is illegal. My goal is to stay alive - so up on the sidewalk I will ride if it means my safety.

  5. Thank you for all your comments. If I would've felt threatened by the driver I would have been up on that sidewalk ASAP.

    I wholeheartedly agree that as cyclists we should have the choice whether to ride a particular road or not, depending upon our circumstances, that's why my husband's response was shocking. He was probably concerned for my safety. I'd like to think he was having a bad day an rethink his comment, but you just never know...cyclists have differing opinions.

    I think the overall message here is to be aware of surroundings and keep yourself safe.

  6. I would avoid the busy road with fast traffic but that is just me. I also cycle on the foot path when I feel it is safer (and there are often no pedestrians). Mostly I just take back streets to escape fast and heavy traffic. I do not want my advocacy for better cycling to be a life threatening thing, I do it separately from my riding. :)

  7. Very nice article. Hope you didn't mind I reposted it (if so, just let me know).
    Interesting discussion, too.
    Keep on riding (and writing)!

  8. I think a lot about this as we may be getting to the point where Williston Road is reworked from Industrial Avenue to UVM. It's a busy road, sure, but it is really and truly the most direct route between Williston, the airport, and Downtown Burlington that there is. The fact that it "just isn't safe for cyclists" is not the fault of the cyclist, but of an outmoded design standard that favors one and only one mode of transportation. There is no option to redesign that stretch of road in a manner that fails to consider bicycles. I'd also really hate to see a "bike ban because it just isn't safe" become the preferred strategy for dealing with unsafe streets.

  9. It can be a sensible decision to make some roads off-limits to cyclists and pedestrians. However, that should be a policy decision that takes into account the needs of all road users, not a defensive reaction to the conduct of the more powerful (or well-armored). Otherwise, the logic is the same as allowing some schools to be only for bullies or some businesses to be only for thugs.


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