Bike Lanes are for Cars

Posted on August 13, 2015

I just realized something: bike lanes are for cars. Please allow me to explain!

We're all seeing the meteoric rise of bicycle lanes. It's incredible and surprising how much the idea is catching on. Cities are drafting plans for, and allocating money to, the aggressive expansion of bicycle lanes. Cyclists are told that these lanes will be safer for them and that, with the addition of the bicycle lanes, their city will be on track to being the next big "bike-friendly metropolis".

We should observe the typical implementations, however, and meet this enthusiasm with skepticism. Bicycle lanes are typically poorly conceived, their clarity is almost never enforced, and, in many jurisdictions (namely NY and CA) where cyclists were previously free to ride wherever they saw fit, cyclists are now fined and punished for leaving the drastically inferior bicycle lane.

If bicycle lanes were actually for cyclists, we'd see:

  1. truly segregated lanes in which cars could not drive or park
  2. enforcement and protection
  3. the regular cleaning and prevention of debris and hazards
  4. lanes devised with the necessary room to do normal traffic things like the ability to pass safely or ride with a friend

We do not see these things (at least not in the United States). No, bicycle lanes are created so that motorists do not have to deal with cyclists.

Governments have a long history of creating inferior, segregated services and infrastructure targetting marginalized demographics "for their own good" in order to avoid having to deal with the complexities of integration (indeed these are the complexities of actually resolving problems through growth vs sidestepping problems poorly and unethically). When these marginalized demographics try to use the superior, "primary" services they are punished and forced back into the margins.

When you leave the bicycle lane you're treated like an ungrateful brat because "the city built the lanes for you". But it's not true. Cities build bicycle lanes to keep cyclists relegated to the fringes so that motorists can have their way with the roads. Bicycle lanes are, in fact, motorist infrastructure masquerading as cyclist infrastructure.

Meanwhile the NGOs, politicians, and lawyers push, push, push for more bicycle lanes. "Send us your money!" they say, urging us to pay them to beg the city for more of these things and to improve the now mandatory lanes they've haphazardly deployed. And we've been doing that. Do the number of cyclist fatalities drop? Maybe. Do more people feel inclined to ride a bicycle? Maybe. But that's not the point. That's like saying that motorists kill us less when we're out of their way. That's obvious. We should be saying "stop killing us" instead of apologizing and struggling to squeeze ourselves into the literal margins of society just so that motorists can continue to dominate our urban centers unabated.

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