[Josh] Alper, a well-known local musician and UCSC librarian, was killed when a 63-year-old man driving on Highway 1 crossed over the yellow dividing lines into oncoming traffic. His car went all the way into the bike lane and crashed into Alper, who was on a ride with a group from the Bike Dojo, a local cycling gym.
The driver’s name has not been released, and he was not arrested. No alcohol was found in his system. The official story is that the man fell asleep at the wheel. However, in early reports witnesses said they saw him get out of his car while holding onto his cell phone. The District Attorney’s office is currently investigating the case and could still press charges.
Josh Alper is not the only bicyclist who has died this way—in the bike lane, obeying all the rules of the road and wearing a helmet. In November, just 10 days after Alper’s death, a 41-year-old cyclist was hit by a car and killed in Newport Beach. While riding her bicycle in Woodside last September, Joy Covey, the former CFO of Amazon.com, was struck and killed by a van making a left turn. And in August, a 24-year-old woman was run over by a delivery truck in San Francisco. There are many more stories like these.
Rather than simply building more traditional bike lanes, [Amelia] Conlen and [Dave] Snyder advocate separated bike lanes—barricaded by concrete, plastic buffers, planters or rows of parked cars. If there were more setups like that, Conlen says, more people would feel safe riding. And the more bikes are on the road, the safer it is, and the more aware drivers are.
“It’s not really rocket science,” says [Senior Transportation Planner Cory] Caletti, pointing out the dozens of different options in the book like a wedding planner explaining color combinations. “Having bike lanes that are wide enough so that the cyclist isn’t pinched into the door zone; having green bike lanes; having cycle tracks; having contra-flow bike lanes—that’s basically a separated bike lane that’s going in the opposite direction of traffic on a one-way road. There are a lot of treatments available.”
There are a lot of things that I agreed with in this article, including the criticisms levied against a system that hands out negligible punishments to drivers that injure or kill cyclists. And as someone who commutes by bike every day, I can appreciate the sentiments and motivations behind people who just want more people to be able to safely ride bikes.
However, I disagree with one of the central premises of the article - that "share the road" is a failure and that cars and bikes must be kept as separate as possible to keep cyclists safe. Here a a few reasons why I feel this way:
1. It reinforces drivers' belief that bikes don't belong on the road.
According to California law, and the laws of basically every other state, bicycles are considered vehicles and are allowed to use the the road in the same manner as a motor vehicle. However, because the car is so prevalent in our culture, there is a popular misconception that bikes do not belong on the roads. There are a number of drivers that see bikes as foreigners on streets designed mostly for cars, and they are treated as such. In my experience, this is one of the central problems in the relationship between cars and bikes.
One of the problems with creating an infrastructure that focuses on separating bikes and cars is that it does nothing to combat - and in fact, actually reinforces - this misconception among drivers that bikes do not belong. It creates the expectation that cyclists have their own areas and that they should not disrupt the flow of the almighty car.
Why does this principal matter if it saves lives? Because cycling-specific infrastructure is something that can't realistically be universally implemented. Having cycle tracks and and all that is great if you live in Portland, Davis, Minneapolis, or some other really bike-friendly city, but what about the rest of America? A vast majority of the cities across the country aren't going to be able to implement this kind of system, and when you're riding in those areas, it''s back to square one - car and bike having to share the same road. Aren't we better off fighting the real problem instead of creating regional cures?
2. It reinforces the idea that cycling is a dangerous activity.
By telling cyclists that they have to be completely separate from cars, you are essentially telling them that they should not ride on the same roads as motor vehicles because it is inherently dangerous. I do not think that this is an accurate statement. Sure, there is some danger associated with cycling, just as there is some inherent danger in any activity, including driving a car. The situation with Alper that prompted in the article show that anyone is vulnerable in the event of a freak accident.
That being said, I think advocating segregation greatly exaggerates the risks that one faces while driving on the road. I ride every day in traffic - I am a confident cyclists that uses proper signals, follows laws, and interacts regularly with cars, and I have experienced very few problems. The fact is if you right smart, know the rules, and act accordingly, the risk can be greatly reduced.
3. It replaces education with avoidance.
There was one quotation in the article that I really liked:
“We hear a lot about driver/cyclist tensions, but if we have infrastructure that makes it really clear where the cars are supposed to be, where the bikes are supposed to be, and what each of them is supposed to do at an intersection or turn, I think that takes a lot of the conflict away.”
Instead of creating a separate but equal system, we need to educate people. For drivers, knowledge of laws relating to bikes and pedestrians need to be incorporated into education and testing; for cyclists, we need to do more in schools and other programs to teach kids to know their rights and how to ride safely.
Ultimately, what this does is creates a culture that accepts cycling as a legitimate form of transportation and allows them to coexist on the road. It is this learned belief, and not a dual system of transportation, that will ultimately make cycling safe.