Build it and They Will Ride: The Importance of Bicycle Networks


Creating Bicycling Friendly Streets


”Cities need a new urban biking agenda. Innovations are happening despite federal policy.” There are “mountains of red tape” and the “checklists are insane” if you want to add in bike lanes in New York City. “We had to go through air quality tests to add bike lanes.”

The regulatory obstacles are difficult to overcome, but, once cleared, adding bike infrastructure is “cheap and easy to put in.” “Colored lanes are hard to get done, but so simple.” Bike signage, bike traffic lights and other infrastructure should also be put into place.

Sadik-Khan noted that the NYC government (through PlaNYC 2030) is planning to start a bike share program modeled on Paris’ Velib, and there are already 200 miles of bike lanes. Chicago has its 2015 Bike Plan, which aims for 5 percent of short trips to be made by bike by 2015. San Francisco’s bike lane program recently came out of “legal purgatory,” and is growing rapidly.

To further remove financing and regulatory obstacles, Sadk-Khan called for national urban street guidelines that include bike lanes. To promote the urban biking agenda, Sadik-Khan, who is now the president of NACTO, used the meeting to announce the launch of Cities for Cycling. Sadik-Khan argues: ”If you make it safe to bike in the city, they will come.”

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Q & A: What are the key obstacles to creating new bike infrastructure in U.S. cities?

Blumenauer: Federal investment in bike infrastructure is up, and a majority of members have joined one of the Congressional bike caucuses. “This is the single most popular area in the Surface Transportation Act. We’ve fought off all amendments, but people are still afraid of major change.” Blumenauer blamed the dysfunction in the political process for the slow movement on ramping up bicycle infrastructure.

The Congressman added that the number-one reason people aren’t commuting to work using a bike is the lack of indoor bike parking. “Parking is key.”

Sadik-Khan: Retrofitting street networks means changing the way we think about our street networks. “For the past 50 years, we’ve prioritized the car.”

Sadik-Khan said parking and other interest groups were opposed to expanding bike lanes. Some people in NYC were calling the Department of Transportation under Sadik-Khan, the “department of parking space removal.” She responded: “We can’t triple deck transportation networks. We need to go one street at a time.”

Sadik-Khan added that the Bloomberg administration has recently mandated that buildings with freight elevators must include indoor bike parking if tenants request the space.

Byrne: Trying to retrofit downtown Houston all at once isn’t going to work. “We should build nodes in areas that get heavy foot traffic and then hope demand will spread. These nodes can then become inter-connected.”

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The Bikeway Network


While the bicycle shed is an important conceptual planning tool, it is meaningless without the physical development of bicycle infrastructure. Therefore, each bicycle shed should not be conceived in isolation, but as part of a regional bikeway network.  This network should be designed to connect people to important destinations—schools, neighborhood centers, regional centers, open space, and of course, local and regional transit systems.

In general, the bicycle network should be comprised of many bikeways types. These include, but are not limited to shared-use paths, shared lanes (sharrows), bicycle boulevards, bicycle lanes, and physically separated bicycle lanes—sometimes called cycle tracks.

Before assigning bikeway types, the unique characteristics of each thoroughfare and its urban context must be considered holistically.  This includes analyzing street width, street type, existing land use and urban form, density, traffic control devices, posted speed limits and actual travel speeds, and traffic volume.

But while the existing conditions of each thoroughfare are important, the urban context is rarely static. Therefore, considering the desired character and urban context is critical to the selection process, as context-specific bikeways can help strengthen a more immersive, accessible, and equitable urban environment.

To this end, special emphasis should be placed on providing safety and comfort for all types of bicyclists. Bikeway infrastructure that appeals to those who are interested in bicycling, but who are too often deterred by the perception—and reality—of unsafe bicycling conditions, must be prioritized. Research conducted by Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Portland, Oregon, identifies four types of bicyclists, of which the majority seek more comfort and safety. “Riding a bicycle should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and non-cyclists alike,” says Geller.

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Fort Worthology Goes to Portland


Bicycling in Portland is a big deal. The city consistently appears at or near the top of bike-friendly cities in the United States, and the results are plain to see. More people ride bikes in Portland than in any other United States city – 3.5 percent of the population rides every day. While that’s still a ways off from the huge number of bike commuters in European cities, compare it with Fort Worth’s current 0.2 percent figure.

Bicycling is popular in Portland at least in part because it has been made easy, convenient, and safe (at the very least, compared to most other American cities). As opposed to the viewpoint prevalent in most of the U. S. (including Fort Worth until recently), which is typically “we’ll only put bike infrastructure in if there are enough people riding bikes,” Portland took the “build it and they will come” approach – creating effective, efficient bike infrastructure which helped encourage ever-larger numbers of bike traffic. Here in Fort Worth, we’re only just seeing this reversal now, with the “Bike Fort Worth” plan we wrote about recently.

This is just a small segment of the Portland bike transportation map. It’s massively larger and more intricate compared to the current Fort Worth bike system – though it pleases us that the Bike Fort Worth maps much more closely resemble this sort of network. The Portland bike network makes getting around the city by bike very easy, safe, and efficient. continue reading at

This entry was posted in Auto Independence, can bicycles save the world?, Climate Change, Culture, human scale, Livability, Placemaking, Sustainability, technology, transit, Transportation, urban design, urban planning, walkable, What if? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Build it and They Will Ride: The Importance of Bicycle Networks

  1. Daniel says:

    Thanks for this series. In reference to federal policy lagging behind on bicycle support, you may be interested in this quote for DOT Secretary Ray Lahood:

    “Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

    We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.”

    Check out the new FHWA policy …

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