Monday, July 6, 2015

Tucson a bike friendly place? Give me a break.

Tucson is a top-ranked bicycle city and has received the gold or platinum recognition from the League of American Bicyclists.

That is exciting news for Tucson, but I am unimpressed.  In fact, I think it is a lie.  I will tell you why.

I don't like on-street bike lanes.  I know hard-cord cyclists do, but I am not a hard-core cyclists.  I don't like cars whizzing by at 50 miles per hour when I am only doing 15-20 on a bike.  It is very dangerous.

Charles Mahron of Strong Towns has an interesting analogy.  He was in the National Guard and part of his training was to be in the trenches with live bullets passing over his head.  The purpose of the training was to show soldiers what it was like to be under live fire.  The guard told the soldiers not to stand up, but the advice wasn't really needed.   Even though the bullets were very high in the air, no solder would stand up on the off-chance a stray bullet would hit them.

Charles says the same is true for cyclists on roadways.  Would you allow your child to walk on a sidewalk if there was live fire down the center of the street?  Of course you wouldn't.  Even though the chances of being hit by a bullet are slim, they are not zero.  And Charles applies this to on-street bike lanes.  You will always have the potential of being killed by riding your bike on the on-street bike lane.

This is why I don't ride my bike to work.  My commute is only a 2-mile bike ride.  You would think I would always ride my bike to work, right?  But I tried it, and then gave up.  The street from my house to work has a curve.  And I have seen many motorists swerve into the bike lane in the curve while traveling at 60 MPH.  It's really unnerving.

There is something else that goes through my head.  Part of my job as a Traffic Engineer was to review accident statistics.  There are a lot of car-hits-cyclists accidents and in almost every case, the cyclist ends up dead.

A few years ago an off-duty policeman was riding his bike on Old Spanish Trail.  A young mother with her child had a brief distraction and swerved into the cyclist.  He was killed.  Not only was that a horrible thing for his family, but it was a horrible thing for the young mom.  She will have to live with that fact for the rest of her life.  Accidents happen.  It is part of the human existence.  I just want to be around for my kids.

Do you think pavement costs any more when it is placed adjacent to a street than if it is placed on an exclusive bike lane?  No.  In fact, I would argue that it could be cheaper.  It takes a thinner pavement depth to handle bikes than cars.  But, you say, isn't that a good use for the shoulder?  NO!!  A shoulder is used as an emergency escape for a car.  When we place a bike lane in the shoulder, we are basically removing the shoulder.

When I lived in Arapahoe County, on the south side of Denver, there were lots of bike lanes.  From my house I could take bike lanes all through Arapahoe County.  And the wonderful thing was I never had to ride adjacent to a street.  I remember many times going on a leisurely bike ride with my daughters along these bike paths.  They loved it.  It was safe.  And the bike paths were dotted with parks so we could actually have a destination.  One of my oldest daughter's favorite parks was the "Caterpillar Park"  - because there was a green caterpillar climbing structure.  We could leave our house, ride to the Caterpillar Park, play and then ride home again - all without riding along a street.  The path did cross the street, as it has to when it has any length. But sometimes the bike path went under the road and other times there was a at-grade crossing.

Now I know that hard-core cyclists know these risks.  But they are willing to take the trade-off.  They love cycling so much that they are willing to risk their lives to ride along a street.  But that is not true for the vast majority of people.  Most of us aren't that hard-core.  And we would never let our children be that hard-core.

I should also point out that in Arapahoe County the bike paths were funded by a property tax on an overlay district - very similar to a fire district.  It was called the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District (SSPRD).  I don't remember how much of tax actually went to fund this, but it was minimal.  And for that minimal tax we got all sorts of bike lanes, pools, community centers, and great parks.  I would venture to say that the parks were better than any park in Tucson.  And the SSPRD did a good job of managing the money.

That is why I think that Tucson cyclists are actually harming Vail.  They are all patting themselves on the back that they have created these great bike lanes in Tucson, but the truth is, they are only good bike lanes if you are willing to take the risk.

I don't believe that a single more development in Vail should be approved until there is a comprehensive bike plan for our community and then have the developers donate the right-of-way.

Do what you can to create a smart Vail.

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