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The Bicycle and City Traffic:
Principles and Practice

Edited by Hugh McClintock

Belhaven Press, London, 1992
Halsted Press, John Wiley & Sons, New York

The following commentary was written by Gordon Renkes as a posting to rec.bicycles.soc on 9 October 1993


For all those who really like bike lanes and paths there is a recently published book which supports and advocates them. The Bicycle and City Traffic, Hugh McClintock, Editor. Those of you who do not like them can learn more about how the advocates support them, and understand your opposition better if you are campaigning against them. I try to present a fair, but brief, summary of what it contains, along with some excerpts. My own personal views will undoubtedly show. Quotations are put between " ".

It emphasizes the European system. 9 of the 10 contributing authors are there. 1 of the 7 chapters which discuss specific examples concerns the United States, and is written by the US based author, (Andrew Clark, of the BFA).

Part I, Principles, contains 5 chapters, all by McClintock. Part II, Practice, presents 7 specific examples, written by McClintock and the rest of the authors.

Chapter 1 is easily outlined by the section titles: The costs of car dependence, Advantages of cycle use, Cycle use, and Factors influencing cycle use. The Cycle use section summarizes data regarding how many ride in various countries, etc. The Factors section recounts terrain, weather, traffic volumes, speed, etc. He recognizes here that "...in most urban areas most of the time, cyclists will be making most of their journeys on ordinary roads and streets. This is the case even in places with extensive special facilities for cyclists." [page 12] To exemplify the effect of official attitudes toward cycling provision, The Netherlands and Great Britain are compared; Holland has 0.5 to 0.3 the casualty rate per km traveled, and cyclists have 0.1 the injury rate per km traveled in Holland.

Chapter 2 is history since WWII, mainly European. It recounts the growth of motor vehicle use, effects on cities, the 70's energy crises, and efforts to shift back to public transport and bicycles. Several pages discuss the European experience with bike lanes and paths. It enumerates the various problems they have, including those at junctions and intersections, effect on speed and travel time, attraction of careless riders to paths, width and visibility, conflicts with pedestrians, turns, delays at multiple phase lights, poor maintenance, etc.

Chapter 3 summarizes planning methods in towns and cities. Techniques include traffic calming, dealing with problems at junctions and roundabouts, using painted lanes, advanced stop lines, bike exemptions from restrictions (e.g., permission to use bus lanes, and one way streets in both directions), and the recent moves toward total exclusion of private motor vehicles from the centers of cities. The traffic calming reduces the motor vehicle speed, and the speed of collision between motor vehicles and bicycles, hence reducing the severity of injuries. Other topics include: developing networks of lanes, paths, traffic calmed streets, and shared pedestrian facilities to allow travel to all parts of town; design of cities to encourage shorter trips; and positive publicity.

Chapter 4 covers interfacing bicycle and public transportation, mostly trains and buses. It covers both parking the bike at the station to ride the transport, and bringing the bike along on the transport.

Chapter 5 is titled "Getting the Right Balance in Cycling Policy." (It contains much discussion, and I can only hope to skim the surface here. You need to get the book if you want more detail.) It begins by noting that bicyclists will use routes and facilities if they perceive that it is best for their needs. A discussion of why cyclists tend to bend or break traffic laws implicates, as a major factor, the long history of being ignored or discriminated against by traffic planners who favor motor vehicles . Increased speed and aggressive driving by motorists is discussed at length. It suggests that the improved acceleration and braking power of cars, and the enhanced safety from seat belts, etc., induce car drivers to drive faster and more aggressively, keeping the overall perception of risk constant. Accident statistics alone are not enough to understand cycling safety. In addition to the myriad of problems dealing with this statistical information, the matter of perceptions is stressed; perception both by the cyclist regarding personal safety, and perception of the cyclist by the motor vehicle driver. 4 strategies for increasing safety were discussed. Protection: including helmets, and infrastructure design. He observes that many of these designs "impose heavy performance penalties upon vulnerable road users." [87] Education: both of cyclists and motorists. He observes shortcomings in British cyclist education programmes. One intriguing suggestion; make car drivers ride bicycles as part of their driver training. Legislation: and, Environmental Change:. There are also several photographs of the types of bike lanes and paths discussed.

Part II has detailed discussions and photographs of bicycle planning and facilities in Nottingham, Cambridge, London, Groningen, Odense, Germany, and the United States. I will review 2; Odense, and the USA.

Odense is the 3rd largest city in Danmark (pop. 175,000, 300 sq. km.). Bicycles were a part of a comprehensive traffic plan started in 1974, which also included a car-free city center, limiting traffic in residential areas, and improved cycling conditions. Both utilitarian and recreational paths were designed. By 1991 there were 300 km of utilitarian paths. The utilitarian paths are plowed in winter. Safe crossings are provided at major roads (bridges, tunnels, lights, and central refuges). Cycling routes are laid in the city center, with parking, and prohibited on the pedestrian only streets. Color, pattern, and height differences help distinguish bus and bike lanes from pedestrian facilities. Other "unconventional solutions" (the book's term) to help bicycling succeed include permitted contra flow on one way streets, early green and red lights for bicycles at intersections, advance stop positions for bikes at intersections (2-4m), blue pavement or dotted white lines for lanes through intersections, and raising the bike lane at the street crossing to slow traffic. Usage, accident rate, and rider opinion studies were done before and after construction of the paths (ca. 1985). 49% vs. 20% found it easier vs. more difficult to get around. 42% vs. 15% found it safer vs. less safe to use the bike routes. Accident casualty rates from police and hospitals were compiled for 5 years before, and are being followed after. "After construction, the reports show that the accident rate increased at the same rate as the increase in the number of cyclists." [172] They are working on more improvements for safety before making final comparisons. Cyclists who choose the routes do so because they "feel safer, the routes are easier and the traveling can be done more rapidly than before." [173] Sufficient and convenient parking facilities are still unsolved.

The USA. The Harris Poll reported in the April 1991 Bicycling magazine is summarized. Reasons are discussed why potential riders don't; in general, "too few safe places to ride." [191] Various explanations for this situation include: Predominance of the car,... Flight to the suburbs,... Highway design,... Mistakes of the 70's (poor bike paths),... Defensive cyclists,.. and Limited statistical information (about cycling activity). The Defensive cyclists paragraph says in full: "The cycling community, overawed by the ubiquitous power and influence of the motor car and its lobby, has been defensive, preferring to try and educate cyclists to behave more like cars rather than changing the infrastructure in which both must operate. This approach has failed, as surveys reveal only 1 per cent of the population is likely to be encouraged to ride a bicycle by the availability of bicycle education classes and programmes." [193] A list of "Bicycle-friendly communities" in the US is summarized; (Seattle, Eugene, Arlington Co. VA, Palo Alto, Dallas, San Diego, Madison, Davis, and Boulder. A section titled "Design standards and guides" promotes a variety of facilities including paths, lanes, wide kerb lanes, and shoulders. This section seems to imply that the vehicular cyclists have delayed progress in the construction of lanes and paths. "Throughout the 1970s and 1980s those who disliked these facilities - believing that cyclists should behave as much like vehicles as possible, in the traffic lane, having learned to become 'effective cyclists' - held sway. ... To them, the important thing was that existing cyclists be trained to be like cars and the pleas of potential and novice cyclists who asked for more safe places to ride were largely ignored." [202] 2 perceptions are cited for this fear of bike paths; the poor construction in the early days, and a certain study which showed experienced cyclists having 2.6 times more accidents on paths that on the road. (They also claim this study "was flawed in many respects.") The bicycle section of the California Highway Design Manual is summarized, including its Class I, II, and III bikeways (i.e., paths, lanes and wide kerb lanes). The Bicycle Federation of America's 3 important ingredients for bike friendly communities are listed; a coordinator, an advisory committee, and supportive politicians, professionals, and public. Other sections deal with public transit integration, parking, commuter programmes, and police use.


I now add some general comments about the book as a whole as well as some comparisons and contrasts with Forester's EC and BT books. My own beliefs and biases will show through much more here.

Forester's books present copious accident statistics to support their views. BT has a 49 page chapter on accidents, with 15 tables and 3 figures. Accident rates are broken down in terms of age, location, accident type, cyclists experience, etc. McClintock's book provides some statistical information. In Chapter 3 is a graph which shows that as auto speeds increase, accident severity increases (which is the basis for traffic calming strategies). In Part II, some before and after studies are presented in some chapters. In Nottingham, the accident rate decreased or stayed the same in areas where the bicycle network was constructed, and increased in other areas. In Cambridge, cycling accidents overall tended to increase during the 1980's, whilst the cycle traffic volume was unchanged. The accident rate on a particular street was 4.1 vs 1.2 per year before and after a lane was painted. On a one way street, contra flow cycling was legalized, and the accident rate decreased in rate and severity. A 2.8 Million pound (of money) bridge over a railroad yard was built as an alternate to 2 busy bridges, which had 100 accidents per year. There was some diversion of bicycle traffic, and "no appreciable reduction in accidents." [138] For Groningen, there were no accident statistics, but the rider breakdown is 57% bicycling, 37% auto, and 6% public transport. (Sounds like a permanent "Critical Mass".) In Germany, studies of the "classical" bike path, which is next to the sidewalk, shows that 0.5 - 0.75 of accidents are at junctions and driveways, and 0.67 are the car's fault. Regarding newer lanes at the edge of the road, cyclists like them: "Observations, however, show that the number of incidents between cars and cyclists has not been reduced by the introduction of these measures." [182] On one street, painting a single line, and then a double line, between a bike lane and car lane drastically increased the conflicts between cars and bikes. The Odense statistics were described above. The London and USA chapters had none.

This book never references Forester, his books, and few of the reference Forester cites. The closest they get is the oblique swipes at effective cycling and vehicular cycling quoted above. This book has hundreds of references at the end of its chapters, mostly European, whereas Forester has 2 pages worth at the end of BT.

For the most part, McClintock and Forester seem to agree that there are problems associated with lanes and paths. The detailed explanations of the problems are essentially the same. However, the Forester school of cycling, and the school which advocates lanes and paths, diverge when deciding what to do with this information. The vehicular cyclists look at the problems with lanes and paths, and elect to avoid those problems altogether by not constructing them in the first place, and directing efforts toward better roads and highways with wide outside lanes, and plenty of education. The non-vehicular cyclists are willing to put much work into designing the facilities to alleviate these problems. (There was one major difference of opinion about making left turns, from the right side, by first crossing the intersection and then turning left after crossing the intersection. Forester tried this once and reports [BT p140]; "I have never been so nearly dead in my life, and escaping from that situation was about as dangerous and required as much skill as aerial dogfighting." McClintock says, "This is a slower but safer manoeuvre and has in fact been the compulsory way in Denmark in recent years for cyclists to turn at signaled junctions." [27] (Can anyone in Danmark comment on that?))

I'm curious if any more recent studies have been executed to compare accident rates on bike paths compared to streets. This book, and others in this discussion group, seem to doubt that 2.6 figure. It provided none of its own to counter the 2.6 figure.

The assertion in the USA chapter that says vehicular cyclists were "defensive" puzzles me. When I read Forester's books, it sounded like they took the offensive instead.

This book says many times that cyclists perceived the lanes and paths to be beneficial. Yet, in many cases, the accident statistics reveal that they are no safer, or even worse off. What good does it do for a cyclist to have a false perception of improved safety?

If anyone who likes lanes and paths thinks I have maligned this book, please read it and post your own more favorable report.


The Bicycle and City Traffic: Principles and Practice
Edited by Hugh McClintock
217 pages

Belhaven Press, London, 1992
ISBN 1 85293 198 1 (UK)

Halsted Press (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons) NY
ISBN 0470-21928-9 (in the Americas)

Library of Congress call number HE5736.B52 1992
Dewey Decimal call number 388.3'472-dc20


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