the ongoing debate: should bikes be allowed to be regular traffic?

As more and more people are considering the feasibility of commuting via bicycle in Portland due to the rising gas prices and other concerns, we of course see more confrontation between people in cars and people on bikes, since there are more of them about. This is frustrating, and it seems the dialogue about these issues is a bit emotionally charged and slow going, but hopefully it will eventually result in a suitable mixture of car and bicycle traffic, as well as softer attitudes on both sides of the debate.

I just ran across this article today on the Copenhagenize blog - regarding bicycle registration, and the argument that people who primarily ride bicycles as opposed to driving cars are not paying as much to maintain the roads, and therefore should either be charged more, or should not be able to use the roads.

You may or may not know, but Amsterdam and Copenhagen are two of the most heavily bicycled cities in the world, with 40-60% of their traffic being bicycle traffic. Anyway, a reader had written to the author of this blog (which is about biking in Copenhagen), and asked about the issue of bicycle registration in Europe and whether this same issue was a problem there.

The article makes a number of really good points, including (here comes another bulleted list, yay!):

  • a bicycle registration system would likely cost *far* more than it would earn (therefore making the problem worse, not helping it).
  • a bicycle does far less damage to the road than a car does, therefore a person who is primarily riding a bicycle to commute is not incurring as much road repair cost, so it makes sense that they wouldn't pay the same amount of taxes as someone who primarily drives a car.
  • a bicycle has no environmental impact due to its operation, therefore it incurs no cost for pollution management and such.
  • riding a bicycle (as with any other exercise) helps to build your own personal health, thus improving your energy level, your productivity at work and at home, making you a more active beneficiary of society, and not taking up sick or hospital time as much.

There are more details, statistics, etc in the article, but the points simply make common sense as well, without needing statistics to back them up. Another issue that isn't brought up in the article, but that was brought up on the BikePortland.org blog today, is that bicycles take up much less space than cars do, both on the road and when not on the road. Seattle, Washington is rolling out on-street parking for bikes, and they are fitting 20 bikes in one car parking space, with ample room for each bike. The same applies to bikes which are moving down the road, many more can fit in the same space that one car occupies.

Anyway, I know it's not a simple problem, merging bicycle and automobile traffic in urban centers, but I think it's well worth the effort to get the infrastructure and education in place to make a best effort at both getting people out on bikes, as well as getting cyclists and motorists to co-exist peacefully. Obviously, it is possible, and I hope that it continues to be - and continues to be more and more of - a priority for the powers-that-be in Portland.


  1. I sooooo agree. I used to ride my bike EVERYWHERE in Albuquerque. I didn't own a car.

    Here, in DC and the surrounding area, riding a bike around with the traffic (not a nice park bike ride) is like asking to be killed.

    I walked to work for awhile, attempting to be green and car-less, but was hit by a car. I had the right of way- it frightened me, and I gave up and gave in. Sad sad sad. It sucks when you want to make the world a greener, healthier place, and the odds are stacked against you. Don't get me started on the absolute crap bus system. Rant over. ;)

    Ride on, my friend!

  2. I'm Pro-bike.

    BTW, your previous comments on bikes flying by you at a stop sign. There is a reason for that! Most cyclists have their shoes clipped into the pedals, and it is extremely inefficient to come to a complete stop, since you have to shift down, un-clip, and re-clip to get going again. It is these "clip-less" systems that make bicycling so efficient. When I did the Portland Century on 24AUG, I and my friend went from PSU to Gresham in about 45 minutes. We couldn't have done that on platform pedals. 45 minute commute makes it feasible (possibly even faster on conjested days) to bicycle vs. drive a car. So.... don't be too hard on the more aggresive cyclists.
    Onkel Ken

  3. Well, a couple things I would say - most bikers I see around Portland who are just riding around on a daily basis (that is, not for any kind of cycling event or anything), are not using clip pedals, and so they should have no problems just stopping at a stop sign, as all they have to do is lift one foot off of a pedal. However, from observation, and from talking with some of them, a prevalent attitude seems to be simply that they cannot be bothered to stop, they are too important, or in too big of a hurry, or whatever. The other thing to note, is that in Oregon, it is required by law that bicyclists stop at stop signs.

    I really didn't intend to harp on bicyclists in that post however - people in cars disobey rules nearly if not as much (I mentioned the turn signal issue), I just wanted to express a desire that everyone on the road give a little more thought to other people who are using the road and how they might behave in a way to make it safer and easier for everyone.

  4. Actually, it is not about any of those things. Well, yes it is but at the heart of it is pure mechanics. When a bicycle stops completely it requires a considerable amount of energy to accelerate from that dead stop, much more so than if the cyclist slowed to, say, 10% of cruising speed. Since the cyclist is using muscle power and often takes side routes with more stop signs, this frequent stopping can be a significant deterrent to cycling. On some routes the energy required to overcome stops may be greater than the total energy required for the plain conveyance.
    Also, it is much safer for a cyclist to roll through a stop than a car because they can stop or swerve much more quickly, are often moving slower than a car, and have a higher vantage point without blind spots. Now, I am not advocating what many foolish cyclists do – breeze through at full speed without looking – any more than I would suggest pedestrians to close their eyes and run across the highway. I had to jump out of the way of one of these knuckleheads the other day. Buut, we do put up yield signs where we believe it is safe for autos to proceed without a full stop. Would it not then be logical to extend the “yield” to more locations for a vehicle that is much safer for yielding than the auto. I believe that stop signs should be yield for cyclists. Prudent cyclists can save energy without worrying about getting cited, but someone who blows through and robs the right of way can be slapped with a fine. This way, cycling can be safely encouraged, and police can focus enforcement on those who are truly causing unsafe conditions. We could even create an “including cyclists” sign for those intersections where cyclists should always stop.

  5. @Janos: I totally agree with you, however, it's not likely to happen any time soon here in Portland at least, because it would have to be a law at the state level, and the majority of people in the state seem to view cyclists as intentional troublemakers, and that a law allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs would suddenly result in the chaotic destruction of the world as we know it.

    In the meantime, we have to at least make an effort to look like we're treating the stop signs responsibly - that is, at least slow down enough that you could stop easily, look where you're going, and actually yield to someone (car or pedestrian) if they have the right of way. This really is a problem, though it is probably only perceived as a major problem because it is a new and different one - the same problem exists with cars, but everyone is used to it by now.

  6. @portlandize: I agree. There is a lot of unfounded fear against such a "radical" law. In fact, laws like that were recently proposed in Arizona, Montana, Oregon and Minnesota, but they did not make it out of committee. However, Idaho has had this law on the books for 26 years and apparently has not seen any increase in cyclist accidents, although I have not looked at the report that states this. They actually go further and allow cyclists to proceed through a red traffic light after stopping and yielding to all vehicles with right of way.
    I think this law would have the opposite effect on motorist attitude. They may be resentful immediately after it passes, but once it has become normal then all of these cyclists will no longer be breaking the law. (Running traffic control is the infraction I most frequently hear motorists complain about)
    This reasonable law would probably also cause more cyclists to respect the laws better. After all, it is well know in traffic engineering that people tend to ignore laws they find absurd. It won't get all cyclists to follow the law, just as traffic lights do not cause all drivers to stop, but it will help.
    Some day we can hope.