Our Industry: Bike Lanes, but No Bikes


Our Industry: Bike Lanes, but No Bikes


Over the last eight months, Our Industry articles have focused on several groups, specifically the “Parking Reform Network” (PRN), that take confusing and damaging positions about city transportation issues. PRN presents themselves as parking experts, but after reviewing their publications, readers see that they are not parking experts at all but instead an advocacy group that feels strongly about removing cars. They have coined and promoted buzzwords to communicate their agenda and attract the attention of city councils: safe sidewalks, climate change, the underserved, and affordable housing. 


These are all great causes that need our support and full attention! However, activist groups are receiving generous financial and legislative support from city councils, but failing to meet the needs of city citizens. Community needs like affordable housing, accessible services, and safe pedestrian mobility have little to do with removing surface parking lots and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build 314 miles of bicycle lanes in cities. Some very loud and persistent bicycle groups push their agendas by promoting growth in bicycle use – while the bicycle lanes remain empty.


There seem to be a lot of publications touting the great contribution of bicycles. Additionally, substantial amounts of advocacy information reach downtown officials who support the construction and use of bicycle lanes. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent developing, maintaining, and protecting bicycle lanes to keep those dangerous cars away from the bikers. But around the country, we see empty bike lanes. 


We are trying to change the way we move around our community on the belief that if we build bike lanes then the bicyclists will come. However, biking in this country has never been seen as a source of transportation, and for good reason. Instead, biking is a source of recreation and exercise; very few Americans rely on biking as a primary means of transportation to work, shopping, or community events.


The Reality of Mixing Cars and Bikes

As a very committed cyclist, I have never considered biking with busy fast-moving cars a good idea, just like I have never thought of biking in pedestrian areas or in crowds of inexperienced bikers as a good idea. There are plenty of streets and paths that are not high traffic and are perfectly safe for recreational and sport riding. Those safe areas provide great places to spend some money to make bicycling more useful, attractive, and safer. 


Riding a bicycle on the street with 4,000-pound cars going 40 to 60 MPH is unsafe. Experienced bicycle riders understand the challenges and safety precautions when riding on roads with cars. I am a long-time cyclist with enough experience to avoid riding on major streets. I rode a road bike for over 40 years, which is certainly long enough to know its dangers! 


Twelve years ago, a small moment on a Sunday afternoon changed my life forever. I was returning home from a two-hour ride on a divided, four-lane road. There was only one car in sight in either direction. Despite my attentiveness and assessments, a car came up behind me and hit me. Upon arriving at the emergency room, my wife was told it did not look good. 


However, after six days in the ICU, I left the hospital, thankful to face a long recovery. I was 62 years old and my wife asked me to stop riding. Well, 12 years of not riding caused considerable weight gain, and my wife thinks that 40 years of dodging cars worked better than not riding, so I need to start riding again. If it can happen to me riding in an area with no traffic, it can happen to anyone, especially inexperienced riders commuting in high-traffic areas. 


The bike lane, climate change, and anti-car activists have been spending time and money with city councils and state legislators all over the country with their story that installing bike lanes will increase the number of people cycling thus reducing the number of cars on the road. They also produce numbers that claim the number of biking deaths in those areas has been cut in half since the installation of bike lanes and protective barriers (see picture below). The number of bicycle deaths in Houston this year is 15. (Almost becoming a statistic makes me pay attention when there is a bicycle fatality.) 


If I remember correctly, more than half of the fatal accidents over the last year were from bike riders not following safety precautions. From this experienced bike rider’s perspective, putting large numbers of inexperienced bike riders on the street with 4,000-pound cars seems counterintuitive. Now the activists are expecting the roads to fill with inexperienced bicyclists who are told they have the right of way over cars and will also save the planet by eliminating cars.


The activists reiterate that we need to create training programs for drivers to learn to look out for bicyclists. To clarify: 4,000-pound cars going 45 mph in traffic with restricted vision are supposed to look out for inexperienced slow-speed bicycle riders who have unrestricted vision?


Activists always take their position and seem to never look at the whole picture! These issues are like the issues that were discussed in the earlier articles about the activist group “Parking Reform Network.” To make any productive and forward-thinking change, we must take the whole picture approach. Let’s support bicycles in residential communities where short bike trips can replace the car, but not at the cost of the traffic lanes. 


TPN has hours of traffic video in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Houston, Austin, Nashville, and Chicago where bike lanes have been installed and take up traffic lanes. The only problem with the videos is that it was very difficult to find a bike! These all represented heavy downtown traffic streets, millions of dollars spent on bike lanes, and no bikes. 


In downtown Houston, the bike lanes are all protected lanes with two bike lanes per street taking up enough width for a car lane. In downtown, they also have traffic lights that are made for bikes. The traffic light is a normal car lane intersection light and there is an added bicycle red and green light on a pole in the corner of the intersection. When the light changes, the bike light goes from red to green first for three seconds before the car light changes to green. The purpose is to give the bikes a chance to get into the intersection first so the cars can see them before turning. 


What about the bike that did not get to the intersection in those three seconds and arrived tooling along at 12mph into an intersection that they believed they had the green light right of way?


Making Transportation Reform Work

Who convinces a city’s traffic engineers and politicians to build hundreds of millions of dollars of bike lanes downtown for a volume of bikes that is less than 1 percent of the total commuters on the road? The concern is the strength of the activist groups like the Parking Reform Network and the local bike advocacy groups like Bike Houston and Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition. They can get cities to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on unused bike lanes with nothing more than bad information and a megaphone.


Instead, why don’t we improve roads and advance our rapid transit system? In most, if not all, American cities, we live in the suburbs with a portion living in the intercity areas and a much smaller number living downtown. Spending some dollars in the suburbs and intercity to create bike lanes that do not interfere with the number of traffic lanes is a good plan. However, eliminating high-traffic lanes downtown to add bike lanes is just irrational. 


In almost every city we are trying to improve the movement of traffic, but we are also reducing the number of vehicle lanes, causing slower movement of cars and longer times spent at traffic lights thus creating more carbon emissions to provide bike lanes with no bikes. 


Our Industry’s goal is to participate in changes and improvements that have a positive impact on mobility in our city. In every city in America, there is a lot to be done as we move into the future. It does not appear that spending hundreds of millions of dollars building empty bike lanes is the correct direction. 


By the end of this year, Houston will have 150 bike rental stands spread around the city, which are funded through millions of dollars in grants. At their peak during the pandemic, Houston had 250,000 riders annually with 150 stations, equaling an average of 4 riders per station per day. This bike rental program has never been profitable and is closing its doors. The city has provided a $400,000 grant to keep the program open until the end of the year. The Houston Chronicle reported on September 18, 2023, and then two weeks later on October 2, 2023, that the city has approved $10.6 million to create its bike share program, purchasing bike stations from a Canadian Company. At this point, the city of Houston and probably many other cities, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on bike lanes that no one uses and tens of millions of dollars on bike share stations that are not used. 


Clyde Wilson is the owner of TPN Consulting a division of the original “The Parking Network” a consulting and financial review firm. Clyde can be reached at clyde@tpnconsulting.com.

Article contributed by:
Clyde Wilson, TPN – The Parking Network
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