Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Cyclists are NOT pedestrians OR motorists!

This is a very important blog post. It is a major challenge to the traditional way of thinking about cyclists in the North American influenced designs. IE vehicular cycling vs slow and inexperienced cycling.

As you can probably see (unless you are blind, in which case you've heard about it) on the streets, there are no cycle tracks, or practically none. This will vary depending on where you live, London now has quite a few kilometres of actually pretty nice cycle tracks on the new generation of cycle superhighways, though the junctions could have an update, and Vancouver has some excellent cycle friendly places, like the south end of Burrard Bridge, but overall, and in Edmonton, there are no cycle tracks on a consistent basis.

The usual rational or explanation of why there are so few is that cyclists are given the "choice" between cycling on the road or on the sidewalk on shared use paths, or are given the "option" to dismount and cross using pedestrian crossings or dismounting and using zebra crossings at roundabouts and side streets. This is a terrible idea, and I believe that this is the reason why our cycle routes suck so much these days. It's turned cycling into mainly either a leisure or sport activity, leading the the decline of the single speeders/three speed backpedals like I have that make journeys, even long ones, practical (I just did a 15 km journey today over a single hour of time spent on my bicycle, and that was including waiting for a train and several traffic lights and with a poor surface with bumps and upstands at every side street). The leisure vs sport also makes people think that you can either go slow on inefficient paths or fast with heavy and intimidating traffic. And it's led to the rise of "safety" equipment, with helmets and high viz jackets, even for slow and medium speed cyclists, often with helmets being legislated. Nobody would suggest building sidewalks for "slow" pedestrians and the minority of people who want to jog, and nobody would suggest building an 80 km/h freeway right next to a 300 km/h freeway in the rural area so that you can have experienced drivers away from the ordinary people, the Volken, if you are German (Volkswagen joke)

There are critical differences between cyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles. The masses, speeds and directions are obvious. But there are other differences too. Cyclists need to have very few, ideally no, stops on their routes to be efficient. Cars have engines, and you as a driver don't waste your own energy by stopping. You can put your foot on the accelerator with practically no effort. The waste of energy that the cyclist has to put in is multiplied when you have people less able to cycle, like elderly cyclists.

Bumps in the cycle path also make you go slower. They also pose a much larger risk for the same crack or bump size than they usually do for a motor vehicle, as cyclists must balance on two wheels. Bi, two, cycle, wheels. Even a few millimetres will cause this problem.

Cyclists also need a paved surface to be efficient. Cars can do reasonably well on grass, but give dirt rain and it becomes so much of a challenge that it gave the Soviets the ability to counter attack the Nazis.

Cyclists also have differences from pedestrians. Pedestrians can be much denser than cyclists can, and cyclists need to maintain a minimum speed to even stay upright at all. I cannot balance if I cannot go at least about 8 km/h. Cyclists also have a turning radius. Pedestrians usually don't, and even most wheelchairs can turn nearly on the spot. There are also more differences between speeds of cyclists. Some are slower, some are faster. Pedestrians don't often have this difference, and there isn't as much variety. Pedestrians, also by being denser, can fit into less space. I say 1.8 metres minimum, 2 metres standard, more if needed. Cyclists need to be able to overtake effectively.

Cyclists also have inertia. Pedestrians of course do to, but by not going very fast, not having wheels on a free flow axle and by having "brakes" that will stop you in very nearly an instant, IE your feet, pedestrians only get a stubbed toe if they hit a curb. Hitting the curb can be a fatal crash for a cyclist, at the very least possibly getting thrown off the saddle and possibly over the handlebars.

The reaction distance of a cyclist, and the braking distance, is much longer than a pedestrian. You can be coming at maybe 18-25 km/h normal speed for upright cyclists, more for recumbent riders, velomobilists and racing cyclists. This means that you must have good sightlines to predict what is going to happen next. The distance isn't nearly so long for pedestrians. This is why pedestrians often get priority over motor traffic even if cyclists don't.

It's a huge mistake to lump cyclists in with motor traffic or pedestrians, or sometimes both, depending on the type of cyclist you have. Why not have one system and make it so good that everyone will want to use it, and a legal obligation to use it actually seems like a formality, and practically nobody is given a ticket?

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