The May issue of Bicycling magazine has an article of interest for any city planning or implementing bicycle lanes — like my hometown, Fort Worth.
The story, “We Have Met the Enemy” by Matt Seaton, focuses on New York and the controversy that accompanied that city’s installation of nearly 300 miles of bike lanes since 2007 in an effort to calm and decrease motorized traffic.
It suggests that simple courtesy by bicyclists and self-enforcement of the rules of the road by cyclists go a long way to alleviating the opposition.
“The backlash was a direct result of cyclists who don’t abide by the rules,” said Ken Podziba, the CEO of Bike New York, a nonprofit advocacy organization that stages the annual Five Boro Bike Tour, to be held this year on May 6.
The Bicycling story quoted Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says about Us). He cited a Harvard study that identified four stages in the change of social norms – such as the implementation of bike lanes: silly, controversial, progressive, and, finally, obvious.
“In the first stage, we had a sort of reflexive denial: New York isn’t Europe, that won’t work here, etc.,” Vanderbilt said.
“I think we’re somewhere between the second and third stage when it comes to cycling in New York; opponents are finding they can’t make viable arguments against cycling as a transportation mode on safety or traffic-flow reasons, so now it’s more about the left-wing, Copenhagenizing cabal.”
I spent a week in New York last month and was very impressed by the emerging infrastructure for cyclists and the number of bikes out on the streets and bike lanes.
I like to think that Fort Worth, too, is somewhere between the second and third stages in the change of social norms – between “controversial” and “progressive.”
The city has long had an excellent network of paved trails, mostly along the Clear and West forks of the Trinity River. It has in place a comprehensive plan to promote bicycling “as a safe and attractive transportation alternative.” It’s considering a bike-sharing program. And it has been busy delineating bike lanes on major thoroughfares to and around downtown.
The icing on the cake: Mayor Betsy Price is an avid cyclist who leads bicycle rides around the city.
Fort Worth has come a long way since 2008 when Bicycling magazine called Dallas-Fort Worth one of the worst places in the nation to ride a bike. But we still live in a car-centric region and have a way to go before bike lanes become an “obvious” solution to congestion and pollution.
In that process, maybe we can learn something from New York. The courtesy of cyclists can go a long way in changing people’s attitudes toward bicycles on the road.