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On-Street Bike Lanes More Important Than Off-Street Bike Paths

February 24, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Photo on right: Joe Linton

That is, if your goal is to get more people on bikes more often for more reasons — daily commuting, errand-running, socializing, etc. — you should spend more of your dollars on on-street infrastructure rather than off-street infrastructure. Several studies, however conflicting, suggest the same - “More specifically, provision of good quality separate cycling facilities alongside heavily travelled roads and linking to everyday facilities that people need to use…”. In other words, cyclists and would-be cyclists are human beings that have places to go and things to do, and they sometimes/often want to be able to do them quickly and conveniently.

If your city has $10M to spend on bike infrastructure (as if), then the breakdown between on-street and off-street facilities should fall towards the on-street side. Whether it’s 51/49, or 99/1, or somewhere in between, is up to you and your city to figure out.

Most times I’ve suggested this online, I was treated as a blaspheme. I knew I had to be correct because how could we suggest that women should be forced to ride a pitch-dark bike path at night when most Americans, men and women, are afraid to walk around even their own neighborhoods at night? [Unless we're just planning to keep women at home?] We know women are more risk-averse than men (thankfully!). Should we just throw women under the bus? [I will not ride a bike path at night, so being afraid of getting jumped or worse is not specific to women.]

This thought crossed my mind recently because Google is expanding their campus again, and there are some bike paths in the area and little to no worthwhile on-street facilities — the question is, which projects should we go after, and with what percentage of our resources?

Right now there is no dignified way for a biker to get from civilization — downtown Mountain View, or really, any place west of Highway 101 — to the Googleplex [the recommended bike route is 3.8 miles whereas a car can get there in about 2.6 miles (non-highway)]. A biker could choose to take some trail that’s often dark and/or flooded out and, by its very nature, lacks social safety (Did he shut down his blog?), etc., but we need to allow normal human beings to hop off a train or bus in downtown Mountain View/wherever, and simply ride to the Googleplex, on their own bike or on the soon-to-be-coming bike-share bikes — without fear of losing life or limb. And it has to be the shortest route possible — shorter than is possible by car. There are actually a couple of beautiful streets near both the start and end of the trip — it’s only about a 2.5 mile walk — we should work to make this direct route walkable first, then bikeable, and if there’s any room left over we can talk about other ways that people might want to get around.

If it was up to me, 99% of our collective resources — monetary, political, etc. — from Google, city council, workers, citizens — would go to on-street facilities. On-street facilities simply have to take precedence, for obvious reasons.

4 Comments to “On-Street Bike Lanes More Important Than Off-Street Bike Paths”


  1. But it needs to be GOOD infrastructure. A token space delimited with a dab of white paint, filled with “just for a second” parked cars, is not good infrastructure. A lane placed so it can collect road debris, is not good infrastructure.

    Here: http://dr2chase.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/two-cycle-tracks/

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  2. Roger Geller, Portland OR Bicycle Coordinator reports that 7-12% of would be cyclists are OK with on road cycle lanes. This would be a massive increase in most cities.

    With shortsighted politicians and traffic engineers insisting on most road funding going to cars we simply cannot afford to insist on off road paths. Paths would attract the nearly 50% of people who would like them, so advocating for them makes sense, but the priority must be for affordable cycle lanes, good intersection provisions, parking, skills training and promotion.

    Research in NZ has found that cyclists will take longer routes if they are safer, more pleasant and not too much longer. Face it, riding a bike is fun once you are in shape.

    With petrol headed to $8 per litre by 2018 according to the Australian government research arm, building great cycle infrastructure makes sense. Let’s start by converting portions of the existing road network to cycle lanes and bicycle boulevards.

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  3. Have you even been to Mountain View? There are quite a few dignified ways to get between there and the Googleplex; from east to west:
    - Steven’s Creek Trail — excellent in daytime, but has darkness problems, doesn’t actually flood,
    - Shoreline — on-street bike lanes, although merging through freeway on/offramps is a little worrisome,
    - Rengstorff — on-street bike lanes, about as good as you can possibly get at a freeway junction,
    - Adobe Creek underpass — floods in the rainy season, but there hasn’t actually been one this year,
    - Embarcadero/Oregon bike bridge — a few miles to the west, but perfect for going to Palo Alto, Stanford, and points west.

    Claiming that it has to be the shortest possible route is just plain hyperbole, but Moffett-Central-Stierlin-Shoreline is covered by bike lanes and is absolutely direct. And the Mountain View bike lanes are remarkably free of obstructions, such as trucks unloading.

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  4. Peter Smith says:

    @Yoyo - i’ve been to MV, recently. I worked at the Googleplex for a few months. There are zero dignified ways to get from downtown MV to the Googleplex. And nothing’s changed in years.

    If you’re happy with a 5% bike mode share, then please keep on keepin’ on — your interests and mine are orthogonal.

    For me, I’m gonna worry about the 95% who are not quite as remarkable as you.

    Live with that hyperbole.

    I look forward to the day when a Googler takes center stage in these comments and sticks up for regular people. Unless and until that happens, I’ll take up for them.

    Get on the right side of history. The status quo does not need more defenders.

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