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Like car drivers and passengers, cyclists deserve to be able to ride two abreast

April 17, 2012 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Had that thought yet again (and it’s not a new argument) when I was trying to have a conversation with a friend this weekend in SF on my way to Sunday Streets. Every time I or my friend snuck up on the side of each other so we could actually have a discussion — or just point out something interesting — we got chased back into the bike lane by zooming motor vehicles. Being forced to single-file it everywhere can make biking a lonely experience — we deserve better.

Many of the harmful effects of loneliness are well-known, aside from the fact that being lonely just sucks. Depriving people of social contact is just one of the many ways we can effectively torture people. And we know that poor urban design can increase loneliness.

Being forced to ride single-file, and therefore being disallowed to communicate while we ride, is not torture, but it is a significant deterrent to biking when compared to driving and taking public motorized transit. If we care about putting more people on bikes, we need to advocate for the ability to ride two-abreast. And even if we don’t care about putting more people on bikes, we cyclists still deserve the right to ride two abreast, just like drivers and their passengers.

If I want to hang with a friend — all other things being equal — if I can’t talk to them while we’re moving about, I’m driving. That decision is simple. I want to be able to talk to my friends while we’re riding our bikes around. Cars do not deserve two to three times the asphalt just because they’re wider. If people are really dedicated to getting around by individual private motorized transport, they can go buy a Tango ‘single-file’ car:

'Single-file' cars -- not as space-wasteful

Drivers and their passengers don’t have to deal with this ‘single-file’ nonsense, why should we? And look where this single-file biking was being forced to happen - one side of the street even has two lanes for motor vehicles, so two sets of drivers/passengers can have a decent conversations with each other, while bikers are forced to ‘get in line’.

5 (fat) cars lanes, two (skinny) bike lanes

Shoot — even pedestrians on the sidewalk have to deal with this all the time - except most of the time it’s inanimate objects like traffic lights and parking signs and fire hydrants and trees and an assortment of other obstacles which force walkers to ‘single file it’ on the sidewalk time and again.

Pedestrian slalom course

The new Prospect Park West (PPW) street design in Brooklyn New York City is going to replace some unused, restricted road space — currently in line with a ‘parking row’ — with some pedestrian islands. The key benefit being touted is ‘increased pedestrian safety’. The islands probably will do that, if only slightly. If we were really concerned with pedestrian and biker safety, though, we’d two-way the street, and provide more room for people to bike.

Why would we want to allow cars to travel in the same direction, in separate travel lanes, while allowing bikers only single-file access?

And why would we want to continue to apportion the street 80/20 in favor of cars?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe it’s not politically feasible at the moment to two-way PPW, but the proposal to fix this street fully and correctly should now be on the table, and that includes giving cyclists the ability to ride two-abreast. It goes without saying that walkers should be afforded this same luxury.

Here is the current PPW design:

Cyclists not able to ride two-abreast

Here is the proposed design (not much different):

Nice trees, but bikers still cannot ride two abreast


This is closer to what it should look like — a two-way PPW:

Now bikers can ride two abreast

And if we proceed apace we can imagine a time in the not-too-distant future when cars will no longer be tolerated. If any type of motorized mode of transport can be substantially shown to be in alignment with the goal of a Vision Zero policy, then we can consider allowing them to continue to be used among the population. That could be cars, trucks, trains, buses, NEVs, etc. The burden of proof of safety, of course, remains on those wanting to use these modes of transport.

p.s. In the last post on the need to push for weekday ciclovias, I meant to point out a post by that challenged conventional wisdom regarding traffic. The blogger writes: “Below is an argument that some people have used to complain about bicycles, slightly altered to reflect a bikers point of view,” and then provides this rant:

Today when I got on my bike to go to work there were a bunch of inconsiderate jerks clogging up the road in front of me. They were riding two abreast, sometimes three abreast (when there was enough room, the things they were riding were like 5-6 feet wide each!). I don’t know what the occasion is, but every morning around 7 and every evening around 5 they have some sort of massive group ride. It should be illegal for them to all ride at the same time, it fills up the streets making it impossible to go anywhere, don’t these jerks realize that people have things to do?! I am forced to ride around them as they rudely take up the entire lane just for one person. I don’t understand why they don’t just use the highways, I mean the highways are designed just for them. I don’t understand why they are even allowed to ride on the streets, get on the highway where you belong! The worst part is their behavior, if you try to tell them to get out of the way all they do is honk their horn or give you the finger, I mean how rude!

It makes sense. We should challenge every assumption.

pps. — Anyone seen bike directions on the iPhone yet?

7 Comments to “Like car drivers and passengers, cyclists deserve to be able to ride two abreast”

  1. First, I will I want to tell you a little about me and my big picture views. To quote Star Trek, “The good of the many outweigh the good of the few”. Self-centered opinions are usually where most conversations start but should not end. Almost everyone’s opinion is as important. I put about ten times as many miles on my bicycle as my car per year so I have strong opinions about bicycle rights. First and foremost, until the majority of bicyclist start obeying the traffic laws, I do not think bicyclists deserve very much at all but that is a different subject.

    “Cars do not deserve two to three times the asphalt just because they’re wider.” – This is mostly true, as long as your cycling speed is the speed limit or greater. Most of the time, that is not the case. Do you impede traffic in your car? It would be very inconsiderate and I believe it is illegal is most states. Bicyclists deserve rights as do motorists. Someday, there may be a much larger percentage of law abiding, considerate bicycles on the roads, but until then I am sorry to say, I believe motorist should be giving the greater consideration.

  2. In case you did not hear the news for the motorized two wheelers who live in VA, “New law lets motorcyclists ride side by side”.

  3. John Murphy says:

    First and foremost, until the majority of bicyclist start obeying the traffic laws, I do not think bicyclists deserve very much at all but that is a different subject.

    Pretty inflammatory. Do you have proof that over 50% of cyclists do not obey traffic laws?

    Do you have proof that over 50% of motorists do?

  4. Peter Smith says:

    First and foremost, until the majority of bicyclist start obeying the traffic laws, I do not think bicyclists deserve very much at all but that is a different subject.

  5. Re your design for PPW- I like the fact that both directions of the bike lane are on the same side, regardless of what happens with the car lanes. No cars crossing it is reason enough to favor that. In fact, one way to allow people to ride side-by-side is to simply make it a bit wider: widening it by 50% would be more than enough to allow two people to go one way and one the other, without needing a huge amount of space.

  6. Peter Smith says:

    That’s a good point Alai — I guess my design is based on the fact that these immovable concrete islands are going in right now, so we’ll have to deal with them.

  7. Reading this in a place where bike lanes are non existent I can only dream of having your problems. I’m just trying to not be ridden off the road 2-3 times a ride by a big rig or oblivious driver.


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