Friday Group Ride #437

Friday Group Ride #437

There’s a video making the rounds on YouTube detailing the French government’s plan to increase the use of the bicycle; the desire is to encourage the country’s citizenry more like the Dutch, who use the bike for 30 percent of all trips. Currently, the French conduct 3 percent of their trips by bike. The government is investing some €350 million on new bike paths. But they aren’t stopping there. They’ll be creating connectors with existing bike paths to make them more usable. All new buildings constructed will be required to have adequate bicycle parking. By 2022 all high schools will offer lessons in cycling (one wonders if they will cover bonking). One-way streets, amazingly, will be both-way thoroughfares for riders. There will be tax incentives to encourage people to ride to work as well. You can check out the video here.

Watching the video, I was reminded of a question that has lingered in my gray matter since a couple of trips to the Boulder area this past year. I spent most of my time getting around by bike and used their truly formidable network of bike paths that extend into neighboring communities. Transportation advocates frequently cite first mile/last mile concerns about trips conducted without a car, with the central issue being how to get people to and from public transportation in order to make it more useful. What I found remarkable about those bike paths was how they inverted that whole first mile/last mile idea by creating a network in which a rider may only ride a portion of their initial or final mile on actual roads.

Even if you’re not using bike paths to run errands, having a good bike path that can get you to the edge of town can make the beginning and ending of a ride a good deal more relaxing. That’s true not just in Boulder, but here in Santa Rosa, as well.

I write this with the experience of having spent a year in Valencia, Calif., where the city has a system of paths they call paseos that can be used to get to a destination without traveling on the interstate-like roads. In the late ’90s, Valencia was the hot place to move in SoCal because it was a “planned community.” Just what they planned is something I never quite worked out. The paseos, while terrific for giving kids a safe place to play, serpentine like the walk of a toddler and are narrow enough that someone riding a bike more than 10 mph will utterly terrorize anyone not also engaged on a bike. They are impractical for transportation the way a semi is impractical for making a run to the grocery store.

Given the average American’s resistance to most things European (Have we stopped calling them freedom fries yet?), rather than looking to European examples of encouraging broad ridership, I’m thinking we would benefit from looking at places where traveling by bike is as pleasant and threat-free as possible here in the U.S. This isn’t a discussion of whether or not to build cycling infrastructure—there’s no winning that debate one way or another. What I’m interested to hear is where you’ve ridden where cycling facilities have been created and are planned well enough to encourage you to leave the car and ride where you’re going. If a friend was planning a vacation and made getting around by bike their number one concern, where would you send them?


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    I lived for three years in Vancouver BC without a car. Amazing experience using designated streets, bike lanes and paths through Pacific Spirit Park. Lots of bikes and parking space for bikes plus a culture where stepping off a bike into any place is encouraged.

    1. Neil M Winkelmann

      Also Vancouver, but the North shore. In West Vancouver, the cycling is pretty good in spite of the complete and utter lack of any infrastructure apart from a few 100m of painted lanes, and some shared-use paths that frustrate cyclists and terrorize pedestrians. North Vancouver tries a bit harder on infrsatructure, but much of it is pretty poorly designed and implemented. I’d not really recommend Vancouver as an actual cycling destination per se, but if a cyclists was coming here, I’d say bring your bike. The city itself is reasonably well-served by segregated lanes, and as you say, I’d agree that the culture is generally welcoming for riders.

  2. Quentin

    After visiting the Netherlands last year, anything I’ve seen in the US pales in comparison. I’m seeing good things happening with bike infrastructure in Salt Lake City with I visit, but I’m not sure it lives up to the standard of actively encouraging cycling ahead of driving except maybe in a few downtown neighborhoods.

  3. Damian Donckels

    I live in Albuquerque and commute and run errands almost always by bike. While we have several good separated bike routes, they don’t connect well, don’t allow access to destinations and I always have to spend the first few and last few miles on some pretty busy streets. The city is trying to improve this and the local bike advocacy group is helping but it’s just not there. We still have lots of bike lanes that just end and don’t connect to anywhere. The bike lanes are also not very safe and with such a car culture many people are terrified to ride on our streets. sorry can’t help.

  4. Max

    I live in the Phoenix area and there is something like two hundred miles of canals. Some stretches have paved paths and street lights, some have rough asphalt for work trucks, the rest is gravel. Any tire can do fine. Road crossings usually have a crosswalk, sometimes an underpass, sometimes a pedestrian crossing signal. From home, via a nearby bike path I can get to the nearest canal with less than a mile of street exposure. From there I can put together a century ride inside the city, or get out of the city. The same has been true when I lived in other parts of town.

  5. scott g.

    Switzerland, national bike routes, trains that take bikes, nice drivers.
    Imagine Disneyland for bikes, but cleaner and much better run.
    Lots of trains, running to small towns, that take bikes.
    Unlimited supply of Ritter Sport bars is strange and wonderful flavours.

  6. AG

    I grew up in Valencia. We moved there from Hollywood in 1971 when I was 6. The paseos that you feel are a transportational failure were never designed to work that way. They were a way for families and kids to be able to get to the neighborhood school, to the community pool and to other neighborhoods without ever needing to touch a street. They did that amazingly well. Valencia even striped bike lanes on the collector streets in the late ’70’s which I would wager was long before most towns or cities painted (green!) bike lanes. My brother and I were able to ride our bikes safely to school everyday, and my mom never needed to get us into a car to visit a friend a few blocks away. Back then no one was pining to live like the Dutch, so yes, one still needed to drive to work and the grocery store. The paseos were never designed for that, but what they were planned for they did very well.

    I now live in a poshy part of LA and my kids cannot ride their bikes safely to school what with many drivers glancing between the road, their phones and/or the giant computer screen in their Tesla. Running stop signs is a running joke. It’s a true shame our neighborhood streets are not safe for kids to ride on. The Valencia paseos provided a remarkably effective way to get people out walking, and kids on their bikes and skateboards. We could learn more from that kind of planning, and I don’t think you gave them a fair shake considering when they were first built and how they were meant to be used. Certainly those paseos don’t solve all transportation problems in the Dutch sense, but they can be an important piece of the puzzle of how we can get around without relying on the car so much in the future.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing that. It’s really interesting to get your perspective. When I moved to Valencia, I did so in a hopeful way, with an open mind. My frustration with the paseos took time to develop. I had assumed that the disconnect was between the planners and their understanding of what makes for good bicycle infrastructure, but now you have me wondering if the disconnect was between the planners and the marketing people and the realtors charged with selling the homes. The way they were sold in the marketing materials, I thought I would be able to ride all over the Santa Clarita Valley without hitting streets and was disappointed to learn it was impractical. As to the fair shake, I do think I gave them that; the paseos in the development I was in, North Park, had been built the year I moved in; my house was brand new. If anything, they were even less practical to ride than the ones down in the older part of the community.

  7. Aar

    Admittedly, I don’t travel much but have never been anywhere where I would call the bicycling infrastructure sufficient and well planned enough to encourage me to leave the car and ride. I have to have that motivation within myself. When I do, I always have to cowboy up to the risks.

    To that end, I’d like to echo a callout. Cycling infrastructure should be built for cycling speeds. I appreciate that Chicago separated the cycling greenway from the pedestrian greenway along portions of the lakefront. There are opportunities within the implementation but the city’s recognition of that need is worthy of recognition.

  8. Scott M.

    I’m rather spoiled. Sacramento’s 36-mile long American River Trail is the mother of all trail systems.

    Starting in Discovery Park the trail follows the American River east to Folsom Lake, affording views of a placid river framed by oak and cottonwood, grape vines and blackberry. The trail traverses’ large meadows, dips and dives over levee walls, and “climbs” bridges dedicated exclusively to bikes and pedestrians.

    Rather than being an afterthought to a road, the American River Parkway is its own greenspace — truly separate infrastructure. The parkway is home to deer, rabbits, beaver, otter, salmon, skunks, bobcat, heron, ducks, geese, and the occasional bald eagle. It is a wild space within a metropolis.

    The trail is class A – two lanes of butter smooth pavement with packed granite walking paths on both sides. Parks along the way provide bathrooms and water fountains (the missing ingredient in many trail systems). Several spurs and alternative routes connect to other trail systems (e.g. the State Park at Lake Natoma and another 50+ miles of dedicated bike paths in the City of Folsom).

    With about two road crossings that require caution, this is the bicycle equivalent of a super highway and the route of choice for bike commuters, day trippers, pros, groups, and cross country cyclists. While speed can be problematic with any mixed-use trail, there are many months of the year, and times of the day, when bicyclists are the predominant trail users, providing ample opportunities to uncork any speed you like.

    There are many superb trails systems. The new trails in Jackson/Wilson/Moose Wyoming offer unparalleled vistas of the Tetons. Glenwood Springs to Aspen Colorado has a rails-to-trail conversion and in-town network. Boise is, uh, interesting. Red Canyon in Parawon UT and Glenwood Canyon Trail in Colorado are marvelous. But for me, for commuting, the American River Trail sets a very high bar.

    Padraig, should you ever want a tour guide…

  9. Kevin McTighe

    Cyclists can get most places in Tucson via bike/ped lanes built in the washes. Easy access to area parks, Mt Lemon for climbers and other bike friendly roads. Second Phoenix also. Beware washes when it rains !
    Rails to Trails website has info on dedicated paths throughout the US, cities and countryside. Also with checking out is website. East Coast Greenway Alliance working to create a safe, non-motorized trail from Maine to Florida. Advocacy Groups are making amazing progress across the US. Look them up in your community, or where you visit and help them out.

  10. Michael

    I am visiting Santa Barbara this week and have been getting out each morning for a ride and then working late. I lived here when doing my PhD in the 1980s but have not spent much time here since. Coming from Flagstaff now (lived there most of thirty years), I am very impressed with the design of the trails and lanes here (Flagstaff has never designed paths that get you where you want to go). One can ride mostly on separate paths all over the Santa Barbara/Goleta area, especially out toward the university, and speeds are low enough downtown that a cyclist can keep up with traffic. When I lived here long ago, I commuted 11 miles each way on my bike between home and university and VERY rarely drove – there was little reason to drive. The maintenance of the system is not as good as its design – lots of big cracks, root heave, and potholes – but that can be rectified more quickly than poor design, if they ever choose to spend the money. I was down in Ventura today and they have a nice trail from Ojai to Ventura, and a nice path/lane combination along the coast to Carpinteria, but I was a bit shocked at some of the places where they painted sharrows, roads where no one would want to ride.

  11. David Arnold

    @Scott M…American River Trail is as close to Dutch and Danish cycling infrastructure as we can get. Incredible. I like the You Tube footage of the then Rabobank team training on it before Amgen Tour.

  12. Larry Brooks

    Interesting that neither Davis California nor Eugene OR get call outs here. Both planned and invested in bicycle infrastructure for decades and the investment has yeilded returns – just like Holland if you build it they will ride!

  13. KG

    Five years ago, I moved to Madison County, Illinois (just across the river from St Louis). I was coming from Kansas. The land of butter smooth pavement and all things gravel. I thought I was moving from cycling heaven to hell. I was very wrong.
    Madison County has over 100 miles of trails in the county and is currently building another trail to hook up to the county just south of us. The trail system passes adjacent to the high school. I see teachers & students riding. The trails also gives access to the University (SIUE) as well as the local MTB system.
    I use the trails to commute 30 miles each way to work. My only concerns are deer and downed trees.
    The bike shops here are thriving.
    The only downside is – southern Illinois is flat and boring. There is nothing good to look at.

  14. Robot

    I have written about Boston a lot in this space, myself, but it’s nice to be on this side of the FGR, so I’m chiming in.

    Boston’s infrastructure is developing. Twenty years ago there was nothing and relatively few of us out on the city streets. It was not uncommon for me to stop at a light in Cambridge and be the only cyclist in view during rush hour. Then the city hired a “Bike Czar” to help modernize and mile after mile of bike lane began to appear. The implementation is not ideal, and that’s mostly down to the fact that there is no room here. Our roads are all narrow and twisting and double-parked. Most of what we have is paint, and I think what painted bike lanes do is tell drivers to expect bikes, rather than actually protecting cyclists in any meaningful way.

    The results are good though. If you ride through the city during rush hour now, you’re likely to find yourself in a pack of a dozen or more riders at any given light at rush hour. Our “network” is still pretty poor, with some notable exceptions. There are purpose built bike paths in spots that are really outstanding and will take you good places. But the biggest change in our town is just that the roads are more multi-use than they used to be, and many drivers (if not all) seem to have changed their attitudes toward cyclists.

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