Aren't Bikes Traffic?

Aren't Bikes Traffic?

On a ride around Lake Washington, I began to notice the signs. They occurred mostly at construction sites, and re-directed bikes where the bike lane was closed. It’s nice that they now put up signs, where in the past they simply roped off the bike lane or parked a big truck in it. What I didn’t like was what the signs said:
“Bikes merge with Traffic”? What do they mean? Aren’t cyclists part of traffic? Can you imagine a sign on the freeway saying “Right lane ends. Trucks merge with traffic”? Of course not, that would be absurd. Do traffic engineers or whoever designs these signs still consider traffic to be cars, and cyclists to be secondary users who don’t really belong on the roads?
And then there was “Road closed to vehicles,” with the clear implication that bicycles are not “vehicles.”
To be sure of the meaning of “traffic”, I looked it up in Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language:
traf•fic: 1. The movement of vehicles, ships, persons, etc. in an area, along a street, through an air lane, over a water route.
The definition said “vehicles,” not cars, so now the question was whether a bicycle is a vehicle or not:
ve•hi•cle: 1. any means in or by which someone travels or something is carried or conveyed.
There is nothing in either definition that indicates that bicycles are not vehicles, or not part of traffic. Yet the signs imply that vehicles are only cars and trucks, and that traffic does not include bicycles. And since roads are intended for traffic, they are not intended for bicycles.
Some might say that this is just semantics, but I am concerned about the attitude this implies – an attitude that remains all too prevalent among drivers. Why not simply say: “Bicycles merge left”?
Or perhaps we should just get rid of the merging instructions altogether. After all, if you see a sign that says “Right lane closed” and you don’t know that you need to merge left, you shouldn’t be driving a car or riding a bike! “Bike Lane Closed Ahead” really tells you all you need to know!
As to the “Road closed to vehicles” sign, a better way could be to keep the “Road Closed” sign and simply write on the other sign “except pedestrians and bicycles.”
I am not so much concerned about the signs themselves, but about the underlying attitude they represent, that bicycles aren’t vehicles or traffic and don’t have equal rights to use the road.
What do you think? Do you have better ideas for a concise message to write on these signs?

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Comments (67)

  • Marty J

    I believe that sign makers write these signs for the purpose of instructing the dumbest amongst us. Your critique of the signs makes sense from the point of view of the highly experienced and educated cyclist. But, to the person who thinks he needs to ride against traffic, or on the sidewalk, they make perfect sense.

    January 17, 2014 at 7:53 am
  • Patrick O'Riordan

    You probably need to refer to the definitions in the relevant road traffic legislation rather than a dictionary to find out if a bicycle is a vehicle or not according to the law. I don’t live in the US but my guess is there may not be consistent terminology from state to state, let alone country to country in the English speaking world.

    January 17, 2014 at 7:57 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      There is nothing in Washington State traffic code that states or implies that bicycles are not traffic.

      January 17, 2014 at 8:16 am
      • Patrick O'Riordan

        …but what is their definition of a vehicle?

        January 17, 2014 at 8:22 am
      • Andy

        According to Washington: “Vehicle” includes every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles.
        “Traffic” includes pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, streetcars, and other conveyances either singly or together, while using any public highways for purposes of travel.
        So bikes are vehicles, and traffic includes vehicles. Therefor, bikes are traffic.

        January 17, 2014 at 1:49 pm
  • rory

    how about “public right of way”. This is public open space, and as far as I know, there is no hierarchy defined in the RCW or WAC.

    January 17, 2014 at 8:09 am
  • Daniel Ritter

    You guys seem to really be struggling for content. If it’s not pushing a product, it’s some kind of opinion piece related to bicycle policy. To be honest, I don’t follow your blog for that kind of info. There are plenty of advocacy organizations and if I’ll make sure to check out your website or visit my local bicycle shop. Thanks, d

    January 17, 2014 at 8:17 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Thank you for voicing your opinion. As the editor of a cycling magazine and a leader in the cycling community, it’s my job to write opinion pieces. I tend to keep them out of Bicycle Quarterly, which is intended as a timeless resource, so they usually go on the blog. It’s been encouraging to see how in the last year, the discussion regarding cyclepaths has shifted. It is now generally accepted that they are less safe than riding on the street, and the discussion now focuses on whether this is a worthwhile trade-off for making cyclists feel more comfortable. If we had left the discussion to the advocacy organizations, this might never have happened.
      My second job is as a designer and manufacturer of cycling components for Compass Bicycles, so you’ll read a lot about bicycle components here. Many readers are interested in the reasons why we make things the way we do.
      If you find not everything here to your liking, then just check back a few days later, and you’ll find a different post on a different topic…

      January 17, 2014 at 8:33 am
      • marmotte27

        I value the opinion pieces on here for their perspective on and by fast cyclists, who use their bikes for sports as well as transport. It is a very important perspective, as cycling policy likes to lump all cyclists together, whether they go at 5, 10 or 15 miles an hour, when that’s actually worlds apart! No other group of road users is that little homogeneous!
        Fast cyclists may not be the largest percentage of cyclists as a whole, but that doesn’t mean they have to be overlooked, as even cycling advocacy groups are wont to do.

        January 18, 2014 at 9:42 am
      • timothygmd

        From another perspective, I thought the article was thoughtful and interesting. Dr Heine is not “stretching for content”. He is serving a wide and enlarging audience.

        January 19, 2014 at 7:12 am
  • Richard Kaufman

    Jan, I’m a copywriter. Your point is well taken; the forces that be should realize that bicycles are vehicles, too. Alas, often the folks who word traffic signs aren’t the best writers. Yes, your BIKES MERGE LEFT would be less discriminatory – and a “quicker read” to boot. (Or, if you prefer, BIKE LANE CLOSED, BIKES MERGE LEFT).
    But realize that in the world of traffic signs, clarity must trump semantics. By that standard, I think BIKES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC works. Maybe it’s just me, but as a cyclist, were I to see BIKES MERGE LEFT, I would understand that I need to move left to some degree, but it might not be obvious to me that I need to fully merge into the traffic lane; BIKES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC makes that unambiguously clear.
    ROADS CLOSED – BICYCLES AND PEDESTRIANS ONLY would probably be best for your last example.

    January 17, 2014 at 8:20 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I think BIKES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC works

      It works only because we all still carry prejudices what “traffic” is. Otherwise, in the second photo, you could assume that you are supposed to merge with foot traffic on the inside of the cones…

      January 17, 2014 at 8:36 am
      • Curt Nichols

        Jan, I think the verbiage works as-is because it effectively warns the (automobile) traffic that bikes are merging with them. That’s important.

        January 17, 2014 at 9:53 am
  • Brad Chodos-Irvine

    I thought people riding bicycles never followed the rules of the road anyway. Does it matter what the signs say?

    January 17, 2014 at 8:44 am
  • Richard Kaufman

    Your point is valid, and reflects the bigger issue of how to get people to realize that bicycles and pedestrians are “traffic” as much as cars, trucks and buses. Because that fundamental change in perception will make roads safer for ALL traffic.
    I guess what I’m questioning is whether or not can one can always achieve that while, as you say, communicating the hazard in “a concise, easy-to-understand message”? In other words, should all traffic signs be written in a way to reflect the fact that traffic includes bicycles and pedestrians? Arguably, in the interest of quickly communicating a road hazard, I think the answer is sometimes “no” – IF such accuracy compromises the quickest communication of said hazard.
    And are you taking into account visual context? I think BIKES MERGE WITH TRAFFIC in those pictures clearly IMPLIES merging with cars, trucks and buses; it’s simply a shorter way of saying BIKES MERGE WITH OTHER TRAFFIC. If that’s true, you’ve successfully communicated that hazard in four words. I fear that communicating it using the word “traffic” accurately might take too many words. Again, your suggestion of BIKES MERGE LEFT is a great solution if it’s totally clear to all cyclists that one must FULLY merge into the traffic lane.

    January 17, 2014 at 9:24 am
  • Greg

    My understanding has always been that, under the United States Uniform Vehicle Code, bicycles are vehicles. So I would say that the signs should read “bicycles merge with other traffic.”

    January 17, 2014 at 9:53 am
    • Steve Palincsar

      Yes, but the thing is, there’s only so much room on those little signs.

      January 17, 2014 at 2:06 pm
      • Greg

        I wouldn’t call them ‘little’ signs, in general, but I understand you point. Do you think that four words are OK but five are impossible?

        January 17, 2014 at 5:08 pm
  • Steve

    Sound Transit had a sign posted last week on 12th Ave NE just north of NE 65 Street which said “Bike Merge with Traffic” when what was really happening was the traffic in the left two lanes was merging into the bike lane on 12th. I thought at the time that 1. They had it backwards, the “traffic” was merging with the bikes since and 2. That it should have said Vehicles or Motor Vehicles.
    Of course the next day the closure was reversed and traffic was merging from the right lanes into the left lane.
    I think the signs are worded very generally so that they can apply to as many conditions as possible so the contractors have to keep fewer signs on hand at a given construction site.

    January 17, 2014 at 10:10 am
  • Andre

    Hopefully this is more of a momentary musing than a heartfelt gripe. Save your energy for bigger problems. I have seen the same signs (Bikes Merge With Traffic) and as a cyclist they might strike a little ire at first. However, presuming you were initially using the “Bike Lane”, you had already physically set yourself apart from other traffic (temporarily).
    Rather than be upset that the sign told bicycles what to do, look at it from a motorists perspective. A motorist could read the sign and remember that bicycles were told to merge, thus the motorist can expect that motor vehicles and bicycles may be in a shared lane. The signs don’t tell bicycles to “yield” to traffic which I would find more problematic and offensive. From this perspective I’d say the signs are fine.

    January 17, 2014 at 10:15 am
  • Brad Hawkins

    What about “Bicycles use full lane for safety”? My least favorite is “bike lane closed”. Down in Lakewood, Gravelly has a sign that reads “Bicycles may use entire lane”. It’s a Florida style low rise commercial district, but I like it.

    January 17, 2014 at 10:24 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I think “bicycles may use entire lane” is great and should be posted on all roads at regular intervals!

      January 17, 2014 at 12:00 pm
      • Andy

        BMUFL is becoming more common, since it is much better than “Share the Road” which has often been taken as “Bikes get out of my way!”
        Though it is rather odd that we need to post signs to restate what the laws say. We don’t have signs that say “Stop at stop signs” or “Don’t run into anything.”

        January 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm
  • Daniel


    January 17, 2014 at 10:42 am
    • Wake

      Keep right if you want to be squished is the reality.

      January 17, 2014 at 2:53 pm
  • Tobin Henderson

    Those signs annoy me too. But the ones that really aggravate me are those warning cyclists of closed sidewalks, which have been popping up in Burnaby in construction zones. Of course, it is thoroughly illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk here, but many motorists don’t seem to realise this. These signs really don’t help.

    January 17, 2014 at 11:21 am
  • Andrew Squirrel

    I find this post especially timely since I observed some interesting and really respectful signage from SDOT on my commute a couple weeks ago.
    They were doing some Southbound construction on Eastlake Ave E just south of where it intersects with Fairview Ave E.
    I can’t remember exactly if the sign said traffic or vehicle but they had two road configurations over the past month. One said “Cyclists merge with vehicles ahead” when the bike lane ended from construction. A few weeks later they changed the flow and now automobiles were merging into the bike lane but unfortunately the sign read the same. I definitely felt a slight tinge of bitterness the sign stayed the same but not two days later there was a new sign. The sign now read “Automobiles merge into bike lane”.
    I was pretty impressed they took the time to change the sign and it definitely proved awareness and respect by SDOT that we are being considered a road element that deserves consideration.

    January 17, 2014 at 12:26 pm
  • Richard Masoner

    Construction signs are “temporary traffic control devices” regulated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. There’s no such thing as a “bikes merge with traffic” sign in the MUTCD.
    In California, construction zones that close a bike lane are usually marked with the W11-1 (an orange diamond with a bicycle symbol) on top of a W16-1 (rectangular orange “SHARE THE ROAD” sign).
    Sometimes, you’ll see an orange BMUFL sign, like this one adjacent to the new 49ers stadium construction site. Note also the sharrows painted down the middle of the #2 lane.

    January 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm
  • GuitarSlinger

    Are bicycles ‘ Traffic ‘ ? I don’t know . What are the rules in WA ? [ pardon me for asking but its been so long since I’ve lived there I’ve long forgotten ] Here in Colorado Bicycles are most definitely legally defined as ‘ Traffic ‘ . With all the rules , rights and privileges applying to M/C’s and Cars applying to bicycles as well .
    So the question is … what are the rules in the State you live in … not what are bicycles overall . That being one of the problems in the US . Traffic rules in one state not applying to the next .
    The other question being … do you want bicycles defined as ‘ Traffic ‘ ? Understanding that if they are the consequences being you can get a ticket for ; Running Stop Signs and Red Lights – Splitting lanes [ in states where its illegal ] – Speeding [ I’ve gotten three.. and they do go against your drivers license and insurance status ] – Reckless riding [ try telling a cop it takes more than ten feet to slow down from 40 mph on a bike ] etc
    Something to think about at the very least

    January 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Bicycles are traffic in Washington, but the law doesn’t stop discrimination and people’s attitudes.
      Regarding the question of whether you want bicycles defined as traffic, I think it’s a clear “YES”. This does not mean that cyclists must have all the same rights and requirements as cars. For example, it’s probably good that bicycles are not allowed in the general traffic lanes of Interstate freeways. On the other hand, it may make sense to allow cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs (stop; check for cross traffic; if there is none, proceed). As a society, we have decided that law is preferable over lawlessness, and that applies to cycling, too.

      January 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm
  • Mike Beck

    all very humdrum, slow to move standards established by NCUTCD, national committee for uniform traffic control devices, establishes the MUTCD the manual of uniform traffic control devices (which also establishes standards for bikelanes, sharrows and other pavement markings for bicyclists), used with little modifications by the WSDOT. A long and arduous process to change signs and road designs -and they are deliberate about it too-
    my advice would be to not worry about it. There’s bicyclists on the board of the NCUTCD and the national traffic control standards do slowly change for the better every few years to benefit bicyclists. For instance, the MUTCD codifies minimum standards for both bikelanes and sharrows, and these are slowly being improved upon.

    January 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm
  • erinlaine

    Here’s an example of how a committee might create a stop sign, if it wasn’t already created:

    January 17, 2014 at 4:56 pm
  • bostonbybike

    I think you trying to find a problem where there isn’t one.
    The sign should be simply understood as “Bikes merge with the rest of traffic”. The same for “Closed for vehicles except bicycles”. I think the only problem here is that signs in US are mostly worded. In Europe most signs are using symbols (for obvious reason that English is not the language spoken there) and they don’t seem to have these problems. Americans must have written, even something simple like “Speed limit 35”

    January 17, 2014 at 5:04 pm
  • Joel Niemi

    In Washington, bicycles with two wheels 16″ or larger are vehicles and vehicles are traffic.
    However, bicycles are Not Motor Vehicles. (and, electric-motored bikes don’t have as many privileges as do normal bikes)
    They could make up two-sided signs with a Bike symbol, upward-left pointing arrow and the words “merge ahead” on one side, upward-right pointing arrow on the other.
    Like they have for the symbolic “road narrows” signs. Then it’s up to the sign-placer to set the sign up correctly.

    January 17, 2014 at 6:08 pm
  • David T.

    “Bikes merge with traffic” clearly tells the cyclists what they need to do, and it succinctly tells the motorists on the road that the cyclists who are usually on the bike lane will be sharing the road now.
    “Bikes merge left” is vague. Left onto what? The road, the edge of the path? Will they be taking the lane? Motorists in this spot are used to having bikes in a separate lane. Will they now be part of traffic?
    The meaning of words like “traffic” depends on the context. For example, in English if you called a child riding a tricycle down an empty street “traffic”, it would be understood that you are making a joke. ( By most English-speakers that is. ) But according to your definition you would call that “traffic” and be perplexed if anyone laughed.
    It sounds like you are saying you would change the wording of a useful sign in order to fit your definition of what cyclist-politically-correct language should be. I’d love to see what you could come up with for men’s and ladies’ rooms.

    January 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’d love to see what you could come up with for men’s and ladies’ rooms.

      You make a good point: Most restrooms have symbols, showing a stick figure with a dress for the women and a stick figure without a dress for the men. We don’t take this to say that women wearing pants should go to the men’s room, and our image of women no longer automatically assumes her wearing a dress. (Being male, I don’t feel entitled to decide whether the symbol does not reflect an underlying bias…)
      So your point is well taken… perhaps we have come to a point where our right to the road is generally accepted, and we no longer need to worry about the attitudes that are reflected in the language we use. Certainly, in Seattle, where some of the photos were taken, we have come a long way.

      January 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm
  • Paul Glassen

    An attorney told me that here in British Columbia a bicycle is not considered a “vehicle”! I have not been able to confirm this in trying to scan the Motor Vehicle Act.

    January 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t know about British Columbia, but I remember a court case in the U.S. a few years ago, where the court decided that bicycles were not “intended road users” and thus the state was not liable for a cyclist who had fallen on a bridge where they had removed the deck and exposed wide cracks running lengthwise.

      January 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm
      • Greg

        That’s surprising, scary, and bizarre. Can you give us a link to any further details? Do you remember in which state it occurred?

        January 18, 2014 at 9:20 am
  • grrlyrida

    I don’t know about Washington but in California’s vehicle code, bicycles are not considered vehicles, No where in our DMV manual do they say they are vehicles. California considers them bicycles.

    January 17, 2014 at 9:31 pm
    • Andy

      That appears to be correct for CA, though I do think they are considered part of traffic as “other conveyances.”.
      620. The term “traffic” includes pedestrians, ridden animals, vehicles, street cars, and other conveyances, either singly or together, while using any highway for purposes of travel.
      670. A “vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

      January 18, 2014 at 6:43 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I found this on the official CA Dept. of Motor Vehicles (love that name!) web site:
      “Bicycle riders on public roads have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.”
      So while we can argue semantics, effectively, California considers bicycles equal to other traffic.
      Otherwise, cyclists would not have to stop at red lights or obey any other traffic laws, unless the rules specifically spelled out that bicycles have to do so!

      January 18, 2014 at 6:46 am
      • davep

        It doesn’t matter whether bicycles are defined as vehicles (it appears about 50% of states do that anyway).
        What matters is the USE of byclists and other vehicles (on the roadway). That is, what matters is what drivers and bicyclists do. In all states, bicyclists and drivers have the same basic rights and responsibilities (there are a few laws that explicitly indicate exceptions).

        January 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm
    • Dwight Kingsbury

      Whether a given state vehicle code defines “Bicycle” as a “vehicle” or a “device” is rather beside the point. The state codes that define bicycle as a “device”, like California’s, usually go on to say
      “A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division…” (California Vehicle Code 21200,
      (or similar wording).

      January 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm
  • Laurent Gagnon

    I understand your comment, Jan, as being aimed at highlighting an existing bias, not necessarily confusion about how the roadway should be used.
    On my travels from Ottawa to Northern Ontario, there are two communities with Mennonite settlements along highway 11. The fact that motorized traffic is sharing the road with very slow ‘hypomobile’ traffic is simply represented by signs showing a horse drawn wagon.
    It seems to me that instead of using worded signs for the example you raised, a representation of a bicycle within a green circle should clearly convey the concept that bicycles are to be expected. If this were combined with a second sign showing a car also within a green circle, the message would be clear and simple: “Share the road”. Semantic misunderstandings disappear with such a system.

    January 18, 2014 at 4:41 am
  • Andy

    As much as the semantics may annoy you, be grateful you even have signs! When a bike lane is closed in Ithaca, NY there has never been a sign. When a sidewalk is closed there is a sign though. The engineers have said they just don’t have the right tools to create the proper sign, so instead they go with nothing. Ugh!
    Personally, I don’t care about the terms “traffic” or “bicycle” or “vehicle” on signs. A bike-only lane is a lane, and a general purpose lane is a lane. Just use “Lanes Merge” and the squeezed lanes symbol. It tells both cyclists and drivers the same exact message in only two words.

    January 18, 2014 at 6:48 am
  • Larry T.

    Here in the US of A, bicycles are a vehicle when they can be a source of revenue, as in traffic citations, but when it comes to right-to-the-road we’re just narrow-ass jerks in lycra getting in the way. My favorite signs are the ones I saw recently in Southern California. They say BIKES SHARE THE ROAD, which at first glance sounds great but then you wonder what happened – weren’t these signs put up to get MOTORISTS to share the road? Another was SLOW BIKES KEEP RIGHT as if they were concerned about faster cyclists being held up by slower riders instead of the real message – “You a-holes slogging up this hill on bicycles stay out of the way of the cars!”
    I see only slow, incremental change in this situation unless US motor fuel prices start to reflect the actual social, political and environmental costs associated with their use. Motor fuels @ $10 per gallon tend to put more people on bicycles and leave more cars in the garage. Once that motorist experiences what it’s like to be a cyclist, things tend to change when it comes to sharing the road, based on my European cycling experience.

    January 18, 2014 at 8:57 am
  • Chuck Davis

    The not “intended road users” case was Boub v Township of Wayne (Ill)
    Found at 684 NE2d 1040 and 702 NE3d 535

    January 18, 2014 at 12:21 pm
  • Andre Dusablon

    I’ve heard it said many times that driving is a privilege. I read some time ago that bicycles had the right to the road before cars existed. We have the right to move through the commons in this country. If a car and a bicycle collide, the bicycle had the right to be there but the motorist was there as a privilege. Shouldn’t the motorist ALWAYS be at fault (within reason) when collisions occur? Just a thought.

    January 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I prefer equality over special treatment. As it is, I’ve had more near-misses with cyclists lately than with cars.

      January 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm
      • danc

        “Bikes Merge With Traffic” (orange warning diamond shape) or “Close to Vehicles, Open to Pedestrians and Bicycles” (regulatory) are likely local non-complaint MUTCD signs. A simple orange Pedestrian/Bicycle Detour sign with an arrow pointing in the appropriate direction would suffice (see M4-9a, M4-9b or M4-9c). Requiring cyclist to use a sidewalk, side-path or multi-use path in lieu of road way is illegal in some states, YMMV.
        2009 Edition Chapter 6F. Temporary Traffic Control (TTC) Zone Devices
        The design and application of TTC devices used in TTC zones should consider the needs of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians), including those with disabilities.”

        January 20, 2014 at 5:18 am
  • Ford Kanzler

    Here in Santa Cruz, CA, one of the challenges for many cyclists and drivers alike is that so many cyclists ignore all street, bike path or traffic signage. Since the town is fairly flat, we have an enormous population of casual riders and “salmon” (opposite direction riders) who feel traffic signage is only the vaguest possible recommendation. Don’t see that changing any time soon.

    January 20, 2014 at 9:10 am
  • planofuji

    Good grief! The signs communicate their intent quite clearly. Only someone obsessed with bicycle political correctness would find this something to complain about.
    As to the last one, even in states where bicycles are defined as vehicles (not all states do so), when the bicycle is used on the sidewalk (as indicated by the sign) they are operating as pedestrians, not vehicles (and subject to a different set of laws).
    Finally you make the case that the signs are non-compliant with the MUTSD, something that can easily be confirmed… Please do so before making such accusations.

    January 20, 2014 at 9:42 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      My concern isn’t that the signs aren’t clear. I am concerned that I see many people, even traffic engineers, see bicycles as second-class users who are tolerated on the roads, but aren’t really part of the traffic for which the roads are designed.

      January 22, 2014 at 6:40 am
      • planofuji

        Cyclists represent a tiny fraction of road users. Traffic Engineers (I am one, actually transportation planner) operate in an environment of limited resources; ie, there isn’t enough money to pay for all the needed infrastructure. When 94% (the least number in the US) to 99.4% (the typical number in the US) of road users are driving a motor vehicle it makes sense that the limited resources that are available be geared to those users. The political correctness typified by this post leads to money being wasted on ‘bike specific’ signs and other wastes such as poorly implemented (because they are cheap) bike lanes and other means to quite a vocal minority. If you focus on more substantive issues, then (and only then) is there a chance that real improvements might be made For instance your posts about the problems with certain styles of bike lanes is an example of useful dialog, in my opinion.

        January 22, 2014 at 7:18 am
        • Andy

          Have you thought that maybe the reason why only a few percent of trips are done by bike is because of “transportation planners” that push the needs of cyclists aside? Whether or not the intent is there, cyclists are too often seen as second-class users of the road. You seem to be agreeing that they are.

          January 22, 2014 at 9:30 am
          • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

            I think there are two good points, and they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
            It is true that most road users drive cars, but that doesn’t mean that investment in bicycle infrastructure is a waste of money. For example, if we invest x in getting more people on bicycles, and as a result, we save 2x in costs associated to pollution, sedentary lifestyles, reduced wear-and-tear on the roads, and whatnot, then we’ve made a smart investment.
            On the other hand, it is easy to waste money on white elephants – building stuff without understanding what is needed, and then ripping it out again because it doesn’t get used, or is actually counterproductive. For example, many cycling advocates seem to think that the only thing that makes Portland different from Copenhagen are the segregated cyclepaths. In fact, the main reason so many people in Copenhagen cycle is that driving a car is terribly inconvenient, and the city has mediocre mass transit. As long as a car is the most convenient mode of transport, even Europeans tend to drive, no matter how many facilities you build.

            January 22, 2014 at 9:41 am
          • Andy

            There may be true white elephants – projects “for cyclists” that most any cyclist would look at and say they’d rather take a different route – but I don’t see a huge issue with building infrastructure that may not be perfect in 10 or 20 years. Of course we should always build what seems best, but why does cycling always receive so much more scrutiny? A $30,000 bike project somehow takes convincing everyone in town, divisive meetings, and a microscope to ensure the budget isn’t wasting a penny. On the other hand, multi-million unbudgeted highway projects get passed, some of which are ripped out later when the planners realized how awful it was to ruin downtowns for the sake of moving more cars into them. Comparing the millions of dollars wasted on botched highway projects that ruined neighborhoods versus bike projects in the ten of thousands that are mostly paint, I’m all for trying new cycling infrastructure if there’s evidence that it’s more useful than just adding more feet to the bike lane tally of a city.

            January 22, 2014 at 9:58 am
          • planofuji

            Andy, it isn’t simply ‘bike’ projects that receive scrutny. Most municipal projects are subject to a great deal of ‘scrutiny’ and take quite some time (frequently years of ‘scrutiny’) before they even manage to start construction. And you are deluding yourself if you think cycling projects only require ‘some paint’… Sadly that is a delusion that seems all too common and why we have bike lanes that disappear at intersections without regard to the merging hazards they create.

            January 22, 2014 at 12:50 pm
  • planofuji

    In a democracy, any politician that pushes policies/programs that attempt to make driving (which the majority of the population in the US do) less convenient (ala Copenhagen) isn’t likely to get reelected. And spending money on bike infrastructure doesn’t equate to more people riding. Portland (the bike mecca of the US) has seen essentially no increase in bike ridership in recent years when they have significantly increased cycling infrastructure spending. And as has been pointed out in this blog many times, a great deal of that ‘cycling specific’ infrastructure is not well thought out, but is certainly cheap… Thats how politicians cater to vocal minorities (like cyclists), they provide cheap band aids that don’t cause problems for the bulk of those who elect them.

    January 22, 2014 at 10:00 am
  • Luis Bernhardt

    I think that a more tangible example of the underlying biases that Jan is exploring is the sign that says, “Cyclists Dismount,” usually in conjunction with “Cyclists Yield to Pedestrians.” The ostensible intent of the signs is obviously to promote safety, but in practice, they reveal a deep-seated and ignorance-based anti-cyclist bias. From the safety perspective, it is far safer for the cyclist to NOT dismount; mounting and dismounting a bicycle are two of the most unstable maneuvers one can perform on a bicycle. Staying on a bike also provides a smaller footprint – the ped only needs to avoid a narrow cyclist, not another ped with a bicycle next to him or her. From a practice perspective, cyclists almost NEVER dismount anyway, and when a cyclist and ped meet on a narrow bridge sidewalk, almost invariably, the ped will give way to the cyclist. This is not because of some innate pecking order, it’s because it is far, far easier for a ped to just move over or stop to let the cyclist thru, than for the cyclist to stop, dismount, maneuver past the ped while wheeling a bike, then remount and resume riding! The “dismount” signs show a clear bias punctuated by ignorance of how a bicycle works, how it works best, and what really happens in the real world!

    January 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm
  • David Pearce

    I’m glad to think that bicycles are traffic–of course they are!
    But I’m also equally glad to know that bicycles account for very, very little of the “traffic jams” of modern life!

    January 23, 2014 at 8:29 am

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