How cities made a huge mistake in promoting cycling Cycling lanes consume more space than they free up, add to pollution and drain the public purse

How cities made a huge mistake in promoting cycling: Cycling lanes consume more space than they free up, add to pollution and drain the public purse, by Lawrence Solomon.

London, where former mayor Boris Johnston began a “cycling revolution,” shows where the road to ruin can lead. Although criticism of biking remains largely taboo among the city’s elite, a bike backlash is underway, with many blaming the city’s worsening congestion on the proliferation of bike lanes. While bikes have the luxury of zipping through traffic using dedicated lanes that are vastly underused most of the day — these include what Transport for London (TfL) calls “cycle superhighways” — cars have been squeezed into narrowed spaces that slow traffic to a crawl. …

As Lord Nigel Lawson put it in a parliamentary debate on bicycles, cycle lanes have done more damage to London than “almost anything since the Blitz.”

As a consequence of the idling traffic, pollution levels have risen, contributing to what is now deemed a toxic stew. Ironically, cyclists are especially harmed, and not just because the bike lanes they speed upon are adjacent to tailpipes. …

Health and safety costs aside — per kilometre travelled, cyclist fatalities are eight times that of motorists — the direct economic burden associated with cycling megaprojects is staggering. Paris, which boasts of its plan to become the “cycling capital of the world,” is in the midst of a 150-million-euro cycling scheme. Melbourne has a $100-million plan. Amsterdam — a flat, compact city well suited to cycling — is spending 120 million euros on 9,000 new bicycle parking spots alone. Where cold weather reigns for much of the year, as is the case in many of Canada’s cities, the cost-benefit case for cycling infrastructure is eviscerated further.

The indirect costs of cycling also loom large because cycling lanes typically displace lanes that formerly accommodated street parking, especially outside rush-hour periods. Businesses that rely on street parking for their customers are often bitter at seeing their sales gutted. …

In a user-pay or market economy, where users pay for the services they consume, bicycle lanes would be non-starters outside college campuses and other niche settings. If roads were tolled to recover the cost of asphalt and maintenance, no cyclist could bear the burden he foists on society. …

The most telling opposition to cyclists, though, may be cultural. They are often seen as an entitled, smug and affected minority. In the U.K., cyclists are mocked as “mamils” (middle-aged men in Lycra); in U.S. inner cities they’re seen as the preserve of “white men with white-collar jobs” furthering gentrification. Almost everywhere they’re seen as discourteous, and as threats to the safety of pedestrians. …

Just this month the government of New South Wales in Australia decided to ban bikes (but not automobiles, motorcycles, trucks or trams) on a popular Sydney street that had been a bike commuter route. The government explained it wants the street to become conducive to pedestrians. Other street bans important to Sydney’s downtown are in the works.

Dangerous too. Two acquaintances of mine, both experienced and habitual cyclists, were killed by cars in separate incidents while riding along the side of a road.