Citing a need to alleviate motor traffic, reduce air pollution, and increase general health, cities are carving out more bike lanes. But bike lanes simply don't work. Maybe something about America's competitive cowboy culture means drivers just can't bring themselves to share the road, frequently parking in bike lanes, turning across bike lanes without warning, and colliding with bikes.
In 2007, car-on-bike accidents killed 698 cyclists and injured 45,000, including me, courtesy of a Washington, D.C., minivan driver who, unsatisfied with my 22-mph pace at the height of rush hour, decided she had more of a right to the stretch of road I was occupying. With law enforcement often unwilling to enforce bikers' claims to the road, it's hard to see behavior changing. Take the much-publicized case of the driver who crippled a 14-year-old cyclist by dragging him under her SUV for 131 feet and got a $500 ticket. Not much of a disincentive.
The solution isn't more bike lanes, many of which are so poorly designed that they make biking even more dangerous. The solution is a segregated set of roads and paths for bikes only. We separate fast-moving highways from slow-moving local roads -- why not create a separate road system for even slower bikes as well? City planners should take overcrowded city streets, which barely move anyway and are unsafe for cyclists, and close them to cars. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently closed a stretch of ultra-busy Broadway, and actually improved traffic. Additional closures would reduce the incidence of deadly collisions and encourage more people to bike to work, improving both air quality and general health, and making car-free roads even more necessary. With research showing a city's economic growth linked to bike-friendliness, bike-only roads could even be a boon to struggling cities.
Raising short-term barriers to city driving -- whether by imposing fines through congestion pricing or reducing the number of available roads -- makes four-wheel commuters more likely to consider other means, freeing up the roads for people who most need them and who lack other ways of getting around.
If bike-only roads grow and traditional roads shrink, auto commuters who live close enough to work to bike will be far more inclined to do so, thus ultimately reducing traffic for those who must drive. Those drivers would also benefit from more available parking spaces (bikes take up less than one-tenth the space of cars). Even if car traffic isn't reduced, maybe drivers will find comfort in cleaner air and reduced health-care premiums (those injuries are expensive to treat, as is obesity), and in the addition of a safe, convenient place to bike on weekends.