First, let’s talk about the meaning of the term. The definition of “bicycle-friendly” at wikipedia begins like this:
“"Bicycle-friendly" describes policies and practices which may help some people feel more comfortable about traveling by bicycle with other traffic. The level of bicycle-friendliness of an environment can be influenced by many factors resulting from town planning and cycling infrastructure decisions...”
Notice those important words: “which may help some people feel more comfortable about traveling by bicycle with other traffic?”
My question is WHY should we want to feel comfortable biking with automotive traffic? Does it make sense? Traffic accidents happen all the time and thousands die each year. Is there a good reason a person SHOULD ride a bike on the streets and risk death without the protective metal shell a motor vehicle affords? Wouldn’t that be insanity?
Few residents of Fort Wayne care about biking. The 2008 bike survey included the question: “Do you ride a bike?” There were 3,692 responses to this question. That’s not many in a city of well over 200,000 people, and 549 of the respondents admitted they do NOT ride bikes! (Originally, I linked to those statistics, but for some reason the city removed the page.)
My wife and I have ridden off and on since childhood. Whether Fort Wayne is “called” bike friendly or not doesn’t matter to us. We ride, and we're careful. Realistic risk assessment is the key to safety, and it always will be. Painted bike lanes are not protection against vehicles swerving into a cyclist. And when a bike lane hugs a row of parked cars, you never know when someone inside a car might suddenly open a door and cause a tragedy.
This photo of the bike lane on Wayne Street illustrates my point.
Any cyclist riding in this lane plays Car-door Roulette.
This video shows "physically separated bike lanes." I realize we aren't New York, but the video does make some good points. And so do the people who left comments. Go read a few of them.
My guess is some cyclists in Fort Wayne appreciate being out of traffic on the Rivergreenway. Of course there are a lot of places you can’t go if you stay there, but it can be used as a sort of cross-town expressway for bicycles, pedestrians and skaters.
Biking safety - in fact all safety - is really about taking personal responsibility for your actions and caring about other people. Interestingly, there’s a kind of safety that naturally increases without the intervention of city government. It’s free. What is this natural safety principle?
I found it in a book called: The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us. The authors report that Peter Jacobsen, a public health consultant in California, discovered that the highest rates of accidents involving cars and pedestrians or bicycles were in cities with low numbers of bikes and pedestrians. This happened because drivers just didn't expect to see bicycles and pedestrians where there weren’t many. So, real safety would increase naturally if more people would walk and bike here.
Australian film maker turned biking enthusiast, Mike Rubbo, is on a mission to inspire more people to bike for reasons other than sport. His blog: Situp-Cycle.com promotes the advantages of bicycles that don't force you to hunch over. Here's one of his videos:
Bike It Or Not
Here’s another video from Rubbo about the creator of Copenhagen Cycle Chic
Mikael said in that video that people were hungry for the bicycle again, which goes to show how different conditions influence different societies. We don't have the reasons Copenhagen had for becoming a bike culture. During the 30 years I've lived in Fort Wayne, I've seen little change in the number of people riding bikes. And the Rivergreenway has been in place for years.
Mike's video: "Talking to Mikael" provides more food for thought.