More Bicycle Safety, Fewer Committees

(Editorial-length version)

by Tom Burrows
November 26, 2013

For many years I was a bicycle commuter and could go for days without using the car. The places where I lived then had much better streets and roads for biking than Mesa County. When I moved to Grand Junction, I switched from cycling to other activities. Cycling in these other places was safer and more pleasant because there were no bike lanes.

I'm told the trails committees have been forced to remove the drowning-in-the-canals risks from the Urban Trails Master Plan; but there are many more hazards left.

On Monument Road motorists must swerve into the oncoming lane to miss cyclists "voting with their handlebars" against the bike lanes, presumably to avoid the inevitable debris wherever the sweeping effect of passing car tires is disallowed. Bike lanes guiding cyclists toward opening car doors are potential death traps. On mixed-use trails like the Riverfront in Grand Junction, pedestrians get buzzed by cyclists who don't give a proper passing warning.

Trails committees not only seem blind to these hazards, they hype this stuff as a panacea ("for the children") and even demand funding priority over, e.g., law enforcement agencies. Bike lanes and mixed-use paths are not substitutes for bikeable roads. They also do not reduce the knowledge and judgement needed to ride without harming oneself or others; and people who do not realize this get coaxed onto bikes they can't ride safely. We end up with more people (with and without spandex) cycling like confused wildlife—a danger to all and an embarrassment to safe cyclists.

The Colorado National Monument's website advises "Please drive safely! Watch for rocks and wildlife on the roadway." I think the rangers would agree this includes watching for those cyclists who exhibit the same unpredictability and ignorance of traffic regulations as the sheep.

The less confidence cyclists have in their own knowledge and judgment about bike riding, the more demands they make on government to provide facilities they incorrectly believe will be a substitute for such knowledge and judgement. When trails empires pander to this need for a substitute, they draw attention away from the need to make the effort to learn to operate bicycles as what they really are—vehicles, not toys.

Thus, in addition to the technical safety problems associated with bike lanes and mixed-use paths, they exacerbate a culture of cycling incompetence.

In summary, for safer cycling: 1) Eliminate the opening-car-door traps ASAP. Warn children to avoid them. 2) Eliminate remaining bike lane markings, so car tires can sweep gravel from the full, shared width. 3) Money permitting, widen roads. 4) Remove bike lanes from the Urban Trails Master Plan. Instead, indicate wide, debris-free roads. 5) Minimize bike vs. pedestrian interactions by limiting mixed-use paths. 6) Related to all the above, get trails committees out of the bike traffic planning business—not just to save money, but to reverse their mistakes and pave the way for safer cycling.

© 2013 Thomas Burrows. All rights reserved.

An electronic copy of this article, a shortened letter-to-the-editor-length version, and more papers detailing why "bikeways" are not the solution, can be found at