Poor Infrastructure Is Everywhere

Folks complain about lack of safe bicycling conditions to justify more infrastructure spending. “Ordinary” people (women, not young men) don’t get in the bicycle saddle because it is not perceived as a safe way to get around. So in order to get the bicycle mode-share numbers up, authorities ought to provide safe ways for these people to travel.

But this argument holds true for pretty much all forms of transportation. Generally, infrastructure everywhere, especially in low-income areas, is degraded. Walking conditions are terrible, with poor-quality sidewalks, lack of street trees, lack of crosswalks, lack of amenities along the route, lack of adequate lighting at night, and speeding traffic close at hand. Frequent curb cuts and front parking lots create dangerous mid-block car crossings for people on foot and elongate potentially attractive windows from window-shoppers walking by. I don’t have to mention the depressing number of people on foot killed by vehicles failing to yield while turning into crosswalks. If conditions for people on foot are poor, and pretty much everyone has feet, why should we expect anything better for people on two wheels?

This argument can even be extended to facilities for motor vehicles. What Charles Marohn calls “stroads,” those 45-mph stretches of county roads that traditionally stretch between the town limits and the highway exit, are extremely poorly designed for automobiles, as the only safe way to make necessary left turns is to install a traffic signal that slows all traffic to a stop at the interchange with each strip mall.

Moving on to the question of why in the face of such complete degradation it should be important to get more people into the bicycle saddle, I can assure you that the answer, in perfect sincerity, writes itself. We need the bicycle because a person on a bicycle can maintain the pedestrian perspective that lets cities unwind into endless strands of enriching streetscape while traveling five times faster (therefore further) than the person on foot.