SPECIAL REPORT-Cycling to work is easier than ever—because of the sheer volume of available bike lanes. In fact, there are more than 190 miles of protected bike lanes in the Washington, D.C., area alone, and more are planned—just the latest example of an increase in bike infrastructure across the country.
But a recent survey published by Smart Growth America found that bicycle routes are poorly used in many metropolitan areas, and cycling generally suffers in cities with few bike lanes.
This patchwork approach, where many cities have only a patchwork of bike lanes, is not sustainable. The good news is that there are models of safe, high-quality bike lanes that reduce cyclist crashes by 50 percent—without increasing energy consumption and other greenhouse gas emissions.
An excellent example is the newly expanded cycle track in Austin, Texas, a place with great bike culture—and a relatively small amount of bike lanes. In fact, biking is the leading mode of transportation in Austin and this new cycle track is one of the most popular.
Cycle track construction isn’t easy. A lot of effort goes into determining exactly how to construct a section of bike path. For example, the new stretch of cycle track was installed in an urban area with an ambitious streetcar system.
The traditional transportation route to and from an apartment or business is not the ideal place to install cycle tracks. So, boomers generally talk about the extension of a bike lane far out to a strip of asphalt.
The cycle track in Austin reached only about 300 feet, close to the end of the block, where people actually needed it. Cyclists, who are generally young, were typically in a hurry to get their bike to the store, and it wasn’t safe to wait for more time to bike out to the front of the block.
Traffic has been able to easily navigate through the segment in these conditions. There were also opportunities to add lighting and markings, and these applications were easily accomplished.
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