Bicycles are not cars

-Andy Ruina, (edited slightly on 3/1/2009 and 4/21/2013)

This is a modified from a letter I sent in summer 2003 to the Cornell Campus Planning Committee about bikes on the Cornell campus and previously to Tim Logue at the City of Ithaca.

For simplicity I identify the person-vehicle system by the name of the vehicle: `bicycle', `car', and `skateboard' refers to the vehicle and operator. By scooter I mean small human or electric-powered scooters, not larger gas-powered scooters (although these, up to a 49.9 cc, are legally classified as bicycles in many places). A pedestrian is a person on foot.

Executive Summary:
I think room needs to be made for more bicycles (and the like). Bicycles should be treated as more like pedestrians than like cars.

My background:
I am a pedestrian and bicycle advocate. I was on the City of Ithaca Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee for many years and was chair for one or two. From 1991-96 I spent about 20 hours per week working to organize and manage a program downtown to distribute bicycles to people who cannot afford them (RIBs). I study both bicycling and walking as a profession. I have thought as I have watched pedestrians, bicyclists and car drivers mix various ways in India, Europe, Ithaca, and on the Cornell campus. In my distant past as a deck cadet in the merchant marine, I also studied, and I think this is relevant, the Rules of the Road at Sea. I enjoy both walking and biking for both pleasure and transport.

Basic concepts:
1. Walkers, runners, skateboards, small scooters (un-powered or electric), rollerblades, and bicycles have more in common with each other than with cars, buses and trucks.

a) The speed of travel. The difference between the typical speeds of any of the non-cars is smaller than the difference between any one of them and a typical car speed. For example, a typical walking speed of 2.5 mph is closer to a typical commuting bicycle speed of 10 mph than is 10 mph to a typical campus car speed of 25 mph. This categorization by speed is made more stark by using the mechanically relevant measure of speed in collisions, which is speed squared (v^2). Using perhaps the most reasonable quantification of motion, kinetic energy (mv^2), the difference between a car and bike is much bigger than the difference between bike and pedestrian.

b) Size. Cars, trucks and buses are all bigger than bikes, people, skateboards, and scooters.

c) Noise. Cars, trucks and buses are all noisier than bikes, people, skateboards, and scooters.

d) Pollution. Cars, trucks and buses are all pollute more than bikes, people, skateboards, and scooters.

e) Land use required when not used for transportation. Cars, bikes and buses all use substantially more parking space than bikes, skateboards and scooters.

f) How close they bring a person to a final destination. All of the motorized 4-wheel vehicles do not get as close to the person's final destination both because of shortage of parking places and because of the inability of the larger vehicles to go on sidewalks.

g) Probability of serious injury caused by one to another. In a physical interaction, a car is far more likely to cause serious injury to a non-contained person than is, say, a bicycle rider to a pedestrian.

h) Anxiety in sharing space. Both cars and bicycles generally feel more uncomfortable sharing limited space, where free passage is not easy, than do bicycles and pedestrians.

2. Interaction problems are primarily behavior problems not problems intrinsic to the vehicle.

Think of a walk made fearful by a near-passing zig-zagging fast-moving bicycle. This makes you want to separate bicycles from pedestrians. But what does a frail slow pedestrian feel about walking amongst two big athletic 20-year-olds practicing pass-reception moves with a ball? Does this make you think pedestrians should not be allowed to share space with each other?

On the Indian Institute of Science Campus (totally different from the city streets outside that campus) cars and bikes share the walkways. The well-mannered cars go 2.5 mph when trapped by pedestrians in front, with only the purr of their engines asking for space to pass.

Most of the waterways and airways of the world are available to all manner of craft. Just two kilometers from where I sit in the Baltic Sea in summers in Finland, row boats, kayaks, large and tiny sailboats, pleasure motor boats of all sizes share the same space with the 10,000-ton passenger liners that pass through 12 times a day. This is not to say that segregated space is not desirable ---sailing yaghts generally stay out of major shipping lanes--- but that shared space can be safe and comfortable if all people know and respect the rules of interaction.

3. If we do all possible to make easy and pleasant all low-polluting, quiet, and relatively-slow transport we will more entice motor-vehicle commuters to switch. For example, then, in their cars they can't park as close to their work place as they can with bikes, scooters and the like.

History and commentary:
For a few decades many bicycle advocates in America lobbied for legal treatment of bicycles as equivalent to cars (counting both as vehicles). I think this has been largely spurred by the writings of bicycle-radical and traffic engineer John Forrester, promoting better treatment of bicycles on the road. This bicycle-advocacy position then gets mixed with the common fear that pedestrians on campus might have to share a walkiway with a wild athletic bike rider on the sidewalk. Together we end up, in the USA anyway, with the common mantra of "bikes on streets not on sidewalks", spoken with an air of liberal political correctness possibly mixed with disdain for young wild people. I think this point of view is misguided. While I believe bikes have a right to use streets with, and in the same way as, cars, and I strongly support better bike facilities as part of general traffic engineering, it is a violation of common sense to insist that bikes be more segregated from pedestrians than from cars. Some examples:

a) Route 13 (not relevant for Cornell campus, but to point out the fallacy of the overall line of thought). Were there good sidewalks en route to Buttermilk falls and were the roads as they are, where would a sensible bicycler be? Say, one of my 11 or 18 year old daughters. (Or, if you know the nitty-gritty of the sidewalk laws, imagine I had a 12 year old daughter.)

b) When I took my daughter from Collegetown to day care on Warren road the best route was straight through campus via Ho Plaza. My riding with her at 2.5 mph on the walkway was less a hazard to the population as a whole than either my riding on the narrow roads around campus or my dismounting and walking my top-heavy bike (thus using more than twice the width with no gain in maneuverability) on the walkway.

c) Going uphill, say on Campus Road, by virtue of limited power a bicycle goes at essentially a walking speed. The community of interested parties has a net gain in comfort and safety by having the bike on the sidewalk, despite the `bikes are vehicles' mantra. And in such a situation, where a bike only wants to do the same as a pedestrian, it is hardly a wise spending of money to make a segregated street facility.

In Europe where many more people than in the USA use shoes and spoked wheels to get around, most often bikeways are, sensibly, linked to walkways. Not to roads. In crowded fast-moving areas there is partitioned real estate with, in effect, there being a pedestrian lane on the side of the bike lane. In slow-moving or sparse areas the same ground is shared by pedestrians and bikes, (often also shared with low-powered scooters up to 49.5 cc).

I would love to see a 10-fold increase in the use of micro-vehicles (bikes, scooters, etc) on campus. If people could get between common destinations in 5 minutes instead of 15 they might enjoy campus life more without a car than with.Where there is not segregated space for small quiet wheeled things, they would follow the rules of the road on sidewalks. The rules of the road on campus should be used by slow small gentle bicycle riders and aggressive heavy runners alike:

*Stay right.
*Pass on left, with warning.
*Yield to the person/vehicle who is slower and/or less maneuverable.
*When near others go at a speed not much above theirs.
*Don't travel in a reckless or dangerous way or in a way
 that is threatening to others.

These should be enforced. Of course one can imagine grey areas and arguments with enforcers. And so it is for most of the laws we live by on campus and off. The lack of precise definition (as opposed to "no bikes here" which is precise) does not negate the utility of the rules.

Planning, facilities and policies should reflect the reality that bikes etc are more like pedestrians than like cars. And the vision should be developed that there be many more bikes etc going around, at little cost to pedestrian comfort, peace, and safety. Where segregation by speed is possible it should be built in, with cars separated from bikes separated from pedestrians. Shere physical segretation is not possible, good rules of the road, well respected and enforced, (like the rules of the road at sea) will make for safe and comfortable harmony for the mixture of cars, bikes and pedestrians.

P.S. For completeness: I don't see a difference between a Segway and a bicycle as far as any and all appropriate facilities and legal treatment (it's quiet like a bicycle, its got two wheels like a bicycle, it carries a person at a speed closer to walking than driving like a bicycle: its a bicycle).]