Will Electric Car Drivers Respect Bicycle Commuters?

By Bill Moore

Will drivers of electric cars prove as intolerant of bicyclists as their ICE-age driving counterparts, as cities adopt plans and policies to shift more road space to two-wheeled commuters?

One of Nissan's first television spots promoting its electric car features then-cycling legend Lance Armstrong - before he admitted to doping and became persona non grata - riding his road bike, first behind a series of gasoline and diesel engine pace cars, ending with him riding behind the emission-free LEAF.

The message was clear: if you have to ride a bicycle, which car would you prefer to ride behind: the pollutant-spewing ICE-age one or the all-electric model?

It was a great commercial, no doubt, but let me put this another way. If you're driving an electric car, would you mind driving behind a bicycle, a truly emission-free machine? We know a lot of drivers resent cyclists occupying our streets and roads as illustrated by these two comments, as reported in Outside Online:

Hate people who ride their stupid bikes in the street. I'm gonna run one of you over one of these days. -- Posted by Erika Marquis on June 27, 2014 from Massachusetts, USA.

Emma Way, in the UK, didn't just threaten to run cyclists off the road, she admitted to doing it, tweeting:

Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier - I have right of way he doesn't even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists.

Sadly, there are other examples of motorists either accidentally or deliberately running bicycle riders off the road, sometimes killing them, often driving away. In Ms Way's case, the cyclist she ran off the road wasn't seriously injured, but he did stop riding and put his bikes up for sale on eBay.

This is not, of course, a recent phenomenon.

I just finished reading In the City of Bikes; The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, by Peter Jordan, who recounts the fascinating history of cycling in Holland's most famous city from the early 1900's through to the present. Motorists have long loathed bicycle riders there, as much if not more than they do in England or the USA.

Yet for reasons uniquely Dutch, it seems, the bicycle has continued to dominate its culture for more than 100 years; and it isn't related to relative wealth, either. Interestingly, the Dutch are better off financially, on average, than their counterparts in the United States, or even elsewhere in Europe. Taking into account money spent on education and healthcare, they have significantly more money left over to spend on other things than US citizens, despite the latter's higher per capita GDP.

Part of the reason for the success of the bicycle, despite efforts over the last century by everyone from Amsterdam's city council and police to Nazi gauleiters and storm troopers, is the determination of the Dutch people to not become subservient to the automobile. In fact, they historically have held people who drive automobiles with a certain level of distain. And the feeling is mutual, of course. It's just there are as many cyclists on Dutch streets and roads as there are automobiles. And all those bicycle riders have political clout. The government there spends, it's estimated, between £10-20 ($17-35USD) per person annually on cycling infrastructure, which consists of separate, but equal cycling 'highways' and lanes, dedicated overpasses and underpasses, parking garages, road intersections, street lights, etc.. In Britain, that figure is £1 ($1.72USD) . San Francisco, one of the more progressive American cities in terms of supporting cycling, spends $9 per person, compared to Amsterdam's $22.

But as Ms. Marquis points out in her infamous tweet, cyclists - whether recreational rider or commuter - "don't pay any road taxes," so why should the rest of 'us' subsidize them, much less tolerate their presence on 'our' streets and roads? This erroneous notion has been thoroughly debunked, which most motorists are totally unaware. See Road Taxes Don't Pay for Roads below.

What they are also equally unaware of is the economic benefits cyclist are responsible for, though at least a few US cities are starting to appreciate it, including New York, Chicago and Memphis.

Writing in Environmental Health Perspectives, Alexandra McMillan, et al. studied the "The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling." They wanted to find out what, if any, economic benefit came from the investment in infrastructure and policies that promoted cycling as an alternative to the automobile. They used Auckland, New Zealand as their model city, population 1.5 million where the automobile is used greater than 75% of the time for commuting, and bicycles just 1%. Additionally, 50% of all commutes in the capital are less than or equal to just 6 km or 3.7 miles; and 27% are less than or equal to just 2 km (1.24 miles).

In terms of transportation mode share, Auckland is pretty much like most modern, affluent western cities: 85% of commutes are by 'light vehicles,' i.e. automobiles. 2% are by walking, 5.5% is by public transit, and 2% is by bicycle.

To explore what would happen if the city began to adopt more cycling-friendly policies and investments, they ran numerous simulations, incorporating various feedback loops.

A couple of negatives did stand out. First, the more people riding bikes the higher the total number of cycling casualties. Even in bicycle-friendly Holland, 162 cyclists were killed in 2010, that's down from 185 the year before. By contrast, in 2010, 640 people died in automobile traffic accidents.

The second is that as cars get 'greener' - either cleaner ICEs or more EVs - " our simulations suggest that the additional air quality benefit of a shift to bicycle commuting would be small," they conclude.

However, taking these factors and others into consideration, their research reached the following conclusion:

Our projections provide practical evidence that may be used by health and transport policy makers to optimize the benefits of transport bicycling while minimizing negative consequences in a cost-effective manner.

The economic payoff of those policy recommendations and investments are substantial. The report's abstract notes:

Our model projections suggest that transforming urban roads over the next 40 years, using best practice physical separation on main roads and bicycle-friendly speed reduction on local streets, would yield benefits 10–25 times greater than costs.

In practical terms for Auckland, for example, this means implementing gradual, but steady conversion of the city's streets away from their current auto-dominant nature to what is being called 'complete streets', streets where multiple modes of transport are allowed. Writing in Al Jazeera, Peter Moskowitz synthesizes the Auckland study this way:

"The researchers... found that the larger the investment in bike infrastructure, the more people would be encouraged to commute by bike, and therefore the larger the return on investment would be.

One of the most effective ways to increase bike traffic is to build separate bike lanes along major roads. The study found that these lanes could increase bike commuting by 20 percent by 2040. Separated bike lanes alongside car traffic also decrease injuries by 50 percent, the study said."

Besides the economic payoff of $24USD for every $1 spent on bicycle infrastructure, the biggest societal benefit "would come from an overall increase in physical activity, leading to fewer public health problems that weigh down government budgets."

So, why aren't more cities jumping all over this, besides the notable examples of New York, Chicago and Memphis, mentioned earlier? Because of public misconceptions like that expressed by Ms. Way and Ms. Marquis. They don't mind bicycles as long as, like that Nissan Lance Armstrong commercial, the bicycle is behind them. Announce you're going to take street space away from their cars and give it to a bunch of 'freeloading hippies and hipsters' and a great hue and cry goes up.

So, here's the question again. As an EV driver, how would you feel if your city decides to implement the policies explored by the Auckland model? Would you be willing to see valuable pavement dedicated to bicyclists and pedestrians, accompanied by slower vehicle speed limits?

Or are you just another angry automobile driver ready and willing to run cyclists off the road?

Surprise: Road Taxes Don't Pay for Roads:

Cyclists Are Not Road Tax Dodgers:

Cycling Myths Debunke: Cyclists Don't Pay Road Taxes:

The Bottom Line Speaks:

Times Article Viewed: 11539
Originally published: 14 Jul 2014


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