If e-scooter advocates want cycling campaigners to accept “slow-lanes” they need to up their game

— Rebranded cycle lanes where you mix with cars, buses and trucks would be just as bad as existing non-protected cycle lanes.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A lot of discussion recently has focused on replacing cycle / bike lanes with some type of “slow-lanes” where bicycles, e-scooter and possibly others mix, but scooter advocates need to up their game.

Writing on Forbes.com Gabe Klein, described as a social entrepreneur and mobility enthusiast, outlines “How Slow Lanes Can Speed Up New Mobility (And Save Lives)”.

Klein is a co-founder of Cityfi, an “urban change management” company, and was previously Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation and Director of the Washington DC Department of Transportation.

While he has a load of experience, unfortunately what he’s suggesting now is basically rebranding of non-segregated cycle lanes. Worse: he’s suggesting the types of cycle lane where motorists legally allowed to enter.

On Forbes.com, he writes:

Reprioritizing cars on our streets is another big part of the rethink we need. I believe that cars should be allowed in these slow lanes as this is key to fast adoption – but they should be given the lowest priority. This is a model that works – just check out the “Fietstraat” in the Netherlands. It keeps everyone safe, as the most dangerous thing on a sidewalk is now a pedestrian staring at their phone. Too often, we prioritize speed, when the real metric we should be focusing on is the safe throughput of people in a city. Getting this right will mean a more viable business for bike and scooter companies, and a boost in our fight against climate change

Within this paragraph alone there’s a lot to untangle.

The idea that the “slow-lanes” as proposed in his article are anyway like ‘bicycle streets’ (Fietstraat) in the Netherlands is not the case. Dutch bicycle streets are meant for low-motor-traffic routes and usually involve filtering out through motor traffic.

Furthermore, Dutch guidelines outline how the number of bicycles on such streets should outnumber cars. When IrishCycle.com has visited the Netherlands, a number of city officials have stressed that the bicycle streets have to be carefully designed. They are open and frank about how they get it wrong and the result is motorists traveling at speed and dangerous overtaking.

The example image used by Klein is as clear as day: its basically an unsegregated cycle lane just rebranded — note the car parking inside the “slow lane” and the bus stops at the kerb side, ie buses pull onto the slow lane to access the bus stop:

Before we even get to junctions, this design is not safe. Mixing bicycle users with cars is a bad idea only surpassed by mixing them with trucks and buses.

It has taken decades for cycling advocacy and then cities to start moving away from the idea that painted cycle lanes are of much benefit. Research is mounting showing that in many cases painted cycle lanes are worse than nothing.

Momentum is building around the world around the need for Dutch-style interventions, so, “slow lanes” are a dangerous step backwards. The Dutch-like solutions often can be installed quickly at first and make more permanent later.

The Dutch package of measures (not just cycle routes) is documented in detail by BicycleDutch — no other country subjected to mass motoring has fought back to the same level and managed to get so many people of all ages and abilities cycling at different times of the day across the week, and in urban and rural areas.

When challenged about his idea being little more than cycle lanes or “Sharrows 2.0”, on Twitter, Klein told a UK-based cycling advocate the he “obviously either have not read it or don’t understand the drawings but no worries.”

Just to be clear: Like that advocate, I understand the idea outlined in the the article and in the drawings. I have spent the better part of a decade debunking similarly poor cycle route designs.

As the UK-based campaigner outlined, London tried something similar to the slow lanes already. I’ll go one further: By encountering people to cycle without giving protected space the result in London was more deaths. This is why London started to take segregation seriously. Other cities should skip the part where people need to die before lessons are learnt.

We agree it is time to accelerate how we rethink our streets, and, yes climate change doesn’t have a speed limit. But a solution which is a rebranded version of a tried, tested and failed design is no solution at all.

If mobility or scooter advocates want scooters etc on cycle paths, let’s discuss that, but the “slow-lanes” as proposed make no sense. There would still need to be a fight to take space from cars to get “slow-lanes” installed — why would you waste energy on something proven not to work for safety or mass ridership?

UPDATED:

Since publishing the above, I found the below Twitter interaction between another person and Klein. He claims that it’s his idea or nothing. That’s basically just like the people who used to say “painted cycle lane or nothing” which doesn’t stand up give the temporary and quick-build measures being used by cities around the world. His claim that “I don’t expect most non DOT people to understand it” stinks of what city officials had been telling people for decades before things started to change. Klein is on the wrong side of history — his suggestion is basically painted cycle lanes where cars are invited into them, that won’t help with safety or climate change as he claims.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

4 Comments

  1. in city centres the slow lanes are those that are full of single occupancy cars and the bikes and scooters are the fast vehicle

  2. What are “DOT people”

  3. @mccoogy — he seems to be referring to US-style state or city level departments of transports.

  4. I would agree that it is a terrible idea that doesn’t just repeat the mistakes of the past but manages to outdo them. However, I think it reflects it’s author’s US-centric perspective. Cycling has only ever been a marginal activity at best in many American cities (with some exceptions). However, scooters are already outnumbering bikes by a considerable margin in many places in the US and are projected to grow significantly in the future. City authorities are beginning to realize that they urgently need to accommodate them. I’m guessing this model is seen a possible way to ramp up resources for scooters (and bikes as a consequence) without overly impacting on the space available for cars and outraging the more irascible elements of the motoring fraternity.

    I don’t think it is very likely that a suggestion like this would be widely implemented in Europe as it is clearly retrograde and the cycling culture is far more deeply embedded in (continental) Europe than it is in the US.

    However, there is a conversation to be had about how the uptake of scooters is going to impact on cycling and transport infrastructure. The genie is now out of the bottle on this new mode of transport and short of banning it outright, it is only going to increase in popularity. In some ways this is to be welcomed as it is more environmentally friendly and it will reduce car usage to some degree. In addition, scooterists are fast becoming the new bete noire of the average angry motorist, which takes the heat off cyclists to some extent. But sharing what little space cycling has been granted with another transport mode mostly used by casual or inexperienced users brings new problems. It also adds to the pressure for new infrastructure as this misguided idea demonstrates. However in places like The Netherlands where cycling infrastructure is already good a new problem is arising where cycle lanes are starting to be overrun by electric scooters.

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