Thursday, June 10, 2010

Age Limits for Street Legal Cycling?

A topic of continuing and fundamental debate is where bikes belong with respect to cars - in series, or in parallel. On some streets, for example Chestnut Street, the roadway is too narrow for parallel riding. Here sharrows seem appropriate. But this raises a serious issue: We are now directing cyclists to take the lane. What kind of cyclist do we envision? Most would say an experienced, vigorous cyclist. How about a 12 year old? A 9 year old? No? Then should we prohibit cyclists under a certain age taking the lane? These are tough questions, but as laws and roads evolve to accommodate cyclists, they will become necessary to address.


Anonymous said...

What many states do is making sidewalk riding by children (under 12) legal at all times, I think that may even be the case in massachusetts, where sidewalk riding is banned in some areas.

dr2chase said...

12-13 seems to be the boundary to me. I started riding seriously (racing) when I was 12. A few years ago we went on a 300-mile Boy Scout cycling trip, and the youngest kids were 11 and 12.

The start was a little rough (some grab-ass) and we had a minor accident (rode off a road-edge, 9 educational stitches). By the end, on rural roads, including 100kph hours, everyone was riding very well. The "city" at the end (Yarmouth, NS, Canada) was a little busy for some of them. HOWEVER, there was very little "sharing" -- everyone, especially on the 100kph roads, learned to ride straight enough that whenever it got tight they could just hug the edge, and when you're on one of those fast roads the grab-ass was kept to a minimum, anyway. When we backed up car traffic in difficult-to-pass areas, we would get an adult (NOT a kid) up to the top of a hill to scout and signal for safe passing.

Someplace where kids live, they'll be a little more comfortable with local conditions (more able to parse dense traffic, I think) but there will also be more grab-ass in general, which was pretty much the leading cause of problems and worry on the bike trip.

Young kids are going to have a reasonable number of accidents, that if it were just them, are mostly educational. I did, and I've seen other kids do it on the bike trail, and I've been rear-ended (on bike) by my own son. Fast moving cars make it unsafe, and slow moving cars in the company of many children, will get scratched.

The Netherlands has wonderful separated infrastructure, and elementary-school kids use it (and note that our two favorite we're-not-like-them arguments are contradictory -- "we're not dense" and "there's no room for bike infrastructure"). That seems like a good goal; there's no particular reason to think that our transport allocation is particularly good, and by several metrics (CO2 footprint, oil consumption, physical fitness, resilience, efficient use of space) theirs is better.

I'm not entirely sure what's the best plan starting from what we've got now. I think that the oil and auto companies have done a stupendous job of marketing the wonderfulness of cars, and people get very attached to "their cars". Look at the comments that you get here from various anonymice -- they will mount ridiculous defenses of the usefulness and road-rights of automobiles. There are all sorts of revenue-neutral ways to discourage driving (e.g., pay-at-the-pump auto insurance -- it's an approximation of risk, same as what we have now) and such proposals have thus far failed to catch on. Any mention of rolling the cost of the Iraq war (either one) into the gas tax, goes nowhere (at 150 billion gallons/year, 50 to 70 cents per gallon).

Herzog said...

Even as an "experienced, vigorous" (does that sound like naughty innuendo?) cyclist, I don't feel comfortable holding up traffic by taking the lane on narrow and busy roads, and I don't think that more than 1-2% of people ever will.

Therefore, I don't think VC principles provide a sustainable approach to bicycle infrastructure.

Besides, do we really want bicycles to behave like cars? Like take up a 10 foot by 10 foot area on a street?

Herzog said...

Just to clarify, by "I don't feel comfortable taking the lane," I mean that I avoid roads where I have to do it, even though I do so when necessary.

Steve R said...

@Dr2: Quite a nugget, which I'll be sure to use: "note that our two favorite we're-not-like-them arguments are contradictory -- "we're not dense" and "there's no room for bike infrastructure"

@Herzog: Agreed. VC principles are an excellent tool for increasing individual biker safety, but a lousy way to get anyone but the most risk-comfortable bikers on the road.

I'm a little wary of limiting 11-year-olds to sidewalks, though. I'm having visions of an 11 year old hurtling along a sidewalk & colliding with a car backing out of a driveway.