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Getting past the myths that persist

2019 is shaping up to be an awesome year for people who walk and bike in Traverse City. In June, MDOT will install HAWK (High-Intensity Activated CrossWalk) signals on Grandview Parkway. These will go in at Elmwood and Hall street. This fall, Traverse City will cut the ribbon for the reconstructed Eighth Street. The new Eighth Street is narrower (slower) and even includes one of Michigan’s first separated protected bike lanes.

All too often, good news for the pro-walk, pro-bike team attracts naysayers. These two projects won’t be any different (they already haven’t). This inspired Norte board member, Chris Hinze, to examine a few of the usual suspects and offer a little Myth Busting.

“Bikes don’t belong on the road…get on the sidewalk!”

People have a right to bike on both the roadway or the sidewalk. For people new to riding or those still building up confidence, riding in the roadway is intimidating. For them, riding on the sidewalk may be an attractive option. But, there are reasons that this isn’t the safest decision. 

People on bicycles on community bike ride in Downtown Traverse City Michigan. First, riding a bike on the sidewalk can lead to conflicts with people on foot. Second, in certain locations riding on the sidewalk is against the law.  Downtown Traverse City is an example.   

Last, and most important, riding on the sidewalk is more dangerous. The risk of a crash between someone on a bike and a car is higher when the former is on the sidewalk. The person driving is often caught off guard because of the sight lines and speed of the person on a bike. Protected bike lanes and trails are designed to reduce this conflict. Sidewalks are not.

Again, the streets are multimodal. Outside of limited access highways, everyone has a right to bike in the streets. To brush up on your Michigan law, visit the Michigan Vehicle Code.

“Traverse City has a perfectly good TART trail…get on the trail!”

A close cousin to the “get on the sidewalk” denouncement is “get on the trail.” What “get on the trail” fails to understand is that, by and large, trails are for recreational purposes. When people bike they tend to do so to get somewhere. And, to get somewhere with the least amount of hassle and in the least amount of time. We don’t ask people to only drive on highways so why ask bicyclists to only use trails. People on bikes have places to go. When they do so on a bike, they are freeing up street space that can help relieve congestion–besides to freeing up a parking space.

“Bikes don’t pay taxes!”

Well, this one is true; bikes don’t pay taxes. But, neither do cars. Or any other inanimate object for that matter. People pay taxes; we all pay taxes. Those taxes pay for the expense of constructing, maintaining, and policing streets. The majority of this comes from property taxes, which we pay regardless of how we move around. For local streets, less than 10% comes from user fees like gas taxes and registration fees. The user fee dollars predominantly go towards big projects like highways.   

Countless studies have shown that walking and biking break even as a cost to society. Meaning, for every $1 you spend on biking, society chips in less than a dime. For driving, every private dollar spent on motordom, society is paying around $9. That’s a Hefty subsidy no matter how you slice it.

“Bikers don’t obey the rules so they don’t deserve nice things!”

This is the ultimate “straw man” fallacy. This argument references the time someone saw that one person on a bike run a stop sign (confirmation bias). As a result, the community doesn’t deserve better bicycle infrastructure. If bicyclists don’t follow the rules and thus don’t deserve bike lanes, what then of drivers and streets? Local law enforcement agencies dedicate entire portions of their department to “traffic enforcement.” Does that mean because some people in cars speed or run red lights that we should not allow cars to use the streets? As someone who uses cars as well as bikes and walks, that doesn’t seem logical.

Here at Norte, we encourage everyone to be courteous regardless of how they move around town. When we walk, bike, drive, or otherwise roll we need to be aware of our surroundings and understanding of others who, like us, are simply trying to get through their day.  Safer sidewalks and better streets will only be that much sweeter when do.

 

What myths and biases do you see at play in the community?