Photo: Matt Roth for WSF

“…City officials across the U.S. are installing hundreds of miles of bike lanes as they respond to a cycling boom that began during the pandemic and capitalize on federal grants, including from the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure law.

But car culture and political realities—anything that makes driving or parking harder doesn’t tend to win a lot of voters — mean these routes are sometimes counterintuitive, unsafe and just plain pointless.

Kate Drabinski, a Baltimore bike commuter, said she couldn’t wait to try out the newly painted lane down North Avenue. When she did, she was underwhelmed. ‘It just sort of ends,’ she said. ‘And then there you are, on your bike, surrounded by cars.’ [the southbound on-ramp of Interstate 83]

While commuters stayed home at the start of the pandemic, bike lanes sprang up seemingly everywhere, and more people began using them. Now, as cities come back to life, the mixing of car, bike and foot traffic is proving a bit rocky…

In New York City, cyclists are furiously ringing their bells and dodging guys in suits who don’t seem to be aware they’ve stepped into two-wheeled traffic. But the cyclists don’t all signal their presence, or stop for red lights, so on some streets it has become pedestrian beware.

The U.S. has more than 18,000 miles of bike lanes, low-traffic roads good for biking and off-road paths, according to the Adventure Cycling Association, which is assembling what it calls the U.S. Bicycle Route System. New York City alone has added about 120 miles of bike lanes since 2020, according to transportation officials…

The U.S. isn’t the only place building more bike lanes. Some are head-scratchers. The central England town of Kidsgrove recently got its very first bike lane. It is 20 feet long.

‘I wasn’t sure what they were doing with the road closed for construction, and then when I saw the end result I thought—Blimey! That’s it?’ said nearby resident Bill Priddin. ‘It’s ludicrous. I have to smile every time I drive by it.’

The tiny lane links two sections of an off-road cycle path, and county officials say it offers a more direct and safer cycling route through town.

Even as cities try to do more for cyclists, there’s no denying urban areas are still dominated by drivers. ‘It’s like a commandment: ‘Thou shalt not upset drivers,’ ‘ said Jed Weeks, head of the Baltimore cyclist group Bikemore.

On the other side, pro-driver groups, including the National Motorists Association, are urging cities not to make pandemic-era pedestrian and cycling accommodations permanent—and to cool it with the bike lanes. They’ve taken to calling cycling advocates ‘Big Bike.’

‘That was a term I coined because it’s just unbelievable how these bike lanes are being constantly pushed on us,’ said Shelia Dunn, a spokeswoman for the motorists group.

Should cities build more bike lanes? Or fewer?…

‘I get roasted all the time by Twitter folks who say, ‘What about Big Car?’’ she said. ‘Yeah, true. But the whole reason we have streets is because cars are the engine of the economy.’

The various modes of locomotion leave city officials ‘stuck between two camps: the biking enthusiasts and everyone else,’ said James T. Smith Jr., a former county executive who was chief of staff to the Baltimore mayor during development of the North Avenue project and other lanes.

‘You end up with compromises,’ he said, ‘and I don’t see that as such a bad thing.’

But those tweaked routes, cyclists say, are a big reason cities end up with bike lanes to nowhere and other impediments to a smooth ride…

This summer, L.A. opened the Sixth Street Viaduct connecting the Boyle Heights neighborhood to the city’s arts district and downtown—a half-billion-dollar project celebrated for its wide, pedestrian access and bike lanes.

Only one problem: ‘Uhhh, how do we get onto this?’ said Eli Kaufman, executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who biked it on opening day July 10.

To access bike lanes on the new bridge, cyclists face 200 or so feet of street riding with car traffic where there is an on-ramp.Photo: Eli Kaufman

To access the eye-catching new bridge, with its spectacular views of the city and its appealingly safe bike lanes, cyclists must first weave through lanes of traffic with scant signage for bicyclists, let alone dedicated pathways.

‘It’s actually funny, if it wasn’t so upsetting,’ said Mr. Kaufman. ‘The logic is, there is no logic.'”

— Julie Bykowicz, WSJ

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Citizens for a Scenic Florida