The reason cycling as transportation is not too popular in this country is that, as a policy, roads are optimized for recklessly fast automobile travel. Ask most people why they don't bicycle on the roads and they'll cite safety concerns - mainly due to motorists driving at wildly excessive speeds and feeling so entitled to do so that they'll often hurl obscenities at cyclists who dare to use their road.
As you might guess, bike lanes, i.e. paint stripes and a bicycle symbol on the side of the road, are not going to help this situation much. A few people might feel safer and venture into the road, but at the end of the day you still have cars traveling fast enough to easily and instantly kill a human being.
Designing towns optimized for pedestrian travel, where cars proceed slow enough that they can safely share the road with pedestrians and cyclists - that's a solution you can believe in. Anyway, you don't have to listen to me on this one. I got the idea from a list-serv post by Dom Nozzi of www.walkablestreets.com. Aside from his closing paragraph, which I don't really understand, he presents a comprehensive, yet concise explanation of what we need to do to make our towns and cities more walkable, more bikable, and more livable.
For a downtown to be healthy for retail and all forms of travel, low-speed car travel is essential, and a "park once" environment must be created.
In a downtown, that means that the pedestrian, not the bicyclist (or car or transit), must be the design imperative. If we "get it right" for the pedestrian downtown, every stakeholder tends to benefit: not just pedestrians, but bicyclists, transit, retail, residential, children, seniors, well-behaved motorists, the disabled and everyone else.
However, if we suboptimize bicycling, transit or cars to the detriment of other community objectives, the unintended consequence is that most everyone loses.
I believe that bike lanes and the removal of on-street parking downtown serve to suboptimize bicycling -- and I speak as a bicycle commuter.
How do we make the pedestrian the design imperative downtown? Some of the more important tactics include reducing dimensions, increasing commercial intensities and residential densities, and obligating slow, attentive speeds by motorists.
Probably the most powerful, affordable way to achieve the above-mentioned tactics is on-street parking. Such parking effectively slows cars and obligates attentiveness by adding friction to the street. Such parking is also essential for healthy downtown retail. And such parking sometimes
dramatically improves pedestrian safety by reducing the street crossing distance.
In a downtown, bike lanes tend to undercut each of those design objectives.
Shoup's "High Cost" book is perhaps the best book I've ever read in the field of planning/transportation (a must-read for all planners,designers and elected folks). In that book, Shoup certainly identifies excessive parking as an enormous problem in nearly all American communities.
However, he points out that it is subsidized, underpriced OFF-STREET parking, required in excess by nearly all local governments, that is one of the most important problems in American cities. Shoup is a strong advocate of on-street parking (especially when it is properly priced and therefore efficiently used). I believe he would agree with me that for nearly all cities (even those w/ too much parking), an extremely important objective is to substantially INCREASE the amount of on-street parking and substantially reduce the amount of off-street parking. And that as much downtown street frontage as possible be lined with on-street parking.
In a properly designed downtown, car speeds are low enough that it is not only safe and pleasant for pedestrians and retailers and residences. Car speeds are also low enough to permit safe and pleasant sharing of the travel lane by bicyclists. And in a downtown, for those bicyclists who are
uncomfortable sharing even a slow-speed travel lane with cars, there tends to be nearby parallel lanes off the main street for the bicyclist.
Important downsides for removing downtown on-street parking:
*Smaller retailers tend to suffer so much that empty storefronts result and retailers flee to more remote locations that are inconvenient/unsafe to walk or bicycle or bus to. In other words, bicyclists should be strong supporters of a healthy downtown retail/residential environment, in part because it promotes a compact community with short travel distances.
*Unless travel lane width is dramatically reduced, bike lanes tend to add asphalt width to the main street. That can mean longer, more dangerous crossing distances for pedestrians, and higher speed and less attentive (and therefore more dangerous) car travel.
Again, downtown designers must be careful not to suboptimize bicycle, transit or car travel downtown, since doing so tends to be detrimental to the pedestrian, which is the downtown design imperative. The irony for bicyclists calling for the removal of on-street parking downtown is not only that it is detrimental to bicycling. On-street parking removal downtown was (and still is) most loudly called for by the motorist lobby (which fought to increase downtown street widths and car speeds beginning about 85 years ago).
And for the record, I am a strong advocate of in-street bicycle lanes on most all major streets in a city. I believe, however, that they tend to be incompatible with a low-speed, human-scaled ped-friendly downtown.