- - Thursday, January 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Traffic engineers are always on the scout for ways to minimize traffic and, failing that, finding ways to make traffic move more swiftly and more smoothly. Every motorist wants (a) a parking place, preferably at the curb at his destination, and (b) to get the slowpoke in front of him out of his way. Like everyone else, he doesn’t always get what he wants.

Traffic engineers in the big cities, where streets are usually congested, think they have found a solution in Europe: the not-so-humble bicycle. Berlin, for example, is trying to make one of every five trips through traffic made on a bike. Last year the city spent $16 million on “bicycle infrastructure.” Sometimes this is only painting the message, “Share your lane with a bicycle,” on the pavement as a warning to automobile drivers. Washington has lately been decorating streets all over town.

Commuters in Copenhagen, where 36 percent of commuters rode their bikes to work only three years ago, raised that figure past 50 percent last year. Oslo, the capital of Norway, is considering banning cars from downtown streets. A majority of the city councilmen was elected on a bicycles-first platform, and they’re proposing to spend $450 million over the next decade to make riding a bicycle a virtue enforced by the law.

“Oslo wants to become an example for the world,” a member of the Norwegian parliament’s committee on energy and the environment told a “green” transportation conference last year in Portland, Ore. If so, Oslo would surpass Amsterdam for its enthusiasm for “the wheel,” as bikes were once usually called in the United States. The cities of northern Europe have been “bike-friendly” for years, with bridges, traffic signals and enormous parking garages at the mercy of bicyclists.

Stefan Goessling, a professor of “service management” at Sweden’s Lund University, says he thinks the United States could usefully take the European example. “There is such a huge difference between bicycles and cars,” he says, that it’s unlikely that what’s good for Europe won’t be good for America.



The professor betrays an ignorance of life in America. What works in closely built cities in Sweden, Germany, Norway and the like might not work at all in the United States, where counties are bigger than some European countries and cities have spread out into the wide open spaces. A two-mile commute in Amsterdam is one thing, a bicycle trip of 20 miles is another.

But the major difference is a difference in attitude. The European bicyclists are accustomed to obeying traffic law. American ‘cyclists’ often regard traffic laws as meant only for cars and trucks. Does anyone in America remember seeing a bicyclist stop for a red light, and wait his turn? The rare law-abiding bicyclist pulls up to a stop sign to look for a break in traffic before bolting across the intersection. Most bicyclists blow through a stop sign expecting the cars to accommodate him.

Teaching traffic manners to bicyclists is possible, we suppose, but it would require City Hall to confront a community of bikers who often regard themselves as God’s noblemen just for climbing aboard their two wheels and pumping away. More bicycles may be a good idea, but the idea needs work.

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