Cut-through traffic and other paradoxes

So far, concerns about cut-through traffic and Mass. Ave. have focused on fears that changes in the design of the street, and especially the new traffic signal at Bates Road, will cause outbound drivers to detour through side streets.

I took a look at this last year. Ultimately, it is not credible that drivers would take a time-consuming detour that includes two left turns on Broadway in order to avoid a 40-second delay (max) at a stoplight.

However, this whole discussion has ignored the other cut-through traffic, namely drivers who use side streets to get to Mass. Ave., for instance on the way to Lake Street and Route 2.

Critics of the redesign assert it is flawed because it would increase congestion.

There’s no basis for that. However, someone concerned about cars cutting through to get to Mass. Ave. might criticize the plan from the other end: that it fails to create more congestion that would discourage cut-through traffic! (Indeed, I’ve received one email to that effect.)

From that perspective, you could reduce cut-through traffic to zero if you closed off Mass. Ave. Then nobody would drive down your street to get to Lake and Route 2 or anywhere. (Including you — one reason why no one wants this.)

The real bottleneck in Arlington is not Mass. Ave. but Lake Street. (The Alewife bottlenecks are in Cambridge.) The proposed Mass. Ave. design neither improves nor degrades that problem.

But consider what would happen if it did.

Lake St. would get a lot more Route-2-bound traffic.

Improvements to Lake Street (imagine more lanes, an overpass that bypasses the traffic signals, or whatever would improve service) will draw drivers from Route 16 and other roads down side streets to the improved route.

Traffic would shift from Route 16 to Lake St. until equilibrium was restored.

Probably this would shift the bottleneck. (Would drivers then clamor for a widened Cleveland St. to “solve” the traffic problem?)

This paradox, sometimes called “build it and they will come,” is well known in traffic-planning circles. (The planners usually focus on long-term effects, however; these are similar but for different reasons.)

Finally, the two kinds of cut-through traffic — from Mass. Ave, and to it — have a reciprocal relationship.

The new design does not create congestion, but if something did so enough to increase the “from Mass. Ave.” cut through, it would also reduce the “to Mass. Ave.” traffic by about the same amount.

Thus the paradox: the more you discourage cut through traffic by relieving congestion (or creating it), the more you encourage cut through traffic.

How you felt about that might depend on which kind of traffic is cutting though on your street. Overall, though, the two would cancel out.

36 comments so far

  1. Mark Kaepplein on

    The “paradox” with adding infrastructure is local economy is then allowed to grow, just using up the constrained resource again. This is bad?

    Thanks to the link to that lame article – I exposed its flaws there. Locally, the park along the Rt. 16 bottleneck near I-93 is an example where they didn’t come. Traffic backs up every day going from 4 lanes to 2, yet Veterans Park alongside didn’t gain use in the 35 years since the “road diet” there. MIT Urban planners (all cyclists) did a plan 5 years ago for that area and Medford Center. No improvements for congested 16.

    MIT is working on cell phone apps to help drivers re-route to less congested paths in real time. Worthless, as all streets already congested! They like to apply technology despite ineffectiveness. Princeton C.S. department studies voting machines and concludes any computerized one is subject to tampering. They advocate what we use – paper ballots optically scanned. The paper record allowed the very close Al Frankin win in Minn. to be verified.

    Lake St. does not substitute for Rt. 16 – its too far a re-route (distance + time), similar to your reasoning on cut-throughs. Your long diversion is only attractive if Mass Ave. gets totally backed up.

    I think traffic lights diverts traffic to nearby side streets to save time; traffic shift, not increase. Actual cut through traffic may increase for drivers with commutes between Winchester or West Medford directions and Rt. 2 inbound. Travel on Warren and Broadway will become more attractive than Mass. Ave., but drivers need to cut through eventually to take Lake to 2. Now, they might take Mystic St. to reach Mass Ave., due to difficult left turn at light from Medford to Warren.

    Traffic design needs holistic approach. Areas other than Mass. Ave. need congestion reduction, but the solution isn’t to congest Mass. Ave.. Some day if those other problems are fixed, we will have spent $6 Million to create the bottleneck on Mass Ave.. Worse, restoring lost capacity will then be politically impossible due to bicycle lobbyists.

    As an aside, its interesting how bike commuters think like drivers. Rather than enjoy the health effects of a longer ride not breathing bus/car exhaust with greater safety on the bike path, they want the shorter path of Mass. Ave. and at higher speeds. Their own bike lanes give them this highway. Highways lack stop lights, and that’s how they view Mass Ave. and other roads. They also think like drivers in using selfish personal transportation instead of mass transportation to their specific destinations.

  2. dr2chase on

    Can you define “holistic approach”? I’d rather copy what works well in other places, like, say, the Netherlands. There, banning cars was good for business.

    It’s true, the density is not the same here. Assen (bicycle ride share 40%) has about 2000 people per square mile. Arlington has 7900 people per square mile.

  3. Mark Kaepplein on

    By holistic approach I mean the various roads as an interconnected system, vs. whack a mole. Our project is 1 mi. of Mass. Ave., its traffic is impacted by roads outside the project and constriction of any road drives traffic elsewhere.

    Bicycle ridership in Denmark and the Netherlands is outstandingly high for developed countries – like China 40 years ago. Boston does OK – check out page 17 of this report:

    Making driving so painful that cycling in rain and snow becomes appealing is not a good solution. It still cripples economic health. Better ones, I think are roadway efficiency improvements, added mass transit capacity and parking (Alwife was supposed to have two more levels, but money ran out), and finally additional roadway. More reduction of efficiency is simply the wrong way to go. I don’t think bicycle use is currently constrained along the project, so more capacity doesn’t help, especially not at the cost of reduced capacity to the dominant users – mass transportation and motor vehicles. Cyclists need to present a model of how much bicycle traffic will increase if capacity is added. I’ve not seen it.

    Like the Big Dig, the Urban Planner’s LSD vision for us is too expensive and Utopian. Less change to Mass Ave. will disrupt residents and businesses for less time and to less extent. How long do plants survive without water? How many businesses will fail due to the construction? The only bad parts of the road are at Rt. 16, and a bit in front of the Capital. We argue over the road, but the sidewalks are what need repair!

    • Adam Auster on

      Guys, I am not surprised that you latched onto this blog post.

      If you click the “reply” link that is directly under each post (as opposed to typing in the box at the end of the comments section), your comments will “thread,” indent-wise, into a conversation.

      This cuts confusion and leaves room for others too.

    • dr2chase on

      I had heard, perhaps incorrectly, that Alewife was considered to be traffic-limited as well as parking limits. To make a bicycling analogy, big legs, no lungs.

      My problem with holistic-vs-whack-a-mole, is that an excess of concern for working with the existing traffic patterns and infrastructure, mostly acts to preserve existing traffic patterns and infrastructure. I think things need a push in the Dutch direction. That doesn’t mean we just import a one-mile design from Amsterdam and drop it into the middle of Arlington, but that we should bias the design.

      I think we disagree on “reduction of efficiency”. Favoring bicycles — to the extent that they arrive, as you note — increases efficiency, because you can fit more of them into a given space, and tolerate more bicycle traffic (it is safer and quieter for abutters). Short term, the bikes will not arrive if we wave the Amsterdam wand, but long term, they will, given that there is nothing terribly special about Arlington, Cambridge or metro Boston, compared to the Netherlands. It rains here, it rains there. I would expect to see similar gains in ride share. (That is, we didn’t just do a study, we have run a full-on multi-year experiment, with us as the controls, and the Netherlands as the test group. The conclusion is that long term, bikes increase local business and make more efficient use of infrastructure.)

      The “too expensive” argument also has difficulties. This implies, to me, that the Netherlands must be more wealthy, because they can afford to do it — so wealthy people choose bikes. I’ll bet you don’t agree with that, but if they can afford it and we cannot, how can we claim to be the wealthy society?

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        You still need to prove cyclists are now congested on Mass Ave., and providing bike lanes would ease that, allowing more riders to use the road than now. You can’t because its not true. Also not true is that cyclists patronize Arlington businesses. Almost all seem to be commuting or training for races, never stopping. Culture differs greatly between Essen and Arlington, so I find it unlikely statistics could adjust for that, ever.

        I agree Alwife is likely traffic bound at peak times. More parking there would reduce traffic in Arlington from commuters using our side streets as free parking.

        The aborted I-695 project would have fixed the multiple bottlenecks at Alwife. For example, Rt. 16 traffic entering 2 west could merge instead of have a light if 2 had an extra lane or two. Add a bike lane too while we are at it! These days, EPA laws protecting wetlands makes efficiency improvements there require years of expensive studies. An example of too expensive.

        Putting destinations to walk and bike to out of business is too expensive of a project. So are unnecessary and costly constraints and time demands on residents in the HOPE more will bicycle.

        I use road efficiency in a general sense. After the oil crisis when the feds imposed a unified national right on red traffic law to reduce idling, stopped traffic, and fuel waste, Arlington and other towns subverted it with No Right on Red signs.

        Bump outs also reduce efficiency. Lost are standing spaces for dropping off passengers and delivery trucks. Drivers will need to double park, blocking the bike lane and single lane of road. Bump outs are likely to trap and pool water/ice/leaves unless extra, costly drainage is added.

        The efficiency reduction at Pleasant and Mass was that two straight through lanes in each direction used to exist for more cars across each light cycle. While Pleasant and Mystic narrow to one lane eventually, there was plentiful two lane storage for cars to efficiently cross. When the intersection was sabotaged, parking was added on Pleasant to consume now wasted traffic storage space. Congestion added here and diversion to Jason St. are courtesy of cyclists who needed an added crossing cycle to continue on the bike path. It helped pedestrians too, but cyclists far outnumber them, and pedestrians have more locations to cross Mass. Ave..

        Efficiency could be increased at Lake by moving the bus stops in front of Fox library and the bank, creating a real right turn lane in front of the Capitol. No Right on Red signs again need removal.

        Efficiency can be increased by making walk cycles at lights only occur when a walk button is pressed. Use strobe lights to inform drivers of the exceptional state. Efficiency can be increased by using raised pedestrian refuges at medians with walk buttons. Crossers may not need to activate the walk signal initially, but if trapped in the median, they can then activate. The light should change quickly whenever activated, with shortened walk cycle for center activations.

        Efficiency can be maintained by keeping wide entrances to side streets. Narrowed ones slow turning drivers and all behind them needlessly when no pedestrian is crossing that side street. There is no evidence that narrowed entrances are needed or bring any compensatory benefits, especially since drivers hit the gas immediately after turning.

        Increased traffic efficiency also means less waste of time, fuel and CO2 production, all products of “traffic calming”. Four traffic lanes instead of two or three has higher capacity, more efficient.

        While MIT and others work on new cell apps, 50-80 year old traffic light technology with mechanical relays is what needs improvement more!

        I love the efficiency of bicycles and exotic materials, especially compared to obese, over-regulated motor vehicles. 0.5% of gasoline energy is used to move the car driver and the rest wasted. As a motorcyclist, I have less wasted energy moving the vehicle and little regulation added weight and inefficiency. Like bicycles, scooters and motorcycles take up less road space, finding great favor in other countries. By going faster, they occupy that space for a shorter time period.

        • dr2chase on

          I don’t think it’s congestion that keeps bicycles off Mass Ave; I think it’s that the road is an unruly scrum where people don’t feel safe on bikes, so they stay away.

          I think your view of “efficiency” is also extraordinarily narrow. There is both fuel efficiency, where bicycles win, and flow efficiency, where bicycles also win. Some of your efficiency suggests appear (to me) to put pedestrians and cyclists at risk; inconvenient intersections are designed (as I understand it) to force cars to stop for side traffic, instead of rolling casually through and intimidating pedestrians and cyclists. Yes, this causes autos not using regenerative braking to “waste” a little energy, but this is a microoptimization to a puny local maximum. Better to get people out of cars altogether, whenever practical.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            OK, get some data to estimate how much more cycle volume would be created if fear were reduced. Survey. Does less fear make for more warm, dry day riders than other days? Is there less fear on Mass Ave. after crossing into Cambridge? Isn’t that fear still going to keep riders away in Arlington despite lowering the fear here, like “downstream congestion?”

            Micro inefficiencies for vehicles multiplied thousands of times each day become non-negligible. Negligible increased risk to pedestrians and cyclists multiplied tens of times per day remains negligible.

            Cyclists don’t like inefficiency either, like slowing down, stopping, or waiting at stop lights when personal risk is below their personal tolerance threshold. Like negligible increased risk for pedestrians, I think risks to cyclists is minuscule and acceptable for them to not have to wait full red light cycles. I support the law change done in Idaho.

            I object to electrical regenerative breaking because it supports civil war and human atrocities where the rare-earth resources come from. These minerals are much more scarce than oil. Flywheel regenerative energy storage is just too dangerous. We could put masts and sails on our cars – that’s fuel efficient. I prefer to just ditch my car and sprout wings to fly, but that or everyone cycling aren’t realistic once the drugs wear off.

          • dr2chase on

            The reply button is screwed up.

            I agree with you on the issue of downstream fear, but this is not something that you solve by waiting for the other guy to go first. If there’s an opportunity to push for improvements in Arlington, take it, then push on Cambridge (and Cambridge is trying, sometimes their efforts are a little random, but they are working on it).

            The problem with focussing on microoptimizations for automobiles, is that there is a limit. If you improve a 25 mpg car to 25.1 mpg, and do that across the entire fleet, yes that is many gallons saved, but only because we burn a truly enormous amount of gasoline, and compared to the total, it is tiny. A bicycle is an order of magnitude more efficient; easily 250 miles per “gallon”, possibly as much as 1000, depending on the rider, bike, etc. Replacing 4% of your miles with a bike, effectively gets you to 26mpg, just like that (I am personally at something like 30-40% by bike, so 4% is really low-balling it).

            My understanding is that the rare earth elements come primarily from China, though we have reserves (we used to have a mining industry, as I understand it), and lithium probably comes from Bolivia, though we can also refine it from seawater if it is expensive enough. though they are more scarce than oil, we did just spend years in a war that cost us the equivalent of 50 to 70 cents per gallon of gasoline — though we chose to borrow that money instead.

        • alex on

          Hi, I think the number of bike stores in town (especially high end bike stores) is testament that the bikers in Arlington do contribute a lot to the economy. The only stores that seem to open in Arlington are pizza places and bike stores!!! Alex.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Arlington had been a bigger supporter of cycling until the tragic death of a racer during a race – it wasn’t from a vehicle, btw. OK, cyclists stop at bike stores, but they aren’t in East Arlington where the project is. Fancy bikes also show that cycling isn’t about basic transportation here. Government needs to provide basics, luxuries, not so much. A training track for bicycle racers is a luxury. A training track at the expense of reduced basic transportation for the much larger majority is unfair and unreasonable in my opinion. At least in Europe where so many clunker bikes are visible, the argument is far stronger that bike lanes support basic transportation (and more exercise per km.).

          • dr2chase on

            (reply to MK)

            You might ask yourself how Europe got itself to the place where bike lanes support basic transportation. If you think you already know the answer to that, you are probably wrong. Have a look here:


          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Reply to dr2chase,
            Very informative, but had technical probs towards the end. Lots of stuff to react to.

            I love the freedom of Europe missing in the US (36hr. work weeks and 4-6 wk. mandated vacation/year are nice too). Planners have more freedom to experiment. Here, we have process, regulations, and conformity to fight. Bureaucrats/lawyers are stuck trying to modify behavior with laws rather than human engineering. Safety Nazi’s here have not just hurt fuel economy, road efficiency, natural selection, and some negative safety results, they discouraged bicycle use too!

            I also like how towns built after WWII bomb leveling are laid out with compact town centers facilitating short walks/rides. Surviving very old city streets too narrow for practical driving were converted to walking/biking.

            That link I supplied before shows Boston/Cambridge has >50% non-car trips, while spread out exurbs are 98-9% auto. I wish we all could live near work and shops, but the US, like Australia are spread out. Canada and Victoria AU is more Europe-like with condensed centers. This is the metro vision for Boston. Be patient.

            I did bicycle once in Germany with friends. We were going to a local town festival, hence: tent, long tables, singing, beer, food, wine, schnapps. With drinking, friends insisted we bike and there was a path independent from the road. With the driving age higher than drinking age, German youth ride more to pubs/festivals/concerts etc. and socialize.

            The video gave me an idea: turn crumbling bridges that no longer safely support vehicles into bicycle bridges! That would have been something to do with the central artery rather than tear it down. Like the bridge left up at Fort Point Channel, keep more decommissioned bridges!

            To be actually worthwhile encouraging cycling then, the Arlington plan needs bike lanes as part of sidewalks. Otherwise there isn’t reduced cortisol stimulation for weary women, parents, and pensioners. The bike lanes as proposed won’t achieve any of the goals other than penalizing drivers of everything: cars, MBTA buses, police, fire, UPS, Fed-Ex, USPS, trucks, business deliveries, business patrons etc..

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        Why does our culture not embrace more scooter and motorcycle use? Its a mid-point from cars to bicycles. A stepping stone. Faster than cycles, more cost and fuel efficient than cars. Both share reduced roadway space, parking space, and exposure to injury and the elements.

        Its a straw man, but my point is culture change takes more than roadway change UNLESS you make roads less efficient. Unfortunately, you hurt MBTA, and commercial traffic along with car drivers.

        In central London, drivers pay an added tax enforced by an expensive Big Brother camera system. In Jakarta, solo drivers face fines and subvert them by employing professional passengers waiting along roads for $0.50. Here, you want to create traffic congestion and hurt everyone.

        Parents with young kids for example don’t have bicycling as an option – its like herding cats. Leaving them home unattended while grocery shopping isn’t an option.

        • dr2chase on

          I think scooters and motorcycles would be fine. They lose a little on some counts; they’re much less safe than bicycles, noisier, and often smellier. From a public health point-of-view, there’s no exercise benefit, which is a huge deal (much, much larger than the risk of crashes in any vehicle — you can look it up). But overall, they are much less intimidating to cyclists than cars, so they don’t have that cost.

          One of the reasons that I think we should be designing towards bicycles is that I assume that “something” will go wrong in the next few (5-10) years to make gasoline much more costly. Perhaps the economy will recover nicely, in which case demand for gasoline goes up. Perhaps there is another war in the middle-east, this time provoking a supply boycott. Perhaps we hit peak oil (this is a variant on the economy recovering nicely), and the price spikes until demand is cut. Perhaps global warming hits a point where almost everyone is convinced, and concerned, and gets serious about cutting back CO2 emissions. Any one of these things happens, and we’ll have a powerful incentive to shift to bicycles.

          Parents, in the Netherlands also have young kids. There are numerous bicycle solutions, all far cheaper than any car. Google (images) for “bakfiets children pictures”, you’ll get a bunch of them.

          And do please note, I do not “want” to create traffic congestion. Congestion creates itself, in the sense of if you build it, they will come. If you add capacity upstream, you create congestion downstream.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Why don’t you get some more bakfiets in use on the bike path before adding bike paths to Mass Ave.? While at it, let mothers leave their kids in strollers outside shops without getting arrested? Culture change is hard as our government learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything didn’t change after letting them vote. Taking away a vehicle lane to make bike lanes here won’t change culture or the weather.

            Bakfiets are also great for running errands and shopping as are pulled trailers, yet they are not used here hardly at all. I’ve only ever seen a few bakfiets, and they were used by street vendors, mostly in NYC. Never parked at Arlington shops. Again, bike lanes only serve racers and time conscious commuters. Cyclists who desire exercise would prefer a longer ride on the bike path and a less energy efficient clunker of a bike, including bakfiets.

            Cyclists who think Mass Ave. too dangerous again have the bike path as an option, so again, bike lanes on Mass Ave won’t increase bike volume. Neither fear, nor congestion restrict cyclists now nor should bike lanes be created.

            You are increasing congestion on Mass Ave. by removing 2×5′ for bike lanes, that is a car lane. Should bottlenecks around Mass Ave. get fixed and a 3 lane Mass Ave. then becomes the bottleneck, restoring 4 lanes becomes politically infeasible even if cycle traffic doesn’t grow. Your professional lobbyists have already demonstrated great strength over Arlington voters and business owners. Undoing damage at Pleasant St. and on Rt. 16 has not happened yet in decades. Getting 4 lanes back on Mass when Rt. 16 can’t at I93, would be more dreaming.

            CO2 reduction actions are a red herring like increased domestic oil production. Local changes have small impact on what is global. China will stop burning coal and cows will stop making methane about when we go to scooters, then bikes, industry goes back to water wheels, and we all go vegan. Better stock up your survival shelter!

  4. Mark Kaepplein on

    Opportunities to improve city mileage are actually quite large, not micro. Consider the 2010 Toyota Prius, EPA rated at 51 mpg city, 48 highway. Non hybrids do considerably worse city than highway, not better due to lots of speeding up and slowing down. Hybrids recapture most of that lost energy, doing much better. Both suffer greatly from air resistance at highway speeds, but hardly penalized by speed change. Non-hybrids would also get better city mileage than highway if it weren’t for all the slowing, stopping, and accelerating again and again. The benefit of less speed change is far greater today than 25 years ago due to government forced 800lb. vehicle weight increases.

    Rare earth elements are needed to make strong magnets for lighter, more efficient motor/generators. Efficient, high current charging/regulation and discharging electronics need tantalum capacitors and other trace elements. All need wide temperature ranges. Many come from Congo to South Africa regions. The price of the limited rare earth elements would skyrocket if every car were electric or hybrid – worse than any oil price increase we’ve ever seen!

    Again, everyone riding bikes is wonderful in my mind too… just not realistic. Not going to happen in 25 years. A waste of limited roadway space.

    • dr2chase on

      The problem is that you assume that if capacity is added (to get rid of starts and stops) more traffic will not appear, along with new stops and starts. I have seen this tried, it is called “Houston”. The traffic jams are driven by someone, somewhere, looking for a shortcut, where that someone has a higher tolerance for traffic than whoever is already on that road. Sooner or later, there will be a bottleneck somewhere — if not in Arlington, then in Cambridge, or in Lexington, or in the on-ramps to the parking garage at Alewife.

      On rare earth elements, from Wikipedia, we have “China now produces over 97% of the world’s rare earth supply”. I think you are thinking of coltan, for tantalum, for specialized capacitors, for cell phones (and laptops). I don’t think these are used much in industrial power supplies.

      As to the bakfiets, you won’t see those until people feel like they have more places to use them than just the Minuteman Trail. You will not get a mom, with her kids, to spend multiple thousands of dollars on a bicycle unless they feel like they can use it all over town. There are people who do this, but so far they are outliers. This is not a culture thing, this is a perception-of-safety thing (ignoring the fact that by far the largest risk, is not to ride a bicycle at all, but people are like that).

  5. Mark Kaepplein on

    In cars vs. bikes what we’ve not yet discussed is FUN. Feeling at one with a responsive machine as an active participant is fun. This is true for performance: bikes, motorcycles, and cars. Bakfiets are transportation, not fun, and thus will never be popular here for cyclists. Most people don’t cycle because its green, good for them, or economical – its simply more fun and stimulating than sitting in a bus or car.

    Cars, made obese by regulations, even after suspension and tire upgrades are now still not much fun, so most people are resigned to view them as just transportation, order the less efficient automatic transmission, hands free cell integrated 10 speaker stereo, and plod along in their own isolated world complete with electric seats and cup holders.

    Cyclists mostly want bike lanes on Mass Ave because riding fast is more fun. Riding fast without bike lanes and on the bike path is less possible. Riding two abreast is more fun – possible with 5′ bike lanes, not so much without or on the bike path.

    The point about transport options in a wealthy, developed world, vs. developing is that we and the Dutch can choose based on convenience and fun, while poorer people focus more on just getting somewhere within their budget and schedule. Motorcycles and scooters are hugely popular in South and Southeast Asia because they are much cheaper and more practical for most needs than cars and much faster than bicycles. Warmer weather factors in, but these options are less popular here due to additional burdens of government registration and insurance requirements, with no parking accommodation. With similar costs for motorcycle vs. car here, people choose the much more practical car. Motorbikes are fantastic for the city due to maneuverability and small parking footprint (which laws here fail to acknowledge).

    My only car is a small convertible with manual transmission. Similar to a bike or motorcycle, I get the pleasure of more sensation of the environment compared to other 4 wheeled appliances.

    One last word on efficiency: roundabouts! Much more fuel efficient, traffic flow efficient, fun, AND safer than signaled intersections. Less full stops and congestion would help slow or reverse the growing trend of lazy Americans from using less efficient manual transmissions – unique in the world. With people even too lazy to shift, think they will bike?

  6. Mark Kaepplein on

    Accommodating cyclists is also SEXIST. Bike commuting is not nearly so popular for women because it is simply impractical. Women don’t want to put on a wrinkled blouse or dress from their backpack or do their hair and makeup in the corporate bathroom. Its not an issue for cars or public transit, but is for bikes, motorcycles, scooters, and highway top-down convertible drives. Wrinkles from shoulder belts are already cause for non-use and subversion.

    This is the big factor for less bike commuting in dressier cities.

    • dr2chase on

      Okay, now you’re just being willfully ignorant. Europe is full of fashionable women, who quite often ride bikes, and there is a non-trivial female ride share in the Netherlands.


      • Mark Kaepplein on

        Site is hot, but its not business attire for women here. Tell me, what are the demographics for bike commuters on Mass Ave? More men than women perhaps? Women have different dress than men and different needs. Legally recognized even with potty parity – more stalls for women’s bathrooms.

        Not ONE of those models was wearing a bike helmet – how smart is that? Solves the problem of helmet hair, however.

        • dr2chase on

          There are other sites; these are the preferences of that one particular photographer. Those are not models, generally; usually those are people on the street, in the specified city.

          Helmet use is irrelevant; cycling in Northern Europe is incredibly safe. It would make more sense for you to wear a helmet while driving here, than it would for them to wear a helmet while cycling there. Even here, per hour (but not per mile) cars and bikes have roughly equivalent risks of head injury. Cycling in Northern Europe is something like five times safer than here.

          From a public health point of view, helmet promotion is a disaster, because not riding a bicycle is vastly more dangerous than riding a bike without a helmet, and the risk of “helmet hair” will cause people not to ride. The promotion of helmets for cyclists also creates the impression that cycling is much more dangerous than it is. Diseases of the unfit are much bigger killers — one claim is that not-riding a bike is at least 10x more dangerous than riding a bike. Another study (Danish, so they had a decent sample) estimated that even after adjusting for other risk factors, the mortality rate for people who did not bike to work was 39% HIGHER than for those who did. And since it was Denmark, that was people riding without helmets.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Again, no answer on OUR demographics. The clunker bikes and lack of spandex commandos indicate these are all recreation oriented short distance riders, perfect for the Minuteman Commuter Bike Trail. Bakfiets look like clunkers too – hard to imagine they would cost more than a space age, carbon fiber featherweight.

            Is your other bike a Harley? That has low rates of head injury, especially compared to riding a horse. Shows again that the current risk of riding on Mass. Ave. Arlington is not a deterrent.

            Looking at the site again, I see bike helmets are not used in NYC or SF either. No pictures in rain, though cloudy skies are good for photographing people and used. Most are models or students not needing business attire. You are still not drawing a larger demographic here – college students and younger already bike. Working women and home makers, not so much, nor practical to do so.

            We already have the bike path, and a hockey rink, so we need a year-round, indoor public swimming pool more than bike lanes! Fewer injuries than cycling – its the healthier activity needing promotion. Best, it does not sacrifice current roadway capacity, nor becoming little used in rain, snow, cold, and darkness! Rooster/skunk tails and bike fenders here are both so not chic.

      • Adam Auster on

        Thanks for using the “reply” button, guys. It does seem that the threading and indenting ends after about the 5th reply or so. Even so, it is helpful.

    • julie on

      Ummmmmmm I’m female. I’ve cycle-commuted for most of the past 20 years. I’m not the only one. The bike lanes are actually seen as encouraging more women to ride more often. As for fashion issues: tonight I am riding my bike (an old Gary Fisher) to a concert and will be wearing a dress.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        W00t! You’re so exceptional, you probably maintain your bike too! I knew MIT urban planning school grads had as much experience for road design as priests do for marital counseling when I saw the bike repair workshops!

        I have an old Mercier 300 10-speed (db Reynolds 531 frame) I should sell (excellent single speed candidate) as horrific knees keep me from riding. It hasn’t seen much use since I got my first car…

        The gender issue is that a Federal and State tax dollars are going to support bike paths, which are disproportionally serving white, educated, above median income, males, while women equally suffer the loss of a travel lane. We might as well build indoor squash courts for exercise with the money!

        There is a study showing 40% more riders after bike lanes were added!!! The less exciting details farther down was that was going from 10 to 14 riders per day (St. Petersburg, FL), and another street had no change (10/day). Our tax dollars working!

        • dr2chase on

          Off-topic, but I’d be interested in that bike for sentimental reasons, if the size was right. I raced on one for a few years, and rode it after that for quite some time. Anyone you sold it to, there’s a high probability that they would butcher it.

          The point of that I video I linked to above, was that if women are not using the bike facilities that have been built, then they are not built right. Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, the male-female ride share is pretty close to 50-50. I realize that “it’s not been tried properly” is a standard claim made by everyone across the political spectrum when their brilliant plans don’t work out, but in this case, we can actually point to an example where it WAS done right.

          St. Pete, I’d want to know a lot more about exactly what roads they put that bike lane on, before jumping to conclusions. There are some roads where “bike lanes” would at best be lipstick on a pig. You also have the problem that about 75-80% of the population there has never lived without air conditioning (in Florida).

          (I grew up 30 miles north of St. Pete. No AC for 7 years. None of my cars or bicycles down there had AC, either.)

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            The paper is:
            It was published in 2010, 31th, 37th St.. I misquoted the numbers, 37th went from 7.59 to 10.74. The numbers answer the authors observation: “It is assumed that installation of bicycle facilities will result in an increase in the number of bicyclists. However, it is rare that any kinds of before and after counts are performed and reported in the literature.”

            I don’t think ridership isn’t blossoming for lack of trying – I’ve lost count of how many pro-cycling web sites I’ve seen. Davis CA, 50 years of bike lane prioritized roadways declined in usage.

            My bike has a 23″ frame and is nearly original – I even still have a puller for the Stronglight crank. As a fashion conscious teen, I put side pull brakes on and had Campy Record derailleurs put on. The shop tapped the rear lug slightly off angle, so front has to be precisely positioned to not have it rub the chain. The seat lug is a little battered, stickers chipped. Wheels are original with sew-up rims and tires. I had replaced the worn rear cluster, but original 45/52 chain rings mounted. Blue, white, with gold detailing. Original rat trap pedals w/toe clips, Original, hard, leather saddle. Zefel pump. Frame is true, never crashed, rode nice. My yahoo email is markk02474.

          • dr2chase on

            (reply to MK)

            31 and 37 aren’t obviously brain-dead choices (34 would be brain-dead), and St. Pete has reasonable density, and it’s flat. On the other hand, as they note, there are “other factors”. One is that you have to be traveling TO or FROM something, and the general road mood in that part of the world is not bike-friendly (tourists and senior citizens, some driving long after their licenses should have been revoked). One thing they don’t mention as an “other factor” is weather. The “summer” (May-October, I recall) weather down there is not too friendly to biking, and their abstract doesn’t mention anything about the timing of the study.

            And the particular problem with summer (vs winter), is that though you can add more clothing to stay warm, you can only take off so much to stay cool. You can commute in that sort of climate (I’ve done Houston in a summer with record-breaking heat), but you have to ride early, and slow, and pick your route to have a lot of shade.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            Reason usually loses to policy, not just in St. Pete. Research showed (15yrs ago) the elderly and drivers under 20 very much more likely to hit riders.

            Heat is paradoxical in motorcycling. In July/August heat billows out from one’s liter bike. In cold weather its nowhere to be found!

  7. dr2chase on

    re, PS, on the “lack of trying”, or not.

    I think two things matter a lot, one is quality of infrastructure, the other is density. Davis has great infrastructure, but they are to some extent fighting a density war, because land around Davis is (relatively) cheap, and people have the option of commuting into Davis in cars. Adding more cars directly dilutes the ride share, and also makes biking less attractive. Davis proper is dense (6000/sq mile), but Arlington, Watertown, and the flat-lands portion of Belmont are denser, and Cambridge and Somerville are denser yet.

    You can argue (and I would pretty much agree) that a big reason for the success of biking in places like the Netherlands is that their towns are dense, AND there is a reduced option to buy cheap 10 miles out (AND there is decent transit for people who find themselves working far from home), so dense that if everyone drives a car, that traffic becomes intolerable and it is bad for the economy (and since business has been observed to increase in before/after comparisons in places where cars were banned, this is likely).

    It ought to be the case, based on how things turned out in other places, that if we could get a solid ride share “here” (Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Belmont, Watertown, and probably some from the towns beyond), that it would provide economic, social, and public health benefits. (For “solid”, I imagine somewhere between 20 and 50%). Getting to that point is not something you do by giving car drivers “whatever they want” — to get there, you have to do a fair amount of giving bike riders “whatever they want”, meaning convenient, comfortable, safe places to ride their bikes. And by convenient, I mean, even more convenient than what we provide for cars (this is possible because bikes are smaller, safer, and quieter — you can put them places where cars would be unacceptable, in densities that are completely impossible with cars). Not, “you’ve got the Minuteman Trail, what more do you want?”

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      You switched to Davis Square. The paper was on Davis CAlifornia, where riding dropped due to people now commuting to outside the city. Some may speculate that is due to businesses not wanting to locate where accessibility for most workers driving was made more difficult by pro-bike policies.

      Davis Square is also a college area, and like all should have very high ridership, but now don’t. Too lazy, too much money, not health conscious. Bike lanes won’t affect that. Money to buy a car also reduced ridership in China, (post WWII) UK, US etc..

      For Arlington bike commuters, lowest impedance path (Mass Ave.) still wins over exercise and safety – the same algorithm used by motorists. These riders have destinations in Cambridge, not Arlington businesses inconvenient to the bike path.

      There is a huge drop in riders now with cooler weather. They also seem to be slower riders. Its off-season for the racing crowd! Bundling up not a factor, though keeping your face down out of the wind impairs vision.

      What does not happen in Arlington is shopping via bike, people use cars for that. I don’t see baskets on bikes here as in Cambridge.

      • dr2chase on

        No, I did not switch to Davis Sq, I quoted you information from Davis, CA. We used to live out in Silly Valley, a good friend went to school there, another friend teaches there now.

        The cold weather has several other effects. Besides driving off the fair-weather riders, the air is actually thicker (I read an informal “study” of this, exploring a lot of plausible hypothesis, everything from reduced power output, to stiffer tires. It actually is the air.) In addition, the more-dedicated crowd that assumes their vehicle should be able to cope with ice, adds snow tires, and the studs on those kinda suck up power, compared to fair-weather slicks. But as far as I know, no studs yet. Wait for the first snow.

        • Mark Kaepplein on

          How is this sustainable environment thing supposed to work then? Businesses locate outside the city because office space $/ft2 is much less and parking/traffic in the city bad.

          Utopians also realize here, business choose 128 and 495 over Cambridge most times. The ones choosing Cambridge are looking for single 20-something employees. The ones in burbs need(ed) more experienced workers, who tend to marry and have families. The pattern for 30+ years has been Cambridge/Boston are incubators, then growing companies move out.

          • dr2chase on

            The traffic patterns I see every day, suggest a high density of people working in Cambridge and Boston. I note that you say “parking/traffic in the city bad”. There is no contradiction here — the Netherlands experience has been, given a built-up demand for bicycle access (that’s different from here, but hold that thought), that banning cars, also bans traffic, also bans parking probems. And because of the built-up demand for bicycle access, hey-presto, more people can get to the businesses, using bicycles and mass transit.

            NOW. We don’t have that built-up demand. Waving a wand and declaring “Hey Presto Netherlands!”, instant infrastructure, would probably be too fast a change, and would not be good. I think, nonetheless, that we should work in that direction, because the car-based local optimum that we are at, is not that good compared to their more bicycle-friendly mix, and I think our local optimum is going to get less good in the future. It already has costs in terms of noise, safety, and lack of exercise.

            And do note, some of us already commute, by bicycle, from places like Waverley Square, or Davis Square, or Brookline, to work in places like Burlington, Bedford, Wellesley, and Wayland. The main deterrent is the lack of routes that are safe, comfortable, and convenient, in day, night, and poor weather (bikes are perfectly safe in poor weather, it’s the cars that are a problem).

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