“Bike-lane Fever” Isn’t Breaking, Despite Globe Columnist’s Claims

Jeff Jacoby’s message in this week’s Globe editorial, “Is the bike-lane fever breaking?” is not only inaccurate, it’s pro-congestion.

Never mind the cherry-picked “facts” Jacoby uses to paint a misleading picture of declining bike ridership. He completely ignores that we are in the midst of a congestion crisis — and it’s getting worse. Car commuters spent 60 hours stuck in traffic in 2017, an increase of two hours over the previous year.

Mr. Jacoby may enjoy sitting in mind-numbing traffic, but most people don’t. For example, a recent report showed that 36% of the people who drive to the Longwood Area would prefer to take transit or bike — if those options were reliable and safe.

If you prefer to drive though, the best possible outcome for you is to get one-third of cars off the road, and encouraging more people to bike helps.

Despite Mr. Jacoby’s strident claim, “Subtracting or squeezing already-crowded car lanes for the benefit of cyclists” is not to blame for soaring congestion. Rather, dedicated bike lanes have been shown to reduce traffic delays for all commuters by creating order and predictability, and by minimizing conflicts between different road users to keep traffic moving smoothly. When New York City installed protected bike lanes on one main arterial, vehicle travel times fell by 35%.

Mr. Jacoby’s entire argument also rests on a selective misreading of the underlying data. While it’s true that bike ridership as a share of all commutes in Boston dipped from 2016 to 2017, a one year decrease can be an anomaly, not a trend. A trend is Boston’s 76.7 percent increase in cycling mode share from 2006 to 2017.

A new protected bike lane on Mass Ave. in Cambridge

The cherry-picked data also comes from a federal census survey that ask only a limiting question about bike commuting, not ridership as a whole. Conveniently, Boston conducts annual bike counts of total ridership. The latest results: Ridership increased approximately 30% from 2016 to 2017, with the city counting 40,000 daily trips in 2017 at 62 locations (not accounting for every trip by bike in the city).

Meanwhile, bicycle commute mode share across the river in Cambridge spiked by almost 35% in that same span, and by 36% in Somerville. Both Cambridge and Somerville now rank in the top 10 cities in the entire country by this metric. Imagine if those people all decided to drive — adding tens of thousands more cars to our already choked rush hour roadways.

Then there’s Mr. Jacoby’s flawed assertion that biking became deadlier as more people chose to ride. Citing NHTSA data, with no context, to state that the number of fatalities rose 20% over a ten year period is just bad reporting. While the total number of fatalities has risen, fatality and injury rates have actually dropped significantly once you account for the rate of cycling more than doubling, from 0.9% to 2.4%, in that same time frame. Looking solely at Boston, one study found a 14% reduction in the odds of cyclist injuries each year between 2009 and 2012.

Elsewhere, Mr Jacoby bemoans the billions spent on bike infrastructure, without noting that those funds comprise a mere 1-2% of overall federal and local transportation budgets. And he leans on the fallacy that bike riders are predominantly affluent, suggesting that more people can and should commute by car. In reality, 49% of the people who bike to work earn less than $25,000 per year, according to a report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). Not everyone can afford to commute by single occupancy vehicle — let alone afford a car — nor should we plan our city streets for that unrealistic future.

We don’t think the majority of Bostonians appreciate Mr. Jacoby’s tired old trope that more bicyclists are bad for drivers, when in fact they’re helping alleviate the congestion that he apparently loves. Let’s stop the fear mongering and stereotyping of people who bike, and instead work on solutions that will ease congestion and move people safely and efficiently throughout the region.

By: Becca Wolfson, Executive Director, Boston Cyclists Union, and Stacy Thompson, Executive Director, LivableStreets Alliance