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Friday, February 17, 2012

Why aren't more people using bike lanes? [Vancouver Observer]

(Photo courtesy of Paul Krueger)
“I’ve noticed there aren’t a lot of people using the downtown bike routes. I worry that they just weren’t a very good idea.”
A well-meaning friend said this to me yesterday. A day later, I have figured out what I should have replied. Better late than never, I guess.
In a nutshell, people are slow to embrace change. In fact, it’s quite fascinating to look back to the advent of motors cars, and see how people resisted cars as fiercely as some people now resist bicycle lanes. Cars were first invented in 1885, but it would be decades before they posed any threat to horses and bicycles. As late as 1907 they were seen as little more than annoying, noisy, smelly nuisances. The editor of the New Glasgow Eastern Chronicle commented:
“The automobile fever is catching.  [Soon] ... the chug-chug noise will be quite common. ... The horsemen need not get alarmed that the motor car will injure their business in our country. “
[New Glasgow Eastern Chronicle, 19 April 1907]
Good thing this fellow was in newspapers, not in the investment advice business.
Christchurch New Zealand in the early 20th century:
This photo shows the ongoing struggle for road space, as motorists attempted to wrest control of the roads from people on bikes
As cars slowly became more common, antipathy against them increased – and fear grew. A newspaper correspondent referred to them as the “running stinkers,” saying he was “one who doesn't own an auto – but one who is likely to get run over.” As cars continued to encroach on the roads and fear escalated, moralists came out in force. In just the same way as motorists are now preaching to cyclists, the Chronicle editor cautioned:


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