NPR Story
1:00 pm
Thu April 5, 2012

Cyclists: Do You Obey Really Obey Traffic Laws?

Bike lanes accommodate cyclists and help with visibility, and some people view the lanes as a way to facilitate urban transportation. But sharing the road has its challenges. Drivers bristle at the thought of losing parking spaces, and drivers and pedestrians both worry about reckless riders.

Bill Strickland, editor-at-large for Bicycling worked on a piece for the magazine called "We Have Met the Enemy" with colleague Matt Seaton. In it, they examine what they call the "vicious" opposition to bike lanes in many cities and towns, and come to a startling conclusion: The toughest obstacle to bike lanes is the reputation of the cyclists themselves, who are often seen as rude and dismissive of the rules of the road.

Strickland admits he's guilty, at times. "I myself will roll through a ... stop sign," he tells NPR's Neal Conan. "I never run any stoplights. Every once in a while, I'll go the wrong way ... if it's just more convenient, if there's no one there, if it's an off-peak hour."

Bike riders, though, aren't necessarily the worst offenders. "Cyclists, I think, break the law with no more frequency than drivers," says Strickland. "But we're very much more visible when we do break the law."

Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What it Says About Us, says the case for bike lanes is compelling. "Statistics ... clearly show that when you put in a protected bike lane on a city street, the safety record improves for every class of people using that street."

But he thinks there's a vicious cycle of blame and distrust between drivers and cyclists that poisons the debate, in spite of the evidence that bike lanes work.

"In the U.S., sometimes, there's kind of this marginalization, almost criminalization that cyclists feel on the road, attributed to a sense of persecution," Vanderbilt says. When a car and a bike collide, he says, "the cyclist is immediately put into question first. Often [there are] no repercussions for the driver, even when they were clearly at fault. So I think sometimes cyclists can internalize some of that rage, if you will, and project it backward into kind of a law-breaking mentality."

But someday, there may be leeway in some of the laws cyclists are known for breaking, and that could benefit both parties. "There's a slight move afoot to make it legal for bicycles to yield at stop signs but otherwise do a rolling stop," says Strickland. That, he explains, is much better than the alternative. "Once a cyclist has to come to a complete stop and put a foot down, and say they're in a group of 10, that's just going to drive the person behind them crazy if that's a person in a car."

Ultimately, Strickland thinks bike lanes are a step in the right direction toward making the streets work for everyone. "It's not just about giving bikes a place to go. It's about making the street inhabitable and calming traffic — pedestrian, bike and car — and everything improves."

So tell us: Cyclists, do you rigorously follow traffic laws?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Bikes are everywhere, from the elite riders pace-lining through parks to the backpacked commuters heading downtown. People choose two wheels for exercise to get to and fro or just for fun. And after years of resistance, urban planners are changing the streets to accommodate them with more and more bike lanes - a sensible incentive for cheap, pollution-free transportation, yes, but some resent the loss of road space.

Others protest a form of gentrification, which steals precious parking places in neighborhoods where cars matter most. And often cyclists don't help their own cause: They ride the wrong way in traffic, blow through red lights and stop signs, bob and weave between the road and the sidewalk.

Cyclists, do you rigorously follow traffic laws? Really, now? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth on the link between violent weather and climate change. But we begin with Bill Strickland, editor-at-large of Bicycling magazine. He joins us from member station WDIY in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Nice to have you with us.

BILL STRICKLAND: Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Good to have you back. You edited a piece in this month's magazine titled "We've Met the Enemy," reference to the old Pogo line: We have met the enemy, and he is us. Bill Strickland, the piece argues cyclists can be their own worst enemies.

STRICKLAND: Yeah. This was a story written by Matt Seaton, who lives in New York, which, as a lot of people know, is just a flashpoint for one of the biggest biking battles in memory. And as Matt and I worked on it, we came to this conclusion that in a lot of cases, the thing that needs to really change is the cyclists' behavior, to make sure that there's a real significant and lasting effect with bike lanes.

CONAN: Cyclists' own behavior. That must have been really popular with your readers.

STRICKLAND: Yes and no. You know, most of our - most people who ride bikes also drive, and we're aware that sometimes cyclists get in our way when we're in cars. So we see both sides of it. And, you know, there is a real constituency of cyclists who do think it's time for things to change in the United States.

CONAN: So what kinds of behaviors need to change?

STRICKLAND: Well, we've all - you know, I myself will roll through a stop light - a stop sign. I never run any stop lights. Every once in a while, I'll go the wrong way, if it's just, you know, if it's just more convenient, if there's no one there, if it's an off-peak hour. There's a one-way alley in my little town of Emmaus that I'll ride the wrong way down.

We don't have bike lanes. Once we got bike lanes, if we wanted to keep those bike lanes operational and keep the installation of new bike lanes coming, we would all need to just kind of buckle down and start to follow the rule of the law, if not just the spirit.

CONAN: Here's an email from Warren, who backs up your argument: I am glad you're doing this show. I love bicycles, the whole idea of making roads more bike-friendly, but the behavior of many bicyclists is sadly often the best argument against making road more bike-friendly. If bicyclists want bike-friendly roads, they should remember this: Share the rules, and we'll gladly share the road.

And going back to that piece that you were talking about, the resentment against bicycles and bike lanes, in part, is engendered by the rudeness of many riders.

STRICKLAND: It is. What's interesting is that cyclists, I think, break the law with no more frequency than drivers, but we're very much more visible when we do break the law. Just driving - confession, I drove the station today. When I was driving here, I sort of was keeping track of how many laws cars broke, and there were, you know, cars turning without signals, and someone pulled in front of me. And, you know, there was just a myriad of law-breaking, but cyclists seem to take the brunt of drivers' anger when we do break the law.

CONAN: And pedestrians' anger, too. There was a moment in that piece that Matt Seaton wrote where he stops at a red light and, for the entire time, until it turns green, and an astonished woman on the corner says thank you.

STRICKLAND: Right. And that was really the key moment for Matt and I when we were doing this. We thought that was a great moment, and then Matt started wondering: Why should someone doing what he's supposed to do get a thank you? And that's really - you know, I would just challenge all cyclists sort of to think about that. Let's get to the point where we don't need those thank-yous.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on this. Bill's on the line with us from Madison, Connecticut.

BILL: Hi, yeah. I've commuted for years - although the past few years my knee has been hurting, so I'm on my skates more. But I must have a million stories, like every cyclist. Part of - you know, first of all, you can't follow all the rules, because some of the rules are dangerous. So, for instance, when you're crossing roads, there are times when a cyclist cannot - would be crazy to actually cross the road where the light is, because someone's going to run the red light and deck you.

And so you go down the road wrong way - not against actual traffic, but just kind of creep along until you get to a spot where you can cross the double yellow lines, and you're not near the intersection that's blinded by a corner.

I mean, there's a million things like that that cyclists have to do. I'd say that the biggest problem with the laws isn't that cyclists don't follow the rules. It's like your guest said: There are so many cars breaking the rules. The thing is, they've got a 5,000-pound safety cage around them, and we don't. So we do get thin-skinned, and sometimes we do get P-ed off.

I once took an old lady's keys. I chased her down after she literally, literally doored me - not doored me, she turned right on me and slam-dunked me. I'm on the ground. I discover all I'd done is broken a toe clip. I get up, I chase her down, two blocks later in Roxboro, Philadelphia.

I catch up to her. She's pulled in a driveway, and I confront her. I say what was that about? And she says, well, I didn't see you. I never saw you. And then she says, well, you hit me first. And then I was like OK, that's it. You're just a lying jerk, and I don't care if you're 87 years or 67 or whatever she was.

I reached in her car, and I took the keys out, and I threw them down the sewer, and that was the end of it. Because, look, I could've called the cops, and you could've gone to jail, but maybe there would have been no effect. So now she hates all bicycles. But, you know, you have a thin skin. Someone hits you in a 5,000 pound vehicle. I'd say in terms of safety, the real problem is that we don't actually care about making it safer. We just put Band-Aids like wear your helmet.

I must get that shouted at me 20 times a month when I was commuting heavily. And I'd always shout back: Where's yours? You know, it's like, the helmet's not the issue. Go to Holland, nobody wears helmets. They actually...

CONAN: Bill...

BILL: ...have the approach that you have to make it safe to begin with. The real answers are in Holland. If you want to know how to make bikes and cars get along together, you've got to go to Holland. It's the only place it actually works.

CONAN: Bill, we hear your rage, thanks very much. But Bill Strickland, would you agree with him that sometimes cyclists have no option but to break the traffic laws?

STRICKLAND: Well, it's a great point. We're in a transitional period right now, where the way the streets are set up don't work for cyclists. You know, we are the brunt of a lot of misplaced rage. You know, when a driver sees a car - I mean, when a driver sees a bike, they think the bike's in my way. What they should be thinking is that's one less car in my way.

You know, if they pass 50 bikes, that's 50 cars that aren't on the road. So yeah, you know, Matt and I are talking about when we do get bike lanes, when a city starts to make some progress, then it's up to the cyclist to do the best they can to stay within the law. But in a lot of places, it just doesn't work. And you have to try to be cooperative, I think, is more important than following laws that actually impede your progress.

CONAN: Here's the opposite tack from some pedestrian rage, this from Peter in San Francisco: If cyclists obeyed traffic laws, OK, but they don't. We've just had our second elderly person killed by a cyclist while on a crosswalk. It's time that cyclists should be licensed, say $75 a year, be ticketed for breaking all traffic laws, including confiscation of their bikes, then have to pay to reclaim them or just outright ban them.

Cyclists are the single-most dangerous element of city traffic, and we cannot possibly make all the allowances for all of their unpredictable and illegal behavior. So there's rage on the other side. Also with us now from our bureau in New York is Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us." He also writes the transport column for Slate.com. And, Tom Vanderbilt, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

TOM VANDERBILT: Great to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And boy, there's a lot of pushback against bicycles.

VANDERBILT: Yeah, and I think that last person is protesting a bit too much. I mean, one thing we should think of is - the bike lane in New York City, is that it is basically medicine for cities. And this will sound controversial to some pedestrians, because the cycle to them is somewhat of a new phenomenon, to see a cycle in numbers.

But statistics, you know, clearly show that when you put in a protected bike lane on a city street, the safety record improves for every class of people using that street: pedestrians, cyclists and even drivers. So I think most people instinctively understand this.

There's some recent research by Jill Cooper out of University of California. She went and interviewed people and asked them - drivers, cyclists and pedestrians - what sorts of things would make the streets safer, what would bring more visitors here for commerce, et cetera.

And you look at the answers, and bike lanes was pretty high among all - every group of those users. It's not like drivers had a different set of answers than cyclists or pedestrians. We all sort of instinctively know, and I think this is what's changing in the current kind of American climate.

CONAN: We had an earlier caller who said look to Amsterdam, look to the Netherlands. They have the answers. Does the Netherlands have the answers?

VANDERBILT: Yeah, I mean, there's a phrase I like from a book in which a person was looking at the Dutch cycling infrastructure where people really feel - are made to feel like they belong. There's a system that's set up for them. There's laws that are meant to protect them. No one's really considered a cyclist. It's just a person on a bike, because everyone in the Netherlands rides a bike, even people who drive.

So her phrase was: Dutch cyclists have nothing to prove, and they cycle that way - whereas, you know, in the U.S. sometimes, there's kind of this marginalization, almost criminalization that cyclists feel on the road, attributed to a sense of persecution. When there's a crash involving a car and a cycle, the cyclist is immediately put into question first, often no repercussions for the driver, even when they were clearly at fault.

So I think sometimes cyclists can internalize some of that rage, if you will, and project it backwards into kind of a law-breaking mentality.

CONAN: So, Bill Strickland, riding not just with a helmet, but with a chip on their shoulder.

STRICKLAND: Oh, absolutely. I was actually just in Holland last week doing some riding, and they have stoplights with buttons for bikes - you can activate the stoplight yourself - separate bike lanes. Like Tom said, everyone just rides. There are some places - Minneapolis is a place where people are just getting on their bikes, it's not just cyclists, and they've put in a lot of new trails.

They have one called the Cedar Lake Trail, which is - runs from downtown, the Mississippi River, it goes under the Twins field and all the way out to the suburbs. It's almost like a bike freeway. And it's just gotten everyone on bikes there, which makes the streets, as Tom said, inhabitable. You know, streets aren't for cars. They're for people.

CONAN: We're talking with Bill Strickland, editor-at-large of Bicycling magazine, and with Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us." We want to hear more about bike lanes and cyclists. If you ride a bike to commute or just for fun, do you follow all the rules of the road? 800-989-8255. Drop us an email: talk@npr.org. We'll be back in just a minute. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. The arguments for bike lanes are numerous. They help define the road space, which can help traffic flow better, and increase cyclists' visibility. But they're not always an easy sell. Some communities resist them based on cost or loss of parking spots, and maybe the very people who stand to benefit from them, that's to say cyclists themselves, are their own worst enemies in the debate.

That's what an article in Bicycling magazine proposes, anyway, that in public meetings around the country the issue of bicyclists behaving badly, ignoring signs and signals, sideswiping pedestrians, comes up. So cyclists, we want to hear from you. Do you really follow traffic laws? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Bill Strickland is editor-at-large of Bicycling magazine; also with us, Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic." And let's see if we can go next to - this is Bob, and Bob's with us from Boise.

BOB: Hello, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BOB: I'd like to relate a story about a time that I got out of a ticket. I got pulled over on a two-lane blacktop, a rural road, for driving in the wrong lane. And I explained to the officer that I was riding in the wrong lane because it was safer. There was a small soft shoulder, and I was going from side to side depending on what traffic was doing.

CONAN: And you're supposed to ride with the traffic on a two-lane road, and you're supposed to ride with the traffic anyway, and did the officer buy your explanation?

BOB: Yes, he did. I did not get the ticket. I got out of the ticket.

CONAN: OK...

BOB: I follow the rules of safety.

CONAN: And otherwise you try to follow the rules?

BOB: Otherwise I try to follow the rules when they are the safest. I've been riding all my life, grew up riding in Detroit, and I've always followed the rules of safety.

CONAN: But the rules as you think they ought to be applied.

BOB: Yes, as I see safe - you know, when I see a safe way to get from here to there, that's what I'll do, whether it's going through a red light or riding on the wrong side of the road or going from the curb to the sidewalk.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Bob. Tom Vanderbilt, the law doesn't work that way.

VANDERBILT: Well, it sort of does in one regard, in that there's a certain wiggle room on the part of every person out there on the road. I mean go travel the highways of New Jersey tonight, for example, and watch - look for speed limit obeyance, and I can guarantee you'll find almost, you know, 15 percentile obeyance there.

And this is, in fact, how, you know, engineers actually set the speed limit. They don't sort of pick a speed limit and then make everyone drive it. They see which speed everyone wants to go at, and then they set the speed limit. So, you know, I think it goes back what to Bill said. I think people are all taking the law into their own hands when it suits them at certain points, not just cyclists.

CONAN: Here's an email from Keith in Fort Collins, Colorado: I've seen many inconsiderate riders taking up the entire auto lane rather than riding single-file. Shouldn't the medical community outlaw Spandex? It seems to cut off the blood flow to the cognitive areas of the brain. Bill Strickland, as I understand it, if, for example, he's writing(ph) about a two-lane blacktop, bicycles are entitled to their lane.

STRICKLAND: Yeah, in a lot of states you can actually ride two up, you know, side by side. Some states, you can't. But even then you're entitled - you know, most of the laws say that if you're impeding traffic, the flow of traffic, you have to move as far to the right as practicable. That's not possible. Not as far as possible - as practicable. Which means if there's a lot of glass in the shoulder, or if you feel it's unsafe, you know, you can stay out there in the middle of the lane, and you're a vehicle.

And just like if you're a slow-moving car, cars should wait for a safe time to pass you, or they should be content to go your speed.

CONAN: They're often not content to go your speed.

STRICKLAND: No, no, they are definitely not.

CONAN: Let's go next to Spencer, Spencer with us from Tucson.

SPENCER: I just have to say I'm a medical student, so I've been riding to school for about four years, it's just a four-mile bike ride downtown Tucson. And throughout the four years, I've been pulled over three times by officers for breaking the law, either rolling through a stop sign or riding on the other side of the street.

None of the times have I ever received a ticket from the officer, and I do have to say I kind of expect that now, that I will just get kind of a verbal warning. But if I were actually given, you know, a significant fine for breaking a bike law, I'm pretty sure I would never do it again. But I kind of expect that leniency from the officers.

And so I do agree that I am my own worst enemy with bike riding, but at the same time, obeying the laws, it's when I ride, obeying the laws completely have been the times where I've almost been - almost been hit by a car. And so it's kind of a situation where I'll obey the laws, I'll almost get hit by a car, whereas if I don't obey the laws and I think that I have complete control, it seems that I'm more safer on the road.

CONAN: We've got an email along that same line from Smokey(ph) in Fairfax, California: As a lifelong cyclist, I've come to understand that following traffic laws as they current stand is a good way to die. They are written for cars, don't account for the differences in the vehicles. Additionally, many people in cars don't believe bikes belong on the road and act aggressively toward them.

Not to say we shouldn't be careful and courteous, but following rules meant for cars while on a bike is not always possible nor practicable. And Tom Vanderbilt, I think you're saying that may be right.

VANDERBILT: Well, and I think there's a larger issue here beyond the law, even which gets into psychological theory, something called social categorization. When you have sort of a dominant in-group, which would be in this country drivers, they tend to generalize the negative behavior - over-generalize the negative behavior of the out-group, which would be cyclists. At the same time, they under-generalize the behavior of their own group.

So I think we see that reflected again and again.

CONAN: Spencer, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

SPENCER: Yeah, no problem.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Phil, Phil with us from San Diego - or South Dakota, excuse me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I saw the SD.

PHIL: Yeah, a little smaller than San Diego, Mr. Conan.

CONAN: Well, a little bigger too.

PHIL: Yeah, I have - lifelong bicyclist commuter, little bit of race scene, long-distance touring, and a mechanic. And I get rather incensed at some of my fellow bikers that are misbehaving. But yesterday I could've got killed if I wasn't driving defensively. I live in a tiny, tiny town, and I knew the lady behind me, even though I had the right of way, was careless.

I waited. If I'd exerted my right, she would have run me over. But I waited, and I let her go by. And I think if car drivers obey the laws and bicycles obey the rules of the road too, and I know there's some flexibility there, that I don't think we need bike lanes because I find bike lanes sometimes with their 10-mile-per-hour speed limits are too slow, and so I prefer the street.

CONAN: And - but that can also, if there is a bike lane, you still ride in the street?

PHIL: Well, if I'm in - I ride from 15 to 23 miles an hour, and the bike lane has – say, in Minneapolis, some of the bike lanes like have a 10 mile-per-hour speed limit, when I visit there. That's too slow. I don't want to disobey that law. So I'd rather do my 20 out in the street, where I'm more moving with traffic than be on the bike lane. Does that make sense?

CONAN: Bill Strickland, does that make sense?

STRICKLAND: I think it makes a lot of sense, and that's - you know, in Holland, you go in the bike lanes and you can go 50K an hour, you know, 25, 30 miles an hour. In a lot of places in the United States, it does make sense to be in the street, and there is - you know, car, we just need - we need different rules. You know, pedestrians don't stop at stop signs. If they're walking, and the road is clear, and they look both ways, they just keep walking.

There's kind of a - there's a slight move afoot to make it legal for bicycles to yield at stop signs but otherwise do a rolling stop, because, you know, once a cyclist has to come to a complete stop and put a foot down, and say they're in a group of 10, that's just going to drive the person behind them crazy if that's a person in a car.

CONAN: Phil, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. This from Frank: I've noticed two types of cyclists here in Alaska, the padded bottom variety who have all the Spandex clothing and the gizmos and gadgets and bicycles that cost thousands of dollars, and the noble commuter cyclist astride whatever two wheels they can afford and wearing practical, warm clothing.

Both have a right to the road and to the bike path, but I have observed the more fancy geared bike riders tend to ride on the road in traffic, even when a perfectly good, million-dollar asphalt bike path runs parallel. What conclusions, if any, can we draw from this?

And, well, we just heard one explanation, it's a simple matter of speed. But Tom Vanderbilt, there are in groups and out groups even in sub-groups.

VANDERBILT: Exactly, and there's not really one type of cyclist. I mean, I sometimes go on these road cycling expeditions, like I'm sure Bill does, and using something like the multi-user greenway in New York City, you know, my speed, desired speed is a little bit different than the person on the commuter bike, the person with their kid on the back of a tandem bike, and, you know, we sort of all have to make it work and get along.

So even within that out group, there are - but I think, again, it gets back to that social categorization. We're always looking to tar cyclists with a certain kind of brush, and they're either elitists riding these expensive bikes, they're called elitists by the people driving, you know, $50,000 cars. Or they're sort of crazed anarchist bike messengers who are - who can't afford a car.

So, you know, people reach for their own, you know, insult of the day when they're looking to sort of categorize cyclists.

CONAN: Let's go next to Diane, Diane with us from Charlotte.

DIANE: All right. Hi, Neal, it's great to be here. I'm visually impaired. So when I'm walking in the park, I'm using a lawn cane that, you know, denotes that I'm visually impaired and also helps me access the park. And there are bike riders who also use the path as kind of like a sidewalk, and they just blow past me. I mean, they are flying. Every once in a while, there's a polite bike rider who, you know, beats the bell or, you know, says, on your right. And for that person, I'm very grateful, but most of them just fly on past, and it's startling to me and probably, you know, a safety-risk. So far, we haven't collided, but it won't be pretty if it happens.

CONAN: Bill Strickland, that's a common problem on those multi-use paths in parks like she's describing, where you're supposed to - at least in my state, there's a sign that says you have to give a warning before you overtake anybody.

STRICKLAND: Yeah. The paths, particularly, you know, have - you'll have someone out, stroller with their baby and a Rollerblader and a kid on training wheels, and then the people in spandex trying to get their training. Those are - I think paths often can be more hazardous than city streets.

DIANE: I agree.

CONAN: Diane, it's also scary when suddenly you - if you're visually impaired - just hear the sound of somebody slamming by you.

DIANE: Oh, yes, very scary. It's like whoosh, and you have no idea what's coming by you.

CONAN: Well, good luck, continued good luck on the multi-use path.

DIANE: Well, thanks so much.

CONAN: Go ahead.

VANDERBILT: Neal, if I can just interject for a second, I think one issue here that we haven't talked about, too, is that, you know, in many cities, pedestrians and cyclists are left sort of squabbling over these, you know, minor scraps of space that have been allocated to them while, you know, motorists enjoy these huge expanses.

I mean, take the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, for example. There's six lanes of active car traffic. Meanwhile, up on the pedestrian - shared pedestrian/cycling bridge, you have thousands of people. There are tourists, cyclists, and it gets pretty heated.

And, you know, at the end of the day, I just wonder, you know, whether we shouldn't have some larger segregation where - which is actually happening in a place like Prospect Park in Brooklyn where we're not going to have a lane dedicated expressly for cyclists, a lane for joggers and people walking. And the city of Philadelphia just announced they were going to have a walking lane for distracted pedestrians, and that was an April Fools' joke. But you do wonder if we're sort of hitting that point, eventually.

CONAN: Well, Bill Strickland, that was in part what your piece, the piece you edited in Bicycling magazine, was about. But it seems that if there's a fury over a bike lane in Brooklyn, having to come up with different paths, which are expensive, for walkers and cyclists - it's going to drive people crazy.

STRICKLAND: Maybe. You know, maybe the craziness is already over. There - time after time, what we're seeing now is that there's this initial resistance and this outcry, this furor to try to stop the bike lanes. And then they get put in, and what happens is the streets just become more inhabitable. It becomes more like - even for the people who live there, it becomes more of an extension of their front yard than the sort of raging torrent of danger right off their porch. And the community, overall, improves.

It's - you know, it's not just about giving bikes a place to go. It's about making the street inhabitable and calming traffic - pedestrian, bike and car - and everything improves. And we're seeing this time after time after time. And so, you know, what we're trying to say is bike lanes are coming to cities and to other areas, so, as cyclists, let's do what we can to speed this along.

CONAN: We're talking with Bill Strickland, editor-at-large of Bicycling magazine, and Tom Vanderbilt, author of "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Tom, some of the pushback against the bike path is not necessarily from drivers, but from parkers. You've stolen my parking places. I drive around two hours a day trying to find a place to park, and now they're being taken away. There is also some resistance, at least in some places, from communities who say, these bike paths aren't for us. We live here. We drive cars. These are for outsiders who go through our neighborhoods.

VANDERBILT: Yeah. I mean, you sort of mess with urban parking at your own political peril, and New York City in the 1950s, it was incredibly - incredible controversial period. What happened is they actually introduced on-street parking meters. This was previously considered, you know, anathema. This would never happen. That it takes away people's rights. And now it's a norm.

So I think the historical tide is sort of there where we're sort of realizing that cities, you know, aren't going to be able to accommodate everyone who wants to own a car, and that maybe instead of having all that parking - cars do spend more than 90 percent of their lives simply parked - it would be better to have solutions like shared cars that you can just grab on a street corner like they're trying in Hoboken, New Jersey, and, you know, that there might be better use of that valuable urban street space, which is, you know, New York City parking spaces are now valued at more than the average U.S. home.

CONAN: Let's talk to Sarah(ph), Sarah with us from Portland, Oregon.

SARAH: Hi there. I'm a biking mom, and I feel like I'm, you know, I'm in the subgroup and tarred by the subgroup of cyclists. But I'm also, you know, my own subgroup, I go very slow. I have a longtail bike with - where I can sit two of my kids on the - well, I fit three, but usually only two of them on the back and groceries on the side, so I'm wide and I'm unwieldy and I'm slow. And I'm pretty much, you know, always making somebody mad, whether it's the pedestrians who, you know, I go on the sidewalk because my kids are afraid of the traffic or, you know, the cars because I'm taking a lane because I don't want to get doored by someone, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SARAH: So I'm pretty much always making somebody mad and, you know, always following all the rules, except for sometimes the stop signs because if I stop all the way if I'm really heavily loaded, I'll fall over.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And that riding on the sidewalk part, is that kosher in Portland?

SARAH: Well, you know, it's - in the neighborhoods, it is, you know, legal. But it's - you know, when there's a small sidewalk on a busy street, and the, you know, the best ways to get everywhere when I'm hauling so much load seem to be always on streets that don't have as many bike lanes because, you know, those are the ones with fewer hills.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I see.

SARAH: So, you know, on the way to school, it's much, much easier for me to go the way that doesn't have a bike lane. So I'm contending with the people waiting for the bus and the...

CONAN: And for those puzzled by the expression, being doored is the cyclist's nightmare where the car door on the right side of the car suddenly opens and the cyclist on the right side of the road drives straight into it.

SARAH: Right. And since I often ride with one of my children in the front seat in front of me, it is like my constant terror that I'll get doored, and my poor child will get hit first.

CONAN: Well, ride safely, Sarah. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And our thanks to Bill Strickland of Bicycling magazine. Appreciate your time today.

STRICKLAND: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Bill Strickland joined us from WDIY in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, our member station there. And, Tom Vanderbilt, nice to have you back.

VANDERBILT: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Tom Vanderbilt's book is "Traffic." He joined us from our bureau in New York. Coming up: The link between violent weather, like we saw in Texas this week, and climate change. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.