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The area I live (NE United States) doesn't have a very large infrastructure for biking. There are scattered bike paths and they've finally completed a bridge that allows me to commute to work, but there's nothing like these in London or this one in Denmark. In fact, most of the time I'm sharing roads with typical American drivers ("Ooh! Look! A bicyclist! Let's swerve into him! I won't even have to put the cel phone down!"). In general, I like the solitude and the fact that often I'm the fastest vehicle on congested city roads (nothing like zipping by a line of cars stuck behind a clueless driver) but I've started wondering lately what it's like riding with a lot higher volume of other cyclists on the road. In general I avoid the bike paths in the area on the weekends because there's a disproportionate number of folks who seem ignorant of riding etiquette (slower traffic keep to the right, don't let your children lurch blindly into the path of other cyclists, etc.) but these aren't regular commuters.

Folks who ride in areas with much better infrastructure (doesn't even have to be a bike "superhighway") - do you find that higher volumes of commuters mean a worst commute for you personally? Does having a larger commuter "culture" help with other riders or is it just as frustrating as being stuck behind them in a car as they apply lipstick and chat away on the cel phone?

EDIT: based on some discussion below, an additional (yet related) question - are there considerations built in to the larger bikeways to allow riders to keep a faster pace (i.e., multiple marked lanes)?

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Unfortunately, the average US cyclist is a clueless as the average US motorist, maybe even more so. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 15 '12 at 16:34
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This question is very broad, and is really more of an attempt to start a discussion. Voting to close, but I suspect it can be edited into a better form (although that could invalidate some of the answers). Please keep in mind that Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. –  Neil Fein Aug 17 '12 at 6:31
    
I often ride at cycle lanes with a lot of other cyclist, because I live in Holland, where we have 20 million bikes and just 17 million residents. I have found that cyclists often come in waves, because of the traffic lights. I don't like it if there are a lot of other people around me, so my strategy is to just cycle so fast that I cycle in the front of the wave. I can be quite egocentric to come there, including using the sidewalk, but if three people cycle next to each other on a 1,5 m wide path, and they don't move away fast enough, I just feel like don't have a choice... –  BrtH Aug 17 '12 at 14:44
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4 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes on all counts!

  • more cyclists on the road does seem to improve driver behaviour
  • it does also mean more clueless cyclists (no etiquette, no shoulder checks, poor road positioning)
  • ... and, of course, any dedicated provision will tend to be more congested (and disproportionately with the worse cyclists IME)

In general I either

  • ride with traffic, and benefit mostly from drivers just being more used to having cyclists around
  • OR, if there's a dedicated cycle path and I choose to use it, I expect to share it with slower and often less competent cyclists, because I feel like taking it slowly

One fringe benefit of having more active cyclists may be better provision of bike stands, more bike shops, etc. Of course there may also be the fringe detriment of more bike thieves if there's a larger second-hand market.

This is based on my commuting in London btw, so YMMV.


And the follow-up question:

... are there considerations built in to the larger bikeways to allow riders to keep a faster pace (i.e., multiple marked lanes)?

not in my experience. Many bike lanes in London are one bike wide, and even where the blue "cycle superhighway" takes a full traffic lane, there are no subdivisions inside it.

In my experience, the space required for a safe overtake depends both on the absolute speed of the overtakee (slower-moving bikes are intrinsically less stable and, by riding closer to the edge, they're likely to encounter more bumps and obstacles) and the relative speed difference. Even a full-width lane isn't ideal for overtaking with much over a 5mph differential.

By the time you're going much faster than that, you're probably closer to the speed of traffic than the cyclist you're overtaking, and will be better off using a regular traffic lane to overtake anyway. Caveat: typical London traffic speeds, doesn't apply to all roads, etc. etc.

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I feel like I have the same expectation of bike paths and we all should. The people on the paths are there for a reason. They don't want to be near cars because they're uncomfortable with it, because they feel like taking it slow or they are new to cycling. Either way no one should be going 30 mph on path anyway and make themselves the car of the bike path. –  Brad Aug 15 '12 at 16:18
    
@Brad: I disagree completely - the expectation of a bike path is for everyone to be able to use it - newbies, commuters, even folks training for serious competition. Your statement is akin to saying "people shouldn't drive on the highways because that's for 17-year-olds talking on their cel phones and people towing 20-foot-long landscape trailers at 15 mph to be able to drive without getting hurt." There needs to be a basic recognition that "public" bike paths are there for all of the public, which means recognizing varying levels of user. </rant> –  lawndartcatcher Aug 15 '12 at 20:20
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And that also means the onus is on you to recognize there are all sorts of people. Newbies, kids, whomever. And you should be responsible enough to not pass then at blazing speeds. "Open for all to use" does not mean anarchy. –  Brad Aug 15 '12 at 20:48
    
I'd agree with Brad: on shared-use paths, I always give priority to pedestrians and slow right down around small children and dogs - because they're unpredictable. In the same way, for inexperienced or just less-confident cyclists to feel safe on a bike path, I have to give them space to wobble a bit and not terrify them by sprinting past out of their blind spot –  Useless Aug 15 '12 at 22:32
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I dislike that argument because it's exactly the type of reasoning that leads to drivers claiming exclusive priority on roads! –  Useless Aug 16 '12 at 13:42
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It all depends on the riders that you encounter, actually. I've been in group rides of 40+ where everyone was an experienced cyclist, and it was smooth sailing. People were able to move in and out of various parts of the group at will, road safety and laws were observed, etc.

I've also been in rides with 6 people where the handling was sketchy, they spread out across the road, ignored traffic laws and it was generally not a pleasant experience.

The "commuter culture" is pretty much going to be just like the car commuters. You'll have quite a few that obey the laws and operate in a safe manner, then you're going to have the few that ignore the laws, people around them, and generally make it unsafe for everyone else. My favorite lately was a college "hipster fixie" rider that was riding no handed, cigarette in the right hand, cell phone glued to the ear with the left.

Operate your bike in a safe manner, watch out for the cars and the unsafe riders, and you should generally have a pleasant commute (And yes, there is nothing better than zipping past a long line of stopped cars! :D )

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Do you find that higher volumes of commuters mean a worst commute for you personally?

It's not bad if you ride smart:

  • Look 20+ meters ahead, to see possible choke points
  • Know how capable you are to make a sprint, because you might need the speed to get past traffic that will choke. That sprint can also help you get back in motion if you get stuck.
  • Pass, or don't. It really compounds the issue when someone pulls out to pass but doesn't get ahead. I personally don't think anyone should be riding side-by-side on commuter lanes
  • Please ride straight. No one likes a meandering bike - the unpredictability makes things rather dangerous
  • Know your route. Be aware of the places there visibility is poor, because I've had a few entitled pedestrians get pissed that they walked into traffic -- so take a wider track because accidents can happen
  • Be smart about stopping. Don't do it in the middle of the lane, or in a corner. Pull over and off the lane before dismounting, in a highly visible (where traffic in either direction can see you for ~20 meters) portion of the route if at all possible.
  • Be courteous to oncoming traffic. I get as far over to the right as I can (if not already) when I see oncoming traffic getting stuck & wanting to make a move. Doesn't mean they'll take advantage, but some seem to notice.
  • the bell is a courtesy, but considering iPods/etc the point can be moot (even worse off if the person has a hoodie pulled up).
  • I try to give as much space and consideration as possible to those with kids, pets, skateboards, roller bladers and the elderly. But there's going to eventually be someone who doesn't like how close you came...

Are there considerations built in to the larger bikeways to allow riders to keep a faster pace (i.e., multiple marked lanes)?

I wish.
I can only speak for my local area, which does not. One section used to have a sign saying traffic was limited to 10 km/h, but it's been removed (I guess because few cyclists have a spedometer). Just a stripe down the middle...

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Considering everyday traffic, I'd rather take a longer detour than bike within all other bikers. My worst traffic accidents all were with other bikers, using the wrong side of the road, not respecting simplest rules like priority to the right. I avoid especially narrow curves that are hardly visual accessible and open for both directions of bike traffic. Here, I am wondering why I do not see the Darwinian principle at work. In this case, the number of bikers on the wrong side of bike paths in my area should decrease over time. Or is it the other way round, i.e. those bikers that caused the accident by using the wrong side (or no side? what side?) suvive while those hit die out or start to no longer use bike routes? ;-)

For these reasons, I love winter. Bikers who use their bike all year round are seemingly more likely to apply the simple rules that help in biking without accidents.

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