Bicycling fact or myth?

"Bicyclists, especially children, should ride facing traffic"

Wrong. Bicyclists are considered "vehicles" in every state, which means motorists expect bicyclists to obey traffic rules, including traveling the same way as cars and trucks. Riding opposite traffic is unpredictable to motorists and pedestrians, which is less safe than riding in the direction of traffic.

"The decline of biking and walking has contributed to childhood obesity"

This claim cannot be proven, there are simply too many factors in children's lives that can have an affect on their health. However, we do know that physical activity reduces the risk of obesity, and that bicycling and walking is a form of physical activity, hence bicycling and walking contributes to better health. We can only assume that not riding or walking likely has an adverse affect on health, and therefore contributes to childhood obesity. 

“Bicyclists don’t follow rules.” 

While there are bicyclists who do break the law, a large Federal Highway Administration study found that motorists failed to yield the right of way in 43 percent of crashes while bicyclists were at fault only 36 percent of the time. In fact, the study found that most motorists break a law nearly every time they drive, if speeding is taken into account. Since the 1982 passage of Idaho’s “stop as yield” law, which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, there has been “no discernible increase in injuries or fatalities,” according to the Idaho Department of Transportation.

“Bicyclists don’t pay their fair share.”

Wrong. All road users — cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians, buses, light rail — are subsidized to some extent by society at large. Funding for U.S. highways - many of which bicyclists don't ride on, or aren't legally allowed to ride on - comes partly from vehicle taxes, fuel taxes and tolls, which together account for, at most, 60 percent of direct costs. General taxes and fees paid by everyone, including non-drivers, covers the remaining 40 percent. The federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been raised since 1992, putting the Highway Trust Fund into the red; Congress has to use other funding sources to make up the difference. Cars, buses and trucks impose much, much higher maintenance and capital costs on roads than bicycles do, and they benefit from additional subsidies that are not directly paid by motorists. In 2009, the Seattle Department of Transportation paid only 4 percent of its road expenses with the gas tax, while non-motor vehicle funds paid for the rest. The hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle crash injuries and over 30,000 deaths each year cost society $99 billion (2010 data) due to medical expenses and lost productivity. Pedestrians and bicyclists bear a much larger share of costs than they impose on society. Licenses, sales taxes and other fees for bicyclists would not even make up for the governmental administrative costs to collect those fees.

“Bicycling is only for middle- class white males in Spandex.”

Six in 10 young bicycle owners are women, eight out of 10 American women have a positive view of bicycling and two out of three believe their community would be a better place to live if biking were safer and more comfortable. Between 2001 and 2009, the fastest growth in bicycle use in the U.S., from 16 to 23 percent, occurred among self-identified Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian- Americans, 86 percent of whom have a positive view of bicyclists.

“Bicycling is too dangerous.” 

Bicycling does tend to have higher fatality rates per mile than motorized travel, but a typical motorist drives five to 10 times more miles than a typical cyclist. Bicycling risk can be significantly reduced through improved infrastructure and a greater numbers of bicycles on the road. Bicycling also imposes minimal risk to other road users and provides significant health benefits that can offset crash risks. There were no bicycling fatalities in bicycle-friendly Portland, Oregon, in 2013 even though bicycling accounts for at least six percent of all trips; by comparison, 21 people were killed by motor vehicles in Portland that year.

“Bicyclists slow down cars and create congestion.”

Just the opposite. Bicyclists aren't allowed to use freeways in most states, and tend not to use busy, fast highways and arterials. Therefore, for every person riding a bike on neighborhood streets and trails, there is potentially one less car clogging up nearby highways and arterial roads. Bicycles take up less road space than motor vehicles and cyclists tend to avoid congested roads that don’t have bike lanes, which themselves encourage bicyclists to avoid congested motor vehicle lanes. Average traffic speeds in Manhattan’s primary central business district south of 60th Street has increased nearly seven percent since the installation of bike lanes in 2008. 

“Bicycle lanes hurt business.” 

Just the opposite. Several major studies have found that bicyclists and pedestrians spend more money at local businesses than do drivers, and that bicycle lanes, marked crossings and sidewalks calm traffic and increase business appeal. After the installation of protected bike lanes on New York City’s 8th and 9th avenues in the fall of 2007, retail sales increased 49 percent in those areas compared to 3 percent in the rest of Manhattan.