Separated bicycle facilities has been an increasingly tricky issue in the U.S. We can see the success stories in Europe, but there are also plenty of studies detailing the dangers of cycle tracks and the like (more on this in the Op-Ed). One thing that hasn't been talked about much, however, is the categorical lack of gender equity in deciding if the U.S. should adopt cycle tracks as a viable infrastructure option. This may be a key issue in the disparity in gender of cyclists in many cities trying to be more bike-friendly.
A recent study by Anne Lusk investigated the safety of cycle tracks as well as the realities of the planning and engineering keeping cycle tracks from becoming a part of the official transportation manual. From past literature, she found that about 24% of bicycle commuters in the U.S. are female while 55% of bike trips in the Netherlands are taken by females. One of the reasons for this, she posits, is the lack of separated cycle facilities in the U.S., which is supported by past studies. Women have consistently shown that they are more comfortable on separated bike facilities and more likely to ride a bike if these facilities are available. Cycling rates have significantly increased in U.S. cities that have implemented cycle tracks. If we have this data, why aren't separated facilities even an option in the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) guidelines that are the basis for many DOTs?
Lusk points out to some disturbing trends. First, the research AASHTO has used to deny protected or separated bike lanes from being in their manual is not rigorous or up to date. Second, there has been little effort to address this, even though there are now 32 U.S. cities using separated bicycle facilities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Lusk looked into who was making these decisions in AASHTO. For the 1991 AASHTO manual, 91% of the people involved in the planning, engineering and writing were male. In 1999 that numbers jumps to 97%.
I'm not saying that all cities should use cycle tracks, or that separated facilities are the right choice in every situation. What is crucial is that the AASHTO manual is the primary basis for transportation engineering decisions in many cities and this manual doesn't allow for the option of using separated facilities. Comparatively, the Urban Bikeway Design Guide used and developed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) presents four different protected or separated bicycle facility options. The NACTO Guide was developed by city officials across the country and the organization has 23 member cities, including Portland. However, even here in Portland the AASHTO manual still causes problems on state-owned roadways or in some federally funded road projects because AASHTO is the nationally recognized manual that forms the basis for road requirements.
We talk about equity a great deal in our planning and implementation, our outreach and goal-setting. It's important to also keep in mind our research and process as well, to keep reevaluating where our information is coming from and who is controlling the gates.