Sidewalks and Bike Facilities Are Necessary But Not Sufficient

By Dom Nozzi

Sidewalks and bike facilities are very important. I am an enormous advocate of such facilities, and strongly believe they are necessary.

However, such facilities are NOT sufficient.

Facilities such as bike lanes and sidewalks do not meaningfully induce bicycling and walking by themselves.

Gainesville FL is an excellent example (as are a number of communities I have visited).

Gainesville has one of the most comprehensive and adequately provided sets of bike lanes and sidewalks I know of. The climate is good year-round. The topography is flat as a pancake. And the University of Florida, being the third largest university in the US, provides that city with an unusually large number of young, healthy, fit, poor, educated citizens.

Despite all those things going for it, the number of utilitarian bicyclists and walkers is tiny. I contend it is because Gainesville is an utter failure when it comes to car parking, density/mixed-use, gas taxes, size/speed of roads, size of blocks/connectivity, etc.

If it were true that bike lanes and sidewalks induced lots of bicycling and walking, why is almost no one bicycling and walking (in a utilitarian sense) in Gainesville?

I’ve heard people tell me over and over again that if paths or sidewalks were provided, they’d bike or walk a lot more. I’ve not noticed that being true in the cities in the US that have a failing score on my list of effective tactics (noted above).

It is common for folks to give answers in surveys just because they believe that it is ethical to believe or behave in the way they indicate in the survey. But this ends up mostly being lip service. Almost everyone says they’ll bike/walk/transit more if we put in the bike/walk/transit faculties. But mostly they are not being honest (or don’t realize there are a lot of additional factors that have them decide not to change the way they travel).

My list of tactics mentioned above strives to identify the most effective strategies to induce travel change. Bike lanes and sidewalks are necessary, but not effective enough to be on my Top Ten list. I also didn’t have showers on my list for the same reason. Or bike parking.

One of the reasons I think it is a good idea to not have bike lanes/sidewalks on the effectiveness list is that far too many people think the war has been won if those things are installed (but nothing has been achieved for the items on my effectiveness list).

I’m tired of that. I’m ready for some wise leadership. For a change.

Keeping bike lanes and sidewalks off a tactics list might lead to some serious thinking. America has had how many decades of failure to meaningfully increase bicycling and walking? Isn’t it time for a change in what we do?


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Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

2 responses to “Sidewalks and Bike Facilities Are Necessary But Not Sufficient

  1. louise

    Gainesville is not flat as a pancake. Also, there is a ton of parking.

  2. Gainesville is flatter than the vast majority of cities in the US. Florida is known throughout the nation as being a place where “flat landers” live.

    “…there is a ton of parking.” Excactly my point. If Gainesville expects to see a meaningful number of non-student residents ride a bike, walk or use the bus for utilitarian purposes, the City must reduce the overwhelming amount of free parking all over the urban area.

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