Renaissance Bicycle Infrastructure

Cycling in traffic in Florence, Italy

Cycling in Florence, Italy – Stephen Rees photo via Creative Commons 2.0

My watch tells me it’s 3 AM here in Florence, Italy, but my body says it’s only 9 PM, so I did what I often do to try to put myself to sleep – I read my old cycling related blog posts.

Sometimes that has the desired effect – and sometimes, like tonight, if gives me an idea for a new post.

I’ve been in Florence for less than 24 hours, but already I am questioning some fundamental assumptions about bicycle transportation.

It started on the cab ride from the airport. Driving along main roads, we passed dozens of people on bikes. There were no bike lanes, no sharrows, no “Share the Road” signs (although to be honest, I don’t read enough Italian to know one if I saw it). Some passes were closer than others, but there was not one horn honked, nor any birds flipped. No sassy Italian epithets, gestures or comebacks, not even a sideways glance.

We passed through many complex intersections – some seemed to be combinations of roundabouts and standard right angles, others were obtuse merges and switchbacks. At nearly every one, there were bikes, pedestrians, and motor vehicles, including scooters – lots of scooters. Everyone got where they wanted to go, and the only bike helmet I’ve seen so far was attached to someone’s luggage at the arrivals terminal.

I don’t actually know whether Florence has a good safety record for pedestrians and cyclists. As far as I know, it’s typical for European cities. What’s notable is that you see a real cross section of the population on bikes. Everything from grandmothers with groceries to tourists, to businessmen in suits. It’s certainly no Copenhagen or Amsterdam, but it would probably embarrass any North American city for its combination of high bicycle mode share and seeming lack of serious safety issues.

There is a sense that riding a bike is just no big deal. Not a scary extreme sport, not an obscure subculture, just part of everyday life. Bikes are everywhere, in every shape and size. Mostly, they’re all beat up and kind of dirty, not the gleaming personal fashion statements we tend to ride in the U.S. Hardly a drop bar to be found, and almost every bike has a full chaincase. Not just a chain guard, but a full case, so your dress or your pants just can’t possibly get caught.

My instincts tell me that riding a bike in Florence would be quite safe. The interactions I have observed between people on foot, people on bikes and people in cars seem quite deferential. They really have to be, because the streets are sometimes so narrow that there simply isn’t room to pass, so the people in cars wait for the people on bikes, and people on bikes wait for the pedestrians, and everybody gets where they are going, eventually. I’m not the first one to notice this. After writing most of this article, I came across this piece:

…while looking for some stats to back up my hunches.

At the heart of the matter is the simple fact that Florence is a very old city and its streets were not designed for high speed motorized traffic. As in the Renaissance, people walk IN the street, not along it or across it. Cars make their way through a random flow of humanity in Brownian motion at what sometimes seems like a crawl, yet they rarely have to come to a complete stop or wait at a traffic light. At the relatively low speeds permitted by these ancient streets, lined with rows of neatly parked scooters, curb-straddling cars and throngs of people, there is hardly any need to. And yet, it seemed to me that we all made excellent time.

All of which led me to wonder whether we are thinking about this whole “infrastructure = safety issue in the wrong way. Yes, the Dutch, in their quasi-Germanic way, have proven that with the right laws, the right design, and the right incentives, you can make urban cycling safer than housecleaning. But we’re not all Dutch, and the US will never be Holland. Which reminds me, why are the people from Holland called Dutch when their country’s formal name is the Netherlands? And nether to what? Now that they have the whole cycling thing under control, maybe they can clear that up too.

But back to my point. Florence, and perhaps other Italian cities, are chaotic in comparison to their American counterparts, let alone Amsterdam or Copenhagen. And yet, from what I can determine based on limited research, the fatality rate is comparable to ours, if not better.

I remember reading about an experiment, I’m think it was in Germany, where they simply eliminated all traffic signals and signs. You would think that there would have been a cataclysm of collisions and carnage, but just the opposite happened. People in cars stopped and looked both ways at all intersections, and in the absence of green lights, they did not accelerate to try to make the next light. Presumably, pedestrians and cyclists looked both ways too, and, as in Florence, everyone got where they wanted to go safely and somewhat efficiently.

So maybe we have to rethink our entire approach to traffic control and transportation safety. Maybe if drivers weren’t so focused on making all the lights and doing at least the speed limit, as if it were a minimum, we’d all be safer and probably reach our destinations just as quickly, but with less stress. It’s an appealing notion, but we’ll have to do a lot of behavior modification to make to a reality. And yet, when I visit places like New York City and see how Times Square, formerly a traffic nightmare, is now a pedestrian plaza, I have hope. I know that Richmond will never be Florence, with its benign chaos, let alone Copenhagen, with its prioritization of cycling over motorized traffic. But maybe, just maybe, we can instill a little more of both approaches and get beyond the current us-versus-them mentality that dominates discussions of bicycle safety.

In Gear: Richmond Cycles Exhibit to Open at the Valentine

RICHMOND, Va. (July 15, 2015) – There’s no question Richmond is a cyclists’ town. This exhibition is a uniquely-Valentine take on the history of cycling in Richmond from the 19th century to the present day. The exhibition opens on Aug. 27 in time for the UCI Road World Cycling Championships in mid-September.  The exhibition runs through Jan. 3, 2016. There will be special extended hours nightly until 8 p.m during the cycling events from Sept. 19-26 at the Valentine.

“The Richmond community has been cycling in the streets, the parks, and along the sidewalks in front of their homes since the 1800s,” says curator David Voelkel.

In this exhibition, the Valentine’s rich collection of period photographs and advertising art have been digitized and turned into a media piece that showcases several centuries of cycling history. In Gear: Richmond Cycles  presents historical objects and special loan pieces representing bicycling and cyclists from the 1800s to the present day.  A late 19th century high wheel cycle, sometimes called a “penny farthing” bike – a reference to the large front wheel and the small back wheel resembling British coinage of the era will be on display.

To connect Richmond’s cycling past with its future, the exhibition features contemporary Richmonders, from many diverse neighborhoods. Richmonders agreed to share their cycling stories in a special media wall projection created by Dana Ollstead, who is  an award-winning multi-media artist and curator currently based in Richmond.

With regards to women’s freedom during the 1890s, a woman’s active wear outfit suitable for cycling will also be on display. This cycling outfit illustrates the new freedom that bikes offered Richmond women in personal mobility as well as less-restrictive clothing in the age of the corset and long skirts.

For the month of September, the Valentine and the Science Museum of Virginia will be offering a joint membership benefit. A current membership to either museum will grant members access to both museums. The Science Museum is currently featuring the exhibition Bikes: Science on Two Wheels. Also in collaboration with the Science Museum, Pedal Power will be on display in the Valentine’s In Gear: Richmond Cycles.

Pedal Power allows visitors to generate electricity while they pedal a bicycle. This electricity can then be used to power a series of everyday devices.

“The fact that Richmond was chosen to be the host city for the 2015 UCI Road World Championships this September is a great honor as well as the perfect opportunity for the Valentine to actively collect and to work with local collectors and cycling enthusiasts to present a selected history of cycling to our guests and ourselves,” says curator David Voelkel.

The Valentine is open to the public on Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Sunday. 12-5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students, seniors and groups. Valentine members, military and children under the age of 18 are free.

Please Ask Your Local Planners & Engineers to Respond to This Survey

U.S. cities are invited to respond to a new survey on protected bike lanes.

The Green Lane Project, a program of PeopleForBikes, has launched a survey to better understand the progress and challenges faced by cities building innovative new bike projects.

The survey is here. ( Deadline for responses is August 14, 2015.

This survey is aimed at city staff – project designers, engineers, bike/ped coordinators and other staff – as well as consultants working with a city. Other agency staff and consultants with a direct interest in this field are also welcome to respond. Please share this survey with planners, engineers and/or leadership in your city transportation departments.

Responses to the survey will deepen the understanding of cities’ experience with planning, funding and building protected bike lanes, the satisfaction with current design guidance, implementation challenges, training needs and more. Results will be shared in the fall of 2015.

If you have questions about this survey, please contact Martha Roskowski, VP of Local Innovation, at Thank you.

Read More

FHWA’s New Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide.

Bud Vye, RIDE Solutions Receive Governor’s Transportation Safety Awards

Lloyd J. "Bud" Vye, advocacy director, Virginia Bicycling Federation.

James H. Wallace/Times-Dispatch photo. Click to read more about Bud.

On Tuesday, June 16th, 13 individuals and organizations received the Governor’s Transportation Safety Award, for outstanding contributions to transportation safety. A lifetime achievement award was given to:

“Lloyd ‘Bud’ Vye of Henrico County, who is the treasurer and longtime advocacy director for the Virginia Bicycling Federation and the advocacy chair for the Richmond Area Bicycling Association.”

Also honored, for pedestrian and bicycle safety:

RIDE Solutions bicycle safety campaign in Roanoke, New River Valley, and Lynchburg regions.”

Congratulations to both — well deserved!

In 2009, Bud received the Advocate of the Year award from the Alliance for Biking and Walking. He continues as our Advocacy Director, and our point man in the Virginia General Assembly.

Read more about Bud.

Central Shenandoah Valley Bicycling Survey – Please Complete, & Share!


From Thanh Dang in Harrisonburg:

“The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission is conducting a survey to collect information about bicyclists in our region. This survey is for VISITORS to the area and RESIDENTS. Please take a few minutes to tell them about your experience in biking in the area.

Take the Survey!

The survey is sponsored by Shenandoah County Tourism, Byrce Resort, Harrisonburg Tourism, Rockingham County, Massanutten Resort, Greater Augusta Regional Tourism, Lexington & the Rockbridge Area Tourism, and the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition.”

Help spread the word — please share!

FHWA Releases New Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide

Get your local planners and engineers to take the Green Lane Project protected bike lane survey. The deadline is August 14, 2015.

A separated bike lane

From Arlington County’s Dave Goodman:

THIS is a big deal.…_bikelane_pdg/

Back in 2013 the Federal Highway Administration, acknowledging the need for more modern, urban bikeway design guidance, officially recognized resources provided by NACTO and others that were already available. Now, the federal government has developed its own set of standards. These new standards will likely be more readily incorporated by the various state DOT’s that collectively administer the bulk of transportation funding in this country. This in turn, should make it easier to incorporate modern, urban bikeway features into actual ROW improvement projects, regardless of their funding source or who is administering it.


Read more from FHWA.

Would Protected Bike Lanes Encourage You To Bike More? (MobilityLab)

Protected Bike Lanes Open in Pentagon City (ArlNOW)


Protected Bike Lanes Get a Big Boost (Bicycling.Com)

Fairfax County To Get 34 Miles of New Bike Lanes

  • Fairfax County will get about new 34.6 miles in bike improvements to help build out its future 1,130-mile bike network.
  • The improvements on about 20 roads will be made by VDOT’s through its paving program, and the agency worked in partnership with the county to identify, design and install the lanes and markings.
  • The improvements move foward Fairfax County’s 10-year Bicycle Master Plan.

Fairfax County encompasses much of what is known as Northern Virginia — the Washington DC suburbs.
Many thanks to Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). Follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@BikeFairfax).

AAA Mid-Atlantic Adds Bicycle Service to Membership

Legendary Roadside Assistance Now Includes Bicycles At No Extra Cost 

RICHMOND, VA (Friday, May 15, 2015) – AAA Mid-Atlantic, long known as the premier and trusted provider of roadside assistance for stranded motorists, announced today that bicycle roadside assistance is now included as part of its legendary service.  Members do not need to do anything – the bicycle coverage is now automatically embedded into each current level of membership.

This news is anticipated to be well received in the Commonwealth due to the current hype surrounding the UCI World Championships which are coming to Richmond in September. In addition, according to the League of American Bicyclists, Virginia is ranked high among the top bike friendly states, coming in at the 13th spot for 20015. “Enthusiasm for biking in Virginia is at an all-time high as the final preparations for the championships are underway.  AAA is thrilled to join the celebration by debuting bike service at this exciting time for the cycling community,” [click to continue…]

Welcome to Bike Month!

Did you know? May is Bike Month, as promoted by the League of American Bicyclists, and officially recognized by the Governor of Virginia:

Governor McAuliffe's official recognition of  May as Bike Month in 2015

Click image to download a PDF.

May 1 is also the start of the National Bike Challenge, where you can log and share your miles with others across the US, earning points and prizes.

Did you also know? Virginians have created some of the largest Bike Month events, like Arlington’s Bike to Work Day:

Please let us know what your community is doing for Bike Month, Bike to Work Day, and Walk and Bike to School Day.  Post it in the comments below, including links.  Let us know on Facebook and on Twitter (@vabike), and share your photos too.

The League has provided good resources to promote your Bike Month events, including a guide, promotional materials such as posters and web graphics, and social media resources such as facts, figures, infographics, sample tweets and hashtags.