Well-planned bicycle lanes are not ‘additional frills’ of a transportation network, but rather a vital component for enhancing community mobility. Cedar Rapids should be commended, not criticized, for investing in active transportation as an alternative to road widening for mitigating congestion.
As a transportation engineer and planner, I frequently deal with the concept of induced travel demand. Borrowing from economic theory, it essentially means that as a roadway’s capacity is increased with additional lanes, more people will be encouraged to drive (“If you build it, they will come”). These additional drivers offset many, if not all, of the congestion-reducing benefits of adding lanes. Road diets, in which vehicle lanes are removed and/or narrowed to make room for bike and pedestrian facilities, may seem a counterintuitive solution for battling congestion. However, a 1998 London Transport study of road diets across the globe found they led to an average traffic level reduction of 25 percent, suggesting that removing lanes does not necessarily worsen congestion.
While discouraging vehicle usage, the conversion of existing road space into bicycle facilities can also induce more people to bicycle. A recent study by Portland State University classified roughly 50-60 percent of Americans as ‘Interested but Concerned’ cyclists, who would like to cycle more but are discouraged by vehicle traffic and a lack of dedicated facilities. This population segment represents an excellent opportunity for cities to boost cycling’s mode share, but continuing to invest in bike infrastructure is necessary to take advantage of it. Keep up the great work, Cedar Rapids!