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The Sustainable Living and Learning Communities

Making Biking Convenient

Is making driving worse our Bike-rack-1 only alternative?

By Roberta Millstein

When I read the Davis Enterprise op-ed on roads, driving, and biking last month (“Infrastructure, what is it good for?”), I was sympathetic.  After all, it does seem to make sense to call out the “operative principle” that “if only we make driving (or parking) inconvenient enough, then people will drive less, or slower, or somewhere else.”  Indeed, as the op-ed says, we surely don’t want to rejigger our roads and our parking spaces only to increase car traffic and cars idling if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions.

But now I am not so sure.

What made me waffle was a bit of self-reflection; I was biking downtown to meet a friend for coffee and thought to myself, “Fifteen minutes ago I was all set to drive, but then decided not to because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of parking around E Street.”

Then I thought about why it is that I overwhelming bike to the UCD campus, rather than drive.  I always tell people that I shouldn’t get any “virtue points” for doing so.  Frankly, it’s just easier.  If I drive, I have to find a space, which can be a hassle (just dealing with the parking garage can be a hassle), and then I still have to walk to my office.  If I have to go across campus for something, I have to walk, which can take a lot of time.  In contrast, if I bike, I can park my bike right in front of my building, and then my bike is available to take me to whatever meetings I need to go to.

I bike when driving is a hassle and biking is easier.  Perhaps the logic that the Enterprise is denouncing makes some sense after all.  Maybe there are times when making driving a pain can motivate people to bike more.  It clearly does for me, at least sometimes.

As if to drive the point home, a couple of days after my on-bike reflections, a young woman stopped to chat with my partner and me while we were walking our dogs on their regular dog walk.  We’d seen her drive by many times, but this time she had a fancy orange electric-assist bike. (I don’t know if it was hers or a rental; it wasn’t a red JUMP bike). We asked her about it, the bottom line being: it’s quick and it’s easy.  She seemed happy with her new work commute.

So where does this leave us?  I don’t actually think we should make driving harder.  I don’t think traffic does anyone any good (certainly not the planet), and I do worry about the impacts on downtown if we make parking too much of a hassle, especially since biking isn’t always an option for everyone.  

Maybe, then, we just need to do what we can to make biking (and other non-driving options) easier.  If we can tip the driving/biking difficulty balance, not by making driving more of a pain but by making biking more convenient, that would be worthwhile, yes?  But how do we do that?

A friend of mine, Dr. Kristiann Heesch, a Senior Lecturer in public health at the Queensland University of Technology, has published on this very question.  One thing that she and her colleagues did was an open-ended survey of recreational bikers (people who bike for fun), asking them what it would take to make them “utility” bikers, or, if they already sometimes bike for utility, what would it take to make them do it more often.[1] Since the challenges of Queensland are no doubt different from those of Davis, I suggest that we repeat this survey, perhaps not limiting it to recreational bikers.  (Bicycling, Transportation, and Street Safety Commission, would you like to take this up, perhaps in conjunction with a relevant UCD department?)

Would we find, as Dr. Heesch’s survey did, that concerns about safety were among the issues?  I admit that I don’t always feel safe biking through downtown at night, or moving from the bike lane to the left turn lane, again, especially at night.  What can we do to improve safety and feelings of safety?

Dr. Heesch’s article also mentions incentives.  What kind of incentives could we offer people to bike?  UC Davis has its very popular GoClub program, which gives people a limited number parking passes in exchange for committing to biking most of the time. Could we do something like that for employees downtown, or, if not that, then some other sort of financial incentive to bike?  Offer tax benefits for bike purchases?

Those are just a couple of ideas.  Hopefully, a survey might turn up some others.  We could also invest in more transit options.  I’d like to see us do that. 

Let’s see if we can tip the balance on biking and other non-driving options to encourage these alternative modes without creating climate-worsening gridlock.


[1] My friend and her colleagues have also published on this issue here:  https://eprints.qut.edu.au/79842/11/__staffhome.qut.edu.au_staffgroupb%24_bozzetto_Documents_2015000105.pdf


Ron O

Biking to campus has always made sense, for many. But for anything other than very local trips (and when nothing really needs to be carried), bikes will never replace cars. (The internal combustion engine will probably be phased out, over time.)

In any case, the use of gas tax money for road diets is a statewide controversy. For example:

“When Proposition 6 was on the ballot, all voters heard was money would go to road repair and maintenance,” Wolfe said. “They want roads to be repaired. They don’t want roads to be taken away with their taxpayer dollars.”


Another article:

"Here in Los Angeles County’s densest area, with 40,000 people jammed into each square mile, the rhythms of daily life revolve around the scarcity of street parking."

"The streets of Koreatown are lined with Art Deco-style apartment complexes, which were built before the city implemented strict regulations requiring off-street parking."


Another article:

"Paradise narrowed its main road by two lanes despite warnings of gridlock during a major wildfire"


Donna Lemongello

I bike almost everywhere and yep, it's easier, among other reasons like saving on fuel cost, not polluting the air, and calorie expenditure. When I ask my friends why they don't bike, SAFETY is the most common answer by far. I ride very defensively, but admit that sometimes one can not compensate for others' mistakes, so I've had a few close ones, but to me, it's worth it.

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, I thought I was pretty clear in saying that I wasn't talking about biking replacing driving altogether, but rather, increasing the amount that people bike. What can we do to make that happen without making car traffic worse? That is my question.

Donna, yes, that's the sort of concern that I think we need to hear more about. What can we do to make people feel more safe while biking? That seems like a worthwhile issue to address, and to tie my response to Ron to yours, a way to try to get more people to bike more often.

Eric Gelber

If you want to feel safer riding a bike in Davis, try riding (or even walking) around downtown Sacramento: More oblivious drivers, bikes riding in the wrong direction, bikes, including e-bikes, on the sidewalks, etc.

That’s not to say Davis can’t do a better job in becoming more bike friendly. (See recent letter to the editor in the Enterprise, for example: https://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/letters/l-street-bike-lane-fiasco/.)

Ron O

Roberta: My comments were intended to examine the "broader" issue, not necessarily to respond directly to your question. And, to show that the same types of issues are occurring in cities throughout the state.

Ultimately, making it easier and safer for bicyclists usually results in greater inconvenience for drivers (and resulting environmental impacts - from idling in traffic, looking for parking spots, relying upon services such as Uber instead of personally driving, etc.).

There may also be "diminishing returns" from bicycle infrastructure projects, if they don't result in significantly more people riding - instead of driving.

Ultimately, the streets themselves are a "limited resource", and separating out bike lanes often reduces traffic lanes. Funding for street maintenance is also limited, and is further reduced if it's redirected toward bicycle infrastructure projects, instead.

Some of this is not "opinion", but fact. (Note that I'm just bringing up the concerns, and not necessarily sharing my own opinion.) I have mixed thoughts regarding these conflicts, as also seem to allude to in your article.

In reference to the title of your article, it seems to me that "making driving worse" is actually the path that's being pursued, and that there may be no other realistic way to accomplish a goal of making bicycling more convenient. (Hopefully, there won't be "diminishing returns" as a result of this statewide experiment.)

I'm not convinced that changes (which don't impact drivers) will have much impact on bicycle safety or convenience. (Perhaps some minor changes, such as secure parking for bicycles, places to change into work clothes, etc.)

And of course, all of this can go "out the window" when it's pouring rain, etc. (Depending upon how committed one is.)

Roberta L. Millstein


Yes, other places are certainly less safe for biking than Davis. But my thought is, if some people aren't biking because they feel unsafe (and Donna's comments confirms my view that there are), then telling them things could be worse won't help, won't motivate them to bike. On the other hand, maybe there are some things we can do to make people feel safer or be safer. All I am saying is, let's explore that. And yes, there have been some recent egregious cases like L Street that have seemed to go in the exact wrong direction. Definitely, let's not do that! But let's also explore positive solutions for how we might make things better for people.

Roberta L. Millstein


I'm not convinced that everything that will make people feel safer or be safer will make things worse for cars. To give some examples:

1. More bike training classes offered by the City
2. Better lighting on certain roads (yes, there are potential worries about Dark Sky Ordinance here which would need to be discussed).
3. Incentives for people to bike.
4. More green striping of the type at, say, B and 5th (we'd need to examine how well those actually work).

And other suggestions I'm sure that others can think of. I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on any of this. But 1-4 are all examples of things that might incentivize people to bike without making driving worse.

All I am saying in this article is, let's ask people: "What would it take for you to bike more often?" and see what they say. I'm sure there are suggestions that we might not want to take up, some of them because of other consequences like making things significantly worse for driving. But other suggestions might be fruitful.

Seems like the sort of project some grad students or post docs in a relevant field might be interested in taking up.

Ron O

Roberta: Yeah, but I'm not sure those things would make a great deal of difference, regarding getting more people to ride. Maybe a few, and more importantly might improve safety. By all means, fine ideas.

Some bicyclists also complain about leaf piles and "the claw", but this is another instance in which there's going to be "winners and losers". Personally, I'd suggest that (only) the busiest streets for bicyclists prohibit leaf piles.

There are always conflicts with multiple users on paths or streets, whether it's cars, bicyclists, pedestrians (sharing sidewalks or multi-use paths with bicyclists), mountain bikers vs. hikers and equestrians, etc.

Unfortunately, it often seems that various interest groups portray a "winner take all" approach to resolving conflicts.

You mentioned street lights, but I think we've all seen what appear to be primarily students riding without lights on their bikes (making it more difficult to see them, and for bicyclists to see obstacles and pedestrians). Other than enforcing the law, I'm not sure what can be done about that. (I don't think that adults are required to wear helmets, but it's certainly a good idea.)

Safety for bicyclists is primarily related to conflicts with auto traffic.

Ron O

Actually, regarding bike lights - perhaps that's something that UCD could distribute (for free, or on a low-cost basis). Subsidized by slightly higher student fees, I guess. Perhaps the same for helmets, and bike safety orientations.

Of course, that's not going to help those who already use such safety devices. But, it might help prevent injuries and even deaths for students (and pedestrians).

Roberta L. Millstein


Well, I'm not sure what would make a difference. That's why I'd like to get people who study these sorts of things involved. Sometimes just getting a certain number of people to do something (like bike more) has a way of snowballing.

Bike Davis has given out bike lights from time to time, and done other things to promote safe cycling (I wanted to acknowledge that, which I probably should have in my article). I just think we can do more.

Jeff Shaw

I've been a biker my entire life. It starts young, and just becomes part of your life- it is simply the most efficient way to move yourself around. Take away all the guilt or shaming reasons for biking, and start with "fun" or "easy parking" or "cheap" and go from there.

I also think learning how to bike at an age before you can drive makes you a better driver when you finally do learn to drive. It provides you independence and freedom, what more can you ask for when you're a teen?

Concepts about "diminishing returns" for investment in bike infrastructure are ill-founded. Bikes are simply the most efficient way to move people. Public transportation is next. The amount of physical space a single driver car takes up in the road is relatively inefficient. Even if you only see 5 bikers in the bike lane next to you while you are sitting in traffic, that is 5 less cars in your queue. As a driver, it is in your interest to develop safe bike lanes so you have less drivers competing for the physical space you hope to occupy.

Ron O

Jeff: "Concepts about diminishing returns for investment in bike infrastructure are ill-founded."

I suspect that they're unknown.

Jeff: "Even if you only see 5 bikers in the bike lane next to you while you are sitting in traffic, that is 5 less cars in your queue."

If those 5 bikers are using an entire lane (which is now off-limits to drivers), the resulting queue in the remaining lane will likely result in greater delays than if both lanes were open to regular traffic - even with 5 additional drivers.

I realize that Roberta's primary interest in writing this article was to explore ways to increase ridership, without impacting drivers. However, it seems like the "bigger picture" (statewide) is to encourage bicycling at the expense of drivers. With some of the expense funded by the new gas tax, which was "sold" to voters as a road maintenance measure.

Simultaneously, some are hoping for other funding sources, to actually use for road maintenance. Regardless of whether or not they're likely to generate sufficient funds.

Despite what it might seem, my comments here are not intended as advocacy, one way or another. Just thought it was an interesting subject.

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, you keep insisting that helping bikers will mean hurting drivers. I take it that Jeff's point, which seems right to me, is that everyone out of a car and onto a bike or other public transport can't help but improve car traffic, everything else being equal. I realize that everything else isn't always equal, but the fact that more bikers means fewer cars on the road has to be factored into the equation.

Ron O

Roberta: "I realize that everything else isn't always equal, . . ."

I believe that there is a fundamental difference between your comments, and Jeff's. I understand that Jeff's comments failed to take into account the possibility of closing off a traffic lane (for bicyclists), as an example.

Your question was whether steps can be taken to encourage bicycling, without impacting motor vehicle traffic.

My response to your question is that a few things can be done, but I don't think it will encourage a great number of people to use bikes over cars.

Steps that actually inconvenience drivers may be more effective. (Again, your own article notes that "parking hassles" entered into your decision to bike to campus.) However, I suspect that even purposefully increasing the expense or hassle to drive has its limits, regarding encouraging people to use bicycles over cars.

Again, I hope you don't mind me broadening the issue to reflect what is actually occurring throughout California. I haven't seen much reporting on this, including on the "other" blog. I just thought it would be interesting to discuss it.


In a developed city like Davis, there is at least one (expensive) thing that can make a real difference regarding encouraging ridership, without impacting motor vehicle traffic. That is, well-designed bicycle overpasses and underpasses (that riders will actually use, vs. traveling through intersections).

The key is to ensure that the route of the overpasses/underpasses correspond with the actual destination of most riders, and that it doesn't result in more hassle than using existing streets and intersections.

I'm not convinced that the overpass (apparently?) planned from Olive Drive toward the train station will meet this criteria. (Students will be traveling to UCD on a daily basis - not to the train station.) Then again, I'm not sure that decisions have been finalized regarding the location and route of the planned overpass.

I also understand that since SACOG money is involved, the planned route (for the Olive Drive overpass) is subject to SACOG's criteria (e.g., accessing the train station, instead of more directly toward campus). In other words, SACOG's funding criteria may result in a less-than-ideal route.

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, yes, Jeff and I were making different points, but I thought they were complementary. You say, " I understand that Jeff's comments failed to take into account the possibility of closing off a traffic lane (for bicyclists), as an example." But I can flip that on it's head and say, "Ron, you fail to take into account the possibility that you can have additional cyclists without closing a lane." And in that case, it's a win-win: fewer cars on the road, so less traffic. Don't assume the worst case scenario. :)

It is true that making driving more miserable can motivate people to bike, and I do wrestle with that in my post. But I think there is a limit to that because you don't want to bring too many negative consequences, like harm to local businesses or cars sitting in traffic producing CO2. I think it's worth exploring other alternatives with no or fewer negative consequences. I'll just ask that you not rule them out as ineffective before we've even had the conversation, e.g., I think that UCD's GoClub really does work, and if we could figure out something like that for the City it could make a difference (or lots of small things could add up -- combine that with classes to help adults, not just students, navigate City roads, combine that with some streets better lit, for example). Let's give this a try.

As for the overpass at Olive, maybe others can comment on that. I don't know enough about it.

Ron O

Sounds good, Roberta.

But please note (in reference to your 1:19 p.m. comment) that I never said that "helping bikers will mean hurting drivers." I just noted that this seems to be what occurs with most civic bicycle infrastructure projects these days (statewide). Like you, I have mixed thoughts regarding these efforts.

Perhaps I should have just written a separate article, regarding what I see as this bigger (statewide) issue. Rather than adding comments to this article, which might have caused confusion and "sidetracked" the conversation (almost to the point of being "off topic").

I've been reluctant to author an article on my own, but I appreciate the "friendlier environment" on here, compared to the "other" blog. Truth be told, I've been looking for an opportunity to bring up some of the articles/topics I referenced in the beginning of this thread, without experiencing some of the nonsensical attacks allowed on the "other" blog.

I'm also glad that Jeff shared his thoughts, and I'm not even sure if we disagree - regardless.

I don't know anything about UCD's "Go Club", and would look forward to hearing more about it (and your ideas regarding how the city could implement something similar, as well as how to pay for it). Sounds like you've identified at least one important issue regarding street lights, which impacts current bicyclists (and perhaps others).

Roberta L. Millstein

Ron, yes, a piece talking about how statewide bicycle infrastructure projects have typically made winners (bikers) and losers (drivers) would be good. Send it my way and I will post!

I'm glad you've found the environment a friendlier place to offer one's thoughts. The invitation to post articles here is, of course, not just open to you but to all Davisites, and I hope that others take me up on it! Since we all have full-time jobs here and are just doing this on the side, we'd appreciate the help. Plus, we want to represent a diversity of voices from the Davis community.

Donna Lemongello

I do not think it needs to be so space consuming that having a lane for safe bike traffic precludes having enough lanes to not impede car traffic. Everyone has been very polite here and I am not going to be impolite, but I am going to vent a little. And let me say here, though it does not make me some hero, I have used biking as my main means of transportation since 1980 when I moved to Davis and even quite a bit of it when I lived in LA and all of it in college before that. So I've a few miles of transit (as opposed to recreational) riding under me.

The Mace disaster and the L St. mess (I live on the northern end of L) are perfect examples of what I think are an egregious waste of money and concrete; massive overkill of what could be accomplished simply, without islands of rocks, bulb outs and other structures that are meant to keep things separate but really just waste space and concrete and provide, as far as I'm concerned, more hard surfaces to crash into than to make anyone safer. What has become a popular current style of barriers and islands is horrible, dangerous and very expensive. People simply need to stay in their own lane, use lights when it's dark, and better street lighting would also help because bike lights do not well light what's ahead in a very dark street (so you slow down and take care and maybe it's a little scary but does not require a million dollar fix).

Meanwhile, what is a very real danger is all those pot holes that if one rides into one on a bike it is very easy to fall off as the tire abruptly catches in the hole. If instead of all these drastic "fancy" reconfigurations, gas tax money had been spent on that real need, for which I think most of us thought it was intended, we cyclists would be safer and cars would have less wear and tear.

The only thing that ever changes someone's behavior is for them to want to, we all find an excuse to not do what we do not want to do, myself included.

Ron O

Great comment, Donna!

Roberta L. Millstein

Donna, thanks for your comment. I agree with everything you say here and it is a good illustration of why making things better for cyclists does not have to make things worse for cars, although as you point out so well, what has been done recently at Mace and L aren't good for either cyclists or cars. I look at all of the concrete and the path I'd have to wend as a cyclist to go up Mace and I think, "I would not want to bike that at night." As you say, way too much concrete for to run into by accident.

Todd Edelman

Surprise: Bike-friendly Netherlands named best place in the world to be a driver

For the second year in a row, Waze’s Driver Satisfaction Index – which analyzes the driving experiences of 65 million monthly users in 38 countries and 235 cities across the globe – named The Netherlands the most satisfying place in the world to drive, specifically referencing its “smooth traffic conditions” and “solid road quality.”


Todd Edelman

Why cities with high bicycling rates are safer for all road users

Despite bicycling being considered ten times more dangerous than driving, the evidence suggests that high-bicycling-mode-share cities are not only safer for bicyclists but for all road users. We look to understand what makes these cities safer. Are the safety differences related to ‘safety-in-numbers’ of bicyclists, or can they be better explained by built environment differences or the people that inhabit them?


Roberta L. Millstein

Thanks for the comments and links, Todd. I think they help support and flesh out my theme of making things better for both cyclists and drivers.

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