Monday, 25 October 2010

The curious case of Ken Kifer

Ken Kifer’s opposition to segregated cycling in the USA:

When city planners and government agencies finally recognized the value of cycling, they started hatching out plans to build bike paths and bike ways as ways of separating cyclists who don't obey the traffic laws (that is, the ones with accidents) from the rest of the traffic. Thus, it's possible that we could end up with a bikeway system like the one in Holland, where cycling is both encouraged and restricted at the same time. There are five problems to such a scheme: 1) the enormous cost, 2) the restriction in ability to get from A to B, 3) the tendency of bikeways to fill up with other, incompatable traffic, 4) the problem of crossing other roadways, and 5) the higher accident rate created by incompatable traffic and frequently roadway crossings.

Kifer had evidently never been to the Netherland which didn’t deter him from pontificating about the world’s most successful cycling nation. His expertise was based on ignorance (he seems not even to have known even that only two out of twelve provinces of the Netherlands are Holland) and his account of cycling infrastructure there is a travesty. His five points are all the reverse of the truth.

Ironically when Kifer does grudgingly acknowledge that some cycle paths might be useful, he asserts For most conditions, three feet or a meter for each lane are sufficient; however, more width should be provided on turns and descents.

But one metre is totally inadequate. What’s more you’d never find a cycle path that narrow in the Netherlands, where the minimum is 2.5 m wide for single direction and 3.5 m wide for bidirectional paths (though most are 4 m or wider).

Kifer insisted that cycling among traffic was perfectly safe:

The perception that cycling is dangerous even causes some who value cycling and who are not worried about it being too difficult to confine their cycling to off-road trails. And it also leads to calls for mandatory helmet laws and for separate bike paths

For those who obey the traffic laws, cycling is actually safer than traveling in an automobile.

Those of us who bicycle on a regular basis while following the traffic laws know that it is a safe activity from years of experience, but we are also aware that other cyclists have frequent accidents, we assume due to different behavior.

As a passionate proponent of vehicular cycling and the theory that cycling was safe provided that the cyclist took no risks, Kifer pinned all the blame for cycling collisions on the victims.

The number of adults killed should have also dropped due to the decrease in drunk driving. My experience in traveling by bike around the country tells me that we have a new generation of cyclists who no longer obey the traffic laws, so I think that their behavior is responsible for most of this change.

Kifer, alas, provides the classic case of the vehicular cycling zealot whose faith bears no relation to reality – cycling’s equivalent of Creationism.

There is a brutally ironic footnote to Kifer’s commitment to on-road cycling and his stubborn insistence on its safety:

Ken Kifer died on September 14, 2003 after being hit by a drunk driver just 6 miles from his home near Scottsboro, Alabama. He was 57.