Now that most of us are in the frosty grip of winter (quit smirking Hawaii and Florida), I have been reminded about an old pet peeve that many of us commuting cyclists have – the lack of snow or ice removal from bike lanes and bike paths. It would seem to be a no brainer, but far too often (at least here in Greater Lansing) snow plows clear the main travel lanes without ever addressing the adjoining bike lanes. Even rarer seems to be fully clearing snow from off-road trails and pathways. As a result, the year round bicycle commuters of the world are left out in the cold (bad pun) with have the choices of adapting our bikes to cold, bumpy, and slippery conditions; risking the accumulated ice, snow, and salt; or forgoing our favorite mode of transportation for days, weeks, or in some places, even months.
If streets and roadways are constructed with the purpose of serving all modes of legal vehicle transport, including bicycles, then it is only reasonable, logical, and fair to expect that portion designed and dedicated to cyclists to be passable and useable in a timely manner on a daily basis. It is understood, this may require more than one pass down a particular roadway to plow the entire surface, the use of a smaller vehicle to plow certain bike lanes, or that in particularly bad conditions, the clearing may take longer to accomplish. To do otherwise leaves a significant portion of the population without safe access to the transportation network.
To this author, dismissing a significant proportion of the populace solely in favor of automobile owners is a social and environmental equity issue that needs to be addressed by local, state, and national transportation agencies. Mass transit does not serve every nook and cranny of the urban landscape, transit timetables may not be convenient, not everyone owns/drives a car, and a significant number of cyclists will ride the bus/train a portion of the way to work and bike the rest of the distance. Transportation experts need to start thinking big transportation picture, including active transportation, instead of being so mono-centric on cars.
Beyond the social and environmental equity aspects of this issue, there are the obvious sustainability benefits of reducing the urban area’s pollution levels and carbon footprint by bicycling instead of driving. Furthermore, there are obvious health and fitness benefits of using active transportation options such as cycling, walking, or mass transit rather than the outdated open-person one-car paradigm.