Vehicular cycling vs segregated cycling

Vehicular cycling vs segregated cycling


For anyone who doesn’t know, practical cycling can be divided into two camps: vehicular cycling and segregated cycling.

The essence of vehicular cycling is considering cyclists as regular traffic. Riding in traffic, as cars and buses and trucks do. Follow all the same rules as cars, demand the same respect as cars, be assertive, aggressive, ride hard, ride fast, fight the power. By separating cyclists from motorists in the eyes of the law, cyclists are kept “from exercising the full rights of drivers of vehicles“, boxing them into increasingly smaller portions of our environments. Second class citizens. Inferior.

The essence of segregated cycling is considering cyclists as fundamentally different from motorized traffic, somewhere between cars and pedestrians, but much, much closer to pedestrians. A wheeled pedestrian, you might say. Necessary to segregated cycling is, as you might guess, segregated infrastructure. Cyclists and cars do not mix, and for cycling to flourish in any society, it must not be crowded out by the inherent danger to, well, everyone, really, at the hands of motorists.

The logic here is that roads were designed specifically with cars in mind. As a result, putting bikes on them is inherently risky, and the number of people who will brave a busy thoroughfare and claim a lane amidst speeding cars is relatively small.

Vehicular cyclists consider segregated cyclists to be naive or idealistic and in reality are suffering from the “cyclist-inferiority phobia“.

Segregated cyclists accuse vehicular cyclists of keeping cycling beyond the reach of normal people by maintaining and even encouraging an environment where each journey looks a little too much like this:

There is some logic to vehicular cycling, to be sure, but it is all wrapped up in one self-affirming assumption: that a future where cyclists don’t have to mix with motorized traffic is fantasy. It assumes that traffic necessarily follows one narrow set of rules, which, where all traffic is operating in the same space, would make sense. The trouble is that the majority of people who cycle and the majority of people who do not yet cycle are not interested in blending with fast-moving and otherwise dangerous vehicles of metal and glass.

I have just read this article from which compares vehicular cycling to a sect. It argues, in the process, that it has had more than enough time to prove it’s worth and as it has failed to do so, should be put to bed for good while the rest of us move on with the important work of transforming our urban environments into places that foster the safe, pleasurable, sustainable movement of people rather than cars.

As I was reading it, however, I kept coming back to the idea that rather than spend our energies butting heads with the exclusionary nature of vehicular cycling and its advocates, we should treat them as unfortunate souls who are blind to the very real possibility of a better future. Vehicular cycling advocates, as I see it, are trapped in the notion that our world is irrevocably dominated by motorists and the vehicles they pilot at the expense of so much else. They have lost hope. Their spirits have been broken by the ongoing campaign that the auto industry has been churning out since jaywalking became a thing.

So, sure, vehicular cycling has its place, but that is exclusively where there is, at this moment in time, no other option. Where you ride on the roads or you don’t ride at all. In my daily travels I can cycle at ease on the segregated infrastructure where it exists (limited to shared paths in the parklands of Adelaide and the hotly contested 600 meters of segregated cycleway that is Frome Street), but mostly I have to share the road with cars out of necessity. I have done so for more than half of my life now so I am quite used to it, but that does not mean that I find it preferable, and I certainly know that it isn’t the kind of environment that will encourage 15-20% more of the population to take up cycling as a primary means of transportation.

I guess my point here is that vehicular cycling legitimately has its place, but merely as a coping mechanism while we transition to the more responsible way of organizing our cities. Though it may only be a small shift in perspective, I think that when advocates of segregated cycling come up against adamant or aggressive vehicular cyclists, we would be better served by acknowledging that they’re not stupid, just unfortunate (though when vocalizing this thought, it might be best not to put it that way…). We need to become more like missionaries than crusaders for these lost souls, converting them to a view of the future (and present, in more locations than they would believe) where cyclists and pedestrians don’t merely have the same rights as motorists, but ones that also promote the health and well-being of our environment, our communities, and ourselves.


Header image: source