Lynne Keisling has a good post on the economics of bike-lanes. There is another dimensions of the social system of bike-lanes which I (as a cyclist) have always found remarkable. The vast majority of stress between cyclists and non-cyclists (generally drivers) is environmentally generated
Try to convince a friend to cycle in a city (Boston/Philadelphia/London in my case), and the first response will be “isn’t it dangerous!”. And they are right – cycling in a city is very dangerous, even when you follow the law.
The two most common problems: opening car doors into a bike lane without looking, and left-hand turns (or right-hand turns in the US). Doing either of these things is commonplace and without legal repercussion, despite the fact that it can kill. So yes, it is dangerous.
So who ends up cycling on the road? Risk-takers. Potentially aggressive ones. Overconfident ones. The kind who run red-lights, weave in and out of traffic, and cycle on the pavement. The kind who are called up as evidence that cyclists are dangerous. Young men, mostly.
If an environment is risky, the only people who will enter it are risk-takers. Do not then be surprised that the standard of behaviour in that activity is more risky than it would be if the environment is safe. Look to Amsterdam and Eugene, Oregon for evidence of the counterfactual.
What is strange is when that standard is extrapolated to other, safe environments. I occasionally cycle through the Greenwich foot tunnel when no one else is there. Compared to cycling on the road, this is one of the safest environments I can imagine. Yet it’s obviously not considered safe to the authorities. Which makes me wonder why they let me cycle on the road….
Consider how the same self-selection plays out in financial markets.