Trails are great. I love bike trails. But we will never be able to build enough bike trails in enough places to make trail-only biking a viable option. At some point, people need to get out on the street. For those who bike everywhere now, biking in the street is probably no big deal. But most of those cyclists probably fall within the two categories of "Strong and Fearless" or "Enthused and Confident". Together they make up 8% of the population. In the U.S. 8% is pretty good, but if we really want to break through, we need to find a way to get the 60% who are "Interested but Concerned" to ride a bike.
Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle. They are generally not afraid of other cyclists, or pedestrians, or of injuring themselves in a bicycle-only crash. When they say they are “afraid” it is a fear of people driving automobiles. This has been documented and reported in transportation literature from studies, surveys and conversations across the US, Canada, and Europe.
The "Enthused and Confident" group responds to bike lanes and other low level infrastructure and we need to continue perusing these facilities. But the "Interested but Concerned" group is unwilling to bike on a busy street mixed with traffic. Maybe you think they're irrational and that biking in traffic is totally safe - or safer when you add in the health benefits. Maybe you're right. It doesn't really matter. We can either try to convince people that they're being irrationally fearful or make a roadscape that helps them leave their fears behind.
Bike lanes appeal to the "enthused and confident" and cycltracks appeal to the "interested but concerned". The DC region will need to add lots of both to get more people to ride. Luckily, DC has set a goal of increasing the miles of bike lane from 50 to 80 by 2012. DDOT also wants to add cycle tracks to the downtown area. Arlington and Alexandria are also adding bike lanes and sharrows, but there are places where they could add cycletracks that would make sense.
Both types of facilities are shown to increase biking
Cycletracks increase ridership by 18-20% compared to 5-7% for bike lanes.
There are a dozens or good places for these types of facilities. Many of them have been defined in plans for the various jurisdictions around DC. An aggressive plan to build bike lanes, and cycletracks would help attract the cyclists who are a bit nervous about riding around traffic. It just so happens that that is a large group, so addressing their concerns will have a big impact on cycling.
Photo by Nevermindtheend