Monday, June 15, 2009

My Jury Is Still Out: Bike Lanes

Being a frequent reader of vehicular cyclist writings and rantings, I am pre-disposed to disliking bike lanes. If you ride like you're a car whenever it makes sense, they are completely unnecessary.

There is a relatively new bike lane here in London on Queens Ave that I rode recently. I went there on purpose, in order to take video that I strongly suspected would show that it forced cyclists to ride in the "door zone". As it turned out, there was room, even with big parked vehicles, to ride outside of the door zone, although much of your time would be spent in what I have seen termed the "startle zone". Just the same I have to confess it felt kind of nice to have some space designated for my particular kind of use. I have other criticisms of this and other painted bike lanes (though they are still few here in London), but I'll save them for when I have time to get the video ready.

I'm feeling pretty conflicted about bike lanes. On the one hand they are the current darlings of planners, some drivers and some cyclists in the same way that helmets were five or ten years ago... and I think "helmet tunnel vision" has caused all kinds of other important safety information to fall by the wayside. On the other hand, they are a clear and public call for cyclists to ride in the street rather than on the sidewalk. I know that many will say, "yeah, but they also enforce riding separate from cars when that's not the best/safest way!" Herein lies my conflict. Getting cyclists off the sidewalk is a huge thing. Making them the poor cousins on the roadway is also a huge thing.

If I had my guess, it would be that the commuter cyclists that currently read this blog (they are few but mighty) , will try to help me see one viewpoint or another on this stuff, but in the end, I want to form my own opinion. Does that mean I want more bike lanes? Not necessarily... but I do want some time to try out what is here now, and I'm sure the current political/popular appetite for them will bring more my way. If I ever feel more sure of myself on this matter, I'll let you know!

Yours in Waffling,



Keri said...

You really do have to do your own deliberation on this issue. And it's important to do your own research rather than grab at one position or another.

On the sidewalk thing. I wish someone would do real study on that. I see a LOT of people riding on the sidewalk next to bike lanes. In some cases the bike lanes are pretty marginal and so actually create a more frightening experience for a timid person. But in a lot of cases the bike lane is plenty wide or even on a residential road and people are still riding on the sidewalk.

For the bike lane you mentioned, did you take a tape measure out there by any chance? I'd be curious to know the width... if you're inclined... (total width is measured from the curb face to the center of the left bike lane stripe). Note the total width, the split between the BL and the parking, and if there's a gutter pan, note the width of it, too.

Yes, I carry a tape measure in my bike trunk. I'm a geek.

cafiend said...

There can't be a single solution for all roadways. Unfortunately, people seem to like concise answers, especially to problems they aren't very interested in, such as the majority of people, non-cyclists, voting on a design for cycling facilities.

Way too many people think bikes belong on the sidewalk or riding against traffic.

On roadways where a cyclist consistently might have trouble maintaining vehicular speed, a place to fade is nice. Variables of each road would dictate the design of the cyclists' zone.

ChipSeal said...

Well I'll be! I too haul around a tape measure. When I first pulled it out to measure lane widths, I found that I was overestimating their width- often by more than 50%!

I am more comfortable with my estimations now. If two average width cars couldn't travel side-by-side within the lane, it is too narrow to share safely.

Keri said...

I found that when I rode near the edge, marginal-width lanes looked really wide. Even wide lanes look pretty narrow to me now.

It is nice to have a place to fade on a busy 2-lane road. It doesn't have anything to do with speed, though — just traffic density.

I find speed differential largely irrelevant, as I ride a relaxed 12-15mph most of the time. If traffic can pass easily (open oncoming lane or multi-lane road) there is no perceptual difference for them if I'm going 12 or 20.

I have noticed that some motorists so hate to be behind a cyclist that they will try to pass when I am going close to the speed of traffic. That can become dangerous. They'll even pass at the very time they should be slowing for a stop sign or red light and end up in the oncoming lane at the intersection or nearly rear-end stopped cars.

RANTWICK said...

Thanks everybody! I will go back and measure (but only for you, Keri) and I'll put that together with the video... I'm not planning to make a habit of measuring lanes though. My tape measure will remain in the tool room!

Cafiend - I think I'm usually somewhere between your speed and Keri's when I'm with cars. When I'm as fast as they, I'm much more likely to take the lane.

Keri said...

I love you man ;-)

Can't wait to see the video!

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