Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've Got a Question

image source:

I recently read a post on that spoke of some new promises to crack down on people who park in bike lanes. I've got nothing against bike lanes where they are practical, but I don't think it is as simple as painting some lines and saying "don't stop or park here". When you put bike lanes all over the place, you effectively make all curb sides a no stopping zone, so here's my question: where are cars supposed to pull over for a second? Where the alternatives to parking in the lane are limited, the temptation to use them for quick stops will be very hard for most to resist.

It is easy for people who never drive to answer "I don't care where they stop, so long as it is not in my bike lane". Should people who need to make a delivery or run into a shop in a downtown core go find a full-blown parking spot and pay for it? It simply isn't practical, and the lengths people might go to in order to stay out of heavily policed bike lanes could cause different kinds of traffic snarls that are just as bad for everybody.

How would us cyclists like it if we were only allowed to lock our bikes to designated racks because they were getting in the way of pedestrians? No poles, no sign posts, nothing like that. It would greatly reduce the wonderful flexibility of our vehicles. Would that be cool with everyone? Cars are inflexible to begin with, and not being allowed to pull over for short periods makes them even more so.

Regulars on this blog know that I ride my bike to work and back every single day. I am not "pro car" by any means. Cars and trucks, however, aren't going away any time soon, and making it harder for people to move around and conduct their business just doesn't make sense to me. In an ideal world there would be way fewer cars, more transit and cycling and walking, lower speeds and increased civility. Even when we get there, however, vehicles are going to need someplace to pull over once in a while.

In a great many areas of most cities, there will often be an alternative to blocking a bike lane, and where alternatives exist, drivers should be penalized for being lazy or selfish by blocking the lane. In areas like Toronto's downtown core, however, I just don't see any value in it or, frankly, the bike lanes themselves. Downtown traffic is slow. Cyclists don't need bike lane protection in downtown cores (or anywhere else, for that matter, but that's another, bigger, issue). They can find greater safety riding in and among traffic, especially if they avoid messenger style riding and behave like the cars, or more accurately, behave like cars driven by law abiding, civil drivers.

That's it, I've got to pull over and mellow out.



Steve A said...

It's good to hear Rantwick making sense again!

RANTWICK said...

Steve A - I wish to remind you that anything resembling sense on this blog is both inci- and acci- dental. Do not expect it on anything like a regular basis.

ChipSeal said...

Seeing how you once imagined that your blog would be one rant after another, we ought to expect one once in while! And this one is a beauty!

This one of the untended consequences when you segregate public space.

"Cars have car lanes, stay out of our bike lane!"

"Get out of the road, you annoying cyclist! We spent all that good money for your very own bike lane over there in the trash by the kerb! Get back in your place!"

(I have never actually heard a motorist call me a "annoying cyclist", but it could happen.)

This territorial-ism is contrary to the principles of a public road, (or the commons) and it inhibits civility.

Ben said...

From someone who rides downtown Toronto every day:

The bike lanes are worthwhile. Riding on Harbord or College is way more comfortable than Dundas or Bloor.

Cars should stop in parking spaces. They wouldn't block a lane of car traffic "just for a minute," so they shouldn't block a lane of bike traffic either.

RANTWICK said...

Ben - Thanks for commenting. I visited your site and I think there are probably all kinds of things we would agree upon. If we agreed on everything, however, that would be just weird.

I don't ride in downtown T.O. , so I'll buy that it's nicer with the lanes than without, although I might argue a bit that riding in line with cars could be as nice if more people did it. That is a tough one though, because you can often make better time to the right of cars than in between them.

On the "cars should stop in parking spaces" thing, my experience of downtown Toronto is that available parking spaces on the street are pretty darn rare. You live and ride there... am I mistaken?

Steve A said...

I got stuck this morning behind a truck that was stopped in a left turn lane for "just a minute" so bike lanes are not unique in this way.

Doohickie said...

I asked a local politician and fellow cyclist about parking in bike lanes here in Texas, and he said it is not explicitly illegal. He is well-informed about such matters.

cafiend said...

Wow. I have been thinking about something like this myself. I'm having trouble finding the time to write it well enough to post, but part of it deals with the same theme that motor vehicles aren't going to disappear completely, even in our closest possible approximation of Biketopia.

The bike lane per se is irrelevant to the motorist -particularly the delivery driver -- in need of a place to perch. They will perch anywhere someone does not explicitly drive them off. Enforcement will always fluctuate. Police forces have a lot to do. I've seen the delivery truck issue rise and fall in the little town where I work. It comes and goes, while the law remains.

RANTWICK said...

Steve, Doohickie, Cafiend - Good comments all. As Cafiend was saying, planning should be based on what people WILL do, rather than naively banking on what they SHOULD do.

Ben said...

On the "cars should stop in parking spaces" thing, my experience of downtown Toronto is that available parking spaces on the street are pretty darn rare. You live and ride there... am I mistaken?

On street parking spots are rare enough, but off-street parking lots are pervasive. These are generally cheaper, but the drawback is that they are spaced out a bit more, usually by a block or two.

I'm of the opinion that the on street parking should be priced so that there would usually be an empty space on each block. I've never read it, but this is the view put forth in The High Cost of Free Parking, a book by David Shoup (that I've had recommended to me several times).

This way, people who need to run in and out of a shop can do so. Maybe they'd pay as much for the 15 minutes use of the parking space as they would for an hour if they parked in the lot a block or two away.

People who aren't in a rush would park in the lot and save the money.

I'd also support lay-bys for dropping off passengers. These would have no cost associated, but a strict time limit of maybe 3 minutes or so.

I don't buy the argument about deliveries either. I have a friend who delivers packages downtown Toronto; he always uses the loading dock and has never once parked in a bike lane. I understand that his employers don't give him grief about this either. IMO, couriers who park in bike lanes do it because they are too lazy to drive around the back of the building.

Bike lane parking is very frustrating to me. The infrastructure gets installed because of a lot of hard work by cycling advocates; the majority of the political will that cyclists have goes behind these efforts as well. All the work that goes into getting this infrastructure is negated by the one inconsiderate act.

cafiend said...

Daily delivery routes are definitely a numbers game. An appeal to the driver's better nature might get you a shrug or a razzberry, if not worse. That doesn't make them right, but it throws the problem over to enforcement yet again. And there it may drop, given that enforcement agencies often feel they are overextended, regardless of cliches about doughnut shops. It's hard to know how a particular line of work will wear you down until you've tried to earn your own living at it. That applies equally to delivery drivers and the police.

RANTWICK said...

Ben - I'll agree that bike lane parking is very frustrating, but I guess I'm arguing that it was doomed to be that way from the start, especially in downtown core areas.

I have long been a supporter of more expensive / less abundant parking, but mainly because it encourages people to consider other modes like transit or cycling. In your "make street parking so expensive that spots would be free" scenario, I think it just as likely that the quick stopper will risk a ticket rather than pay alot for just a few minutes.

I want use my analogy again: If cyclists were legally obliged to lock their bicycles to designated racks, some of which were one or two blocks away from their destinations, or pay a premium to lock to a nearby post, how many would do it? How many would lock to a post anyway and hope they wouldn't get caught in the few minutes it takes to buy a coffee or a pack of gum? Should we expect motorists to behave any differently than many of us would when faced with the same decision?

On the delivery thing: I honestly had no idea that most downtown spots had delivery areas at the back... makes sense, of course, but I hadn't really thought much about it. Again, however, some people will be lazy no matter what the potential cost.

Lay-bys are a nice idea, but enforcement, again, would be pretty difficult.

I know how many people have worked hard for bike lanes. I think that in this case they have worked hard for things that were bound to be flawed and frustrating, and that is indeed a shame. Bike lanes may be the magic bullet for encouraging more people to ride, but in many cases they are far from an ideal solution for bicyclists successfully sharing the road with cars and trucks.

If you find bike lanes are helpful in the downtown core, that's good. Expecting others to respect them as inviolable space, however, is not realistic. I'm willing to take what good I can get, and live with some of the frustrations that are part of living in an urban landscape.

I would like to thank you again for commenting. Comments like yours make me think hard about my assumptions, and I like that.

cafiend said...

Rantwick, your courtesy is impeccable and an example to us all. You make the visiting commenter feel welcome.

ChipSeal said...

Yeah! It's the regulars he treats so shabbily!

Weirdness connoisseur indeed!


Tanya said...

If you don't ride a bike in downtown TO I don't see how you can make assumptions about it. Sometimes traffic moves fast, sometimes it moves at a bike speed, and sometimes its absolute gridlock when bike lanes are appreciated to bypass space-hogging traffic. (vs roads with 9' lanes)

Unfortunately there tend to be a lot of "angry" drivers here whether from the stresses of gridlock or whatever... and even if you are moving at the speed of traffic in a regular lane many attempt to threaten you (with impunity)

Should a taxi be able to drop off a passenger in a bike lane? If a cyclist can't figure out how to anticipate an obstacle much further ahead and shoulder check and change lanes around it - there are going to be far more dangers awaiting them in downtown traffic.

However a large smattering of unticketed parked cars in the bike lanes renders them useless. It may not be dangerous to an experienced cyclist, but it certainly is a nuisance/inconvenient. Particularly when in a steady stream of traffic holding out your left hand in mean downtown traffic you're likely to wait a long time before someone lets you into the queue.

RANTWICK said...

Tanya - Thanks very much for commenting. I am an experienced cyclist who would not hesitate to ride in downtown TO or anywhere else. Since I don't do it every day, I think it wise for me to listen attentively to those who do. I am fully aware of how downtown traffic moves and the effect it can have on the cyclist.

With all due respect, I don't think your read my post or the following comments very carefully. I don't think cars "should" obstruct bike lanes or that they have any inherent right to do so.

Unfortunately, when space is at a premium, people will block the bike lanes whether they "should" or not, despite almost any level of enforcement you can throw at them.

I ask again, if you were banned from locking your bike to sign posts, railings, etc, would you do so anyway sometimes because it is more convenient or you were in a real hurry?

Tony said...

A couple of points: these "loading bays behind buildings" are almost non-existent in some places and forbidden to small delivery vehicles in other instances. I've driven a small delivery van downtown in the past and I've got to tell you -- you park where you can and in most instances even if they have a loading dock (which small businesses don't -- think of all the tiny shops along Queen St), that's usually reserved for transports who can't park on the street. I do a ton of cycling in the city, but I also do a lot of driving because of my job. My feeling is that the City parking ticket monkeys could be a lot more effective if they were ticketing with extreme prejudice any ordinary car parked in a bike lane. Grabbing a coffee in 2 minutes or less is no excuse. I personally wouldn't think of parking in a bike lane! But you have to cut the delivery guys some slack. Parking is getting harder and harder for them every year. Sure, they shouldn't be in a bike lane, but I just ride around 'em and move on.

RANTWICK said...

Tony - Thanks for visitng and commenting with some first hand experience from the delivery truck angle; more points of view = better discussion.

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