I, like many cyclists, have a love/hate relationship with bike lanes. Bike lanes can help encourage new or inexperienced cyclists, getting them off the sidewalk, and on to the street, where they belong. Many newer cyclists do not feel safe riding with traffic, preferring to stay as insulated from cars as possible, which puts them on the sidewalk (in the path of pedestrians,) or even worse, in a car. Education be damned- it has been proven that there is no better way to get people on the road, than to paint a bike lane. It may not make sense, but it’s true.
The number of people that decide to take another form of transport than a bicycle, even on small trips in the US is very high. Too high. 1% of all trips are made by bicycle in the US, in comparison to 30% in the Netherlands. 84% of all trips in the US are made by car; according to data taken from Transportation Quarterly
I walk a line that puts me between two groups of cyclists that don’t always get along. Those that play by the rules, and those that don’t. I know the laws, but I don’t always obey them. Cyclists do have rights. But we also have responsibilities. While refusing one, we forfeit the other. I realize that if I were to get a ticket or hurt while doing something illegal, it would be on me. It’s human nature to do as much as we feel that we can get away with. Sometimes- if the lights are not right for crossing- I’ve been known to zig across a crosswalk and wait on the sidewalk in order to avoid waiting for an unprotected left turn. I have a tendency to take advantage of the fact that bicycles fall into a category that is somewhere between a pedestrian and a car. Realistically, cyclists are embraced by neither; a bastard form of transportation, that pedestrian and driver alike are thrilled to see cited and reprimanded for every infraction. They’re just jealous.
I use bike lanes, some of the time. If I am traveling uphill, I appreciate them. I feel more protected than riding in a lane shared with cars, even if there is parking in the curb lane to the right of the bike lane. Cars usually respect the line that is there, and typically give a rider some space. If a driver opens their door as I am riding uphill, it’s not the end of the world. I may be traveling at 5 or 10 miles per hour, but generally, all one has to do is be aware, and to stop pedaling. I’ve never been injured going uphill in a bike lane. Flat terrain, and traveling downhill is a different matter entirely, and here is where a bike lane can go from a help to a hinderance in short order.
Downhill- Take the speed that you were traveling as you were headed up hill. Double it. Or more. You could now easily be traveling faster than the speed of traffic. There you are, in the bike lane- travelling at 30 miles per hour, car to either side, you are in your lane, not wanting to stray outside of the “protection” of your solid white line. The cars to your left may be slowed by traffic ahead. The cars in the curb lane are parked. All is hunky dory until somebody doesn’t look in their sideview mirror and opens their door into your precious bike lane… There goes your collarbone, maybe your grill, probably your bike, and it really messed up your day. A bike lane can sometimes give a false sense of security. Many cyclists view a bike lane as more dangerous than riding on a road with no signage at all, some call it a “door lane” for a reason, and if you have ever been doored, you may be one of them.
City planners have a difficult task. Placing bike lanes are one of the most important things that can be done to get people riding their bikes in traffic, and I am glad every time I see a new lane get striped. It may put inexperienced cyclists on the road, but all cyclists started inexperienced, myself included, and you have to start somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, bike lanes are also traveled by those that have been riding for a long time. Experienced riders are found there just as often. We need bike lanes, if for no other reasons than to:
- Increase the visibility of bicycles on the roadway. A Bike lane or “Sharrow”, a road sign, when a driver sees these, even if only subconsciously, they come to realize that bikes belong.
- Getting more cyclists on the roadway
- Promoting the idea of equal rights for motorists and cyclists
What are your thoughts on bike lanes? Do you use them? Find them dangerous? How about Sharrows?
Any areas in Seattle that could use bike lanes or sharrows?