Sunday, September 6

Practice for the Bike Lanes to Come

Mannytmoto of BFOC posed a thought via email that I've been considering - how to deal with bike lanes at intersections, as well as other places crossing traffic occurs. I have found the advice to "ride as if the lines are not there" to be less than useful, because those lines influence motorist travel patterns - and also police behavior. While I don't accept PM Summer's interpretation of Texas Sec. 551.103* as making use of bike lanes mandatory (shown here) in Texas, I also wouldn't have thought it was perfectly OK to totally ban bikes from streets the way that Hunter's Creek Village did. I'm just a guy that rides from where I'm coming from to where I'm going to. Bike lanes are just another characteristic of the route.

BTW, completely avoiding bike lanes is usually a practical option for a commuter who knows the local roads, and even in Seattle, I was able to avoid the really dopey bike lanes with little difficulty. The approach I'm about to describe mainly applies in those cases where there's a bike lane at a traffic choke point.

Rather than ignoring bike lane paint, it seems more realistic to treat a bike lane as another, narrow traffic lane, albeit one that is at risk to crossing movements, such as here .

Anyway, here's how I'd treat an intersection where I was NOT planning to turn right. At point A, seeing that traffic in the main traffic lane was clear after a quick head check, I'd signal a left turn, preparing to move left out of the bike lane into the "through" lane. I have done this on the bike lane on North Tarrant Parkway. Despite motorized traffic traveling at around 45mph, motorists have proven uniformly decent about letting me move left into the traffic lane from the bike lane. This was somewhat of a surprise to me at first, since there's a cyclist clearly getting out of "his" space and into "theirs." I think you'd see similar behavior after a point A signal. My only explanation is they're perplexed by a cyclist signaling a left (lane change) from that bike lane and they do the safe thing and hang back. For all they know, I'm about to make a full left turn from the RH bike lane. In effect, I take advantage of their fears of silly cyclist behavior to facilitate a safe and low stress lane change. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MOTORIST BEHAVIOR TO UNDERSTAND.

At point B, I execute the lane change, giving a nice "thanks" wave to the motorists that let me in. Then I move left through point C, to the center of the lane at point D prior to the start of the intersection. Point D just happens to be at the spot where the induction sensor or traffic camera will be triggered by me if it isn't triggered by the following cars.

After clearing the intersection, I'd signal a right turn prior to moving back into the bike lane. If I'm lucky, I stopped behind a car or two at the intersection - I've got no trouble keeping up with them until we're clear of the intersection and those behind me don't get too anxious until open space develops in front of me.

A similar sequence would cover bike lanes that end, or bike lane debris, or door zone bike lanes. Clearly, in the really BAD bike lanes, I might wind up riding in the main traffic lane the whole way. I might feel a little guilty and get honked at but, to update the nursery rhyme "18 wheelers can break my bones but honks will never hurt me."

The only real down side to this over current riding is that extra lane changes are needed. Every lane change is a chance for a mistake, just as when driving a car, but that risk seems far preferable to getting dragged under the rear wheels of a bus or truck that made a right turn across the bike lane. Often as not, motorists treat the bike lane as "inviolable" right up to when they turn. This seems to be the case even when the bike lane is dashed near the intersection rather than striped clear up to it as is often the case.

*551.103 Operation on Roadway.
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless:
...
(4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:
(A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
(B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

PS: One reference I found very interesting, was CommuteOrlando's comparison of a busy street before and after a bike lane was put in. That post is here. Keri Caffrey didn't move out of the lane at intersections as I'm suggesting, but there were only minor intersections in the video. Still, she'd have been at risk had one of those passing vehicles decided to make a right. As I recall, the right to use the main traffic lane when it's the safe place to ride is more clear cut in Florida than in Texas. Lucky for me, we tend to have less little cross streets than Orlando has.

11 comments:

Chandra said...

Steve,
How do you make these nice diagrams? Your engineering background is clearly showing in this one. Great job!!

I don't know / think the bike lanes will come to Irving anytime soon. If there is a way to do it, the motorists here might try to outlaw bikes from the roads :(

While I am not completely sure which side I am on on the issue / topic of bike lanes, I see some of the problems with them and see some good things that can happen if they are around, assuming nothing else works.

How the heck do they do it in Amsterdam? How do they do it in Portland, Madison WI, Minneapolis MN?

I have to take a trip to Portland to see how they do it. I plan to do it sometime :)
Peace :)

Steve A said...

Like bike lanes or not, if you ride, you may need to deal with them. If Dallas does bike lanes, lots of "me too" cities will follow, mostly with less engineering behind them.

As for the diagram, I started with one from CommuteOrlando which I modified pretty much beyond recognition.

Eliot said...

Amsterdam does it with LOTS of signals and NO stop signs. Bikes always have their own signal if they are in their own lane. Also, the laws are very strict against anyone who hits a cyclist or pedestrian--so folks are very careful to watch at unsignaled intersections.

Keri said...

I recognized it. I drew it for this post:
http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2008/12/18/spot-the-hazards/

The extra merging really is a pain in the ass. Downtown Orlando's main north south route is a one-way pair. The southbound — Orange Ave — is 3 lanes with no BL. The Northbound — Rosalind Ave — is three lanes with a BL.

When I ride down Orange, I can use the right or left lane, depending on my destination. I ride in an assertive lane position that does not vary more than a foot (to go around a manhole cover here or there). It's very easy, very little workload. Zero attention to the rear required. I have never been harassed on that road.

When I ride on Rosalind, I am not welcome in the left lane. So despite wanting to make a left at the far north end, I ride through downtown in the bike lane. There are no right turn lanes at major east-west junctions, so I have to leave merge out of the BL before those, the transit buses cut through the BL to deposit passengers on the curb, I have to merge to avoid those, Occasionally people double-park, I have to merge to avoid that, last time I rode up that lane, landscapers had dropped a huge palm frond in the middle of it, I had to merge to avoid that, inevitably you run across the meter patrol vehicle stopped in the BL, gotta merge to avoid that, Mighk even found a popcorn vendor cart parked there one day (with permission from the city).

Which road sounds better to you? Wouldn't it just be easier to raise awareness of how easy it is to ride on an unadulterated downtown street... instead of actually making it harder in an effort to lure the uninformed with symbolic BS?

Chandra, 1) we only assume nothing else works because nothing else has been tried with the same level of effort. 2) there are numerous other factors about the cities you mention that have less to do with the infrastructure than with culture and demographics.

Keri said...

Oh, forgot to add: On Rosalind, I have been harassed for riding in the left lane prior to a left turn. I was also harassed for over-staying my welcome in the right travel lane — I had left to avoid a right-hook intersection, then spotted the meter cart in the BL ahead. Didn't want to move back to the right for 50 feet and get trapped by the line of cars behind. Because there is a BL, the driver behind didn't bother changing lanes like he would have on Orange. Instead he honked.

Steve A said...

The extra merging IS a PIA, but we have better "permeability" than Orlando so most times bike lanes are easy to avoid except at choke points.

NOTE: While it's clear I'm not a big fan of bike lanes, a cyclist should be able to deal with roads containing them, just as one deals with heat, potholes, railroad tracks, and roadkill.

Keri said...

Yes, that's very important. Cyclists need to be taught to outsmart bike lanes.

It's very easy to get in the mindset that the lane offers a clear path. It doesn't... at least not in the city.

Personally, I don't care for them anywhere. But on long stretches of suburban road, BLs don't create the same workload or conflicts. They simply gather debris and facilitate mindless driving by passing motorists.

Keri said...

"Keri Caffrey didn't move out of the lane at intersections as I'm suggesting, but there were only minor intersections in the video. Still, she'd have been at risk had one of those passing vehicles decided to make a right."

That would be true if I didn't have 2 other cyclists right in front of me. Only the stupidest of motorists will hook a group. I've seen it a few times, but not nearly as much as riding solo.

Rantwick said...

What you describe is precisely what I do these days. I don't like the way bike lane paint makes drivers dislike me even more for taking the lane (after all, I was given a whole 3 feet of my own to use), but limited, inerstection-based behaviour like this at least has some hope of being understood.

ChipSeal said...

Naturally, I will merge left into the travel lane at every junction (Driveway) as well as every intersection. The close proximity of so many right hook hazards will oftentimes mean I never re-merge back into the designated bicycle ghetto.

Steve A said...

The bike lane on North Tarrant Parkway has few such hazards. It does, however, have debris that might present a hazard, and is used as an auxiliary passing lane by motorists. AS a bike lane, it makes things less safe for cyclists while giving them a false security blanket. I have only seen two cyclists ride this lane (besides myself), one was going the wrong way, which did not make me feel any better. There's also a bike-lane free alternate route on Shady Oak that avoids the question entirely. Shady Oak is used almost exclusively on the trip IN to work, and about half the time on the trip HOME from work.

My own route depends on the temperature, shade, and my mood on any given day.

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