North Richland Hills, Texas
In the Photo. The Debris has Since Been Replaced With
Construction. Should I Not Tell People How to Deal With This When I Know How?
So, in response to the email, THIS is what I’d teach students. Keep in mind that I have not gone through the LCI seminar yet and so it’s entirely possible that added learning will creep into my pea brain. Also keep in mind that I don’t really do a lot of MUP or bike path riding, but I’ve done enough.
BIKE LANES ARE HERE
Bike lanes are put in place for a variety of reasons by municipalities, just as are other special purpose lanes such as bus and HOV lanes. Some of these bike lanes are much better than others. If you are lucky, there will only be the best ones along your route, but most of us live in the real world. Just as for other road situations, there are actions you can take while riding in bike lanes in order to be safer.
WHAT IS A BIKE LANE?
Fundamentally, a bike lane is another lane on the road, with some special rules and restrictions. As a cyclist, your proper action is to use it as such, and to use it within the guiding context of “use the rightmost lane that serves your intended destination.” Bike League instruction policy specifically indicates that a cyclist should always be able to move out of a bike lane for safety reasons. In this case, I’ll take the Bike League’s guidance over the misbegotten notion that these things should be mandatory. This statement of policy is a principle that cannot be compromised when it comes to riding. Safety is just too dependent on circumstances. As a cyclist, the narrowness of a bike lane, its placement on the road, and its exclusive bike provision all create risks that you must deal with in order to remain safe.
Let me repeat that Bike League Policy Statement again:
"Cyclists should always have the right to leave the bike lane if their safety
is threatened due to surface conditions, obstructions, and dangers such as
opening car doors. This has always been, and remains, a core principle of
Yup, I can certainly agree with that. What's more, I'll exercise that right anytime I need to do so in order to protect my safety, because I have a very low pain threshold.
First, if the bike lane is adjacent to parked cars, you should ride in such a manner that a door will not hit you if it is unexpectedly opened. Duh. The door on some two-door coupes will open nearly four feet, so you might want to avoid riding that close to parked cars. I’ve seen many news stories about thoughtless people opening a door and the cyclist going “smack!” The collision is bad enough, but it is all too often followed by the stunned cyclist falling into the traffic lane right before a bus comes along, creating a fatality. For some reason, these “door zone” fatality stories seem to come out of Boston more than anyplace else. Anyway, the smart approach is to ride out of the door zone, just as you would if riding in any other lane. If you can reach out and nearly touch car mirrors, you are TOO CLOSE to those cars. If, by following this advice, you are outside the bike lane, it was poorly designed anyway.
CONFLICTED INTERSECTIONS - WARNING - CONFUSING PARAGRAPHS FOLLOW!
Second, at intersections, a conflict will often exist. Specifically, there may be a “right turn only” lane to the left of the bike lane or other hazardous situations that put the cyclist at risk of a “right hook.” While motorists have a due care responsibility, they can easily become confused in the presence of bike lanes. As a cyclist, you would be foolish to make your safety dependent on a motorist’s due care understanding, or even on a traffic engineer’s ability to clarify things. What’s more, since the bike lane often encourages the cyclist to pass to the right of traffic, the right hook can occur due to a motorist turning right while completely unaware a cyclist is to his right. THESE stories seem to come out of Portland and invariably involve dump trucks squashing cyclists that stopped to their right. The smart, defensive cyclist should take charge! Whether there is a likely “right hook” trap or NOT, the savvy cyclist should do a head check to assess the traffic situation behind and to his left. If you know where the other traffic is and the ways it can operate, you are halfway towards being safe.
If advisable, abandon the bike lane in advance of the intersection, to avoid falling afoul of motoring crossing and turning movements. Well designed bike lanes are dashed as they come up to major intersections to encourage this sort of cyclist behavior. Similarly, if you are going to make a left turn, abandon the bike lane and move into the rightmost left turn lane. Basically, “use the rightmost lane that serves your intended destination.” The key to doing all this safely is to communicate your intentions to your fellow road users before executing movements, and BE PREDICTABLE. In the mind of most motorists, a predictable cyclist is a welcome novelty and they will watch you very patiently as you operate to where you want to go.
Keep in mind that, at intersections, if the bike lane is at the right side of the road, you should be extra cautious about oncoming traffic, as well as traffic crossing from your right. You are NOT in the primary attention field of oncoming motorists so there may be an increased risk of a “left hook.” Watch and be aware! Whether bike lane or regular lane, the cyclist should never forget that he has a LOT more experience dealing with motorists than the motorist has dealing with cyclists. The good news (well, not actually all THAT good) is that intersections are places people get hit and it isn’t a problem limited to cyclists, or bike lanes.
ONE SPOT WHERE LAB POLICY FALLS SHORT
There IS one regard in which Bike League education policy about bike lanes falls short – maintenance around bike lanes. Regardless of why debris is in a lane, it may be encountered by a cyclist using a bike lane and that cyclist must deal with it, just as on any road surface. When encountering a debris-filled bike lane area, the correct action is to move left onto clear road surface and call to inform the traffic department of the hazardous situation on their roadway (don’t do both of these actions at the same time). And DO call, so that the situation is either corrected or at least put on the record! In this regard, debris is no different than a pothole, drain grate, or other obstruction (including a slower cyclist) that may be encountered on a daily basis. If 500 cyclists a day call to complain about debris in a bike lane, that situation WILL get attention. It is a situation where the cyclist may need to leave the bike lane for safety reasons, and THAT is the educational point. Really, on this last point, I think I’m unlikely to be strung up by the Bike League for unorthodox views, even though the policy document shrugged it off. I think the document missed an opportunity, in an attempt to avoid yet another “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” debate, nothing more.
ADVOCATES GO ELSEWHERE
As for the matter of whether we ought to ENCOURAGE bike lanes, I’ll leave that to advocates and policy wonks, and I can’t think of why anybody I was teaching would ask me such a fuzzy wuzzy question in the first place. MY job is to know how to ride safely when bike lanes are present (or not), to understand and mitigate the dangers associated with them, and, if I should happen to teach others, to understandably explain how they may operate safely. Is my correspondent suggesting I should shrink from teaching others how to operate their bikes as safely as possible under conditions they are likely to encounter? I think not. Is the Bike League document suggesting that I teach students they can ONLY ride in bike lanes? I think not. Perhaps they're not as far apart as it might appear...
One Way to Avoid a "Right Hook" From a Bike Lane
This is Not Alwasy The Best Approach. It Depends on Traffic