Friday, February 18

Myths in Conflict – Bike Lanes

Part 2 of a Continuing Series

Designated Bike Lane on North Tarrant Parkway in North Richland Hills, Texas. This Bike Lane (a relabeled shoulder) is Now Gone.
In Texas, a Cyclist is REQUIRED to Use a Lane Such as this, and no Excuses About Those Tire Tracks as Evidence of "Auxiliary Passing"
Bike lanes are one of the most contentious subjects in cycling mythology. They seem to be on a par with helmets in the passion they arouse. Bike lanes are a collection of many conflicting myths, but the Safety in Numbers argument in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Story touches on the mythology of bike lanes. So here goes – at the risk of being tarred and feathered. At one end of the spectrum of this body of myth are those that believe that ANY bike lane is good for cyclists, and that bike lanes enable cyclists to ride places which they would be unable do without them. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “I’d ride my bike to work but there are no bike lanes.” We’ve all read news stories about new bike lanes making it possible for cyclists to go places. I’ve actually seen bike lanes painted that run around residential cul de sacs in Florida. At the other end of the spectrum are those that believe bike lanes are evil. Ironically, at this end of the spectrum, cycling advocates and militant motorists take the same position (no bike lanes), but with entirely opposite motivations and expectations of the alternate results. FULL DISCLOSURE HERE.

The problem with this religious fervor is that it obscures the real situation. And the real situation is, shall we say, real situational. Bike lanes, even the best bike lanes in favorable circumstances, are not painted on streets for me. I will pick a safe line and travel it. On the other hand, if a bike lane is dangerous, I will ride outside it and accept a citation or motorist harassment if that is the price of not needlessly endangering my life. I'm now in a finacial and life situation where such things are a minor consideration. Bike lanes are often put on streets for reasons beyond purely cycling purposes. They are partly to illustrate a community’s commitment to a culture that values transportation as more than simply private motor vehicles. That is certainly part of the Livable Community emphasis in Oak Cliff. Bike lanes are regarded as an after-the fact way to support non-motorized living, and that is part of their popularity. While we might all prefer something better integrated into the community than bike lanes, adding long, safe, separated paths that actually go to useful destinations is usually problematic in an established urban area. What’s more, if the Minneapolis article is even remotely close to truth, reducing sidewalk riding by 87% is almost certain to result in less cycling accidents, EVEN IF the bike lane itself is not well designed and executed. Sidewalk cycling is one of the more dangerous things a person on a bike can do. What’s more, reducing BAD biking behavior even benefits me because it reduces the chance I’ll have to perform an emergency maneuver to avoid one of these wrong-way sidewalk riders. Despite a very low cycling share in Northeast Tarrant County, I get more violations of my right-of-way from people on bikes than from motorists.

The central myth here is not the particulars of bike lanes, nor of the myriad mistakes that designers of bike lanes make, but the notion that poorly designed ones are acceptable, or even that better ones are good enough. I’ll cite a current example. In Charleston, as this is written, a new bike lane has been installed along Chapel Street. It is a narrow bike lane that falls entirely within a door zone. That choice was made to give people taxpayer subsidized, private property storage (free on-street parking). Dave Moulton (yes, THAT Dave Moulton ) pointed out the danger in the facility. It is hard to believe a safer solution can’t be found than the one being implemented. And that is an important point. As in roads, there are few bike lanes that can’t be improved. And that might not be a single step improvement. Simply banning parking might well increase motorist speed, or create new intersection conflicts, which leads to other changes. Go Dave!

I hope we can all agree that peoples’ safety is a greater need than convenient, taxpayer-subsidized car storage, and that an improved bike lane is probably better than the initial one. The installation of a bike lane, ANY bike lane, should mark the start of a harder task; getting it made better. We should not forget that many of these facilities are not designed by people that ride bikes, that fewer yet are designed by people that understand the fundamentals of safe cycling, or who will actually be riding the routes, and that politicians occasionally need reminding of who they work for. Come to think of it, sometimes bike advocates need the same reminder. But THAT would be another myth entirely and y'all have already had your myth for tonight…


Khal said...

Agree completely.

By the way, yesterday's fun in Los Alamos bikelanes continued to get interesting on my ride home. I added a postscript to the earlier post.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Also agree completely. People struggle with the reality of bike lanes because the concept, "make a safer place to ride bicycles", comes into conflict with the reality of the implementation in many examples: increased crossing conflicts with cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, new transition skills that must be learned to get in and out of the bike lane and through intersections, the joys of a new driveway staging zone, and of course, new door zone dangers for bike lanes adjacent to on-street parking. Locally, it's most common for the bike lane to morph into a convenient vehicle parking area. The bike lanes I visit regularly must have been welcomed by the lawn guys and service crews, who universally use them as convenient parking zones for their trucks, unbothered by lawmen. So I'm in the street anyway there: it's not practicable to ride through a truck; it's not safe to weave in and out of the bike lane to dodge obstructions.

danc said...

Sadly, installing any bike lane is the "gold standard" of bikey friendliness.

Regarding "getting it [bike lane] made better". I can't recall anyone making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Better do no harm?

Thanks for the perspectives.

Steve A said...

Danc, read Khal's experience with his bike lane. I think he's gonna go get that thing dashed where it approaches the intersection. It might not be making a silk purse, but he'll leave things better than he found them.

As I noted, they don't put bike lanes in for me - or you or Khal either. When bike lanes start getting put in all over North Texas, I WILL be on the record in each case where a governing body has ignored good practice to put a danger in place. Some lawyer will possibly thank me later, or maybe an "easy to do" improvement will make the lawyer unnneeded. Hopefully, it will not be a lawyer associated with someone personally known to me or my family.

I think that is consistent with the "do no harm" guidance.

Ham said...

Yebbut. What happens when a BAD bike lane replaces a reasonable bike lane?

In Londonton these days we have sponsored "bike s-u-u-u-u-perhighways, intended to encourage people onto bikes. Generally poorly received by the cycling community, they do sometimes have positive benefits (things like mirrors for lorries at traffic lights). However the biggest abortion of a bike lane has to be reserved for the one out East, heading for the Olympics. Leaving aside the local council's decision NOT to support it in their Borough, so it stops dead two miles before the Olympic Park it was an opportunity to improve the facilities.

BUT. What actually happened.

Here is the before, a fairly standard bike lane. Note if you will, the fairly standard obstacles, the two lanes (which in rush hour are bumper to bumper traffic). In particular, note the unusually wide pavement (looks the same as a sidewalk, strangely enough) which is very sparsely used at any time. So, you might have thought that the obvious way to improve facilities for cyclist would be to incorporate a lane onto the pavement or increase the width of the road. But no. The obligatory 2m wide stripe of magic blue paint went down ( exactly as is. Unsurprisingly, the traffic in the nearside lane has no room to move an so occupies the lane. Whereas previously, bikes and cars shared the space with an uneasy truce, now there is no reasonable like for the driver to follow. Again unsurpisingly, traffic now drives closer to the kerb than they did previously, and our safety on bikes is seriously compromised.

Steve A said...

I didn't say it would be easy. They obviously didn't put those lanes in for you either! Politicians and non-cycling traffic boffins are a nasty combo!

Anonymous said...

Around Philadelphia the bicycle groups also seem to be of the "no such thing as a bad facility mindset" The latest promotion has been bike lanes on a city bridge (South St.) that was renovated after being planned for years and closed for months for rebuilding. The bike lanes are still painted to the right of RTOL lanes onto I-76. When I asked about this, I was told it's a bad design that needs to be fixed.

At a suburban meeting when another bicyclist asked if bike lanes are really the best way to accommodate bicyclists in an West Chester with narrow lanes, low speed limits, close destinations and congested traffic, she was told we can't afford to debate the merits of bike lanes - we'll never get them installed if we insist on safe ones in appropriate locations.

Motorists have been quite vocal in their support of these lanes. Since they think bicyclists are only allowed to ride in marked bike lanes and most streets don't have them, they have told me bicyclists are not legally allowed to use more than a few roads.


Steve A said...

In truth, the whole deal of separated bike facilities was largely pioneered by the Nazis to get the pesky cyclists off the road. We DO need better advocates - like ones that not willing to trade our safety in the name of "something"...

Khal said...

According to a couple (web?) sources, cycletracks in Germany preceded the Nazis. The first source gives 1926 as the date cyclepaths were made mandatory for German cyclists, which would have put it squarely in the Weimar Republic days. Hitler didn't take power till 1933; the Nazis didn't have more than a handful of seats in the Reichstag until 1930.

But that would be a blog entry that would be sure to rouse a lot of discussion and, shall we say, passion: A picture of Adolf Hitler with the label: "The original champion of segregated bicycling facilities".


Anonymous said...

Very nice commentary. As a cyclist, I feel safe in bike lanes or taking the lane. I think there needs to be a realization that bike lanes and bicycle zealotry or dictatorships don't help anyone in the biking community. Let's all work together to make things better for everyone.

And for crying out loud....Nazi's? Really? That's stretching it. And I'm sure the Jewish community would not appreciate the comparison of bike lanes to genocide...

Steve A said...

Re getting cyclists off the road by Nazis. #1 - it had nothing to do with the Nazi Eugenics theories that led to millions of murders. I apologize if my statement even suggested such a comparison. #2 - It is fact that the Nazis restricted the ability of cyclists to travel on the roads. In; "1934: New German legal instruments to address "the problem of disciplining cyclists" who did not use cycle tracks. Bicycle associations outlawed by Nazi regime. (Source notes that by this time the legal obligation to use cycle paths already existed in most countries.)"

Personally, I have not researched the question, but I suspect that the bans had more to do with the German motor industry than any Nazi ideology. Remember that this was also the time they were building the autobahns. It was a mistake to mention it in connection with bike lanes, since bike lanes weren't really around and they were trying to force the cyclists onto separate tracks.

Khal said...

Hi, Steve. My comment wasn't meant to say the Nazis had nothing to do with forcing bicyclists onto cycletracks, but that this policy had already begun before they took power. Same reference as yours, I suspect.

My comment about "untervehicles" was meant to be a joke. Sorry if you took it as a slam.

Volk should recall that Hitler was having Ferdinand Porsche design the "People's Car", aka the Volkswagen, in the thirties as well as enthisiastically building the Autobahn. So efforts to segregate cyclists for motoring efficiency wouldn't surprise me. It also doesn't surprise me if the Nazis banned bicycle associations. Hell, they banned most associations.

One final comment. Reading on Wiki about the autobahn, its routine to have vehicles driving on the Autobahn with 40 km/hr or more speed differential. Allegedly, done relatively safely, albeit when you crash at high speed, its not pretty. So to those who argue that mismatched speed vehicles (i.e., bicycles and motor vehicles) cannot share the same road, maybe we ought to study the Autobahn as a counter-example.

Steve A said...

Hi Khal, I was not concerned with your comment. I was concerned that Anonymous had gotten the wrong message via his comment "...for crying out loud....Nazi's?"

Whatever either of our comments were intended to mean, the notion that bike lanes are part of a plot to viciously EXTERMINATE cyclists was the furthest thing from my mind and I'm sure from yours as well.

As for the Autobahn and speed mismatch. Certainly mismatched speeds often create no problems at all, depending on traffic levels and availability of passing provisions. Absolute speeds seem to play little role. Which is why you rarely hear of motorists getting killed by running over debris on rural interstates. They simply avoid it and it eventually gets picked up.

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