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Bike lanes have been around for some time and are spreading in the U.S. Many bicycling advocacy organizations view them as a way to encourage on-road bicycling.

More recently, bike lanes have been complemented by bike boxes at signalized intersections, in some cases following cyclist fatalities at those locations resulting from turning motor vehicles crossing the bike lane at the junction.

A Google search for “reasons for bike lanes” brings up 21 Good Reasons to Mark Bike Lanes – City of Redmond as the top result, with the photo below accompanying the list itself (which I’ve highlighted in blue), interspersed with my italicized comments:

BikeLane

Comment: The photo above shows the bike lane littered with leaves, underscoring a major problem: bike lanes are where debris tends to accumulate, swept there by motor vehicle tires.

1. Bike lanes support and encourage bicycling as a means of transportation.
Comment: Bike lanes are no substitute for age-appropriate bike education, which provides the knowledge and confidence needed for safe on-road cycling.
2. Bike lanes remind drivers that bicyclists are roadway users, too.
3. Bike lanes help define road space for bikes and for cars, promoting a more orderly flow of traffic.
4. Bike lanes allow bicyclists to move at their own pace.

Comment on #s 2-4: A cyclist trained and behaving as a vehicle operator conveys the appropriate message to motorists and does so with less risk.
5. Bike lanes remove slower-moving bikes from vehicular traffic lanes, reducing delay for drivers.
Comment: This is an oft-unspoken reason for bike lanes: to keep bicyclists out of the way of motorists.
6. Bike lanes are a visual reminder to drivers to look for bicyclists when turning or opening car doors.
Comment: In reality, bike lanes actually INCREASE the risk to cyclists, as illustrated in the review below.
7. Bike lanes enforce the concept that bicyclists are roadway users and should behave like other vehicle operators.
8. Bike lanes encourage bicyclists to obey general traffic rules when roadways are marked to include them.

Comment on #s 7-8: The contrary is true. Bike lanes convey to motorists that cyclists must always stay to the right edge of the road, out of the way of motorists.
The message to cyclists is to stay to the extreme right even when wanting to make a left turn, for example.

9. Bike lanes provide an added buffer for pedestrians between sidewalks and thru traffic. This is important when young children are walking, biking, or playing on curbside sidewalks.
Comment: A better solution would be to provide a wider sidewalk, as is common in Europe, or alternatively, widen the curb lane.
10. Bike lanes provide an area for people in wheelchairs to travel where there are no sidewalks, or sidewalks are in need of repair.
11. Bike lanes provide a place for wheelchair users to turn on and off curb cut ramps away from moving traffic.
12. Bike lanes provide emergency vehicles room to maneuver around stopped traffic, decreasing response time.

Comment on #s 10-12: A better solution would be to widen the curb lane.
13. Bike lanes encourage bicyclists to ride in the correct direction – with the flow of traffic.
Comment: It is not unusual to see bicyclists riding the wrong way down a bike lane. And two-way bike lanes, which are becoming more common, exacerbate the problem by encouraging wrong-way cycling.
14. Bike lanes increase the comfort level for bicyclists in traffic.
Comment: Bike lanes provide a false sense of security for untrained cyclists, a poor substitute for acquiring the knowledge and skills that actually make cycling safe.
15. Bike lanes have a “traffic calming” effect – roads that appear narrow result in slower vehicular speeds.
Comment: The same could be achieved by narrowing lanes, if that is the goal, which might also allow for additional lane striping.
16. Bike lanes increase sight distance for drivers entering the roadway from driveways or side streets.
17. Bike lanes increase the turning radius for large vehicles.
18. Bike lanes make crossing pedestrians more visible to drivers.

Comment on #s 16-18: Widening the curb lane achieves the same goals while not confining the cyclist to the road edge at intersections.
19. Bike lanes increase clear space between parked cars and moving vehicles.
Comment: A leading cause of injury and death to cyclists is being hit by an opened car door, and bike lanes exacerbate this concern.
20. Bike lanes help stop global warming by providing a real, healthy option to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Comment: BICYCLING helps reduce global warming, not bike lanes, per se.
21. Each bike on the road means one less car.
Comment: Potentially. But the bicyclist needs age-appropriate training, just like a motorist.

While road improvements can sometimes make the road safer and more convenient for cyclists, bike lane striping typically makes it more dangerous, while providing the novice cyclist with a false sense of security. Some proponents may argue that they legitimize on-road bicycling but that is better achieved by repealing discriminatory laws, primarily the so-called “Far To the Right” (FTR) law, and erecting approved signage when and where appropriate, e.g. Bikes May Use Full Lane (BMUFL) signs.

Ferguson has shown leadership by being the first city in Missouri to repeal the FTR law, followed by erecting some BMUFL signs.

I should note that my personal conclusion, reached after over 40 years as an on-road bicycling commuter, and since 1997 as a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor, is that soundly-based bike education programs are the key to safe bike transportation. An excellent example is the Cycling Savvy bike ed. program, based in Orlando, Florida, with a local affiliate, CyclingSavvy St. Louis.

Paint cannot replace knowledge and skill on the part of the cyclist, and this blog goes on to review some on-line material posted by John Allen and Keri Caffrey illustrating important deficiencies with the bike lane approach, which is an attempt to do just that.

John S. Allen

John S. Allen

John S. Allen

John Allen has a long career as a transportational cyclist. He’s a former contributing editor to Bicycling magazine, wrote The Complete Book of Bicycle Commuting, published by Rodale Press in 1981, as well as the still-popular Bicycling Street Smarts, a booklet first published in 1988.

Allen also maintains a very comprehensive bicycling blog which includes a long article on bike boxes at A LOOK INTO THE “BIKE BOX”. Under a section titled “Safety considerations” is the following graphic “illustrating some of the safety issues inherent in an in-line bike box,” i.e. a box in which cyclists can wait ahead of motorists at a stop light, provided it hasn’t changed to green.

Potential motorist-cyclist collision situations:

Click to enlarge this and any other graphic. Use back button to return to this page.

Click to enlarge this graphic. Use back button to return to this page.

If the motorist in the right lane plans to turn right that can lead to a collision with the cyclist riding in the bike lane (or near the edge when the bike lane is absent). This is always a risk for cyclists using a bike lane or edge riding rather than controlling the curb lane, since motorists often underestimate the speed of a cyclist they have passed, or even sometimes mistakenly believe that, as a motorist, they have priority over a cyclist.

Cyclist “b” is also in danger of a collision with a motorist in the inside lane, to whom she is invisible, if she enters the bike box on the light change, as indicated here by the arrow in front of the blue car.

Not illustrated above is the potential for a left-turning motorist from the right hitting a cyclist approaching in the bike lane from the left (e.g. cyclist “a”) who is obscured by a motor vehicle, which is included in the discussion below.

Keri Caffrey

Keri Caffrey

Keri Caffrey

Keri Caffrey is co-founder of Cycling Savvy, the most important new bike education program to be introduced in the U.S. since the Effective Cycling program. She is also a competent and visionary on-road cyclist, and a gifted artist and animator, and these skills are apparent in her work. She has produced a convincing animation illustrating the ever-present danger to a cyclist in either a bike lane or riding near the road edge of being hit by a passing motorist turning right across their path, in this case at a traffic light.

Tractor-trailer and bicyclist positioning at major intersection

Tractor-trailer and bicyclist positioning at major intersection

This still image by Keri Caffrey is based on her animation posted on-line at “Why Bike Boxes Don’t Prevent Right-hooks

It illustrates clearly the danger of being to the right of a tractor-trailer at a major intersection at which the motorist may turn right across the cyclist’s path. The cyclist is in the motorist’s blind spot, in which he is unable to see external objects directly or in his right-hand mirror. The cyclist, meanwhile, has no inkling of the driver’s intention to turn right.

Keri Caffrey has also produced a great animation contrasting a bicyclist exercising lane control with edge riding (comparable to riding in a bike lane). It is posted at “Lane Control” from which the following still images are taken for the edge riding cyclist.

Numerous potential hazards encountered by an edge (or bike lane) riding cyclist are shown in the first slide, including Close Passing, Pavement Hazard Area, Moving Screen as the passing car hides the cyclist from view, and Intersection Conflicts (which also applies to every driveway, especially commercial driveways).

General edge riding safety issues

General edge riding safety issues
Click to enlarge this or any following graphic. Use back button to return to this page.

Edge riding cyclist was hidden from oncoming left-turning motorist by passing green car.

Edge riding cyclist was hidden from oncoming left-turning motorist
by passing green car (at right and alongside in previous graphic).

In-lane passing by utility truck taps edge riding cyclist.

Edge riding cyclist is prevented from avoiding road debris.

Motorist passes cyclist just before making a right turn.

Motorist passes edge riding cyclist just before making a right turn.

Drive-out conflict due to screening by turning motorist and/or vegetation.

Drive-out conflict due to screening by turning motorist and/or vegetation.

2 Comments

    • Avid cyclist, PE, TE
    • Posted October 15, 2013 at 9:12 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    I agree education for cyclists is important. However I don’t see the link between good education and statements 1. and 14. The topic of the statements and the need for education are mutually exclusive. Educate riders AND give them a bike lane!! Frankly, given the author’s credetnials, I am surpirsed at the arguments against bike lanes. The comments imply we don’t need bke lanes, just education. That was the approach in the ’70’s and as a cyclist and traffic engineer, I am shocked at the suggestion we turn back the clock 40 years on bike advocacy.

    • I appreciate your comments. I never found good information on how to bike safely to the research lab. in England where I worked from 1966 until 1977. Hence I became a strong advocate for expanding the local cycle track system: segregated facilities superior to the mixed use trails popular in the U.S. because they had an 11 ft. bike path alongside a curbed 7 ft. sidewalk.

      Only after getting a job transfer to the U.S. and then moving to St. Louis in 1980 did I discover John Forester’s Effective Cycling which provided the basis for how to coexist safely with motorists on public roads. Since then, experience (including 16 years teaching others as a League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor) has led me to my conclusions about bike lanes having a negative impact on both safety and the equitable treatment of cyclists using public roads.

      Regarding statements 1. and 14. that you mention:

      1. Bike lanes support and encourage bicycling as a means of transportation.
      14. Bike lanes increase the comfort level for bicyclists in traffic.

      In both cases, this is based on a population that doesn’t have the knowledge and skills needed to use a bike safely for on-road transportation. I believe it’s far better to provide that needed education than foster a false sense of security which can lead to otherwise avoidable car-bike crashes.

      Would you approve of “car-lanes” for novice motorists instead of educating them in safe vehicle operation?


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