Skip navigation

The Institute of Transportation Engineers, which is an important international professional body, includes a Pedestrian & Bicycle Council. The PBC produces a quarterly E-Newsletter for which articles were first solicited on August 13th for the Fall 2013 edition.

The stated purpose of this newsletter is “to keep transportation engineers involved in, and informed about, bicycle and pedestrian transportation best practices. Criteria for submissions are flexible, but should be related to bicycle and pedestrian planning/engineering, policy, or advocacy. Previous editions of the newsletter have included academic research, updates on recent changes to MUTCD design standards, solicitations for public comment on MUTCD standards, “how to” guides for community groups and transit agencies, project case studies, data collection and education efforts, and news items related to pedestrian and bicycle projects. All of these topics (and others) are suitable for submission.”

The following article, submitted just by the September 10th deadline and published on Oct. 3rd, is intended to address what I consider to be a misplaced focus on bike lanes, and describe instead a more objective approach based on equality of access to the public road system.

Note: I owe my wife and editor-in-chief,  Joyce, thanks for helping whittle down my original 1200-plus word version to the target 1,000 word limit to be considered for publication.

Bike Lane Myths vs Equality, Education, and Engineering

Martin Pion

Martin Pion

By Martin Pion, B.Sc.

The increasing focus on bike lane striping is based on a number of myths which are actually harmful to the desirable integration of bicyclists into the road system. Such road treatments essentially make bicyclists second class road users and create avoidable conflicts, while providing the illusion of safety.

Bike lane stripes only help if a cyclist’s main fear – of being hit by a faster moving motor vehicle from behind – is the main cause of car-bike collisions. In reality, car-bike collisions occur primarily at intersections due to motor vehicle turning movements.(1) Consequently, a bicyclist riding in a bike lane at the road edge is at greater risk of a collision with either an approaching or following turning motor vehicle than is a bicyclist controlling the curb lane. This problem with bike lanes has led some cities to add “bike boxes” where cyclists can stop ahead of motorists when the light is red. But this doesn’t help the cyclist arriving after the light has turned green, or reduce the risk from motorists turning into or out of side streets or commercial driveways.

Bike lanes seek to provide a defined place for bicyclists on public roads but end up conferring second-class status. And the presence of a bike lane prejudices the right to the road of competent road cyclists, potentially generating hostility among motorists towards them, should the cyclist seek to control the driving lane to maximize his or her safety.

The “ABC” Classification and “Design User”

Those who promote bike lanes argue that they provide for the 80% or more of the potential cycling population who need them, not the competent cyclist. The basis for this belief can be traced to an FHWA-sponsored study published in January 1994 titled “Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles.”(2) The report’s main purpose was to provide a set of tables to guide on-road bicycle facility types “under particular roadway design and traffic operational conditions.” However, the report’s most significant impact has resulted from its definition of the “design user” and the need “to accommodate bicyclists of moderate ability.” In this category are B – Basic Bicyclists: casual or new adult and teenage riders, and C – Children. They need roads provided with bicycle facilities, usually meaning bicycle lanes.

The “design user” concept received an enormous boost by being incorporated into the 1999 update to the “Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities,” published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).(3) As an example, the “design user” approach underpins the Great Rivers Greenway (GRG) Gateway Bike Plan(4) for metropolitan St. Louis, approved in January 2012 by the local metropolitan planning organization, East-West Gateway Council of Governments.(5) GRG’s plan envisions adding more than 1,000 miles of bicycle lanes to existing roads over the next 20 years. In Table 5-1(6) is the “ABC” classification of on-road bicyclists first proposed in the 1994 study:

A – Advanced (5 percent of all riders)
B – Basic
C – Child
(B & C combined = 95 percent of all riders)

(Note that the 2012 AASHTO Guide has dropped the “ABC” classification but retains its rationale, stating that, for those in the majority CASUAL AND LESS CONFIDENT group, “a physical network of visible, convenient and well-designed bicycle facilities is needed.”(7) )

The Gateway Bike Plan thus assumes that 95 percent of bicycle users of public roads need special accommodation, primarily bicycle lane striping, which is viewed as rendering the road system safe for the less skilled or immature user.

Equality: The Sixth “E” of Bicycling

The response to the above requires a fact-based approach. The principles guiding bicycling advocacy have been for some time the following so-called Five E’s:

Education – traffic skills training
Engineering – transportation infrastructure
Enforcement – police/courts
Encouragement – promotion campaigns
Evaluation – effectiveness of the other E’s

Dan Gutierrez fs 330 370

Dan Gutierrez

As pointed out by Gutierrez and Eichstaedt in their 2007 article(8), what the above list lacks, and which is fundamental to treating bicyclists fairly as road users, is “Equality.” Without equality of access to the road system cyclists become relegated to second-class road user status.

A glaring example is the “Far To the Right” law existing in almost every state, which requires cyclists to ride as far right as “safe” or “practicable.” This statute contains some exceptions, such as when the lane is too narrow to share with a motor vehicle, but that is open to interpretation, and can and does lead to police harassment. Repeal of the Far To the Right law and its replacement by language explicitly permitting a cyclist to optionally share or control the lane should be a major goal to eliminate this prejudicial treatment.

Education and Engineering

As with motorist education, bicyclist education must be age appropriate, recognizing that cyclists below a certain age will not have the maturity and cognitive skills to adequately master the rules of the road. However, 13-year-olds can be taught how to ride safely on most roads, as evidenced by a 10-15 hour school-based course formerly taught in Palo Alto middle schools as a P.E. elective.(9) CyclingSavvy offers a 9-1/2 hour three-part course teaching adults how to bicycle safely for transportation on public roads by acting as drivers of vehicles.(10) Cyclists possessing the skills and knowledge imparted by such courses can bicycle safely on roads legally available to them, generally without improvement.

The author shown controlling the curb lane during the CyclingSavvy St. Louis "Tour of the City" training ride in April, 2011.  Photo: Karen Karabell

The author shown controlling the curb lane during the CyclingSavvy St. Louis “Tour of the City” training ride in April, 2011.         Photo by Karen Karabell

The most helpful changes, once the law treats cyclists equitably, is signage to alert both cyclists and motorists accordingly. This is illustrated in the image below showing Dan Gutierrez being videotaped with a helmet cam by a following cyclist while bicycling over “sharrows” (officially called “Shared Lane Markings”) centered in the “effective lane” in Long Beach, CA. The effective lane is narrower than the physical lane, allowing for opening car doors in the adjoining parking lane. The MUTCD-approved R4-11 “Bikes May Use Full Lane” sign complements the sharrow.

Dan Gutierrez demonstrating preferred lane position and location of "effective lane" centered sharrows on 4th St., Long Beach, CA, in 2012.  Photo: Dan Gutierrez

Dan Gutierrez demonstrating preferred lane position and location of
“effective lane” centered sharrows on 4th St., Long Beach, CA, in 2012.
Photo courtesy Dan Gutierrez

The present myths used to promote bike lanes need replacement with equitable treatment of bicyclists, complemented by age-appropriate education and judicious engineering treatments. Discriminatory laws aimed at bicyclists also need to be repealed.

1. Wachtel, A, Lewiston, D. Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections. Sept./Oct. 1994 ITE Journal.
2. Wilkinson III, W.C., Clarke, A., Epperson, B., Knoblauch, R. Selecting Roadway Design Treatments to Accommodate Bicycles. Washington, DC, USA: Federal Highway Administration Report No. FHWA-RD-92-073, January 1994
3. Guide for the development of bicycle facilities, 3rd edition. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 1999.
4. Gateway Bike Plan. Great Rivers Greenway, 2011.
5. Minutes of January 2012 Board of Directors meeting. East-West Gateway Council of Governments, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
6. Gateway Bike Plan Chapter 5: BICYCLE FACILITY NETWORK. Great Rivers Greenway, 2011.
7. Guide for the development of bicycle facilities, 4th edition. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 2012.
8. Gutierrez, D, and Eichstaedt, A. Equality for Cyclists – Why We Need a Sixth E. League of American Bicyclists member magazine American Bicycist Nov.-Dec., 2007
9. Lewiston, D. Bicycling in Traffic. Intermediate Bicycle Handling & Beginning/Intermediate Urban Traffic Skills. Palo Alto, CA, USA: April 1992. Curriculum posted on-line at http://tinyurl.com/6v6cs5z
10. CyclingSavvy home page on-line at http://cyclingsavvy.org/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: