The previous two related blogs highlighted examples of the work of John S. Allen and Keri Caffrey, illustrating graphically why edge riding or bicycling in a bike lane is potentially more hazardous than exercising lane control, especially on an urban or suburban multi-lane road.
In addition, a Google search for “reasons for bike lanes” revealed some unfounded or erroneous suggestions to support bike lanes. The one that topped the list was 21 Good Reasons to Mark Bike Lanes – City of Redmond, with the photo below accompanying the list (highlighted in blue below), interspersed with my italicized comments:
Note: The photo above shows the bike lane littered with leaves, underscoring another significant 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 generally no substitute for age-appropriate bike education, which provides the knowledge and confidence needed for safe on-road cycling. For young teens, an excellent curriculum was taught for a decade in Palo Alto, CA, middle schools with details here: Diana Lewiston’s “Bicycling in Traffic” curriculum for 13-year-old school children. An excellent bike education course for adults is CyclingSavvy.
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. And as a vehicle operator he or she is part of the orderly flow of traffic. See the video Bicycling Made Simple for example.
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 previous two related blogs.
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 near 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. The photo above shows another option which is common when space allows: adding a grass buffer between the sidewalk and road, although that requires maintenance.
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, providing the road has few commercial driveways which invite turning movements .
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, adding to the potential for conflicts.
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. However, putting in a facility inherently dangerous for cyclists for purported traffic calming reasons seems highly inappropriate.
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 substantially achieves the same goals while not confining the cyclist to the road edge at intersections. However, that is undesirable when it comes to accommodating large turning vehicles at intersections, as illustrated in Parts I and II. On balance, any benefit to motorists is definitely offset by the substantially increased risks of a car-bike collision for untrained cyclists. This again underscores the need for age-appropriate bike education.
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 only exacerbate this serious problem.
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 cycling commuter, and since 1997 as a certified League of American Bicyclists Cycling 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.