Friday Group Ride #227

Friday Group Ride #227

The town I live in is installing a bike lane on the main road through town, i.e. they are painting new lines. These lines have been the subject of a years-long and often venomous battle between “livable spaces” advocates and those who believe a bike lane will speed the advent of the end times. Complicating matters, the renovations to this central artery are partly funded by the federal government, but that funding is dependent on the bike lane being part of the project.

And because I’m “the bike guy” in many of my neighbor’s lives, they have often come to me to ask why I’m not at the meetings, why I’m not getting petitions signed, and why I don’t hate the people who would deny us our tiny slice of asphalt.

“Mostly,” I say, “it’s because it doesn’t matter to me one way or another whether there are lines painted on the road or not. I’m going to be riding my bike anyway.”

I don’t mean to be glib about it, but I’m not sure who bike lanes are for. It’s not that I think they’re a bad idea, although one of the two times I’ve been hit by cars I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, safely ensconced between two stripes of road paint, but I think it’s almost too facile an understanding of what’s going on out on the road to believe that a demarcated lane is the answer to cycling safety challenges. Maybe it helps some riders feel safer, and maybe in the grand scheme of things that’s a good thing.

Of course, there are bike lanes and there are bike lanes. The ones we have here in metro-Boston are all sandwiched between the traffic lane and the cars parked on the right. It’s a gauntlet of danger not much improved by the paint, although it probably helps drivers understand that cyclists will be in that space…if they’re paying attention. Lanes installed on the curb side, with the parked cars as a buffer, are safer, I think, and of course, the completely sequestered lanes they run in Denmark and Holland are the best.

Don’t even get me started on “sharrows.”

But we are a long way from contemplating that level of cycling infrastructure here in the US. You have to crawl before you can run, so maybe today’s inadequate paint leads to something better down the road. I don’t know. I just know that, to feel good about riding a bike on the road, I need to make the best decisions I can and continue to ride day after day.

The people who ask me about the road work in town are usually surprised and a little disappointed by my attitude, but I tell them, “To be safer, we just need to be out there, in numbers, all the time. That has nothing to do with paint. Paint isn’t infrastructure. Safety is found in numbers, in shifting attitudes and in normalizing behavior that too many feel is a nuisance when too few of us do it.”

This week’s Group Ride asks, am I wrong? How do you feel about bike lanes? Do you use them or avoid them, like many riders I know? Has your community even made it this far? Or maybe things are better where you are. What does that look like?

Image: Boston Biker

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    I fell in love with the bike again in Vancouver (BC) where there are both bike lanes and a critical mass of people riding in those lanes and on designated bike streets. None of that made me feel as safe though as the general respect that drivers in Vancouver have for both bikers and pedestrians. It seemed as if people on bikes and on their feet were still people. Getting to that point as a culture is exceptionally hard. We might be moving that way in the place where I live because cycling related events have become a part of the tourist industry. So if you can’t be a person, you can at the least be a source of income.

  2. Kurti_sc

    We have a few small sections of bike lanes. Really they are just shoulders that provide a few more inches of space. That’s about it. Some of them are even filled with rumble strips, which makes quite a contradiction for the intended use of the space.
    For the most part I avoid using them- about 95% of the time. I do use a purpose built path ( an old rail bed ) and I do enjoy the separate paths provided in some European countries. That said, I do sometimes find myself on the road instead of the designated farm path or bike route just because they are some times much more direct and almost always communicate the destinations more clearly. Sometimes I’ll be on a bike path (I observed this a lot near Bitburg) and I can see the town straight ahead. But the bike path wants to take me over some other field and over another bridge etc in directions that are anything but straight ahead. All communicated by a small sign with a bike and a couple of route numbers and kms. Er, I don’t know but it just looks like the wrong way and it’s raining and I’m late for the group ride and … I take the road straight ahead. That’s not a good decision either but it does illustrate some difficulty with purpose built lanes.
    I would definitely prefer them but I still wouldn’t use them exclusively. With that you have a very valid point that cyclist numbers are extremely important no matter which venues are offered.

    1. Anonymous

      Totally understand your current dilemma with choosing direct roal versus bike trail. We are still putting in most ‘trails’ as recreational facilities, through green spaces, rather than as transport facilities (re: Europe).
      Here in Austin we are working as fast as possible to serve both needs at the same time.
      Sue Anderson. Bike Austin volunteer.

  3. Ted

    I agree. It’s not about having a designated space. It’s having an educated enough populace that understands that when approaching a stop sign behind a cyclist, it is not within your rights to toot your horn several times to encourage demand that the cyclist grant the right of way. Until motorists are educated and understand that cyclists possess the same right to use the road, unimpeded and with an expectation of safety, then lanes and any other means to create that knowledge of cyclists are welcome. However, lanes do not equal an implied safety for cyclists, as you highlighted. Also, remember that we have an obligation to follow the laws as well. Your Garmin dutifully calculates stopped time as well as moving time, so your training rides need not include blowing traffic signs and signals just to meet some average mph. Be a good steward for all of us.

  4. Dan

    This line sums it all up: “To be safer, we just need to be out there, in numbers, all the time. That has nothing to do with paint. Paint isn’t infrastructure. Safety is found in numbers, in shifting attitudes and in normalizing behavior that too many feel is a nuisance when too few of us do it.”

    To me, “Route selection” is the biggest factor in cycling safety in my large urban area. Having said that, the 2 times I’ve been hit by cars occurred not in bike lanes, but popular cycling routes where drivers should expect to see cyclist, they just weren’t paying attention.

    More cyclists on the street. But beginner commuters tend to ride routes similar to their driving, at least at first, and aren’t comfortable, which leads to some giving up….

  5. John Scales

    My town (@cityofgolden) invests in paths for recreational cyclists and MTBers but does everything possible to keep bicycles off most roads. The idea of a bicycle as a method of transportation is well beyond city council’s limited comprehension. Multi-use paths with no lane markers, bike lanes that are less than a city block long, starting no where and going no where. One or two roads are “where the bikes are” but virtually all intersections are unsafe by design. No attempt to educate people. Both cyclists and drivers utterly clueless of Colorado code and each town does it’s own thing. So riding from town to town, bike laws change. Key roads with no shoulder. Randomly triggerable lights at intersections. Rube Goldberb intersections like Super dangerous road furniture where no one lives. The upshot is that unless you’re very experienced, I wouldn’t recommend our roads to anyone. It’s 1960 as far as planning goes. The safety consciousness in Golden and Boulder couldn’t be farther apart.

  6. Aar

    Rather than thinking you are right or wrong, I suggest that you have a valid point of view. I think the key to judging whether points of view are appropriate or not is held in your comment:

    “Safety is found in numbers, in shifting attitudes and in normalizing behavior that too many feel is a nuisance when too few of us do it.”

    Another point of view around that comment is that “protected bike lanes” (don’t get me going on my opinion about the way paint serves as “protection”) encourage more people to ride and encourages better motorist behavior. I think statistics bear out that both of those things actually occur as various levels of cyclist protection (from sharrows through Denmark/Holland-style sequestered lanes) are added to infrastructure. My behavior falls into your “just do it” camp but I still sit on my city’s BiPed advisory committee, encouraging investment in bicycling transportation infrastructure because I know there are people out there who will only ride their bikes in such facilities. Because of my participation in that committee, I do use those facilities – from wider, unmarked shoulders through greenways – whenever they are created and I allow their existence to modify my routes – not to the exclusion of riding on “normal” roads to get where I need or want to go. Our community is far behind Boston and just (re)starting efforts toward building Complete Streets / fully multi-modal roads.

    Thank you for opening this discussion. I’m interested in hearing all of the points of view.

  7. Peter Dedes

    So I chair my city’s Cycling Advisory Committee. Segregated bike lanes are the gold standard. Buffered lanes are next best. Anything that’s just paint on a road isn’t cycling infrastructure.

    As a former racer, what upsets me is that racers don’t get involved in advocacy issues, or ride like idiots in the urban environment. Having a group of people interested and motivated to ride, even for purely practical purposes is the gateway to increasing participation and acceptance of racing as a relevant part of their experience.

  8. Tom in Albany

    Albany/Schenectady, NY is practically devoid of bike lanes. I just ride where I want to and deal with the traffic and keep my head on a swivel.

  9. Full Monte

    The bike lane described (and shown in the photo) will only lead to getting more riders “doored.”

    Instead of being able to “take the lane” and leave enough room between themselves and the parked cars, the paint “paints” the rider into a corner. Riding outside the line, get crushed from behind. Ride inside the box, get doored.

    I’d rather there was no painted lines at all and I could read the road and ride it accordingly. If I need to take the lane, I will as I watch for cars parking or emerging, doors opening, passengers stepping out between vehicles, traffic behind me, etc.

    Same rights. Same rules. Those lines just paint over those rights and rules.

  10. Dan Murphy

    I live and work out in the semi-boonies (Hopkinton MA), so bike lanes aren’t really on my radar. Regardless, I’ll still give my opinion on a topic I have relatively little experience with.
    I agree with your sentiment, that we just need more bikes out there more often. My guess is that, if nothing else, bike lanes give a small bit of legitimacy to the bicycle. “Yes, we do belong here, so deal with it.” It may seem small, but I think it’s important as a reminder to some of those people in cars that think bikes have no place on the road.

    So, tell us, what do you think of sharrows? (I’m ducking…..)

  11. M Hottie

    I get the same question at work all the time, “you like that new bike lane they just striped?” and “Hey, how about that bike path, pretty nice huh?” My response is similar to Robot’s. What I would add is as a bike commuter, I don’t need stripes and arrows to improve my ride. What I need and what I think motorists need are streets that are not obstacle courses. In other words, give me good pavement that does not require me to swerve left. Give me well timed lights so bikes and cars can keep moving. Properly flowing traffic does much more for me than the false sense of security of a bike lane.

  12. Andrew

    All I want is a reasonable shoulder. Without f##king rumble strips. Just a reasonable shoulder.

    Having said that, I spent a week this summer cycling in Estonia, and other time cycling in Switzerland, and the dedicated bike infrastructure in both places is just amazing. There’s a “bike highway” running alongside the regular highway by the Baltic in Estonia. The dedicated bike highway system in Switzerland is astounding.

    why are we such bass-ackward morons here?

  13. Paul

    I definitely use the bike lane or the shoulder whenever the pavement’s good enough. I don’t mind taking the lane ahead of obtructions. In the Boston picture above, I would probably be riding on the inside white line and just into the road at the police car.

    I know the organizer of one of the St Louis Bicycling meetup groups is against bike lanes (for the lower cyclist visibility/turning into accidents).

  14. PatrickGSR94

    ughh, do y’all understand that all these bike lanes, bike paths, cycle paths, cycle tracks, yadda yadda reinforce the notion among both motorists and cyclists that BIKES DO NOT BELONG? Motorists don’t want bikes on “their” roads, and that’s exactly what all this infrastructure does. “Separate but equal” is what some people say about separated paths and tracks. Sound familiar? Like racial segregation in the US in the mid-20th century?

    I drive my bike anywhere I need to go. I don’t need stinking paint, or paths, or whatever. When you’re in the traffic lane, you’re the most visible. And when you’re the most visible, you’re the most safe. Riding on shoulders is quite dangerous, because motorists aren’t looking for you there. Sharrows and BMUFL (bikes may use full lane) signage are the best type of “infrastructure” because it clearly conveys to motorists that we have a right to use the roads on bicycles, and that they need to change lanes FULLY to pass, just as when passing any other slow-moving vehicle.

    1. Paul

      Nobody else here said they need paint to ride, stinking or otherwise! You’re not Malcolm X when you’re just ‘driving’ your bike either.

  15. Ken

    I was surprised to hear angry shouting while a leading a relaxed group ride on a quiet country road recently. Our planned route turned right toward the shouting and that all too familiar scene came into focus. One bicyclist and one car and one road that somehow was not big enough for everyone. What made things interesting was that the driver had exited his car and was moving threateningly toward the rider as all twenty three riders in our group decided we would stop and offer our assistance. I have trouble determining which look was more precious, the pure relief and joy from the rider or sudden shift from belligerent to bashful from the driver.

    It is not about paint or the size of the road, though I do agree a decent shoulder is nice. It is about respect.

  16. Mike C

    Living in the Tampa Bay Area, we are beginning to see more roads that include bike lanes. I live about 8 miles ESE of Tampa and occasionally ride into downtown from Brandon. The direct route includes a dedicated bike lane almost the entire length and it is very representative of most bike lanes in Tampa. What I mean is the space within the lane is usually partially covered by growing grass, strewn with rocks, metal and broken glass. The hazards within the lanes far outweigh those like the numerous fuel, cargo and dump trucks that pass by well within the three foot law. Thankfully, in FL we have the right to not use the lanes if it interferes with our perceived safety, as long as we follow the rules of the road. One of the other things I cannot fathom is running street sweepers and letting them brush the debris into the bike lanes… ?
    As with any other type of riding or driving, the best defense is a good offense. Having a very bright flashing LED on the back of your bike in broad daylight does get you noticed if you will use it. It’s not cool and it probably violates some Velo rule, but again, getting noticed by the driver is better than disappearing in a 3 foot wide debris filled bike lane.
    One other thing. The bright strobe LED lights are so bright now that they can cause the person behind you to feel ill. It might help you drop them on the next hard sprint or climb.

    1. Angelo

      [One of the other things I cannot fathom is running street sweepers and letting them brush the debris into the bike lanes… ]

      This will make more sense if you view the bike lanes as tools motorists use to keep bicyclists out of normal traffic to avoid (perceived) delay. The number of door zone bike lanes and bike lanes to the right of RTOL lanes should be enough to convince you that many bike lanes are not installed to make bicycling safer.

      If you view both debris and bicyclists as annoyances to motorists, it makes sense to brush them all to the side of the road.

  17. Randall

    “one of the two times I’ve been hit by cars I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, safely ensconced between two stripes of road paint” Ditto

    I think, if I was rich enough, I’d just put up an occasional billboard that said “Please don’t murder a cyclist today! -husbands, wives, parents, and children”

  18. Pat O'Brien

    I agree with you. The picture shows a police car straddling the bike lane line. So, you are forced into the traffic lane. Same thing when a door opens. Driver excuse? I didn’t see them; they weren’t in their lane. Put the bike lane where it belongs, on the shoulder or next to the curb.
    On a positive note, new road construction in Arizona must include bike lanes or 7 foot wide shoulders. Plus my town, in SE AZ, has many shoulder bike lanes and multi-use paths.

  19. Les.B.

    Even to me as a cyclist a painted bike lane is a reminder that there may be cyclists out there and to keep an eye out. The great majority of motorists want dearly to avoid hitting a cyclist. They sometimes just need a reminder.
    And even to me as a cyclist, sometimes I open the car door without first checking the rear view for whomever is pedaling up.
    Again, as I grab the door latch, the painted lines serve as a reminder.

    So, yup, you’re wrong.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      That makes sense, Les. It’s a reminder to drivers, and they might become more aware and attentive because of the painted bike lane. I do see more distracted drivers every day while on the road driving or riding. Looks like I’m back on the fence again with Robot’s question.
      Bur riding in my little burg is nice, and most drivers give bikes a break. Maybe because it’s a military town, and many folks here have been to Europe.

  20. Andrew

    Yeah, paint isn’t infrastructure.

    But it is a step towards acknowledging the existence and legitimacy of bike riders. Because how do this safety in numbers occur? By getting lots of people onto bikes … first by providing recreational infrastructure, cos that’s usually easier, and second by providing high standard separated commuter routes. That’s hard. But the existence of those routes leads also to more bikes on the urban roads which don’t have facilities, which makes for a slower, safer road environment.

    Quite a few of your commenters fall into a trap of just thinking of themselves and how they negotiate the road space. Those of us who are existing road cyclists will ride most any road. But those who currently don’t feel safe riding with traffic are the ones we need to join us so that the safety in numbers can occur.

    So I reckon the folks who ask you about the new bike lanes probably have their hearts in the right place, as does the city. But bike lanes are a transitory stage. To get to bike nirvana, it probably a phase we have to go through.

  21. Pingback: Weekend Links: A handful of bike events, coffee and bikes go together, and if you can’t bike jack a friend…? | BikinginLA

  22. Gerb61

    Agreed, paint is not infrastructure. However striped lanes ,as was already said earlier, will at the very least remind motorists of our legal right to the road. Anything that can be done to encourage more cycling can only be a good thing in the long run. There is strength and safety in numbers.

  23. Author

    @ All – Thanks for your comments. I think I agree with those who believe painted lines are an evolutionary step on the way to something better. I do try to encourage those who are willing to fight that fight. I just find I have to ride my bike regardless.

    Having said that, I avoid many routes (like Mass Ave, Cyril) if I can help it. It’s not that I can’t ride there. It’s that I just don’t need that stress anymore.

    Good luck to us all.

  24. Rod

    I am ambivalent. I have yelled, thrown bottles at, and cut-off for not being on the “bike lane”. The honking and the yelling don’t even bother anymore – at least it proves the driver sees me.

    I rode last weekend in a place mostly devoid of bike lanes. It lives-off summer tourists: wineries, B&B’s, beaches art galleries, the works. I wasn’t honked once. Nor encroached. There was a woman that did a left turn a little bit too close but apologized profusely (I was aware and prepared, no close call). And saw entire families swerving into the road. No one abused them.

    That’s because the town understand people on bikes come to have a good time and spend their money, needed for the community. I have never thought there would be so friendly drivers so close to home. 170 km ridden in two days – not one bad incident.

    It’s all in awareness.

  25. matt

    I have uttered the same response to neighbors and friends and family. Bike lane or not, I will still be riding my bike either to work or on a ride for myself. I think one of the main benefits of a bike lane is that it makes people who normally do not ride or are not as used to riding with traffic feel a bit safer. Although I usually avoid them due to the number of times a door has almost taken me down. The only road in town with sharrows is the worst maintained road we have so again, avoid that at all costs. But one of my main rides has a wider shoulder and is a known bike route out to one of our state parks. So the cars on that road are more accustom to seeing riders either single file or side by side and the motorists make room for us. Which I feel is the real answer as you stated, strength in numbers and just being a constant presence on the roads. The more cyclists on the road, the more motorists get used to seeing us and knowing how to share the road. I think sometimes people in cars are as confused as a new cyclist with what to do when the two meet. The only way to make this situation more comfortable for all parties is to just get out there and ride.

  26. Bin

    I like this quote:

    “It’s self-evidently bizarre to argue that the solution to drivers’ killing people is to ask everyone to be nice. There is a quality-of-life argument for asking people to be calmer and more tolerant. I try when I haven’t been put in fear of my life to act considerately. But it’s hard to see that “share the road” campaigns are a better route to that destination than making the roads safe. The question is why “share the road” campaigns continue to consume energy that could be better directed elsewhere.”

    Robert Wright

    I totally agree that paint and niceness does not a road make safe.

  27. Peter Leach

    “Paint isn’t infrastructure. Safety is found in numbers, in shifting attitudes and in normalizing behavior that too many feel is a nuisance when too few of us do it.”
    Robot’s words ring as true here in Australia as they do elsewhere.
    If a cycle lane is viewed as a step towards infrastructure, then I see it as a good thing.
    That said, I’m also firmly in the “all I need is a shoulder” camp.
    My preferred riding is on country roads [hence my appreciation of a smooth shoulder] and my commuting is on urban / suburban roads [hence my appreciation of an on-road cycle lane].
    However, I see improved awareness and acceptance of cyclists as road users as the end game and I do what I can to increase both, both as a cyclist and as a motorist.

  28. Mike

    I have noticed a change in driver behavior where lanes are installed in my town. Before the lanes, drivers usually gave bicycles a wide berth when passing, lurking behind until there was no oncoming traffic. It’s a very wide street. Once lanes were installed, traffic moved more smoothly and without the waiting to pass. So I guess it has been an improvement to traffic flow, if not to cyclists. Odd that the benefactors fought them so. And in a bonus social experiment, I saw that jerk drivers are still jerks–just now with a stripe to drive over.

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