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