|April Fool Bike Lane |
The city of Westlake, Ohio, installed marked bike lanes along Hilliard Blvd. Hilliard has been a good road for cycling -- the road surface is fairly smooth, the drain grates are reasonably "bike safe" and traffic is neither heavy nor fast. But in the fall of 2006, there appeared segregated bike lane stripes and those strange red signs like one in the top photo at right that say "BIKE LANE CLOSED UNTIL APRIL 1, 2007".
Perhaps the most appropriate thing about this bike lane is its opening date: All Fool's Day, 2007. This fact leads this author to connect the bike lanes with April Fooling. However, the "joke" is not at all funny.
The segregated space is narrow: only four feet from the stripe to the curb face. There are many driveways along that section of Hilliard. A motorist at the end of the driveway, looking left for oncoming traffic, but with vision obscured by mailboxes, is likely to not see a cyclist in the bike lane.
Some "bicycle advocates" claim that the bike lane stripe shows people where to ride and that this helps keep people off the sidewalk. But the place is often not the right place, 'tho perhaps better than a sidewalk, which is definitely an unsafe place for bicycle operation, however, the boy on the sidewalk at right has missed the bike lane's "instructional message."
|Avoiding Intersection Conflicts |
The reality is that "bicycling enhancements" like this are a setback for cycling education. They direct both cyclists and motorists to the wrong spot on the road, especially at intersections. The resulting mistakes sometimes cause collisions.
In the photo at right, the experienced cyclist knows enough to get OUT of the bike lane and away from "right hook" hazards due to turning traffic at the edge of the road. Unfortunately, most cyclists are not so knowledgeable. A novice will not know enough to merge to the center of the through traffic lane, out of the bike lane.
Most people will believe -- incorrectly -- that city officials knew what they were doing when they marked this place for them to ride.
Motorists are also misled by the bike lane stripes, which form a traffic control device that says "stay left", even where the rules of the road say otherwise. The bike lane stripe encourages right-turning motorists to violate § 4511.36(A) of the Ohio Revised Code, which says: Approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
|Puddles in Bike Lane |
Another problem with this "ghetto in the gutter" is it accumulates debris, such as glass, gravel and broken mufflers. In addition, as you can see in the photo at right, this bike lane is poorly drained so it accumulates water. This photo was taken almost a day after rain had stopped yet puddles remained. During cold weather, puddles freeze, producing new hazards.
Even experienced cyclists, who know enough to avoid the marked space, can be troubled by bike lanes because the markings on the road encourage harassment from motorists who are led to think that is where we "belong" and anywhere else is wrong. The more serious problem is that segregated bike lanes discourage safe cycling; instead they retard learning.
Fortunately, the Hilliard Blvd. bike lane is free of one typical problem. No parking is allowed on this section of the road, therefore, there are no "door zones", where suddenly opening car doors can create unexpected hazards. However, there are serious problems at every intersection, as explained above. Some people call this problem, where bike lane stripes are carried into intersections "coffin corners."
There is a benign way for city officials to use paint on the roadway to show their interest in cycling. This way avoids most of the hazards and other problems created by segregated bike lanes.
The chevron and bike graphic at right can be used to indicate the road is "shared use" for drivers of both cars and bikes. These markings should not be thought of as showing where to ride. However, because some users may be perceive them that way, they must be placed with care, not too close to the edge of the road or in other hazardous spots.
Typical hazards to avoid include (1) roads with parked cars (thus a "door zone" hazard); (2) anywhere that turns are likely and (3) where visibility is limited. The Hilliard Blvd. bike lanes suffer from the two of these three hazards.
Education must accompany any roadway markings, both to counter any notion that roads without such markings are "unsuitable" for cycling and, more important, because most people do not know how to operate bicycles properly. This problem is covered in the article Let's Stop Miseducating Society About Cycling by this author.
|Marked Vehicle Detector |
Above, we described a non-harmful way to declare a community's interest in and support of cycling by putting paint on the pavement. Even better, there are beneficial markings they can apply: these are stencils that show cyclists where to put their wheels to trigger vehicle detectors that control traffic lights. There is an excellent example just 4 miles away at the NASA Glenn Research Center on Brookpark Road.
Note the stencil on the pavement. This is directly over the sensor wire that controls the traffic light for vehicles exiting the center. If a cyclist stops his wheels on this mark, the red light will turn green. This marking also benefits motorcycle riders.
Marking detectors has important safety benefits and no dangerous side effects. By marking detectors, officials will be treating cyclists as legitimate users of the roads and encouraging them to follow traffic laws. In contrast, segregation treats cyclists as incompetent children thought not worthy of using more than the edge of the road.
For more information on how to benefit cycling, please see Best Practices of Cycling Advocacy by this author.
© Copyright 2004-2011 Fred Oswald.
Material may be copied with attribution.
The author is a certified bicycling safety instructor and a professional engineer in Ohio.
For comments, questions, contact fredoswald_AT_yahoo.com.
Last Revised 10/ 2/11 Check for updates at http://cycle-safety.com/