Friday, July 4, 2008

The Bike Lane Debate

Here's the bottom line—In urban settings, I think that even bike lanes that are well designed often create more problems than they solve. Thus, at this point, given the dozens of research articles and reports I have read from around the world, I strongly prefer the development of wide outside lanes with effective road signs, education, and enforcement rather than separate bike lanes in most cases.

Bike lanes actually increase the likelihood of the three most common car-caused car-bike crashes. These are called the left hook, the right hook, and the drive out. They also increase the likelihood of ‘getting doored’ when installed in urban settings with parallel on-street parking (like many midtown streets)

Bike lanes help avoid only one type of crash, the least-common car-bike crash, which is a car hitting a cyclist from behind.

Bike lanes look simple, but they actually make the roadway more complicated for cyclists and motorists alike.

If cyclists routinely hit speeds approaching or exceeding 20 mph (like on the downhill from Yates east on Shady Grove) bike lanes are too narrow to ride in safely—at high speeds cyclists need more room to operate than is offered by the standard 4 foot wide bike lane.

Many bike lanes are installed by planners who do not ride bikes and who do not understand the complexities of bicycling in urban traffic. Just lay down a stripe of paint within the legal limits and it is done-- a bike lane! It is a lot more complicated than that. So I am strongly against blindly rushing to paint stripes on roads when it will do no real good and might even make things worse.


tom said...

As I've said before, the bicycle lanes on Neshoba near Riverdale Park/School confuse me, and IMHO are dangerous. Cars often use the 'bike and pedestrian lane' as parking spots. They encourage bikers to ride into traffic head on for a short distance, since the other side of the road has zero shoulder. I've had cars yell at me because I wasn't riding in the bike lane, since I prefer to drive my bike with traffic. My daughter once said "don't worry, Dad, cars can't cross the white line!" An example to avoid.

Jennifer said...

I came across this post because I'm relocating to Memphis from Chicago. Now in Chicago, I travel exclusively by bike and foot. Chicago is riddled with bike lanes, some appropriate, some less so. In any case, biking is a well established form of transportation here.

People feel less afraid of being hit by another car when they get out of theirs, so risk of dooring can go up. People also use the bike lane as a buffer to 'safely' pull out part way into the street before making a turn on to it, or pedestrians as a place to 'safely' flag a cab. This is especially a problem wherever parked cars block line of sight.
Bike lanes are also often on the worst part of the street, the part with potholes, drains, and broken glass, and crumbling pavement -- greater hazard to avoid, making the line of the biker less predictable to cars that are not aware of these hazards.

I've always been mystified by the statements that riding as far to the right as possible is best. It's the place on the street where you are least visible to turning cars, and cars pulling on to the street, and where these are least visible to you.

One thing that lanes do help with is developing motorist awareness, and making the rider look a little more legitimate on the whole, something which it seems that Memphis needs a lot of help with.