When we were in Bend, we noticed a couple bike lanes, somewhat like this one in Dublin, that were raised up above the plane of the road. They were distinct from the sidewalk and they had a ramping down to the road. At first, I thought how irritating it would be the get on and off of them, but upon further thought the physical separation from the road made sense. In fact, I could see the ramp working as a more subtle rumble strip to alert motorists that are getting a little too close to the cyclists for comfort.
Though I have seen reports (this one from Bike Friday owner Tom Revay) suggesting that bike lanes do not help increase safety and in fact sometimes increase accidents, especially at intersections, I think this is likely due to the fact that bike lanes inevitably increase the number of cyclists. The new cyclists are usually novices that would not feel comfortable riding on the street. They don’t know how to ride defensively nor have they had the experience of almost getting killed to further enforce its necessity. It’s likely too that they lack the confidence to steer themselves out of the path of danger should it occur. Not to mention the possibility that are riding with insufficient gear.
Here’s the thing. I’m all for riding on the road. I think it’s rather unfair that cyclists should be allowed some little sliver of the motorists road. According to Department of Transportation, we all have rights on the road. The fact that motorists insist on asserting their rights in exclusion to the rights of other road users is illegal, but it’s also a current reality that we need to accept. Unfortunately, it’s equally unfair for us to expect the elderly, children, and the novice cyclists of the world to be able to deal with this danger safely. So we need to start thinking of other solutions.
Enter the idea of physically separated bike lanes (video here). They’re trying to make this a reality in New York City, though there’s numerous precedents throughout the world (illustrating the idea that seriously reconfiguring the streetscape just to help a few cyclists could indeed be in a city’s best ineterest which goes against the ill-founded notions of anti-cyclist Rob Anderson). This keeps cyclists free from harm’s way, including keeping them away from parked cars and car doors because the bike lane switches places with the parked car lane.
As the comments on cyclicio.us and Streetsblog suggest, this is not a solution that solves every problem. There will inevitably be a problem with intersections, as is always the case with bike lanes. There is a solution to this, though: education. We need to educate cyclists that they need to be careful and we need to educate motorists that they need to look out for cyclists. Signage on both sides of the street could help enforce this idea. More than anything we need to communicate the message that separation does not ensure safety. Riding down 11th in downtown Eugene is a reminder of this. It’s inevitable you will get cut off. Knowing this is essential to making safe use of out the bike lane, but clearly motorists need to be reminded of their rights and responsibilities.
I used to be quite against bike lanes and bike paths but after having a family and being spoiled by the quiescent ride down the bike path to work, I’m a little more inclined to see their value. I also realize that it is not in the best interest of bike advocacy to demand that cyclists have a tough skin. We want more people riding, not just more people like us. It’s the only thing that will ultimately lead to more and more facilities for bikes: more and more people biking. They might not be fast, and they might ride mountain bike tires on the street, but they’re the answer to every cyclists’ need. We need a critical mass of cyclists to move infastructure and support forward, not just a couple of vocal minorities.