Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What good are painted bike lanes?


I took my old route to work today. It's the route with scenic beauty, low amounts of traffic, and it's a couple of kilometers farther than my current route. After riding it for a few blocks, I remembered my experiences riding bike lanes in downtown Minneapolis a few years ago. And I remembered how much I think bike lanes suck.

I have lots of reasons why I think so and I'll probably list them sometime, but for now I want to talk about my knee jerk reaction to bike lanes. My opinion is based on experience, but is it based on reasoning? That's what I want to work on here -- arriving at a conclusion based on reasoning.
For now, I withdraw my opinion that bike lanes suck and I'll spend some time researching them. I'll post my findings here and ask for your opinions. I expect this to take more than one or two blog posts. I also expect you to leave your opinions in the comments. Let me know when I'm full of crap, please.

Then I'll decide. I realize this is probably not a totally fair way to approach the question, since I can't truly put aside my opinion. However, I'll try to be a fair and impartial judge. The research will do me good. I'll probably become more familiar with the problems of trying to accommodate bikes and cars. I also want to know where the LAB (League of American Bicyclists) stands on this issue.

If you have any useful links to information about bike lanes, please leave them in the comments.

10 comments:

AdamB said...

Yeah, I am kinda ambivalent about them too.

They are probably more important in places where bikes are less accepted and you need a reminder that bike belong too. But I guess a Share The Road sign would have nearly the same effect without the implication that bikes belong only in bike lanes.

You still hear stuff like that Chris Zito deserved to get hit because he was on Hiawatha Ave at night (with lights, mind you). Not everyone accepts that bikes have a right to the road.

Matt_J said...

In Sweden and Denmark the bike lanes are physically distinct from the road, and they work great. Painted lanes don't work so well because cars have to cross them to park or make right turns, which gives drivers the idea that it's their zone and would be marked that way too if it weren't for those utopiist bike activists in the left wing of city hall.

this verdant country said...

I wouldn't choose to ride along Minnehaha Ave if not for the bike lane striped there. OTOH, some activists have been pushing for a bike lane along 50th St between Hiawatha and Lake Nokomis. That street is plenty wide enough to accommodate bikes and cars without many unpleasant confrontations, with or without a bike lane.

T3 said...

I share Plan-Bs sentiment. In my opinion - bike paths, bridges and painted lanes seem to add to the perception by many motorists that bikes only belong in these designated areas. So I have a hard time getting happy about new bike lane/bridge projects. I like to use them when they are there, but…

Eclectchick said...

But where ARE bikes accepted? I'm so darn sick of being honked at when I'm riding far, far over on the right of the road, not bothering anybody - just cuz there's a paved trail in the vicinity as well. Apparently, in the mind of the car driver, I'm SUPPOSED to use the darn thing just cuz it's there.

Drivers can't seem to get it into their heads that riding over 20 mph on a paved walking/bike trail, across driveways, road entrances, etc., is far from safe for cyclists, motorists OR for the pedestrians we would have to share said trail with.

(sigh)

Champs said...

Take a step outside of yourself as a cyclist and consider that the lanes aren't for us, but that other 99% of the population that could be riding their bike more, but lacks the confidence and/or skills to mix it up with traffic. We're born and raised with the instinct to avoid stepping into that controlled chaos.

rigtenzin said...

These are helpful comments. Champs comment that the bike lanes are for less experience or confident cyclists is helpful for me. If it works that way, it goes in the plus column.

Anonymous said...

The mistake most commonly made when discussing this topic is assuming that bike lanes (or paths, for that matter) are either worthwhile or worthless. The Effective Cycling (Bicycles as Vehicles) crowd will always say that they are worthless, while the folks lobbying for lanes and paths will insist that they are the only way. More realistically, there are many instances in which they can be a tremendous boon, and many instances when they can create dangerous confrontations and marginalize bikes. For example, one of my regular routes includes one mile of 9.6% uphill grade on a 5 lane road with a 45mph speed limit. If I had to ride in the actual lane, there would be trouble. I would do it, but there would be trouble. Fortunately, there is a bike lane. This road has very few intersections, and all of them have good visibility. A bike lane is entirely appropriate here. On the other hand, a quick look at various big city bike related blogs ( www.bikeportland.org ) will give many examples of bike lanes that seemingly make things worse. Each example needs to be examined individually, with an eye towards evolving some general principles that would help determine when a lane (or path) would be beneficial, and when mixing with the traffic is more appropriate. This may be a bit too sophisticated for actual traffic engineers, but I'm sure it can be done. Val

Matt said...

I like them in some contexts. I ride Lexington north of Larpenteur and, after the first quarter mile or so, it's striped with a shared left turn lane, one lane each way for traffic, and a bike lane along the side. I really like this layout, especially when the alternative is two lanes each way and no shared left turn lane. I believe that there is some thought of re-striping Dale St north of Lexington this way and it would become much friendlier than the current two lanes each direction with little or no reduction in traffic throughput. On the other hand, lanes like the two-way lanes on Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis that start and end abruptly and put bikes in a weird position on the street seem odd to me and I'd like to know why they seem like a good idea.

Matt said...

Oops, gotta proofread, I meant Dale north of Larpenteur.

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