Bike lanes are dumb in one major way: they outline the door zone and then tell cyclists to ride right there. But the door zone is not my beef at the moment. No, my beef is how bike lanes set bad expectations for drivers – that the cyclist must ride in the bike lane at all times.
- Exhibit A: Like an icy slip ‘n slide. Chicago, December 2008. I am riding outside of the bike lane because the snow plows and salt trucks ignored that precious slice of pavement. A driver in a hooptie hooooooonks as he passes within a foot of me and yells, “Ride in the bike lane, you idiot!” I throw my hands up in frustration. Driver flips the middle finger. I catch up at the red light. Driver unrolls his window and yells again, “Stay in the bike lane, moron!” I respond firmly, “I cannot ride in the bike lane because it is FULL OF ICE. Please be aware of my safety. Thank you.” Driver drives off, as drivers do.
- Exhibit B: La la la I can’t hear you. Chicago, September 2009. I am riding two inches outside the bike lane because the entire strip is the door zone. A driver in a station wagon behind me honks… Honks… Hooonks… Hoooooonks… Hooooooooooonks. I ignore him. He passes me closely, even though he always had the entire opposite lane to pass. I catch him at the stop sign. He passes me closely. I pass him as he’s stopped in traffic. I feel happily smug.
These are only the most memorable and recent experiences, respectively. I won’t offer my other exhibits, because it would get repetitive. You all know the deal.
The problem is that bike lanes set bad expectations that cyclists are wrong if we ride outside the lines. There are a gazillion reasons why we need to ride outside of bike lanes: car doors, broken glass, turning left, passing slower traffic. All of this is perfectly legal.
Do the benefits of bike lanes outweigh the bad expectations they set?
Yes. Without bike lanes, the same drivers would think cyclists don’t belong in the road at all. At least bike lanes prove to these drivers that we DO belong in the road, even if just a strip. But we can do better. Perhaps sharrows is a good compromise?
[Okay, I edited this post to remove these portions. An attempt at sarcastic humor that obviously failed. No offense intended. I want the focus of this post to be bike lanes, not cyclists v. drivers. I would love to hear people's thoughts on bike lanes v. sharrows. "The biggest problem here is that drivers are dumb. That cannot be helped...I won't hold my breath waiting for drivers to become smarter, so I'll try to ignore them. I bet that's even more annoying than my mere existence! Score one for me."]