Why Bike Lanes Are Bad For Drivers’ Expectations

Actually one of the widest bike lanes in Chicago

Actually one of the widest bike lanes in Chicago

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."]

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74 thoughts on “Why Bike Lanes Are Bad For Drivers’ Expectations

  1. dukiebiddle says:

    Bike lane to the left of a line of parallel parked cars are a disaster. Even worse, in most jurisdictions it is illegal to not be in a bike lane when one is available to you. It’s like the well intentioned law is trying to kill us. I try to stay right on the painted white line. I’ve heard others say they avoid roads with bike lanes altogether.

    Bike lanes can suck it. Sharrows are the way to goes.

    • Ghost Rider says:

      I’ve never heard that about bike lane travel being REQUIRED. It certainly isn’t in most of the municipalities I’ve ridden in.

      I’m with you, though, about sharrows. They just make a lot more sense (provided the cars actually share).

      I learned this good response from a friend on one of the cycling forums I visit: “It’s MY choice, not yours!”

      • dukiebiddle says:

        Really? It is in Maryland. Follow the link to State cycling law on your web page and it is right there in black and white. I have heard many references to this being the law in many states.

        • Ghost Rider says:

          Read the MD law again…it can be interpreted to allow road travel in Dottie’s “door zone” example above.

          § 21-1205…(iii) …When reasonably necessary to leave the bike lane or shoulder to avoid debris or other hazardous condition.

          Getting whacked by a door qualifies as a “hazardous condition” in my book…but convincing a judge may be a different story.

          • Ghost Rider says:

            I should add that a quick scan of the laws in FL, VA, Alabama and a couple other places I’ve ridden in do not provide specific wording that forces bike lane use.

          • dukiebiddle says:

            It’s funny how explaining to a judge that the police are ignorant of the law is typically a losing scenario for cyclists in traffic court. It is good to know that Maryland laws are the exception to most jurisdictions in regard to required bike lane travel.

          • dukiebiddle says:

            I am glad you pointed out my state laws are the exception. A couple of weeks ago, Alan at Ecole posted a bicycle safety video recommending that cyclists stay OUT OF the bike lane, for obvious reasons. I was dumbfounded. Although, I understood the reasoning, I wondered how and why a safety video would recommend breaking the law without acknowledging that they were recommending breaking the law? As it turns out, it is my state’s laws that are out of sync, and most other states have sensible laws for bicyclists. Who knew?

            I’m pretty sure judge would not consider the door zone a lane obstruction, unless there was an open door to make it such, in which case I would be expected to swerve to avoid it. Horrible law.

  2. early riser says:

    Oh Dottie, you’re going to kill off your loyal fans…

  3. John says:

    Unfortunately, the problem is not just drivers, but rather people in general. I suspect that the same discourteous drivers would be discourteous riders.

    Well, at least a bike is not a multi-ton 100+ horsepower vehicle.

  4. Ernie says:

    Dottie:

    I agree with our statements, and I always try to ride defensively when I ride in a bike lane. But one thing I am going to say about drivers by and by they obey the laws while people on bikes sometimes do not ride the way cyclists should; for example, cyclist go through red lights, ride in the opposite directions and just plain ignore laws. As a group cyclists need to follow the rules so car no how we are going to behave.

    • dottie says:

      I agree that a lot of cyclists disobey the law and that is a problem, especially for our image. Drivers disobey laws a lot, too, just different laws. For example, almost all of them speed all the time. Several have gone through stop signs and almost hit me. I always wait a few beats before starting at a green light because often people run red lights at the end.

      The point of this post is that some drivers honk at me because I am not in the bike lane. I refer to those drivers as dumb because they upset me :)

      • Unfortunately, car drivers do break all sorts of laws. Besides frequent speeding, have you noticed that turn signals have become optional? I almost got hit by a SUV, yesterday, because the driver didn’t signal until he started turning. Also, when cars break laws, the consequences can be far more lethal than when bikes do. That’s why driving is considered a privilage requiring a licence.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      ” …ride in the opposite directions… ”

      Actually, I’m a strong proponent of summary executions for any and all cyclists that ride in the opposite direction of traffic. Especially the ones that are coming right at me in my lane, with us both trapped between traffic and the parked cars. I love when they give me that “Why are you giving me a dirty look?” look.

    • Catherine says:

      I rode my bike for 6 miles on residential streets and for a bit on a bike path along a parkway today. You have to cross the parkway at a crosswalk to get to the neighborhood on the other side.

      I cannot be 100% certain of the speeds of the cars on the residential streets because I don’t have a radar gun, but I do have a bike spedometer and so I know how fast I was going (15), and was being passed by cars, most, going at least double my speed (30). Which would breaking the speed limit (25). While at a red light, I got over as far to the left as possible to allow whatever cars came up behind me to turn right on red. And they did, 2 of them. Neither actually stopped at the red light, though the second one did at least come to a rolling stop. First one, not so much. I saw at least 5 cars turn at lights/stop signs/into parking lots without using a turn signal, two drivers texting (including the driver who didn’t stop to turn right on red) and a whole bunch of drivers on their cell phones.

      While crossing the parkway, not ONE SINGLE car, out of 30 or 40 yielded to me, a pedestrian (I dismounted the bike, as is the law) in the crosswalk. The speed limit on the parkway is 35. The vast majority of the cars were going at least 50. How do I know this? A police “check your speed” billboard thing was nearby.

      Everything I just described is illegal. And that’s just the stuff I noticed in 30ish minutes. I’m sorry, but drivers do NOT follow the law at all. It may seem like they do because they’re easier to predict because we interact with drivers more often than we interact with cyclists (you just *know* which cars are going to try to but into your lane, and get a sense of when someone is preparing to turn left–even without the dearly departed turn signals).

      A car breaking the speed limit by even “just” 10mph is significantly more dangerous than a cyclist rolling through (not blowing through, but rolling) a stop sign (the most frequent complaint I hear about cyclists). Texting and driving is more dangerous than drunken driving, which is a whole other issue to itself (I’d be willing to bet that at any given time there are more drunk drivers on the roads than sober cyclists). Failure to use turn signals (the major reason for which is eating/using phone behind the wheel–the turn signal hand is being used for other things!) is inconsiderate, illegal and dangerous. The list goes on and on. Of all the things I think of drivers (as a whole, not individuals), the last thing that comes to mind is “law abiding”.

  5. Erich says:

    I have to agree. While cyclists may ride through red lights, coast through a stop sign without fully stopping, and disobey some traffic rules, all of this endangers only their own lives, and it’s recently been shown that 90% of all bike/car accidents are caused by the driver, not the cyclist.

    Drivers generally behave pretty poorly too, driving on the shoulder, running lights and rolling stop signs, stopping in the middle of a crosswalk, not looking before turning, etc etc. The big difference is their actions can kill someone. Most cyclists and motorcyclists I know ride with a sense of hyper-awareness of other vehicles, for an obvious reason. Because you’re so insulated and safe in a car most drivers are only somewhat aware of the vehicles on the road around them, even less so cyclists and pedestrians.

    I have come to the conclusion that no matter what educational steps are taken, drivers will not be safer unless they are forced to. This is why I ride the way I do, taking a lane, sometimes riding on the sidewalk, sometimes riding through intersections. It;s to minimize the chances of someone else not noticing me. We have our own bike pathway in my city, and while it’s beautiful in the fall and summer, it’s unrideable in the winter, and not maintained. Until a city makes the commitment to separate paths for bikes with reasonable maintenance year-round, we will never be as safe as we ought to be.

  6. Sungsu says:

    Thankfully, in British Columbia, there is no requirement to ride in bike lanes.

  7. dickdavid says:

    I’ve been hearing a lot about the problem with bike lanes and how they set the expectations of drivers. I still think we need them.

    Not just for safer routes, but also as an incentive to inspire folks to ride. There are a bunch of folks out there who want to ride/commute but feel it’s too dangerous to ride with traffic.

    Having bike lanes makes bike commuting more reasonable for beginners to start riding more. They make the roads accessible to those who would never ride on them otherwise.

    • dottie says:

      Yes, bike lanes are super important for getting people out there to ride. When I first started riding, I never would have taken the major roads in the city (the ones that actually get me places) if they did not have bike lanes or sharrows.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “Not just for safer routes…” But in their standard North American incarnation, they are not safer. All they do is corral the rider into a part of the lane that puts him or her in the door zone and the right hook lane at the same time.

      All they are good for is encouraging more people to take to the street and ride in the most dangerous part of the lane.

      “There are a bunch of folks out there who want to ride/commute but feel it’s too dangerous to ride with traffic” So we need to encourage both the false impression that cycling is dangerous AND that bike lanes are safer? The 3 top killers of cyclists on the street are, in sequential order a) drivers failing to stop at red lights and stop signs b) right hooks and c) car doors. Bike lanes make all 3 of these types of accidents more likely.

      There should only be two types of bike lanes: sharrows and separated lanes. If a city/community cannot afford separated lanes, and if they cannot pass sharrows, then they should go with the third safest option, allowing cyclists to use the streets in a safe manner.

      • dickdavid says:

        They’re safer around my neighborhood. Texas traffic is NOT forgiving to cyclists, especially roads that are 40+ MPH.

        Door zones and right hooks happen on the streets too and are not exclusive to bike lanes. Those are hazards bike riders just need to watch out for. You can’t just assume people are going watch out for you. I’ve learned that the hard way.

        “false impression that cycling is dangerous” ??! News flash: it is. Any time you share the road with 2-ton vehicles going 40-60 MPH, you are at risk – bike lane or not.

        Bike lanes may not be safer, but people are encouraged by them – people who wouldn’t normally ride on major streets – LIKE ME.

        As far as the top 3 killers of cyclists go, those are also not exclusive to just bike lanes. I’ve searched for actual, NON-PARTIAL statistics that actually say those accidents are “more likely” in bike lanes. However, all I’ve found were one-sided opinions – with no factual basis OR info for specific locations – not representing bike lane usage as a whole.

        I’m not saying it’s not true. I’ve just haven’t read anything other than opinion. My Google skills aren’t that great and I’m more than open to be corrected on this.

        I’m NOT stating that folks shouldn’t use the streets OR that bike lanes should be the only option. I ride the streets all the time – especially now that I’ve become a more experienced and confident.

        I’m just stating a fact that bike lanes (good or bad) give folks the sense of security (false or not) to get out there, which imo, increases the amount of riders on the road, therefor strengthening driver/cyclist awareness. Win/win if you ask me.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          I think it is obvious that we’re talking about two different environments. For that misunderstanding I apologize. I’m talking about urban streets in a city where 95% of all streets are at or below 30 or 35 mph. You are talking about a different environment where there are a significant number of 40+ mph streets. I do find it odd that there would be narrow door zone bike lanes on streets with 40+ mph, but I am not familiar with your environment.

          “Door zones and right hooks happen on the streets too and are not exclusive to bike lanes” They don’t happen if you are in the lane with the cars, but again, this is a difference between our two environments.

          ““false impression that cycling is dangerous” ??! News flash: it is.” I was speaking from the perspective of actual accidents, which are statistically rare, compared to driving accidents and pedestrian accidents; not from the perspective of potential danger.

          The study that I was referencing that shows that bike lanes are more dangerous for right hooks and door zone was the one carried out by London to figure out why women were dying 5 times more often then men, which found that women were dying in bike lanes and being crushed by trucks because they followed the law at red lights and where in a dangerous lane position.

          Door zone accidents only happen in the door zone. Lane splitting door accidents happen outside the door zone, but that is an entirely different situation. I don’t recommend lane splitting. I have 26 inch bars which stop me from doing so.

  8. Lorenza says:

    hello! ahhhhh… well, our cycle lanes here are 1m wide or less. I have to cycle out of them because I did have close impact with an opening car door thanks to a driver who ‘forgot’ to check his mirrors. Although we do have this so called cycle paths (only paint marked on the road) they are where the manholes, potholes and general poor condition of the road is.

    Such cycle paths go right in front of bus stops, so bus drivers take much pleasure in cutting you off when overtaking for a mere second before pulling in at a bus stop, thanks!

    Ah, and our cycle paths stop in the middle of nowhere and throw you back in the traffic when you least expect it, again veeeeery clever!!

    Anyhow, I rather have some faint painted line of a bike on a road so at least car drivers are aware they are not the only ones who ‘own’ the road ;)

    And I completely agree that they are one the few positive elements which will persuade a new cyclist to take to the road (I was one!).

    If more drivers also cycled, properly, not just in the park once in a blue-moon, they would be more aware of their attitude and position on the road. The few times I still drive (car hire etc) I now notice how much more aware I am of cyclist and pedestrians because I myself cycle everyday.

    There you go… cycling makes you a better driver! Now, shouldn’t that be a great slogan?? lol!

    xxx

  9. i feel your pain, bike lanes usually cause more head ache for me than anything. One road I travel often that has a bike lane, is nothing more but a narrow shoulder that was labeled a bike lane. its also obvious that the street sweeper never passes by it, as its full of broken glass and loose gravel. I stay on the road and have to endure the angry drivers who think i should be in the bike lane instead.

    The other problem here is that bike lanes sometimes run for 30 meters and then end. they seem to just be added to get us out of traffic for a few seconds then endanger our lives again by making us merge with the faster moving traffic.

  10. I’ve read(in Pedaling Revolution or Traffic?) that bikes lanes are safer than not having them, when they are wider, but more dangerous when smaller. The white line creates an expectation for the car driver, that the cyclist will stay on the other side of the line. Cars end up drive closer to cyclists, which make collisions more likely. So, unless the bike lane is wider than most of the ones I’ve seen, you’d be better off without them. Without lanes, car drivers won’t have feel that certainty which the line provides them, so they are more likely to give you more room.

    When I do use lanes, like the one you pictured, I really try to remember that riding or crossing the line will certainly be risky, especially if I don’t know what’s behind me.

    ps. Drivers are dumb! Cyclists too! We’re all dumb! What makes us dumb is, we all think we know more than we do.

    • dottie says:

      Great point! Drivers generally pass me much closer when I’m in a bike lane. Many seem to believe they don’t have to move over at all if I’m in a bike lane, despite the city’s 3-foot passing rule. If I’m on a street with sharrows or no marking at all, cars generally give me a wide berth.

  11. early riser says:

    Dottie,

    You might want to consider staying IN the bike lane and keeping an eye out for car doors. You are pushing your luck by pulling into fast traffic and I’d hate to see you get hurt. I think you have chosen the wrong place to make a “statement” about bicycle rights.

    • dottie says:

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I strongly disagree. I am not making a “statement,” I am riding safety. There is no safe way to keep an eye out for car doors with any certainty, especially in Chicago where there is a constant line of cars to my right. I am not pulling into fast traffic, I am maintaining a straight line on the road.

      I will always remember the danger of car doors by remembering Clinton Miceli, a cyclist killed in Chicago when a car door struck him and threw him into traffic, where he was struck and killed by a passing car.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      It is a pity that you have no familiarity with bicycle safety. Nobody is pushing their luck as a cyclist in a lane. Accidents in such situations almost never occur. Riding in narrow bike lanes, that are in the door zone, that are in the right hook zone, that have reduced visibility, is pushing cyclists’ luck. There is no way of “keeping an eye out for car doors” in the door zone. It is dangerous, period. Riding in the lane is safe, period.

  12. early riser says:

    Oh come on…you both know exactly what I’m talking about and you choose to make a stand in fast traffic, rather than use the bike lane. I realize the car doors can be a problem; that’s part of what you need to deal with in a big city. You’ve been given a bike lane. Refusing to use it sends absolutely the wrong message and does in fact put you at risk.

    • dottie says:

      No, sorry. I disagree. I’m thrilled to use the bike lane when it is either wide enough to avoid car doors completely or is not placed next to parked cars. This is a very serious safety issue and I stand behind my statements 100%.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      No, actually, you’re completely wrong. There is never an excuse to ever ride in the door zone, ever. The door zone must always be avoided. It is irresponsible toward your own safety to ever ride in the door zone for any reason.

      I’ve been given a bike lane in a disastrous and ill conceived, albeit well intentioned, part of the road. Bike lanes increase the likelihood of all 3 of the most likely fatal bicycle accidents.

      I’m not sure if I’m sending the wrong message by always riding in the safest manner possible, which is what I always do.

      Fast traffic? I don’t ride in fast traffic. I will ride in lanes with speed limits of 30 and 35 mph. On a city grid, 95% of all lanes are within this parameter.

      • dickdavid says:

        Ah, now it makes sense. Not everybody lives in the city. Where I live, some of the only ways to get across town is to take the major roads where the speed limit is 40 (which means cars are generally running about 50-55 MPH).

        I can see where, in a urban setting, you deal with more parked cars and sudden route changes – as well as lower speed limits.

        I deal with long stretches of FAST roads that often curve. Most drivers don’t see you until they are on top of you.

        • Trisha says:

          I agree — where you are makes a difference. In Nashville, in the one bike lane I use, I normally stay in the center of the bike lane since the parked cars tend to be there for the duration (especially in the morning). In Chicago I did not feel as safe doing so, since there was more turnover of the parked cars—people getting in and out, etc. Any cyclist should have the right to move out of the lane if necessary for their personal safety. As Dottie points out, a lot of drivers don’t realize we have that right, and it’s a problem.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          Yes, I too noticed that we were talking about two different cycling environments. I apologize for any misunderstanding.

          • dickdavid says:

            Regardless of environment, I’m learning more and more about real world cycling. I’m hoping I can take this knowledge with me no matter where I ride.

            Before reading this post and these comments, I would never have considered the dangers of door zones and right hooks.

            Stay safe, everybody!

    • Catherine says:

      Actually, I think the drivers have “been given” the bike lane. In most jurisdictions, bicycles are allowed on every public road that cars are allowed on (limited access highways being the major exception). That’s how it is, whether people like it or not. The bike lanes keep the bikes separate from the cars for the convenience of the car drivers–they now no longer have to be “stuck behind” a bike for all of, what, up to 45 seconds? They’re, to me, mostly a gift to drivers to help them get from A to B with as little brake-hitting as possible.

      It also sort of implies that any lane not labeled a “bike lane” is a de facto “car lane”, particularly to drivers who think that bikes are toys for children and not an actual mode of transportation. But all lanes are vehicle lanes–and vehicles are cars AND bikes (and motorcycles, and scooters….).

    • Why do you use regular roads, if you were given an highway?

      Try to change “bike” and put “car” on your speech so you can hear yourself.

      compliments

  13. ad says:

    At the very least, I always ride (and recommend others at the minimum do the same) to the very very far left of the bike lane–practically riding the white line seperating the lane from the “regular” traffic lane. This may tick people off, but I agree it is better to get honked at than hit by a careless person flinging a door open. Some of the worse accidents I have witnessed the aftermath of have been “dooring” related.

    Sorry to say this so bluntly, but people who ride in the middle or far right of bike lanes and think they can 100% predict/look out for doors are just plain wrong. If you ride in the middle or the very right in a bike lane, you run a very serious risk of getting doored with probably little to no chance to react before it happens. Vigilence clearly helps, but it can happen to anyone. At least when riding in the far left, I have been able to yell and have someone close a door before it was too late.

  14. dottie says:

    My experiences riding in Chicago color all my posts, of course. Traffic rarely has a chance to get much faster than 35 mph on most streets. The streets with faster traffic I simply avoid when possible. But as long as there are parked cars to my right, I do not ride in the door zone. Getting knocked into oncoming traffic that is going 45 mph should be avoided.

  15. I’m surprised that only one commenter has noted specifically that it’s the type of bike lanes that are the problem, not the principle of giving cyclists their own space. As a long time cyclist in the US I was at best leery of bike lanes for the same reasons, primarily that the typical door space paint stripe “bike lane” is just a well intentioned death trap.

    Then I moved to the Netherlands ten years ago and learned that getting the masses on bikes is actually dependent on having separated spaces for cyclists. But the door space lane is quite uncommon here and even where it exists the drivers are fortunately more aware of cyclists. True cycling infrastructure means physically separated lanes, and sometimes even completely separate roads that don’t necessarily even follow a car road. It also involves many other factors such as carefully designed intersections and underpasses and bridges to cross major car roads, and various tactics to reduce/slow/calm auto traffic.

    I didn’t write this to gloat, but to make sure it’s clear that the problem in the US lies largely with the terrible infrastructure for cyclists that forces them to ride at the fringe of or even break the laws for their own safety.

    Fight for proper cycling infrastructure which will get more people on bikes which will, in turn, make drivers more aware of and sympathetic to cyclists… making cycling safer.

  16. spavis says:

    quick cheap stupid fix: make the outside line of the bike lane a dashed lane instead of a solid line. This tells cars “I may not always stay in this lane so give me some space!” but keeps them from driving in it and maybe even prevents more double parking because it also says “this lane is still part of traffic”.

    I do like sharrows though, or maybe it’s that roads that accommodate sharrows happen to be the best roads for biking because they’re in that goldilocks “not too narrow, not too wide, not too fast” sweet spot that is good for cyclists.

    @early rider: thank you for proving dottie’s point about driver expectations.

  17. There is a difference between bike lanes built to keep bikes out of the way or begrudgingly painted to appease cyclists, and bike infrastructure, built to make cycling safe and continually improved. I’ve seen a lot of both in Germany and the NL, and yes, the former are often dangerous. The latter though, are great for cycling and encourage people to ride bikes.

    Drivers thinking bikes don’t belong on the road is the same with or without bike lanes. In a place like Germany where cycling is more common, it isn’t an issue. I know this because I ride just like Dottie in the picture where bike lanes put me next to parked cars, and I rarely get any aggression from the cars passing me. Some drivers may use bike lanes to re-enforce their predjudices, but I don’t think they cause it. Of course, that’s a European view…

  18. 2whls3spds says:

    I haven’t waded through the 40+ comments (yet). But too many driver’s in the US have no clue on how to drive. Yes they can operate a car, but they don’t know how to drive. We have brought driving down to the lowest common denominator. Pass a basic test, pay your fee and hit the roads. In NC Drivers’ Education lasts a whopping 40 hours; 36 hours of classroom and 4 hours of driving.

    Would you want an airline pilot or bus driver that has only been tested once in their lifetime, perhaps 25 years ago? Driving needs to be treated like the privilege it is and require periodic retesting, simulators to bring out bad habits wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    Aaron

    • E A says:

      2whls3spds – thank you for pointing out that driving is indeed a “privilege”. Too many kids grow up with the “expectation” of driving a car. They take one class, one test and they have the license to drive – (and to kill). On my ride home yesterday (on the bike lane’s white line), I mused that the driving age should be raised. In the US we have to wait until we’re 18 to vote, until we’re 21 to drink, but yet we can operate a 2-ton piece of equipment at the age of 16! At that age, most teens feel invincible. Some drivers do get better (like Trisha, I feel biking has improved my driving), but it should be treated like the privilege it is. Not the expectation.

    • Andy in Germany says:

      Agreed, driving is a privelege, and I think its about time we reminded ourselves of this. Is it a prevelege our society can afford to pass out to almost anyone, when so many are killed in motor vehicle incidents?
      I’m not sure about retesting though. In Japan, where drivers have a mandatory retesting every five years with classroom and road sections, driving standards are very low. My wife has a special gold standard licence which means she’s one of the safest drivers in Japan- because she didn’t have a reported accident in five years. This was because she didn’t drive in Japan during that time.

  19. Tali says:

    Well, cycle lanes in the door zone are just crazy. But at least you don’t have to deal with the English excuse for cycle lanes.

  20. Jeff Schneider says:

    In the US, every adult (practically) drives a car, and understands the challenges. We who cycle for transportation are a tiny minority. I don’t think most drivers want to do us harm. They just don’t understand the challenges of cycling; e.g., road hazards that force us to stray beyond the right edge of the road (or the bike lane). Lacking another explanation, they typically presume that we are trying to be a nuisance.

    We (unfortunately) can’t get many Americans off their fat asses and onto a bike. We can only ride defensively and predictably and hope that they begin to understand what we need to do. I ride in bike lanes where they exist, but always near the outside edge, as far from doors as possible. When parked cars, taxis, runners, skateboarders, drunken pedestrians (shout out to Wrigleyville!), etc. block the bike lane, I signal my need to move out of it, and do so gradually. I also take the lane when I am riding as fast as the other traffic is moving and there is not enough room for a car to pass me safely (e.g., on Broadway between Diversey and Wellington).

    I see a lot of cyclists who ride close to doors, swerve in and out of bike lanes, and ride in a generally unpredictable manner. It makes me fear for their safety and wonder about their sanity.

  21. Xtra says:

    The door zone sucks. Bike lanes in the door zone are a joke. As Henry stated bike lanes separated from auto traffic are the only sane solution that will get more people riding. It simply doesn’t feel safe riding in the door zone or next to traffic, especially if you ride with children, as I do. When I very occasionally drive I don’t like driving next to people riding bikes. It would simply be too easy to have a lapse in attention and seriously hurt or kill someone. Cars and bikes don’t belong together for the gerneral masses.

  22. sara says:

    There are very few bike lanes in New Haven. The main one in my neighborhood is thin (width is smaller than the one pictured above) and runs right up against parallel parked cars in a busy strip of small markets and apartments/houses. I am making no sort of statement when I choose to ride outside the door zone, often right out of the bike lane. I just want myself and my kids who are riding along to be safe.

  23. Sid says:

    Could the system be better? Absolutely. But I agree with most of Jeff’s comment above.

    While I don’t hug the inside of the bike lane, I certainly stay in it and devote most of my attention between intersections to watching for doors. Maybe I’m naive, but I believe I can minimize my risk by looking ahead to identify cars which have just parked or which people have just entered. Often I can see through windows or in mirrors which cars have somebody sitting in the driver’s seat. I know the high turnover spots on my route (watch out around Starbucks in the morn!) and use extra caution. Signal and take a lane if needed. Travel at a reasonable speed, be prepared to stop, ring a bell, give a shout.

    Just as we expect drivers to travel at a safe speed and practice defensive driving, I think I have the same responsibility as a cyclist. Yeah, sometimes it sucks and we’re definitely at a disadvantage, but until infrastructure catches up I believe anything we can do to maintain a positive image can only help our cause.

    Be safe, and practice whatever keeps you that way.

  24. I think that there are two simple explanations regarding why drivers behave this way. One is psychological: People have a hard time seeing things from another person’s perspective, if they do not go through the other’s experience. This is a big reason why people make fun of each other, misunderstand each other, criticise each other, etc.

    The other explanation is a legal one: I insist that many, if not most drivers are simply not aware of the law when it comes to cyclist behaviour. In 90% of the cases where a driver yelled at me, they seemed to think that I was not “supposed” to be doing what I was doing.

  25. [...] from the Chicago Police Department says loud and clear, bikes belong. A Chicago rider questions why bike lanes are bad for driver’s expectations. A cyclist is hit by a car on a narrow bridge because cars are parked [...]

  26. John says:

    Have there been any surveys to find out exactly how many drivers actually believe that cyclists belong ONLY in the bike lane?

  27. Lugged Steel Larry says:

    I stumbled on this quote today and it fits will with this topic.

    The sound of a car door opening in front of you is similar to the sound of a gun being cocked. ~Amy Webster

    I hate bike lanes. Few are well thought out and provide a cyclist with a safe and efficient place to ride. They seemed more designed to get cyclists out of the way of cars.

  28. Alex says:

    Last summer I was in an article about biking in the city (in this case Washington DC) – it was a little fluff piece but was postive about biking as a commuting tool and I was happy to be in it. In addition to the interview, they came out and took a couple photos and included two in the article.

    Almost all of thecomments on-line were negative – specifically commenters were focused on what I was DOING WRONG. Now, honestly, I wasn’t doing anything wrong or illegal – but everyone thought they could see things that PROVED without at doubt in their minds how dangerous my mode of commuting was and how dangerous a bike is on the roads. Amazingly commenters that claimed to commute via bike themselves were just as eager to judge negatively.

    After almost a year of feeling pretty confused about the whole thing – I have come to terms with the fact that Americans (both drivers and cyclists) are conditioned to believe the following:
    — bikes are dangerous
    — cyclists frequently break the law
    — it is usually the cyclists fault when there is an accident.

    (Please note, all of these assumptions can be found in the comments above)

    Personally, I believe NONE of these assumptions are true. In a city, a bike is a perfectly reasonable, acceptable, safe form of commuting (and it is a lot more fun than driving). Dottie’s points are right on the mark. I particularly hate bike lanes as around here cars view them as an extra lane, and trucks use them as an unloading zone – thanks but no thanks to that.

    When do we as cyclists move on from blaming eachother?

  29. Blue Monster says:

    It would make no sense to have a bike lane that is not safe enought to traffic. If it can be more harm than good do not expect the people to come and ride the bike.

  30. columbusite says:

    I just did a post on why bike lanes are bad including the door zone and exception of cyclists staying out of the “car lane” and in the bike lane. In the city, a lane is a bike lane. Period. Here in Columbus they put a narrow bike lane out on a sprawling arterial road. In order to reach this debris filled lane you must first bike across a highway interchange devoid of any cycle-specific infrastructure. Once there it’s very narrow, against the curb so there’s at least no door zone, but tons of curb cuts where drivers are pulling in and out of the numerous drive thrus and strip malls. Luckily, I live off of he main street where they’ve signed it for bikes and will be adding sharrows in the beginning of 2010. Now that is how you do cycling infrastructure.

  31. Tinker says:

    Considering that cars are allowed to park in the bike lanes, I can’t see how car drivers can reasonably expect us not to drive in ‘THEIR’ lanes. Of course, reasonable has nothing to do with the problem, does it?

  32. Christie says:

    I recently saw a very helpful video from Florida about biking in traffic, so I thought I would share. It is called “Bicycling in traffic is a dance you must lead” It uses a dancing metaphor for riding on roads without (and with!) bike lanes (take the lane!). I know it has inspired me to be more assertive and communicate more.

  33. scott t says:

    “There are a bunch of folks out there who want to ride/commute but feel it’s too dangerous to ride with traffic (cars and trucks i assume??).”

    this is probably true. that and a combination of hills or weather – infrastructure is foremost.

    if i could roll out of a neighborhood on a bicycle and hit a bikelane or bikepath to go anywhere i could via car i would bike more.

  34. scott t says:

    certainly a car door can swing out and hit someone. i guess there are some narrow streets where a car door can swing out and another car can hit the door??

    on busier roads i feel better in a bike lane. on low traffic roads they are mostly not needed unless i suppose neighborhoods border the roads and small youths would be better seen of spotted. that i am not sure about. all points to greater need fo bicycle only infrstructure in some areas.

  35. James says:

    You should have left your comment in. Drivers are stupid, particularly the ones that never cycle.
    Anyway, my take on bike lanes is this. Good cycling infrastructure and good bike lanes with no cars parked near them especially physically seperated bike lanes are terrific. Narrow bike lanes in the car door death zone are worse then not having a bike lane at all.

    My message to cycle infrastructure designers/ planners is this: Do it properly or dont bother. Rubbish infrastructure also creates another problem. People see it, see no one cycling then say cycling infrastructure is a waste of money. The reality is that rubbish infrastructure is a waste of money.

  36. Dottie says:

    Yes, that is the joke.

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