Guest blogger Greg Kushmerek continues his series of articles on bike commuting:
There’s a lot of arguments out there about whether bike lanes are good or bad, and a lot of the arguments against them seem to come down to “They create more problems for cyclists than they solve”. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but it’s an opinion I agree with with when looking at many implementations of bike lanes in my own area.
Consider Boston. Boston really should be a great biking city. It’s not that small, has lots of parks, fairly wide roads, and isn’t all that hilly right in the city area. However, biking in the city feels risky. The few attempts to put in bike lanes have simply stunk. The first bike lane I’m aware of is behind Jamaica Pond on Perkins Street. There’s some parking between the curb and the bike lane, and then the parking lane ends and the bike lane takes over. What happens is this: people fill up all the parking spaces and then just park right over the bike lane when parking runs out.
Now you can point your fingers at the Boston Transportation Department or Boston Police Department and say that they should be out there doing more ticketing, but that ignores the larger point. The implementation stinks. The bike lane competes with parking in a highly desirable location. The bike lane could have been one foot further out, eating into the regular road. This would make it clearer that there’s a real lane there. The lane could be using different paint than the simple white lines that, everywhere else in the city, denotes the shoulder.
Worse still is that the placement of the bike lane puts cyclists in a zone of danger. People come in and out of that area with their cars all the time to go walk around the park (yes, they drive to the pond to go jogging, but I’m not going there today — at least Massachusetts has the 2nd lowest rate of obesity in the country today). In other words, the risk of a cyclist getting doored is pretty good.
Imagine if the federal government had a law giving states and municipalities the incentive to put in bike lanes only if those lanes had little boxes all alongside them that randomly punched out at passing cyclists? That’s kind of what’s happening today. If you are resurfacing a road, you can ask the feds to chip in on the cost, which they’ll gladly consider if you agree to spray on some bike lanes.
So here we are: you have local transportation departments taking the cash and laying down lines about as close to the side of the road as they can get it, regardless of the parking situation. In Cambridge, MA, this led to a cyclist’s death a couple of years ago when a female cyclist in her lane on Mass Ave was doored and fell to the ground in front of a passing bus.
I don’t think this automatically makes all bike lanes bad. I think that bike lanes are a really good thing when they’re done correctly. I point to The Netherlands as one such example of doing these things well frequently, but this time I don’t have to look so far. Right in Newton, on Beacon Street, the town effectively cut the road in half by making a shoulder out of what was an unofficial second lane. It’s not now considered a bona fide bike lane, but that’s how it’s frequently used by many commuters and college students. Parking is limited and where there is parking, a passing cyclist has enough space to get around the car and not be in traffic.
I’d like to see more of this, and I’d like to see the feds put in some guidelines on just how a bike lane gets implemented rather than having them simply hand over a check.
What do you think makes a successful bike lane? How can the policy be better?Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Filed under: Cycling, Policy, Transportation |