3 Jul 2009
I think I hate bike lanes
I went for a bit of a meander-y bike ride today. For a good bit of it, I was on San Pablo Ave (see map below.)
San Pablo Ave is 4 lanes of automotive traffic, and has occasional bike lanes. At one point I was honked at, presumably for not being “in my place” in the bike lane. I’m not sure I was flipped off, but I sure was startled so just in case, I flipped the bird in return.
The idea of the bike lane is a good (if naive) one. Separate cars (thousands of pounds traveling at moderate to high velocities) from bicycles (tens of pounds traveling at more modest velocities).
The problem actually comes because they partly, but not completely remove bicycles from the roads. They diminish the presence of bicycles in normal lanes giving automobile drivers a false sense of proprietary rights which is magnified by risk delta of a collision. I’ve been honked at, yelled at, flipped off, even chased down in suburbia to be told off for my perfectly legal and perfectly safe behavior.
There was an OpEd piece in the C’ville Weekly some years ago (shortly before we moved away) where an angry driver was writing in to complain about bicycles on one of my favorite stretches of road (Earlysville Road) after a piece covering an event on that road with a bicycle/automobile collision. The premise of the OpEd was that bicycles shouldn’t be allowed on the road because it’s dangerous. But cycling is quite safe. What’s dangerous is motorists who travel at velocities that exceed their ability to react to the unexpected. The unexpected could be a fallen tree, a stalled vehicle, a bicycle, it doesn’t matter. As a motorist, you need to be able to deal with those things, and pass around them when it is safe to do so.
And the thing is all of that would be true even if bike lanes were great places for bicycles to ride, which is so rarely the case. As they are typically at the side of automotive spaces, they accumulate the debris, and cast off from automotive traffic. And I don’t just mean discarded soda cans, but gravel, glass and other debris that is pushed from the main thoroughfare by the automotive traffic. Further, they often contain drainage grates, which, depending on orientation, can either be annoying or downright hazardous to bicycles. The sorts of crap that is in bike lanes, were it scaled to do as much damage and disturbance to automobiles and put in automotive lanes as it does to bicycles in bike lanes would have drivers up in arms. Bike lanes also begin and end at apparent whims. Sometimes you’re “safe from traffic” then moments later, you’re pushed right back out in it. What’s the point?
So, honk away. Spit and curse. I’m riding where it’s safe, convenient, legal and expedient for me to do so.
On the good side of the ride, I pulled over at one point, because I saw a sign last minute for a bike route to el cerrito, so deiced to cross with the pedestrians. I fell into a conversation with a pedestrian who “used to ride”. He recommended the “Oakland Yellowjackets” for a group ride. So if I’m feeling early and social, perhaps I’ll go ride with them tomorrow. (Odds are low I’ll feel early and social tomorrow. But it could happen! )