Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Gotta Keep'em Separated

You can paint whatever lines on this street that you want- It doesn't mean a thing.
It always seemed pretty obvious to me, but I have been commuting by bicycle for nearly 18 years now. Mostly on the same route too. What I noted a long time ago was that if you can separate yourself from traffic, you are safer. So, when I first heard about "protected bicycle lanes", essentially a bike path with some sort of physical barrier between cyclists and traffic, I knew that was the way to go when it came to designing paths and roads for cycling.

Then I saw where a study by two universities basically have come to the same conclusion. The studies say that cities with protected bike lanes realized a 44% reduction in fatalities for cyclists. No kidding! It was one of those, "Did they really have to spend money on a study for this?" moments for me. But then again- like I say- I've been in this game for almost two decades now.

Another chunk of personally observed experience came into play last year when the fair city of Waterloo, Iowa took a four lane street and divvied it up with painted lines and reduced the available lanes from four to two. They also reduced the speed limit to 20mph. Most of the time there have been no barriers except for a few months last year where they set in some pole barriers to direct traffic around the convoluted painted "bike lane", but only at intersections.

I've been paying attention to this and have cycled this street a lot in the last year. By the way, I never use the painted in "bicycle lane". Why? Becuase of what I observe as a situation that is unsafe, and definitely not as safe as using the wide sidewalk which runs nearly the entire bike lane on this street. My reasoning is that, based upon my observations, that drivers are far less likely to strike me with their vehicles when I am on a slightly elevated paved surface protected by a curb.

Pathways separated from motor vehicle traffic are my preferred routes to take, when the take you somewhere.
I have observed drivers going right over the "bike lane", and the lower speed limit? Ha! NEVER been enforced. Cars still speed along at 40mph all day and night on this stretch of city street. In Winter it is even worse, as the painted lines are often obscured by snow and ice, and by Spring are in dire need of repainting. Which, they may as well not bother with, as ineffective as the "bike lane" is in regard to motor vehicle traffic.

So, I get it. The study verifies my findings as well. Get cyclists and motor vehicle traffic separated and everyone will get along better and there will be less injury and death. It's a no-brainer. And I should be completely transparent and fair and tell you that this street which I used as an example is supposedly due to get a make-over which will feature separated bike lanes. Physically separated bike lanes. But I thought this from the onset- don't do a half-assed job and paint of bunch of lines on a street. That doesn't separate us from the dangers of traffic. It is pretty much a waste of effort and money. Do it right, or don't do it at all.

So, until it is done right, and we get separation, I'm going to create my own separation whenever possible. You can bag on me all you want for riding the sidewalk downtown, but I'm not willing to trust distracted, uncaring, unskilled drivers in three to five ton boxes of steel, plastic, and rubber barreling down this street at well over twice the posted speed limit. And of course, we all know that if I were in the street and got taken out by one of these people driving a motor vehicle, that they would get off with a mere slap on the wrist while I'm either dead or maimed. Nope. Not gonna take that painted, so called "bike lane" ever. 


Phillip Cowan said...

These painted "sharrows" have popped up all over my town. While I applaud the city for trying to do something I also notice that these painted bike lanes are on some of the busiest and most dangerous streets in town.It's obvious whomever put them there has never spent a minute commuting by bike. What's really ironic is that often a block or two away there is a parallel street with much less traffic. I always wonder "why didn't they route it through there". Being cynical by nature I always wonder if they're trying to thin the herd. It's not paranoia if they're really out to gitcha, right? In my younger more foolish days I was a proponent of vehicular cycling. Now I realise that even though I may have the right to be on a certain road with the cars it does no good if they bury me and my rights in the same hole. Physically separated is the way to go.

Chris K said...

I thought the Park Ave painted lanes were a fiasco from the get-go. Much more dangerous weaving in and out to accommodate the right-turn-only lanes for the cars. Whoever dreamed that out was truly out to lunch. I much preferred the original 4 lane 30 mph configuration, felt much safer biking in the right lane as traffic knew where I was and much easier to avoid the bicycle.

Greg said...

I coudln't agree more Mark. It's why I also stopped riding on streets/road riding more than 15 years ago. If I can't ride on a designated "path" or country gravel road (with virtually NO vehicle traffic) I'm just not gonna ride.

youcancallmeAl said...

so you transfer the danger to pedestrians

baric said...

Iowa City and Coralville have had this for a few years now in some neighborhoods and
streets. They have gone out of their way to build as many separate wide bike lanes as possible. Lots and lots of bicycles there. But South Gilbert St. from downtown south, a semi busy thoroughfare, has its outer lanes open to traffic but designated as bicycle lanes. Three of their main local bicycle shops are all located on this street right next to each other. Scares hell out of me just driving down this street and thinking of the possiblity's. Here in Sioux City, excepting for a few trails along the rivers and creek, which right now keep getting flooded and mudded, all this city has done is put up a few signs designating certain streets as bicycle routes. Ha!. Even the longstanding, hardcore bicyclists around here are lamenting how dangerous it's getting to ride around this area. Hell, it's even getting more dangerous just driving a car here.

Michael said...

I’m generally pretty comfortable with riding in traffic, but the standard I use to judge things is “would I want a 7th grader riding this” And the answer, on streets with almost any traffic at all, is generally no. We’re getting more separated bike paths where I’m at and they really are the way to go.

Rydn9ers said...

Very few collisions occur between pedestrian and cyclist, such a low number that almost nobody keeps statistics on them. When these do occur I would bet most of them are minor injury collisions; as I said very few statistics on this but that is what leads me to my conclusion, there is nothing the general public likes more than showing hatred towards cyclist on the road, cyclist on the sidewalk, cyclists in their own driveway, etc. so you know if there were crashes occurring regularly between cyclist and pedestrians there would be statistics and an outcry to do something about it. A few thousand pedestrians and cyclists get killed by motor vehicles and it's just business as usual but there are enough that statistics are kept and relatively easy to find. So, while there might be an almost imperceptible shift of "danger" toward pedestrians I think that the benefits from keeping yourself separated out weighs an imaginary danger. Cyclists and pedestrians already share space on multi use trails and even protected and/or painted bike lanes when pedestrians wander onto those and they do so relatively safely. If legislators aren't going to protect vulnerable road users, instinct and common sense take over.