Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Protected Bike Lanes Or Nothing

A recent incident in Red Wing, MN  destroys a historic building.
I commute a lot, I suppose, by bicycle. I wouldn't say I am any better than most using bicycles that commute. Average? Yeah.....probably. So, I don't think I am one of those commute by bike types that has a huge amount of credibility in the space. But I have an opinion and lately I've seen some things that have prompted me to speak out on the subject today. That subject being protected bike lanes and dedicated infrastructure for cyclists. 

Here where I live there was almost zero dedicated bicycle infrastructure for cycling commuters and utilitarian purposes in the decades before 2010. Now granted- we have a 100+ miles of recreational trails. Woo Hoo! and all that. But recreational trails for cycling are not the same as dedicated infrastructure which carries cyclists - and let's not forget about pedestrians- to destinations like schools, workplaces, and retail spaces. Here we've had nothing of that sort until very recently. 

Some would argue here that we've had "bike lanes" available for quite some time. Uh huh.......did you say "bike lanes"? What you really mean is that we have painted lines on a road that magically will protect me from vehicular traffic, right? Sorry, but I don't believe in your painted line magic. 

I've had incidents over the time I've commuted by bicycle in nearly 20 years. I've seen cars nearly crash onto bridge lanes dedicated to cyclists/pedestrians. I've had cars attempt to run me down as I crossed the street in Waterloo as a pedestrian- twice. Once as I had my elementary age children by the hands. I've been struck by a drunk driver while standing alongside a gravel road and sent to the hospital. You might understand then why I am reticent to believe that a painted line and a series of cute representations of bicycles painted on pavement would prevent me from being struck by motor vehicles. 

A recent building's destruction in Red Wing, Minnesota is just another example of how reckless motor vehicle operators just do not care when it comes to the safety of others. Let's imagine Red Wing had painted bike lanes here. (They may very well have- I do not know) Say a cyclist was coming home from an evening out and this red SUV had come screaming through Red Wing at a high rate of speed and..... Well, you see how that may have come out, yes? 

Would a protected bike lane have saved anyone here? Hmm...... Don't know, but the person would have had a chance versus what was there, which was pretty much nothing. So, forgive me if I would rather distance myself from painted bicycle lines in Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I don't trust a car, truck, or motorcycle operator and making my chances higher for survival means staying off streets without any protection - physical protection - from motorists. I take ways which cars are less likely to take, or cannot take. Sidewalks? Better to have a curb there than nothing. But as witnessed in Red Wing and in other places, even the fact that motorists need to stay in their lane is not always observed. 

Stay safe. Be observant. Always assess your situation. Don't believe in painted lines. That's just pure foolishness.


Phillip Cowan said...

My automobile commute is 11 miles. When I go by bike it's 16 miles, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. It seems most every state in the union has some version of a "complete streets" law whereby all forms of travel should be accommodated. However it's quite obvious that the law is pretty much ignored in most cases.

MuddyMatt said...

Exactly the same in the UK - never trust paint! My commute by bike is also 4 miles longer! And still no guarantee of safety.

Stay safe everyone!

Nooge said...

Even when they try to separate cars and bikes with protected lanes they can still cause dangerous situations. For example in the Detroit area many different approaches have been tried. One design has parallel parking and physical barriers between the traffic lane and cycling lane. But the parked SUVs so common nowadays act like a wall that makes it very hard for cyclists to see cars and vise versa, especially at intersections.

Usually the physical barrier is just nailed down plastic tubes which provide no real protection against cars. Within the first 3 months many were knocked down already. A physical barrier has to, at a minimum, damage any cars that hit it to change behavior. Even better would be 3 foot high concrete dividers that are used to separate oncoming traffic. That’s the standard used to protect cars from other cars, so it ought to be considered the minimum standard to protect more vulnerable road users.

Zed F. said...

Paint helps guide competent, attentive drivers. That's it. It doesn't help against the intoxicated, stupid or malicious. Is that worth anything? Maybe. Paint is cheap, so it can be cost-effective even if it's only marginally effective.

Guitar Ted said...

@Zed F - And tell me this- How can you tell who is a competent driver and who is not from the saddle of a bicycle? (I suppose it could be anyone up until someone hits you, right?)

Paint is cheap, my life is not.

Zed F. said...

G.T. there are two big problems here.

First, it will take a long time to build enough protected bikeways for people to bike everywhere they want to go. If we let perfect be the enemy of good, we won't get anywhere.

Second, the Federal Highway Admin's safety page has no studies on bike infrastructure rated at better than 3 on a 5 point quality scale. Also, the results from different studies disagree. I don't think we really know yet what works and what doesn't.

Guitar Ted said...

@Zed F - We don't know what works? Really? Well, you can believe that all you'd like. I know what works, and that is staying away from traffic as much as humanly possible.

And it isn't possible to segregate yourself from traffic in many places. And yes- it will take YEARS to rectify the situation, obviously. I think that everyone agrees with that. But in the meantime, painted lines don't do jack. Not where I live. Your mileage may vary.

So, when should we start separating traffic from peds and cyclists? The sooner the better. Wishy-washy solutions are not what we need, and won't prevent interactions between cyclists and motorists. It isn't "the perfect being the enemy of the good", because in this situation there is no "good" option, so to speak.