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Posted by on Oct 29, 2008 in Safety | 9 comments

Video: the case for leaving wide lanes alone

The following video is a segment of what Brian DeSousa shot with me a few weeks ago. This follows the Orange Avenue footage as we turn right and head South on U.S. 17-92 (Mills). Mills Ave. has 15ft curb lanes. They are a foot wider than the FDOT “standard” width which is considered share-able between a bike and car. I have ridden on this road in heavier traffic and used a lane-sharing position to accommodate the traffic flow. Motorists will typically move to the far left of the lane and the passing clearance is adequate. But in light traffic, it is not necessary to accommodate same-lane passing. Motorists can use the left lane easily and without delay or inconvenience.

Some notes about the video:

  • In the first 20 seconds we encounter diagonal RR tracks which require us to use most of the lane to cross safely (perpendicular). Our consistent, prominent lane position has encouraged the passing motorists to file into the left lane, giving us the ability to make this maneuver without having to negotiate a merge.
  • We pass several cars approaching from side streets. We are in a prominent position, making us clearly visible to those drivers. There is a slight downhill grade on this stretch of road, a cyclist of average ability can easily achieve 20mph (we are soft-pedaling and probably going close to that speed). Crossing crash-risk increases with cyclist speed.
  • There is standing water several feet from the curb in a few places. We don’t have to alter our lane position to avoid it.
  • If there was a bike lane on this road, it would be several feet to the right of where we are riding. And motorists would most likely be less tolerant of our lane position. (No one honked at us.)
  • From 1:10 to the end of the clip (2:31) only one car passes. We had the road to ourselves almost all the way to Princeton (I cut the video just before I rode up next to Brian to discuss where we should go next).

The City of Winter Park wants to stripe a bike lane on this road. Why? Because, it’s low-hanging fruit in the game of “let’s look like we’re accommodating cyclists while we brick all their preferred routes.” But that stripe and all its detriments will be there 24/7, while the road only has heavy traffic for a few hours a day M-F.

I understand cities wanting to be progressive. What I don’t get is cyclists who know better promoting things that don’t benefit cyclists in order to convince more people to ride.  A month ago, I read an article which extolled the virtues of bike commuting beautifully. It hit all the high points—fitness, money-savings, freedom, being connected to the community, feeling like a kid again—but the author fell into the trap to which so many of us are vulnerable: “How do I convince other people to ride, too?” Apparently, the virtues are not enough. He wrote:

The addition of bicycle lanes on the major arteries of town would be of great benefit to riders. Though it may not create more actual space, it will encourage drivers to be aware of a cyclist’s claim to their pavement.

The addition of extra space on a major artery can be of benefit — although, make no mistake, the primary benefit is to motorists. When that space already exists, as suggested above, adding a stripe is of exclusive benefit to motorists, while causing numerous problems for cyclists:

  • It causes that area in which you were probably already riding to collect debris.
  • It reduces your legitimacy to control your environment and encourage greater passing clearance when traffic is light.
  • It discourages fast-moving cyclists from riding farther left, which they need to do for increased visibility and recognition by crossing and turning motorists.
  • It causes motorists to pay LESS attention to you because you are out of the way, on the other side of a line, and not a factor for which they need to concern themselves. As a result, motorists are less likely to move over, so they pass you closer.
  • Motorists are expecting you not to leave that area, so any time you have to make a lateral move, it must be done with more negotiation than if the stripe was not there.
  • Motorists are more likely to pass you and then turn right across your path.
  • They are more likely to not register you and turn left across your path (you are also more likely to be hidden from view by same-direction motorists who have just passed you).
  • Motorists at side streets are also more likely to look past you, as their focus is on the primary traffic lane.
  • It attracts the wrong-way riders who believe that line is giving them a safe haven.
  • It lures novice riders into feeling safe when they have no idea how to position themselves safely at intersections. This is especially problematic in a commercial area like U.S. 17-92 North of Orange Ave.

A wide curb lane is ALREADY a bike facility. It accommodates cyclists of ALL speeds. You don’t need a painted line to legitimize your claim to pavement. The law does that. If you ride confidently and respectfully, you’ll be treated with respect by the majority of motorists.

There are some places where the stripe can offer psychological comfort without as many operational detriments to the cyclist. Where there is less urban density and few cross streets, the crash risk decreases. But typically, traffic speeds are higher and there are more large vehicles, so the conversion of an existing wide lane would be inadequate. Wide curb lanes are ~14 ft. A standard bike lane requires several feet more.

Most cyclists don’t want to be concerned with these details, but it’s important for all of us to understand these things. We must be careful what we ask for in a culture that prefers us out of the way and is inclined toward giving us miminum-to-inferior “accommodations.”

Promoting cycling should not be done at the expense of an environment which supports the best practices of safe and effective cycling. It should not be done at the expense of the cyclists who have taken the time to learn the best practices of safe and effective cycling. It should certainly never be done with an illusion which could lead the cyclists who have not yet learned the best practices of safe and effectve cycling into danger.

Like this: Cyclist, 22, Dies After Being Hit by Truck Near Dupont Circle

9 Comments

  1. These are great videos. They show how bicycles can operate safely and in harmony with other vehicles.

    I’m surprised to read that the lane in which you are riding is standard width or greater. It appears much smaller on the video, but I understand that the wide-angle lens tends to distort reality.

    As I watched the video, I thought about the distinction between sub-standard width lanes and standard width lanes and the allowance in FL 316.2065 that says a cyclist may use the entire lane when it is sub-standard width.

    Since the lane in which you were riding for the video was standard width or greater, you should have stayed as far to the right as practicable. You did. It was not practicable to cross the tracks in a dangerous manner and it’s not practicable to ride in standing water. Your management of the lane enabled you to ride safely and as noted, caused no problems with other vehicles.

    These clips and your narrative go a long way to support safe cycling practices.

    I also enjoyed the comparative shots of roadways of the same width, with and without bike lane stripes. Clear passing differences are seen and the un-striped road is safer for riders, for all the reasons you’ve listed. Would those “Bicyclists may use full lane” signs be more practical (not practicable) and less expensive than paint stripes? The signs aren’t likely to collect debris either!

  2. Fred, you’re right about us riding as far right as practicable in this wide lane. However, we would not have to make that case at all if the discriminatory FTR law was stricken from the vehicle code. Then we would simply follow the law that applies to slow moving vehciles — riding in the right lane available for traffic with no micromanagement or need to justify our position in that lane.

  3. I often wonder what good is done with obscure laws, specifically with respect to the general public’s interpretation of them. When I was stopped for riding in the traffic lane, many moons ago, even though it was stripe-riding at the time (before VC smarts), the law enforcement officers from this small Volusia city used a pamphlet from a charity bicycle ride as the reference to tell me to ride in the shoulder.

    Yesterday, a LEO from a slightly more educated city asked me why I was riding in the middle of the road. He told me that Florida law says I have to use the sidewalk. I know better and gave him the statute number, but “his computer was down” and he’d give me the benefit of the doubt.

    I’m not sure what FTR stands for, but figure it means stripe-riding or gutter-bunnying. Even if the law were removed, there would be too many people ignorant of the change, I believe.

    Your efforts and results in the bus banners for the three-foot passing law probably informed more people than any other affordable method available today.

    Since I’m inside my human powered vehicle, I don’t have back-space on which to hang banners, but I’d love to have the billboard space to put those signs that read “Bicycles may use full lane” for the following traffic to read. The only problem with that is that there are too few cyclists in the right position to display them.

  4. The FTR law is 316.2065 (5) Roadway Position.
    It is explained here:
    http://floridabicycle.org/rules/bikelaw.html

    But our ability to use the word “practicable” properly doesn’t much matter when law enforcement has a different idea of what it means. Legal ambiguity rarely results in an interpretation in the favor of a minority.

    Law enforcement doesn’t care for ambiguity either. It would be helpful to all concerned to eliminate a law that is so ridiculous it requires a long list of exceptions just to provide for the safety and self-determination it takes away.

  5. Keri, I going to play devil’s advocate for a minute here …… ;)

    I think you picked “low hanging fruit” in this video sequence. :) A low speed, 4 lane road offers easy opportunity for cars to pass and traffic “flow”. Consider filming on a 2 lane road, with a higher speed limit and a double-yellow center line. I think you’ll see more congestion, more backup (less flow) and perhaps even some honks …

    Also, I think the very act of filming helps “tame” the surroundings. Certainly if I was in a car behind a cyclist that was being filmed, I would be extra-careful of my actions ….

    Finally, I think bike speed is an issue when talking about bike lanes. Putting aside the safety arguement for a moment, give someone a bike lane, and they can putter along at whatever speed they want with no concern for traffic behind them. Putter along when taking the lane and I’ll guarantee some hostile glances and possible bad actions from motorists …

    OK, no longer devil’s advocate ….. ;)

  6. Putting aside the safety arguement for a moment, give someone a bike lane, and they can putter along at whatever speed they want with no concern for traffic behind them.

    I can do that in a wide curb lane, too.

    This post is specifically about the argument against converting a wide curb lane to a bike lane. The pavement width gives you all the advantages already. The stripe only creates disadvantages. And as I said, if I am in dense traffic, I share the wide lane.

    I won’t argue that a narrow 2-lane road in heavy traffic is problematic. I ride on a few of them. I have found ways to mitigate the issues. One way is using traffic light sequences to get the road to myself. There are some 2-lane roads I can avoid at heavy traffic times by using low-volume residential work-arounds. There are some roads I can’t avoid, but sometimes it turns out that the traffic is so dense my presence makes no difference. It merely delays the motorists behind me from reconnecting to the back of the traffic jam 20 seconds sooner. The fact that some can’t recognize the big picture in that case is a cultural problem we need to fix, not coddle.

    Motorists delay me in narrow lanes a whole lot more than I delay them!

    It seems like an easy pick to use video with long periods of no traffic, but that IS how many of our roads are, most of the time. Even at rush hour. I want people to realize that. Look at the opposing traffic lanes in the video. They have gaps too.

    If you want to see more video with high-speed and dense traffic, look at the other CyclistView videos. Orlando traffic is more docile than LA traffic.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/CyclistLorax

  7. BTW, the camera lens is very small. Not much bigger than the blinky lights on my helmet. It’s not something an overtaking motorist would notice or recognize. To them, we just look like 2 cyclists in the lane.

  8. Keri, I think the lack of ambiguity in 316.2065(5) is what keeps me from getting a ticket/citation when I am stopped by law enforcement. As you noted, they don’t care for ambiguity and it helps to have specific reference for them. I’m always friendly when stopped, since an angry officer is never a receptive one. Yesterday’s stop was amusing, as the officer spouted his “usual” request, “Can I see your driver’s license and registra… can I see your driver’s license?”

    I agree that removing that “as far right as practicable” is of great benefit. Sometimes I get concerned about the reference to “safely” in 316.2065, since I’m the one who should be determining if a motor vehicle can safely pass me, not an observer/leo. At least they put the sub-standard width reference in the statutes, even though the validation to that figure is in FL DOT specs and not in the statutes.

  9. Putting aside the safety arguement for a moment, give someone a bike lane, and they can putter along at whatever speed they want with no concern for traffic behind them.

    Except that in urban settings, they appear to have the same risk of getting hit from the rear by overtaking motorists as do cyclists on non-bike lane streets, and if they have to swerve out to avoid an obstruction, they have an increased likelihood of being struck by an overtaking vehicle.

    Thinking you are safe doesn’t make you safe, and even most big-time bike lane proponents will admit that what they are pushing is the illusion of safety to get more cyclists on the roads.