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.