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Posted by on Feb 11, 2011 in General | 18 comments

Ferncreek: A Case of Unintentional Manufactured Conflict

Can you tell this lane is full of glass?

Last Friday evening I was riding in the bike lane on Ferncreek and encountered a solid pile of broken glass extending from the gutter to the stripe. The road was dry and the glass was glittering in the afternoon sun, turning the bike lane white. Although I saw it ahead, I was pinned in the bike lane by overtaking traffic and had to stop and wait for the cars to pass before I could move out to get around it.

The photo on the right is from two days later. The glass had been spread by the rain from the original pile all the way past the intersection. It was still a tire hazard, but much harder to see and avoid. I suspect there will be glass along this stretch (southbound between Concord and Vermont) for weeks.

Last time there was a large field of glass in this bike lane, glass shards remained for over a month. Apparently, the street-sweepers don’t pick up glass. However, you won’t see any of this glass lingering in the general use lane. If the rain spreads it there, the cars will sweep it back into the bike lane. Glass doesn’t cause a motorist to have to fix a flat tire on the way to work or lunch or the grocery store.

Unnecessary and Detrimental

Click the photo for more images of bike lane debris

The bike lane on Ferncreek is an unnecessary symbolic gesture. Frankly, the road was fine in its old configuration (a narrow lane southbound and an extra-wide lane (with occasional parked cars) northbound. By moving the stripe to the center of the road, the city had an opportunity to create a wide lane in each direction. That would have been a fine configuration, allowing for easy release of overtaking motorists, but for a cyclist to maintain adequate sight lines on the approach to the numerous intersections. Wide lanes would have been swept clean by the variations of motorist lane position. Thus the additional pavement would have been more useful to cyclists, as well as more optional.

Sadly, we are enduring a stage of bicycle policy-making in which actual utility takes a back seat to symbolic accommodation. Instead of 15ft of usable space for cyclists to position themselves as practicable, Ferncreek has ten feet of clean pavement for the exclusive use of motorists and 5ft of filthy and sometimes obstructed pavement that bicyclists are mandated to use.

Unintentional Manufactured Conflict

The top images is the old configuration, the bottom image is the new one.

The sight line issue is a significant problem. At several unsignalized intersections the cyclist in the bike lane is obscured from the view of crossing drivers by poles or trees. In the old configuration, a cyclist could easily move slightly leftward within the lane, to the left tire track, to be visible to crossing motorists. Now a cyclist must change lanes from the bike lane to the general use lane in order to improve sight lines. Doing this every 300ft becomes tiresome. It would be easier to ride farther left and move right when practicable and warranted to facilitate passing (ie, when motorists could not easily pass otherwise). But the stripe makes that difficult, legally and socially.

At the signalized intersections of Livingston and Amelia, there used to be a left turn pocket which facilitated thru traffic. With a simple move of a few feet, I could position myself on the left side of the thru lane to increase my visibility to drivers turning left from the opposing side. After the repave, the striping crew correctly re-striped the turn pockets, ending the bike lane before the intersections. But someone nixed that. The new paint was blacked out, removing the turn pockets, and the bike lanes were striped (with a dashed line) to the intersection. The problem with this is, left turning traffic causes cars to back up in the thru lane. Cyclists are encouraged to pass the queue. Those of us who don’t pass the queue now have to negotiate out of the bike lane and move clear across the general use lane to get to that safe position on the left side of the lane.

Animation

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The animation above shows the conflicts that are created by this configuration. These are not theoretical conflicts. In the months since this road was repaved and striped, I have seen them all. I avoid passing the queue, but if I did, I would have had several close calls already. I have gotten trapped in the bike lane a few times by overtaking cars and had to approach the intersection with extreme caution from that disadvantaged position.

This intersection position is taught in motorcycle training. It applies to bicycle drivers for the same safety reasons.

Where Ferncreek intersects Robinson and Colonial, the bike lane ends in order to make room for a left turn lane. This configuration works much better. Unfortunately, uninformed cyclists (I used to be one of them) complain about the bike lane ending before an intersection where they feel most insecure. Most people have no idea that staying in a bike lane increases their risk of being hit at an intersection. (See What’s Wrong with This Picture? and Preventing the Left Cross)

First, Do No Harm

It’s time to take a sober look at what we’re doing with public policy. Bike lanes have become an orthodoxy in promoting and accommodating cycling. I believe one day we will look back upon this like we do the notion that the earth was flat. Collective experiences, observations and a thorough understanding of what causes crashes all point in the same direction.

  • Bike lanes manufacture conflict at intersections.
  • Bike lanes collect debris which would not collect in a wide or narrow lane
  • Bike lanes encourage motorists to pass without slowing or moving to the left (In studies that have demonstrated this, the fact of closer passing was masked by the authors reframing it as less “encroachment” into the other lane. IOW, they don’t move over! Here are 2 examples: Bicycle Facilities Added and Red Shoulders).

It sucks to stand up against orthodoxy. It’s unpopular and we all know what happens to heretics. But this is an orthodoxy that increases risk to the very people who are least informed and equipped to deal with it. That is an ethical dilemma worthy of a whole lot more consideration than it is being given.

There are better ways to promote and accommodate cycling.

18 Comments

  1. Love the sight line graphics….really illustrate the point.
    Fern Creek used to be one of my favorite low-volume two-lane streets in downtown Orlando. I love the new smooth pavement…can do without the debris field, er, bike lane.

  2. Keri! You are getting very good with those animations… they make everything pretty damn clear. Is that some new platform or are your skills just getting better all the time?

    • Thanks Rantwick!

      It’s the same software: Flash. I’m just learning to use it better.

  3. Awesome work. One little thing. I don’t understand the difference between the “screened” and “opposing” left cross types.

    • In the opposing, the traffic in the cyclist’s lane is stopped by a car waiting to turn left, but when a car in the opposing lane arrives at the intersection to turn left, both are released to turn. This is completely unpredictable to the queue-jumping cyclist who can’t really see what’s going on at the intersection. So the cyclist is passing stopped traffic that is jammed up by the impeding left-turner, then suddenly both are released. It’s similar to the screened cross, but there is more impetus to pass because the queue is not moving even though the light is green.

      I’ve watched this play out from behind the queue… where the cyclist would have been me if I didn’t know better.

  4. Great animation skills!

    Insanely crappy bike lane. This definitely needs proper Dutch-style infrastructure.

    Where do I start…

    First, a five-foot cycle lane is too narrow for safety. A cyclist is approximately three feet from elbow to elbow. Another 1 1/2 feet on either side of swerve room is needed for safety. This gives a minimum safe cycle lane width of six feet. Dutch guidelines give a little more room for extra safety: 2.5 metres.

    Second, a 15-foot lane is inadequate for a motor vehicle to overtake a cyclist within the lane. Florida law allows motor vehicles to be up to 8 1/2 feet wide. Motor vehicles also require at least 1 1/2 feet of swerve room. Add in the six feet required by cyclists, and one gets a minimum of 17 1/2 feet required before it is safe for a cyclist to be passed within the same lane as a motor vehicle.

    Note that this is where the “three foot” rule comes from. My 1 1/2 feet of swerve room plus the motor vehicle’s 1 1/2 feet of swerve room equals a minimum three foot distance for passing.

    • “This definitely needs proper Dutch-style infrastructure.”

      Pffft!

      It’s a 30 mile per hour residential collector. It doesn’t need any damned “Dutch infrastructure.”

      • It doesn’t even need paint.

      • “Pffft!”

        Nonsense, Keri. Of course, this is possible. Only one side of the street would have to be taken.

        Lessee, those houses and offices are going for ~$200,000 a piece? Times what? 200 houses? That would be only forty million dollars!

        Just think, $40,000,000 and we can have a separated dutch style lane and this would make Kevin oh so happy.

        • :-D

        • Ooops! Dropped a zero, It is actually $400 million. Sorry.

        • Yes, proper cycle infrastructure is so stupendously expensive that the Dutch are forced to bankrupt themselves by spending the whopping sum of 30 euros (about $40) per capita every year on construction and maintenance costs.

          And they’ve had to keep spending this year after year!

          Car infrastructure alternatives are so much cheaper, of course. Why I’ve seen proper Dutch-style infrastructure for all of Orlando costed out as about the same as two I-4 interchanges!

      • Residential zones are the ones that need Dutch-style infrastructure the most. That is where children are playing!

        Dutch infrastructure enhancements range from semi-permeable barriers to prevent “rat-running” to the use of woonerf or “home zone” areas.

        Here is a video of one such example of excellent Dutch infrastructure. Note that none of it is segregated. There are not even any sidewalks for pedestrians! But there is a hopscotch court in permanent bricks in the middle of the road.

        http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2008/12/what-are-roads-for-part-two.html

        The Canadian version of this has nets for road hockey in the middle of the road. Local culture…

        I note that you have complained about ratrunning in the past. See how this has been completely eliminated. Those who care about safety for families tend to push for infrastructure like this. If the video had been taken when the children were out of school, one would have seen lots of children playing in the street and on the local play equipment.

  5. “I believe one day we will look back upon this like we do the notion that the earth was flat.”

    The problem is that “one day” might be past when we care any more. What’s needed are “one day” accelerators. Preferably before they put anything like that in my neighborhood…

    • The “one day” accelerators are us. Every person who recognizes that bike lanes do more harm than good needs to speak up. There are a lot of people who nod their heads or express agreement privately, but the policymakers cannot hear them.

      Who they hear are the screamers who write 2-page diatribes accusing the city of being hostile to cyclists because there isn’t a bike lane on this or that road. If that’s the only constituency being heard, we’re all going to get stuck with what they want.

      • Keri,

        It bothers me that a poorly designed and poorly maintained downhill DZBL (door zone bike lane) in Boston Mass contributed to a cyclist fatality on Dec 6 2012. The only “safe” part of that particular bike lane would have been the 12 inches on the left side of the lane. (I’m not ignoring the fact that I AM safer when I effectively communicate and control the adjacent vehicle lane as I travel straight through an intersection.)

        I am writing to point out how a case could be made that the wavy washboard like left side of the DZBL for over 100 yards before the fatal crash that day was caused by braking action of Bus and truck traffic.

        You’ve written an informative post here and I have no doubt you understand how the waviness on the left side of DZBL bike lane would channel a beginner to intermediate cyclists to ride on the side of bike lane closer to the potential successive dangers presented by opening car doors.

        On Dec 6th bike lane riding cyclist Christopher Weigl’s was probably preoccupied with being door’d to the exclusion of riding with an open focus on all other possibilities (i.e. a tractor trailor from two lanes to the left taking an illegal right hook in front of him).

        • Hi Brad,

          Is saw the reports about the crash you mentioned. I looked at the google map and noticed it was a door zone bike lane. I think I read it was a downhill bike lane, his speed certainly suggested that. So, yeah, on so many levels that bike lane is just unconscionable. With a very, very sad consequence.

          You may find some helpful resources here: http://iamtraffic.org/

          Specifically: http://iamtraffic.org/resources/infographics/
          and
          http://iamtraffic.org/2012/12/behaviors-and-risk/
          (that’s part 1, part two will talk about how infrastructure can support successful behavior)

  6. What I meant to convey in my previous post is that I absolutely agree that governments in general have a poor track record with maintaining bike facilities and admitting how their last poorly thought out “solution” did not solve a physical problem or educate enough people.

    Below was written in response to a door zone bike lane death in Boston area over 10 years ago by John Allen and John Schubert

    “The solution to the problem is simple but elusive: Don’t ride in the door zone.
    This means that government agencies have to do two things:
    (1) Give bicyclists proper instruction, as the Departments of Transportation in Ohio and Pennsylvania have done.
    (2) Don’t paint bike lanes in the door zone.
    “A bike lane in the door zone misleads most people,” added John Schubert, another bicycling author and safety expert. Schubert, who helped get Bicycling Street Smarts published as his state’s bicycle driver’s manual, added, “I was writing government guidelines about avoiding the door zone 24 years ago. We are supposed to know better. Door zone bike lanes are a sad example of government that won’t admit its mistakes.”
    Allen pointed out that most bicyclists need “permission” to ride outside the door zone, and a bike lane in the door zone seems to withdraw that permission.
    “Every vehicle operator has the right to operate his or her vehicle in a manner consistent with his or her own safety,” Allen said. “And a bicyclist is a vehicle operator. A bicyclist shouldn’t cringe to the right for the convenience of overtaking traffic, any more than a minivan mom should whenever a sports car appears in the minivan’s rear view mirror.
    “For decades, we’ve been teaching bicyclists to ride confidently and safely, with great results. But we can’t teach everyone. And our efforts to make safe cycling practices into general knowledge are thwarted when the government paints a bike lane in the most dangerous place.”
    Years earlier, Allen had pointed out a study that found a high rate of dooring collisions in the Boston area to the Cambridge city government, together with a plea to avoid “door zone” bike lanes and a safer alternative plan. His plea was ignored.
    “I know all too well the desire to ‘do something’ for bicyclists,” Allen said. “And when you paint a bike lane, it’s a highly visible ‘something.’ That doesn’t make it right. Sometimes, doing nothing is best. Sometimes, a different accommodation is the safest.
    “A bike lane in the door zone is never safe. I told Cambridge that years ago, and now I’m sorry to have to repeat the message.”
    Schubert added that he’s seen “too much creativity” from planners and designers anxious to make their mark on the world.
    “Traffic engineering isn’t a game,” Schubert said. “If you screw it up, people die.”

    THEIR IS A NECESSARY CYCLICAL NATURE TO EDUCATIONAL EFFORTS. SOME MESSAGES NEED TO BE REPEATED AGAIN AND AGAIN STRATEGICALLY.

    The tragic death in Boston will somehow serve to increase awareness in the short term at Boston University but hopefully the struggle to get educational efforts like a “cycling savvy” program will get funded soon.

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