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Posted by on Jun 24, 2011 in General, Safety | 24 comments

Being Irrelevant

I experienced a superb example this morning of how bike lanes can make cyclists irrelevant.

Rosalind Avenue through downtown Orlando has a designated bike lane.  While it’s next to on-street parking, it is wide enough for a cyclist to stay out of the door zone, and in the morning there are very few cars parked there anyway.  Since Rosalind is one-way, there is no concern about left-cross conflicts and crashes.

Relatively few motorists make right turns from Rosalind in the morning, as most of the large office buildings are on the left.  Still, I always keep an eye open for right-turners.  I’d have a very tough time making the case to a police officer or judge that staying in the bike lane at that time and place would put me at risk, and of course we now have a mandatory use law…

As I approached Church Street this morning I saw a van coming up in my mirror, right turn signal flashing.  Seeing we would be reaching the intersection at about the same time, I placed all my attention on that vehicle.  The signal had been green a while, and wouldn’t be changing soon.  Moving out of the bike lane was not an option; she was too close.

As we both came to the intersection, sure enough, the driver turned right across my path.  A bit of braking on my part averted a collision, though at nowhere near the level of an emergency stop.  I yelled out “Hey!,” but saw not the slightest hint of a reaction from the driver.  She pulled into a parking garage and I figured it wasn’t worth my time to pursue her further.

There was no other traffic around for her to be concerned about.   No pedestrians, no potential conflicts with other vehicles.  It wasn’t even one of those situations in which the cyclist is going fast, the motorist passes, get well ahead, misjudges the cyclist’s speed, and assumes the cyclist is well behind.  No, we reached the intersection at virtually the same time.

My presence was simply irrelevant to her intentions at that moment.

24 Comments

  1. Mighk, I have found that a left turn signal can often work wonders in a situation such as yours, because it is a sudden unexpected change that may serve to draw the motorist’s attention to what the crazy cyclist will do next. If she sees it and suddenly slows, you can take an appropriate action and you have defused the conflict in any event. If she continues on, you have less doubt that you are on your own and have a stronger story about any evasive action you subsequently have to take. If she slows to let you in, most police would cut you slack for that short “drinking from the wrong fountain” transgression. As you know, under normal circumstances, a cyclist must be very careful about signal timing because they seem to transfix motorists.

  2. Was there an unneeded right-turn arrow pavement marking in the travel lane at that spot as shown in the aerial photo? I suspect that these markings next to bike lanes are a bad idea as they may lead motorists to believe there is no need to check right for bikes before turning. Pavement arrows usually mean that there are no potential crossing conflicts if you following the direction of the arrow(s). But this is not the case here.

    Also, does your mandatory bike lane law require you to stay in the bike lane before intersections? Certainly you can leave the lane to prepare for a left turn. But not to go straight where there is potential for a right cross?

  3. Gary is on to a key point here. Having a bike lane to the right of a car right turn lane is insanely dangerous and a violation of the CROW engineering standards. Intersections form the #2 source of danger to cyclists that comes from cars, so it is important that they be designed correctly.

    Here is a video that shows how to do intersections right:

    • But having a sidepath to the right of a right turn lane is fine? *yawn*

      • Gary,
        More precisely, I think the problem is that the lines are used to keep motorists from merging into the bike lane before the turn. Novice bicyclists don’t want right turning cars in the bike lane, and local (MD, DE) traffic engineers don’t want bicyclists to leave the bike lane and possibly interfere with motorists. This prevents motorists and bicyclists from choosing a clear path before the intersection.

        Kevin,
        This is a US bike lane, and it is standard design in many locations. National standards say the bike lane should not be solid where there is significant traffic turning right, but (i) this is a combined straight / right turn lane so motorists and advocates prefer to keep bicyclists out the same lane as motorists going straight even if it creates turning conflicts, and (ii) there are many bike lanes to the right of RTOL lanes. The standard may be very weak (maximum broken bike lane of 200′ with 600′ RTOL), or simply ignored with impunity (old and new bike lanes to the right of RTOL onto interstate highways that prohibit bicyclists).

        Your Dutch design lets motorists go straight, while bicyclists have to negotiate with motorists coming from 2 directions, and may have 2 sets of lights. The design works not because it routes bicyclists to the right of RTOL, but because Dutch motorists are punished for hitting people without cars. Otherwise, It seems a lot simpler to let all straight traffic go straight, and have turning traffic has to yield to other traffic as they do anywhere else.

        DE and MD engineers conversation and designs are quite clear that motorists have the right of way over all bicyclists (regardless of legal wording). US motorists are rarely penalized for hitting other motorists. They are almost never punished for hitting pedestrians or bicyclists. Without Dutch (or Canadian?) laws, facilities without ROW won’t make US bicycling safer or convenient enough to be useful.

        Angelo Dolce

  4. It’s not next to a dedicated right turn lane; it’s beside a dual destination lane.

    To Gary’s question about leaving the bike lane: the blocks are very short through here. I’d have to weave back and forth almost constantly. Or of course just stay out of it altogether. Yes, I could make a solid argument for staying out of the bike lane, but hardly anybody around here would buy it.

    • Yep. To avoid the exclusion zones, you’d be in and out of the bike lane every 10 seconds. I have video riding like that in D.C. showing how absurd it is… and we have that video of us in Tallahassee.

      It’s a nuisance to those of us who know the risks and have to keep changing lanes or monitoring 360°. The intended user of a bike lane doesn’t know these things, and in the same scenario would probably have gotten hit.

    • Rosalind is quite problematic because it’s also a major transit line with most routes coming from the south and east using nearly its entire lenghth – buses have to weave between the right travel lane and the bike lane as well as the parking aisle. That bus bay in front of Orange Co. Admin should be a bulbout instead of a bay as far as I’m concerned.

      • Good point about buses, Laura. The stop at Central is particularly problematic, as it requires bus operators to cross the bike lane and pull into the parking lane; the rarely do because there’s such little time and distance to do so. So they end up partially blocking the bike lane. That’s where the bulb-out is really needed. (Actually the County Admin. spot isn’t a bulb-out candidate because there’s no on-street parking along that block.)

        Eliminating the bike lane and adding that width to the sidewalks (and maybe adding sharrows to the right and left outside lanes) would solve all these problems. Reduce the signal progression speed, too.

        • I like my bulbout idea in front of OC Admin because the bus doesn’t have to move out of the travel lane. I agree, the bike lane isn’t really needed or needs to be on the left hand side.

      • Yes, that is the only place I’ve had a really bad experience with a Lynx bus. The right lane is so narrow, they have to move into the center lane to avoid buzzing a cyclist who is staying clear of the door zone.

        I can only imagine it must be stressful for the drivers — having to pull across the bike lane when traffic is slow enough that a cyclist could ride into their blind-spot. Other cities put bike lanes on the opposite side of the street from the bus stops. But, of course, I like Mighk’s solution best. Boy would that be a victory for thoughtful street design!

        In addition to the short blocks and bus stops, putting a bike lane on a one-way street makes it problematic for a cyclist to use the left lane. If I’m turning onto Rosalind at South Street and going to the courthouse (for example), I want to use the left lane the whole way, not the bike lane with all its problems then have to negotiate across 3 lanes of traffic. Of course, I do use the left lane, but with added stress of harassment and the fear of an uninformed OPD pulling me over thanks to HB971.

        I’ve seen too many people ride up the bike lane and then swoop across all three lanes to make a left AT an intersection… perhaps they don’t think they’re allowed to be anywhere else.

      • How about banning motor vehicles (at least straight-going ones) except Lymmo buses from Magnolia and turning it into a two-way bike boulevard? Sharrows could be placed next to the centerline, and buses and right-turning cyclists would be on the outside. Then they could remove the bike lane from Rosalind and still claim a victory for facilities. Am I missing a problem with this approach?

        • I use Magnolia a lot to avoid having to ride in the bike lane on Rosalind. The problem is signal timing. I almost always get every light red no matter what speed I ride. In order to have a separate signal phase for Lymmo, the lights are long and the timing is horrible for the street (NOTE: this is the same kind of delay created when you have to separate phases for a cycletrack – only the cycletrack ain’t gonna be the one with priority).

          • The idea is that all vehicles would get the same phase on Magnolia – buses going straight, bikes going any direction, and possibly other motor vehicles with local business turning right. Think of it as a ‘center bike lane’ or ‘centerpath’ with no left-turn conflicts.

          • Any sort of signalization is wasted on downtown Orlando cyclists. 95% of them obey no rules whatsoever.

          • NE2, What happens when a cyclist with a green light turns across the lymmo lane while a bus has a green light going straight?

          • It would be sharrows, not a bike lane. If necessary, signs could show how a right-turning cyclist should merge into the bus lane.

          • The bus lane is separated by curbs, stations and RPMs… it’s not set up fer merging.

          • I know – I’m talking about a total reconfiguration.

  5. I had something similar happen to me, once. About the only difference was that I had taken the whole lane. The car approached from the rear, changed lanes to the center lane and then made the right turn from the center lane.

    After all, I’m a pedestrian on wheels, right? All I have to do is stop “walking.” And so I did.

    • I’ve been hooked from the left lane a few times. But that’s not a matter of the cyclist being irrelevant, it’s a matter of the motorist being an asshat.

    • I can one-up you on that :) I right-hooked a car in the right turn lane while on a bike in the second lane. Really stupid thing to do, caused by lack of thinking after my water bottle fell. (No crash happened and I retrieved the bottle, but it could have been bad.)

  6. Any hope of getting that mandatory bike lane law repealed?
    I’m afraid I’d finish up my law abiding law life by becoming a hardened scofflaw with that law. Making the choice between the courtroom and the morgue- that’s no way to live. Just the feeling of having to break the law to protect my life- and then to have to justify my actions to someone else- that is very wrong.
    No law should require you to endanger yourself to obey it.

    • If I understand correctly, the only thing changed by the bike lane law is what police and the public think when they see you outside the bike lane. The pre-existing as far right as possible law already required riding in the bike lane, at least by some interpretations, and both have the same exceptions (so you can legally ride outside the bike lane if it’s unsafe, but try explaining that to the cops): “When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition, including, but not limited to, [...], that makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge.”