West Colonial has a bike lane that’s offset from the curb. I’ve driven past it a few times, but I have yet to ride in it because I never have a reason to go that way by bike. The offset section is between Kirkman and Tampa:
View larger map
(The satellite data is old, it shows construction out near Kirkman which has been completed.)
First of all, west of Kirkman, Colonial has a regular 5ft undesignated bike space. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to refer to these as bike lanes. None of them are marked with signs or stencils, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince a police officer or judge that the MBL doesn’t apply to them. The following photo shows the variation in vehicle sizes and passing clearance one can experience in a 5ft bike lane that’s next to a 12ft highway lane.
The next photo shows how much space a truck uses in its lane. Yes, I realize the truck is not centered, and hopefully it would not have been tracking on the line if there was a cyclist using the bike lane. If you mentally move it over to the center of the lane, you can see there still is not operating space and appropriate passing clearance for a 2-ft-wide bicyclist.
Debris tends to collect within a foot or two of the curb, forcing the cyclist to ride closer to the line. That does not leave much buffer from large vehicles unless the drivers deliberately move over. Some do, some don’t.
The image to the right is a video still of a truck passing me in the bike lane on Orange Ave. (similar lane widths to Colonial). It was centered in its lane. As comfortable as I am in traffic, I find that nerve racking. Imagine how this impacts the intended user — someone who is ostensibly too fearful to ride without a bike lane. The image below it is a video still of a truck changing lanes to pass me as I controlled a travel lane on Tradeport Dr. — way more comfortable.
This is one major complaint I have with the bike lanes on our arterials. No other driver must rely on the deliberate action of a driver in an adjacent lane to receive comfortable passing clearance. In addition to plenty of space in their lanes, the drivers of cars benefit from a protective shell of metal, glass and upholstery. Motorcycle drivers are entitled by law to the full use of a lane, giving them a generous buffer on either side. But we, who are most exposed and passed with the highest speed differential, are required to use lanes barely wider than our bodies and to rely on the consciousness and kindness of other drivers to move over within their own lanes, even as we are made irrelevant to them.
A study done for Metroplan found fewer than one in ten bicyclists used the bike lane rather than the sidewalk on arterial roads with these 5ft lanes. The counts were low, too. This kind of infrastructure doesn’t invite people to take up bicycling. It functions more like the shoulder of a forgiving highway, increasing the ease of speeding and inattentive driving.
The curb-side buffer
The first thing one might wonder is, why not put the buffer on the left side. The answer is, because that would actually decrease the cyclists’ safety. The further cyclists are removed from the traffic stream, the more “invisible” they become to crossing and turning drivers, by virtue of reduced sight lines and general irrelevance. The overwhelming majority of bike-v-car crashes are caused by crossing and turning movements. Colonial is lined with commercial properties with numerous driveway entrances.
The diagram on the right (click on it to enlarge it) shows how the Colonial lane configuration compares to a regular 12ft travel lane and a standard 5ft bike lane. The hazard zones, a concept developed by Dan Gutierrez, are explained in this animation.
The “crossing crash hazard zone” could also be called the “zone of irrelevance,” as it is outside the focus area of crossing and turning drivers. A cyclist is most relevant when operating prominently in a lane of traffic and least relevant on the sidewalk. Offsetting a bike lane with a curbside buffer discourages cyclists from riding in the zone of irrelevance.
How it happened
This space began life as a parallel parking lane. That’s why it is almost twice the width of a standard bike lane. I’ve been told engineers don’t like to make 9ft bike lanes because they might be mistaken as traffic lanes. Thus, the space had to be divided. We can thank Mighk for the placement of the buffer where it is.
As for the comfort and safety of this vs a regular 5ft curb lane, I only have dashboard observations and one positive testimonial from a CyclingSavvy graduate whose confidence and traffic tolerance is similar to mine. I’d love some more feedback on the actual experience from people who have used it, especially those who use it regularly. I do plan to go out and ride it, but not in this heat (the radiant temperature from that sea of asphalt exceeds my tolerance).
The first thing I noticed is that the debris seems more likely to accumulate in the buffer area than in the bike lane. Also, because the width of the bike lane pavement does not include a curb edge or gutter seam, it allows the bicyclist more usable operating space. I noticed bicyclists were tracking near the right edge of it. They couldn’t get this much buffer from passing cars in a regular bike lane without riding in the gutter pan. Here they are 5ft from the curb.
As I mentioned above, Colonial has very little uninterrupted curb — commercial driveways every dozen feet offer continuous potential for turning conflicts.
Motorists should look, yield and merge to the curb before turning right, but I saw few do that. Most turned across the lane. However, the position of a bicyclist in this bike lane is more relevant, reducing the the likelihood of the completely oblivious variety of right hook.
This space allows the Lynx buses to pull completely out of the right lane to pick up and drop off passengers. This doesn’t do much for bicyclists, but it keeps cars from getting stuck behind them when they stop. I wonder if it’s more of a pain for the bus drivers. Just like for us as slow vehicle drivers, once they leave the flow of traffic, they have to negotiate to get back in (there’s a law requiring drivers to yield to them, there’s also more immediate motivation not to). The bus in the photo below idled there for several minutes (the cyclist was already on the sidewalk several blocks away — the bus had made several previous stops, so it’s possible the cyclist chose the sidewalk to avoid leap-frogging the bus). I noticed pavement damage in the bike lane at several of the bus stops, but didn’t get any photos.
At John Young Parkway, the bike lane is sacrificed for a right turn lane.
An uneducated bicyclist has no idea how to deal with this. Some ride on the edge of the right turn only lane, others use the sidewalk.
The bike lane resumes on the other side of John Young, but only for a block. And then it unceremoniously dumps its users to the right of a right turn only lane.
So long, buddy. Don’t let a car hit ya on the way out.
It would be better if the bike lane ended before John Young and cyclists were encouraged to move to the thru lane. That’s where I would stop using it and prepare for a lane change to the center lane well ahead of where the bike lane ends. Unfortunately, its existence is likely to produce more harassment for safe, mindful handing of this lane drop.
Social concerns aside, my criteria for an acceptable bike lane is that it doesn’t decrease safety or level of service over controlling a regular travel lane on that road. (I define level of service by actual function: efficiency, workload and passing buffer NOT how it makes a timid person, who knows nothing about crash causes, feel.) This lane appears to come close, considering that it provides for reasonable operating space between the hazard zone and passing buffer.
I still prefer the idea of making it normal and expected for cyclists to use the right travel lane, or even making the right lane into a bike/bus facility. The expectation of full lane integration carries over to all roads, pushing us toward a belief in equality, whereas the expectation of segregated space reinforces the discriminatory root beliefs that bikes don’t belong on the road with cars. Besides, there aren’t too many roads with unused 9ft parking lanes waiting to be converted into bike lanes. Adding that much pavement to new construction seems environmentally foolish (for that matter, many road expansion projects are, too).
It would be better for cyclists, and the encouragement of cycling, if there were good east-west alternatives to this hellscape of a traffic sewer. But in the land of disconnected subdivisions, the existing alternatives are equally unpleasant—busy arterials or busy two-lane roads. There aren’t any quick fixes to decades of dysfunctional land use and wasteful attitudes.
If you ride this road, let us know what it’s like — passing buffer, turning conflicts, dealing with buses.