Too Complicated

I think I am on pretty safe ground when I say that eleven pages shouldn’t be necessary to explain a single, tiny aspect of traffic design to drivers.

Yet, that is exactly how many pages the City of Minneapolis used when they published “Bike Lane Basics” complete with diagrams just in case the text doesn’t do it for you. Here are all the different types of bike lanes a driver is likely to encounter in Minneapolis.

Nine different types of lanes. Nine different rules. Tons of ways to get a ticket.

It gets better. At intersections, they have something called “shared space” where the cars are supposed to yield to a cylist on his right when making a turn. Yet, the cyclist is instructed to, “use caution and assume turning or merging motorists
do not see you.”

Gee, I wonder why they wouldn’t see you. After all, you are in the bike lane which is supposed to make you safe from those evil cars that are trying to kill you.

I can assure you that motorists have absolutely no trouble seeing me when I am in the middle of the lane and crossing the intersection with the cars rather than staying way over to the right.

There is more to this publication, but you really have to read it to believe how complicated trying to comply with the law gets and how hard it will be to educate drivers and cyclists on how to use these things. We can’t even get cars to use all-way stop signs properly, but drivers are supposed to learn that,

Before turning across a cycle track, look over your right shoulder
and check for bicyclists approaching the intersection. If a bicyclist
is approaching the intersection, you must yield and let them pass
before turning. Bicyclists may be more difficult to see because they
could be coming from behind parked cars.

Emphasis mine.

19 replies
  1. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    I would think that educating cyclists in safe riding habits, ala Cycling Savvy courses would result in the lack of need of material of this nature.

    I don’t understand how the people involved in creating these total messes on paper can be so blind to educating riders. It can’t be that hard. Keri is turning out smarter, safer riders by the dozens. Okay, well, Keri is superhuman, but some sub-humans can be trained to teach too!

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      Not just cyclist education, but motorist education to keep them from killing the cyclists when the cyclists are following one of the nine “rules” as stated by this brochure.

  2. BikingBrian
    BikingBrian says:

    Well, at least page three says there’s no law requiring use of a bike lane. Take that, along with the appropriate legal references, to court when you fight your ticket.

    I can just imagine the “advisory bike lanes” in Orlando, leading to sideswipe crashes as well as doorings.

  3. Angelo
    Angelo says:

    Am I missing something, or are these rules clearly written by people that don’t think bicyclists have the ROW, for people that don’t ride (i.e. rules by motorists to keep bicyclists out of the road).

    While the section on bike lanes says bicyclists are not legally required to use the lanes, the exceptions mentioned are to pass other bicyclists, avoid obstructions, or prepare for turns. Doesn’t mention exceptions to avoid turning cars.

    Bicyclists are told to wait behind motorists entering bike lanes to make turns – this is not an approved reason to change lanes and pass them on the left. If they pass right turning motorists on the right, the motorist is supposed to use caution to avoid bicyclists riding where they are difficult to see.

    Similarly, only the section on cycle tracks says bicyclists are allowed to change lanes to avoid motorists illegally parked in the track. In Philadelphia, the motorists are not yet penalized for parking in the new bike lanes. (A few new lanes replace parking or general lanes. Motorists can’t park in most of the bike lanes because 5′ door zones are too narrow.)

    I’ve generally found if traffic is complicated enough to have right turning and (oncoming) left turns, cars are forced to slow to reasonable speed to avoid hitting other cars, and passing on the left is far easier than hoping they can see me in their right side blind spot.

    This attitude is dismissed by advocates, who say we need these lanes so we have some place to ride.

    The planners reply to the problems with bike lanes to the right of right turn arrows and across the entrances to gas stations (at intersections) and shopping centers by saying the paint should make motorists aware of the dangers. (I had requested they use sharrows to move bicyclists away from the driveways and to the left of the RT arrows. I thought this would make the motorists just as aware, and actually reduce the danger for bicyclists that left the gutter. The planers strongly disagreed.)

    Is there some way to make them actually use the facilities they build?

  4. Brian
    Brian says:

    Am I missing something, or are these rules clearly written by people that don’t think bicyclists have the ROW, for people that don’t ride (i.e. rules by motorists to keep bicyclists out of the road).

    I think it would be more accurate to say that these rules are written by people who don’t think bicyclists want the ROW. That, as the last 40 years have shown, is an accurate description of more than 90% of the US population. Unfortunate, but true. The Minneapolis rules seem complicated, but they deal with the equally complicated reality out there on the roads better than the VC-or-don’t-ride-at-all mentality does.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Competent and predictable or don’t ride at all. I’m fine with that.

      The end does not justify the means. And the means won’t produce the end that exists in the bike advocate’s fantasy world.

      Face it, a double-digit percentage of Americans are not going to switch to bicycling, no matter what you build. Until driving a motor vehicle becomes prohibitively expensive, bicyclists will be a tiny minority of road users. Increases in incompetent and unpredictable cyclists will infuriate the majority of road users and drive a retributive cycle that puts bicycling at risk of onerous restrictions — essentially killing the benefit of riding for competent bicyclists.

      There is no long-term benefit to encouraging people to ride without learning how to do it safely. It’s a dead end. Once you teach people how the roadway works, they don’t want to ride on these facilities. The facilities then create a prison for them since it is socially unacceptable and often illegal not to use them.

      Rather than waste money on the folly of trying to trick people into riding bikes, let’s focus infrastructure funding to facilities that create access and benefit bicyclists (paths like Cady Way on suburban corridors and short segments that connect low volume streets).

  5. Keri
    Keri says:

    It’s eleven pages of wasted print. Motorists have no reason to seek out and learn that information when they can’t even remember they’re supposed to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. But even for those who do read the information, the behaviors required to deal with some of this infrastructure violates the intuitive rules of the road by placing thru traffic to the right of turning traffic. In the real world, the complexity of intersections requires forward attention. A facility that divides attention to the rear decreases safety for everyone AND is destined to a high failure rate.

    They are complicating the hell out of the roadway with a system that has built in human-capacity-failure, which results in bodily harm to the most vulnerable user. Then they are using said system to attract vulnerable users who don’t understand the points of failure.

    Some day bike consultants and advocates who push this garbage will be viewed in the same historical context as snake-oil salesmen and bloodletters. Until then, our only hope is to educate enough people to understand how the roadway functions that we can run these fools out of our towns.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      “In the real world, the complexity of intersections requires forward attention.”

      I would have thought that to be self-evident, but to the writers of this pamphlet. When I am preparing to make a right turn, I am watching to see if someone is trying to turn left and making sure the car in front of me is not stopping short. The LAST thing I will ever do is look over my right shoulder.

      Can’t you imagine cars plowing into each other because they have their heads turned around looking in vain for a cyclist to pop out from the right side of a row of parked cars? Apparently the designers couldn’t.

      • Brian
        Brian says:

        The end does not justify the means. And the means won’t produce the end that exists in the bike advocate’s fantasy world.

        Care to put your money where your mouth is? I’ve got $500 that says that in the next five years Minneapolis’s bike injury and fatality rates do not rise, while ridership does — and that Orlando’s injury and fatality rates either do rise or do not change, while ridership does not. Stone cold serious. Are we on?

        • Keri
          Keri says:

          Sorry Brian, I’m interested in individual people, not numbers.


          Like 25-year-old Kimberly Hull and 31-year-old Dennis Dumm, both of whom were killed by turning trucks while riding in Minneapolis bike lanes. Both crashes encouraged by the bike lane. Both crashes totally preventable by an educated cyclist.

          Truck drivers not only have huge blind spots, they have even more need to keep their attention forward while turning. Cyclist need to know that.

          Luring cyclists onto the road into facilities that can encourage them to ride into a deathtrap is UNETHICAL.

          • Brian
            Brian says:

            Yeah, that’s what I thought. Let me know when you’re actually willing to stand behind your grave predictions. Me, I’m pretty convinced that increased numbers WILL improve safety, and I’m willing to put some money on it.

          • NE2
            NE2 says:

            Nothing says “death sucks” like betting $500 on it. Oh, what’s that? Death’s just another statistic? Sorry, my bad.

          • Keri
            Keri says:

            My prediction was about social attitudes toward cyclists, not safety, with increases in mode share. The retributive cycle is already showing in cities with increasing numbers of unpredictable cyclists. The mode share end-justifies-means strategy is not only endangering the lives of unaware cyclists, it’s sacrificing civility and cooperation. I also predict that without a major event causing a significant increase in the cost of motoring, there will not be a significant shift to bicycling such that bicyclists will be more than minority road users subject to containment.

        • Mighk Wilson
          Mighk Wilson says:

          Brian: let’s say a company develops a drug which controls obesity and related conditions which reduce lifespan, but the drug has side-effects which will kill 5% of users and provide other unpleasant but non-lethal side-effects.
          Doctors have the choice of telling patients to improve their diets and exercise (which the patients don’t want to do) or to take the pill. (Oh, and by the way, the doctors aren’t telling their patients of the risks involved with the drug.)
          Now tell me, which is the more ethical action:
          Push the pill without telling people of the risks, knowing that most people will get better health, but that some will die and many will have other unpleasant effects, or
          Work harder to improve their diet and exercise of patients?
          In the former, fewer people die overall, but some die DUE TO THE DOCTORS’ ACTIONS; in the latter choice, more patients may die of obesity-related diseases, but it will not be due to doctors’ actions.
          There’s a reason why the first rule of the Hippocratic oath is, “First, do no harm.”
          While your $500 bet is entertaining, what I really want to know is if you’d be willing to go to the door of a family that lost a member due to one of these bikeways and tell them, “It’s okay, more people are healthy today because of these bikeways.”

        • John Schubert
          John Schubert says:

          Brian, you say you’re interested in safety, but when presented with two actual fatalities caused by the bike facility, you dodge the subject.
          Take the painful step. Look at the flaws in your thinking.
          We don’t excuse government killing. I hope to switch you over to our side.

        • Keri
          Keri says:

          Phyo N. Kyaw, who lived in Cambridge, was cut down off his bicycle around 7:40 p.m. at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, a busy intersection teeming with bikers, pedestrians, and motorists near MIT…

          Cambridge police said that since January 2010 there have been 27 accidents at the Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street intersection.

          More about that intersection.

          Hmm. Shouldn’t there be safety in numbers if that intersection is teeming with bicyclists? Oh wait. It has bike lanes on both streets!

  6. David
    David says:

    Perhaps we misunderstand their misunderstanding. Check out “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error” by Katheryn Shulz, and her TED talk on “Being Wrong”.

    Perhaps we could re-title the article “Too Profitable to Avoid”.
    What if political and economic profits are driving this complication of driving? What if designers are getting paid because it is complicated? And they like their jobs so they’re driven to promote their services? What if organizations, like bike clubs, new urbanists etc are building valuable constituencies for politicians?

    How does “right” compete with that? Human societies are driven by politics and economics. The question might be “How do you compete?” and not “What is right?”

    Here are two things I think would be really helpful to compete:
    A source of income to finance marketing, perhaps a profitable way to distribute information.
    Reframe “right” to “What kind of person do I want to be?”

    Even if “complicated” were safer, I would still prefer “simple driving” because I enjoy being personally responsible for learning how to get the rules of the road to work for me and get along with diverse drivers. Yes, its a challenge but very rewarding for the effort, and it mirrors all the healthy activities one learns in life to improve themselves and ultimately improve society.

    Ultimately, would society be stronger and more capable if its members, citizens, faced challenges and overcame them to get along better in more diverse situations, rather than pandering for privilege and special treatment that avoids challenges and responsibility?

    What if that were just the kind of society necessary to face and overcome the challenge of climate change?

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Thanks David!

      I had seen that Ted talk before but forgot about it. It was really great to watch it again.
      I guess one advantage to having a minority point of view is that it forces regular reexamination. At least that’s so if the point of view was achieved by critical thinking in the first place. A good quote to live by:

      Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect). — Mark Twain

      Motive and desired result are what seems to govern a chosen point of view. I agree, that much of this is consultant-driven — the worst consequence of federal funding in any aspect of society is that it creates a self-serving industrial complex. There are also advocates and funders with end goals other than bicycling — public health, environmental concerns, hatred of cars, etc. If the purpose is to use bicycling as a means to some other end, getting the most butts on bikes as quickly as possible is what is important. Long-range social problems and risk to uninformed individuals is less important than getting people to ride. “Safety in numbers” has become a convenient defense (for some, a religion). It is a very important delusion, to keep from acknowledging the problems of manufacturing crash risks, creating complexity and catering to the very dysfunction that inhibits bicycling in the first place.

      On the other hand, if the freedom and well-being of bicyclists, and the integrity of bicycling as a normal, expected and respected mode of transportation is our end goal, we have to think through the issues more carefully. We have to think about root causes and choose strategies that fix, rather than exacerbate them.

      I’ve begun to realize that the primary division is not two different strategies for achieving the same goal. It’s two different goals, requiring different strategies which are often inimical to each other.

      Although it is not my end goal, I personally believe that creating the better world for bicycling will ultimately (especially as other inevitable factors converge) result in more bicycling. It will just take longer. Like constructing a proper foundation to ensure the integrity of a building where the ground lacks bedrock. We have no bedrock. We have dysfunctional beliefs and unwarranted fear held in place by 90-year-old control myths and discriminatory laws.

      Sadly, I don’t have a lot of hope for finding a stakeholder with funding and a long attention span in this world of instant gratification.

      I absolutely concur with your perspective that what we teach mirrors the interactions of a healthy community. You described that beautifully, thank you.

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