Monday, November 1, 2010

Keep Your Guard Up -Especially in a Bike Lane

First published in The Coloradoan, Nov. 1, 2010
by Rick Price, Ph.D.

Bike lanes serve a useful purpose in encouraging new cyclists to take up cycling and in making many of us feel comfortable bicycling in traffic.

They can give cyclists a false sense of security, though. On narrow streets with parked cars, bike lanes often invite cyclists to ride in the "door zone" where a car door might open unexpectedly. This happens on Mason and Howes streets in Fort Collins. On those streets, I ride just to the left of the bike lane to avoid the door hazard. On Mountain Avenue or Remington Street, however, the bike lanes are wide enough to ride in most of the time. There, I ride just inside the bike lane and am still far from car doors.

Novice cyclists often think, incorrectly, that they can use a bike lane for travel in either direction. These novices don't understand the danger with wrong-way riding. Drivers entering a street across a bike lane aren't used to looking to the right for bikes. This, in part, makes wrong-way riding the single biggest cause of  car/bike crashes nationally.

Right-turning motorists are another problem with bike lanes. Motorists violate traffic laws when they turn across a bike lane since the law states clearly that "both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." This means that as a motorist you should merge into the bike lane and make your turn from there after yielding to any bicyclists in the lane just as you would yield and merge right into a right-turn lane before making a turn.

Photos:  The top photo shows a bike lane on South College in Fort Collins where motorists are invited to cross the bike lane with dashed lines to get into the right turn lane.  The bottom photo shows a situation on Laurel Street in Fort Collins.  Here the bike lane all of a sudden jumps left eight feet putting the cyclist in the right turn lane unwittingly.  The lack of dashed lines delineating where motorists should cross the bike lane is confusing for both cyclists and motorists on Laurel St. on the north side of the Colorado State University campus. 

Having a car use a bike lane as a turning lane contradicts what most people believe to be correct, including cyclists, who think that the bike lane is for their exclusive use. It is, most of the time, but not in the case of right-turning motorists.

So what should cyclists do when confronted with a right-turning motorist in "their" lane? Since cyclists are not required to ride in the bike lane, the safe behavior is to either stop or merge left into the travel lane to continue straight through the intersection. This is a little dance that cyclists and motorists must do as they negotiate bike lanes.

LaPorte Avenue will soon go on a "road diet," reducing it from four to two travel lanes. Bike lanes will be added as will a center left-turn lane. Transportation Board members asked if the bike lanes would be striped with dashed lines for right-turning cars. The answer was no, but board members suggested that the lines delineating bike lanes should be dashed where cyclists can expect right-turning vehicles to cross their path. This offers a warning to cyclists that cars may enter the bike lane here.

So get out and ride, but don't let your guard down just because you are in a bike lane.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While driving we often have occasion to turn right from (westbound) Drake on to Timberline and also from (eastbound) Harmony on to Corbett. In both instances there is a wide bike lane designated by a solid white line with no dashes to indicate a place for vehicles to cross and there are not turn arrows on the pavement. We are reluctant to cross the solid white lane and have chosen to turn from the vehicle travel lanes at both locations. We find that most others do the same, more so at the Harmony intersection which is much faster paced than at Drake where about half the folks seem to use the bike lane. This can be especially confusing when drivers in traffic are signaling a right turn and others attempt to pass on the inside to turn from the bike lane. Yikes!
It would help to have the white lines 'dashed' for all vehicle merge points at a distance from the curb that is appropriate for the speed limit. Turn arrows and a symbol for bike/vehicle merge painted on the pavement and/or a merge sign would also be helpful. Todd Spiller