(Bicycle) Lane Behavior

I had an interesting encounter on Boonville yesterday on my way to the Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee meeting of the Traffic Advisory Board (more on the meeting tomorrow).

The section of Boonville through Jordan Valley has a door-zone bicycle lane. I was stopped at the light at Olive heading north. I was first at the light. There were three cars behind me.

When the light turned green I proceeded north taking my position in roughly the right tire track of the lane. The cars followed me at a respectful distance.

There was plenty of opportunity for these drivers to pass me. Traffic was light and there was lots of lane width and no on-coming traffic. But they stayed behind me.

Until we got to the bicycle lane.

What happened next is exactly what I thought would happen. Normally, I do not ride in the bicycle lane on Boonville. But this time I entered the lane at its beginning taking a position close to the line itself so that my relative position to the cars behind me didn’t change much. It took only seconds for the inevitable to happen. The cars behind me accelerated and passed me.

Nothing had changed except the line that marked the bicycle lane. The traffic was still light — no on-coming traffic. The lane width — from parked cars to center stripe — was still the same. Yet now they decided to pass.

Guess how much passing room they gave me.

Normal driver behavior in Springfield: Cars change lanes or otherwise give a substantial amount of passing room.

Bicycle lane behavior: That line painted on the road is a barrier that allows close passing by motor vehicles.

Depending upon a bit of paint on the road to keep you safe in traffic is a lot lot depending on a bit of foam and plastic to keep your head safe if you actually do collide with a car. It’s a fantasy.

What I meant to say: Safety in traffic is to be found, for the most part, in how we ride — our attitude toward traffic and our ability to cope — and not in objects of supposed safety, e.g. lines on the road.

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Comments 14

  1. robert wrote:

    But Andy…… : )

    The fantasy works and bike lanes almost always result in an increase in bicyclists.

    Also, if the road is being designed with bicycle lanes in mind the road will often be wider. Booneville street was redesigned by traffic engineers with little knowledge of bicycle design.

    Example, Grindstone parkway in Columbia is a 4-lane arterial with ,a speed limit of 40 mph.

    There are 4 lanes, a small buffer, a 6-foot bike lane and then a 5 foot shoulder.

    If the road was designed without bike lanes, it would be much narrower and much less comfortable.

    I can assure you that if you were to come to Columbia you would not choose the right tire track over the bicycle lane on that road.

    Your focus, IMO, should be on poorly designed bicycle lanes.

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 11:06 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Good point. I should have more clearly qualified my remarks.

    I wonder what the ratio is of well-designed lanes to poorly designed lanes? My assumption about that ratio leads me to further assumptions πŸ™‚

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 11:19 am
  3. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    I agree that municipalities often put cyclists at greater risk through poorly implemented cycling infrastrucure – particularly through door zone bike lanes and by failing to recognize that motorists tend to pass more closely when the cyclists are riding in a bike lane, and we cyclists should not depend on painted lines for our safety on the roadway.

    Unnecessarily you then analogize disparagingly to helmet use.

    Now I think I understand the rhetorical parallel: municipalities create bike lanes in response to cries for increased safety and municipalities impose helmet laws in response to cries for increased safety and in both cases this is merely a band-aid to appease a motor-centric public rather than addressing the tough questions of improving traffic culture and behavior.

    I won’t defend mandatory helmet laws, but I dislike inartful criticism of helmet use. There are a thousand ways a cyclist and a motor-vehicle might collide, and at some point in nearly all of them the cyclist has lost control of their direction of travel and extremity coordination; When the colision happens, the less massive object bounces further. No matter how skilled/experienced the cyclist was in the momment before the time of collision, at the point of the collision they’re no longer a cyclist, they’re a body, and that body’s head is travelling at some speed toward objects not of their choosing.

    I’ll take the crushed bit of foam and plastic and really sore neck over the alternative every time.

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 11:42 am
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    JAT… Point taken. My intention was to equate the fantasy of safety that is not connected to a particular way of riding in traffic. Despite my training and experience (journalist, rhetoric prof.), I have my in-artful moments like anyone else. I appreciate the criticism.

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 11:50 am
  5. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    I certainly didn’t mean to induce self-censorship. I had been looking for some fancy Greek term for false analogy generalization but I couldn’t figure out what it would be…

    Anyway, some people like to get exercised over the great helmet debate, I don’t like to. Just as Robert point out above that bike lanes (for good or ill) tend to increase the number of cyclists, some point out that helmet laws decrease the numbers of cyclists. I don’t know that this is true, but I know people say it.

    I remember when the choices were the Bell, the Skid Lid and some modified MSR rock climbing helmet.

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 1:59 pm
  6. Kevin Love wrote:

    The shown bicycle lane is illegal and would never be built in The Netherlands or anywhere else that takes cycling seriously. The minimum standard for a unidirectional cycle lane is 2.5 M. And it should be separated from motor vehicle traffic by a minimum separation of an additional 1.5 M.

    To see how that plays out, see:


    That type of illegal, dangerous, sub-standard “lane” will never lead to any significant cycle mode share.

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 2:31 pm
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    JAT… Not a problem. I shouldn’t have gone there πŸ™‚ re: helmets, especially since I’m largely ambivalent about them.

    Kevin… Thankfully we only have a few stretches of poorly designed lanes — approved and built long ago. No one is talking about stuff like this today in Springfield.

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 3:22 pm
  8. MamaVee wrote:

    sort of a devils advocate… or a different take…

    I was in the car driving down a stretch that is a few miles from my home. Eh- maybe 7? which is further than my usual 1-2 miles that I bike in my town. anyway I keep wanting to bike this stretch b/c it’s to the city and to plaes I enjoy going to. My train doesn’t take me there and to take public transportation it’s a huge hassle that I will take on if I have a ton of time. so to go to this part of town I usually drive… And the stretch is super busy and the lanes are small and it freaks me out. Today I noticed added bike lanes and as I drove I could see myself biking in the lane. I know I know the lanes don’t make me any safer. I know- but it makes me feel like I could give it a try. Have a space to concentrate on and stay in and feel comfortable. So as a kind a newbie ( 2 years now!) those bike lanes do comfort me for good or bad.

    And as a driver- I did notice that I passed cyclist when they were in the lane. I tend to pass slowly but don’t always switch lanes. I notice that I tend to pass with less anxiety when there is a bike lane as that line let’s me know there is enough room for both of us. Of course most cyclists inthis area are biking on the line b/c the lane puts them in the door zone but I have that line and the line from the other lane to guide me and I slow down up to the point where it’s creepy. I hate people to pace me and I make sure that I am either behind and moving steadily slowly past.

    so I’m ambivilant on the lane thing. I like them myself. I use them. I ammore apt to bike when they are around. I know that I still have to be aware of my own safety and other cars. I’m the target audience of new bikers… and bad drivers… ( actually I’m not- I’m way to nervous and nice to be the usual bad driver. I’m bad b/c I don’t take chances…)

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 5:17 pm
  9. Keri wrote:

    “Grindstone parkway in Columbia is a 4-lane arterial with ,a speed limit of 40 mph.

    There are 4 lanes, a small buffer, a 6-foot bike lane and then a 5 foot shoulder.”

    Holy crap! A speed limit of 40 and a design speed of 80!

    Posted 27 Oct 2010 at 9:33 pm
  10. robert wrote:

    The lanes are not wide.

    How would you change it, Keri?

    Posted 28 Oct 2010 at 10:44 am
  11. Kevin Love wrote:

    Andy wrote:

    “Safety in traffic is to be found, for the most part, in how we ride β€” our attitude toward traffic and our ability to cope β€” and not in objects of supposed safety.”

    Kevin’s comment:
    But how about the attitude of the people brandishing two-ton lethal weapons? It doesn’t really matter what my attitude is if I’m run over by someone who is driving drunk, inattentive due to cell phone use or just plain stupid and careless.

    That’s why I rather like this bicycle road:


    Go ahead car driver, “lose control” of your car. It will be smashed to bits long before it gets to me. I call these barriers “objects of actual safety.”

    Posted 28 Oct 2010 at 1:27 pm
  12. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mama: re: “tend to pass with less anxiety when there is a bike lane as that line let’s me know there is enough room for both of us” This is exactly what worries me. I think anxiety on the the part of drivers is a good thing. It shows proper respect for operating a very dangerous machine.

    Kevin: There are always exceptions πŸ™‚ Thanks for the link!

    Posted 29 Oct 2010 at 7:16 am
  13. danc wrote:

    Andy wrote: “Safety in traffic is to be found, for the most part, in how we ride β€” our attitude toward traffic and our ability to cope β€” and not in objects of supposed safety, e.g. lines on the road.”

    It’s the cyclists perception of risk, not the believe that paint will make you safer. The naive bike lane rider learn this special reverved space is not all swell. Education road users and save the paint.

    Posted 29 Oct 2010 at 3:03 pm
  14. Keri wrote:

    “How would you change it, Keri?”

    Very simply, 4 11ft lanes, no pavement to the right and BMUFL signs.

    Posted 31 Oct 2010 at 8:08 am