Where The Danger Is

So you’re riding along in bicycle lane thinking you’re safe because, well, isn’t that what we’re led to believe? Isn’t that why bicycle lanes are painted in the first place? They are not painted to solve any traffic problem that exists, i.e. help the orderly and safe flow of traffic according the well-establish rules of safe movement.

Riding in bicycle lanes can get you killed. Here’s the latest example of a right-hook crash caused in part by a poorly-designed bicycle lane. The lane is painted to the intersection, thus encouraging bicyclists to ride to the right of right-turning traffic.

This photograph shows the problem. Notice that the lane line becomes dashed, indicating that both bicyclists and motorists should cross it as necessary. But there is no further encouragement for the bicyclist to merge left out of the lane before the intersection — exactly what bicyclists should do.

The moment you find yourself on the right of a line of traffic within the same travel lane at an intersection, think to yourself: I could die now. Then move left into the traffic line.

While I have been, and will remain, critical of many of the new bicycle lanes painted in Springfield recently (because they present other dangers), we are lucky that our city has handled intersections properly: The lane ends before the intersection, and a sharrow indicates to all traffic users that bicyclists will merge left before passing through the intersection.

Other cities have done a poor job, including the much-ballyhooed Portland, Oregon. There they have tried to mitigate the damage (and deaths) by creating bicycle boxes. But these are a pasted-on solution. What they ought to do is repaint their lanes.

Or, radical thought, how about allow bicyclists to use the streets as they are? It’s safer.

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Comments 25

  1. Keri wrote:

    Bike boxes are not only a pasted on “fix,” the city of Portland recently had to admit that the number of crashes increased overall — significantly for several of the locations where it was found that the average speed of cyclists was 18mph. Those location had something in common with the one in the Boston fatality today — the bike lane approach was downhill.

    In addition to crap intersection designs and door zones, downhill bike lanes need to be eliminated. The speed at which a cyclist can react to the conflicts created (and the surface hazards collected) by a bike lane is significantly lower than a downhill cruising speed. But, as with the turing characteristics of trucks, most cyclists don’t know that.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 2:07 pm
  2. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Going pretty fast into an intersection with a truck in the left lane wouldn’t worry him, but anyone who knows how a truck turns wide right might have kept an eye on the truck and proceeded with caution.

    I’ll quibble a bit on the bike lane being solely at fault, though. Even if the bicyclist had been in the right lane overtaking the truck while “going pretty fast”, i.e., on the truck driver’s blind right side, there probably would have been the same outcome unless the cyclist was able to do an emergency right turn. Unless, of course, the truck driver checked his right side mirror for motor vehicle traffic but not bike lane traffic.

    The bone I have to pick with advocates is that you cannot separate infrastructure from training. An astute cyclist going into that situation would have asked “what if” and left himself some room for emergency maneuvers. This is sad, but not unusual.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 2:13 pm
  3. Keri wrote:

    Yeah, this is more about not educating bicyclists than anything. The truck turned from the left lane to compensate for the tight corner radius. A cyclist using the right lane, not knowing the turning characteristics would probably have met the same fate.

    In 2007, I had a truck turn right ahead of me from the right thru lane, across a bike lane which was to the left of a right turn lane. The truck driver did not activate the turn signal until he arrived at the intersection (just as the light turned green).

    I can’t imagine many bicyclists would have made the same assessment and decision I did (to leave the bike lane and go to the left side of the thru lane behind the truck). I did this as the truck was slowing, while the light was still red, long before he indicated a turn. I did it because somewhere along the line (probably MSF training, maybe when I was illustrating Driving Survival for AAA) I developed a healthy aversion to getting myself alongside a truck. I’m alive today because that little piece of information was delivered to me before the circumstance which would otherwise have killed me. Much of the education work I do is an attempt to pay that forward.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 2:37 pm
  4. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Excellent points, Keri

    Thanks for the note on this being a downhill bike lane. I’ve damned downhill bike lanes in Los Alamos for some number of years for the same reason, and have been met with deaf ears. The traffic managers want all roads to look alike. I counter that they don’t anyway–some go downhill while others are flat.

    I do teach that one should avoid downhill bike lanes OR slow down and proceed with caution so your speed doesn’t outrace your ability to react. I also teach that if you see a vehicle slowing down when approaching an intersection, its a good bet that the vehicle operator might be planning a turn or is confused and may turn. Those were not things I learned in an LCI class but as you did, by thinking creatively about how traffic works and at least in my case, having a few “Holy Shit Moments”. The MSF courses are excellent, too. Better, in my estimation, than LAB courses, in part because they don’t assume everyone ought to be on a motorcycle. The challenge in a MSF course is “are you GOOD enough to be a motorcyclist?”

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 2:46 pm
  5. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    I’ve driven a couple of those big trucks, so I have a different perspective than many other road users.

    Sometimes I think folks ought to have some simulator time (or closer to real-world time in a controlled environment) in a truck to get a sense of how big the blind spots are.

    Of course, I also think that folks should have to drive bicycles several hundred miles a year (after taking CS) to maintain their drivers’ licenses, but that won’t fly in the United States of the Automobile.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 2:47 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Note that I qualified my statement with “caused in part.”

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 3:10 pm
  7. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    “Yeah, this is more about not educating bicyclists than anything. The truck turned from the left lane to compensate for the tight corner radius. A cyclist using the right lane, not knowing the turning characteristics would probably have met the same fate.”

    On two separate occasions today, my 9 year-old daughter and I experienced non-standard situations – one with a bus, the other with a truck. In each case I advised my daughter, “If the vehicle in front is behaving oddly and you don’t know what the vehicle is doing, don’t try to pass it. Wait behind at a safe distance.”

    It’s a simple rule – applicable to any situation, not just trucks, but it’s more important with trucks, buses, etc., because they have limited rear visibility.

    The bus driver, we found out, was confused and acting strangely because he had missed a stop. He was trying (very incompetently) to turn hi bus around and go back. The same was the case with the truck. When motorists find they’ve gone the wrong way or missed a turn, that’s when they appear to throw the rulebook out of the window and start acting particularly stupid.

    The other piece of advice I gave my daughter today is my simplest guideline and a truism applicable in every situation:

    “Motorists are all a bunch of f***ing morons who don’t know what they’re doing on the road and are therefore capable of any stupid thing you can think of, and some more besides. Don’t ever trust them.”

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 5:32 pm
  8. fred_dot_u wrote:

    The reference to downhill bike lanes has brought a thought to my alleged mind. Is there a national specification regarding design speeds for bike lanes? Is it in print anywhere that at speeds beyond x mph it is advised to not remain in the bike lane? It’s one thing to recognize the concept as valid, but concept recognition doesn’t help much if one has to defend oneself in court.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 7:45 pm
  9. Max Power wrote:

    The bike lane didn’t *cause* the accident, wholly or in part. It’s just an inanimate stripe of paint after all – it can’t do anything.
    It didn’t protect anyone either, for the same reason, and that’s were the problem lies. Too many road users, both cyclists and motorists, tend to assume that that stripe of paint is a magical force field that prevents collisions, and thus act less responsibly than they would if there were no stripe.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 8:18 pm
  10. Khal Spencer wrote:

    That’s the crux of the matter, Max. Too many people, some of whom are in high places, assert that paint stripes, bollards, curbs, or other separation devices will create safety out of whole cloth. Those who religiously believe in these things as safe will fall victim. As a fellow disgruntled old fart likes to say, these various devices keep you separated from traffic until the point of impact.

    My assertion is that a downhill bike lane to the right of right turning traffic is a device meant to weed out inept or naive cyclists by killing them.

    One can in theory develop a truly separated bicycling system that does not throw cyclists to the wolves by lulling them into complacency and then putting them in harms way in the most nasty situations. But one should not give the appearance of safety and then guide people riding a thirty pound bike into trying to pass an eighteen wheeler in its blind spot. That’s practically criminal.

    This cyclist was a graduate student, not normally a dumb person. But having spent much of my life in academia, I also know no one, no matter how smart, always has their shit together. We all tend to trust the designs around us to have been vetted by competent professionals who have our interests at heart, which is why these facilities should not be knowingly flawed.

    Posted 06 Dec 2012 at 10:08 pm
  11. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    The problem is, blaming the infrastructure doesn’t seem to work. ‘Bicycle advocates’ seem far too willing to defend any infrastructure, no matter how dangerous. Motorists want cyclists off the road, so that’s not going to work with them either.

    Blaming the motorist won’t work. It’s the ‘bicycle advocacy’ default position, but motorists just don’t care, and almost all judges, juries and police officers are motorists.

    The other option is to blame the victim. That’s the motorists’ default position. But it won’t do anything in terms of ‘Bicycle advocacy’. Bicycle advocates won’t admit that cycling requires any skill.

    It’s a Catch-22.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 4:43 am
  12. Khal Spencer wrote:

    There is more than enough responsibility to go round, Ian. Everyone has to take some share, not just cyclists OR motorists OR bikeway/road designers.

    “… Bicycle advocates won’t admit that cycling requires any skill….” True ’nuff, they won’t, at least not the “eight to eighty” crowd. I disagree. Staying upright alone requires some skill. Staying upright on a curve where one hits a patch of sand while avoiding a jogger requires more. Navigating a city where those beloved cycletracks intersect roads inhabited by cars and trucks requires some saavy.

    Where folks get into useless arguments is when advocates equate riding skill with Tour de France strength. They are two different things, as I suspect many of us know. At a month from 59, I’m not nearly as strong as I was when I was a buff 33 and racing and often don’t even want to ride that fast any more, but I sure am a lot smarter about urban riding. I took up singletrack in a big way since I moved to New Mexico, which teaches balance and is useful for keeping two wheels upright in weird situations (famous last words….). As you can guess, I am a firm believer in personal competence in staying out of trouble, rather than relying on infrastructure to keep me safe. Not that I dislike *good* infrastructure.

    Fred, I think there is a nascent movement to look at bicycling speeds and design standards. John Allen (www.bikexprt.com) would be the person to ask.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 7:15 am
  13. Andy Cline wrote:

    While, yes, one ought not to anthropomorphize, it is true people may act in particular ways based on how they read the bicycle lane. If the lane in this case is read as a safe space to pass a large vehicle on the right, then a situation has been created (so, OK, I’ll use the passive voice — you pick the agent) that might be misinterpreted or misused by the bicyclist in such a way that s/he comes into conflict with other street users.

    So, yeah, sometimes it’s easier to anthropomorphize 😉

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 11:25 am
  14. Robert wrote:

    “Bicycle advocates won’t admit that cycling requires any skill.”

    I know that the world of internet commenting almost requires us to make broad, inflammatory and inaccurate statements but it makes it difficult to have a sincere conversation.

    The League of American Bicyclists has a bicycle education course and they are “bicycle advocates.” The same is true for the Florida Bicycle Association. I use them because Keri is a frequent contributer to this website.

    It’s great that we all sit around here and bullshit on various topics but coming up with solutions is something that’s never once been discussed here. Bitching and grandstanding = we have that covered in every topic. Coming up with some type of solution = never really discussed.

    Clearly we can all see that the United States is moving towards creating bicycle facilities and while just about everyone on this website is against that, it’s happening.

    I’m in Florida right now and see bicycle lanes in many of the communities. Springfield is building them as quickly as they can despite Andy’s complaints.

    Chicago is making national news for their protected bicycle facilities, complete with bicycle specific signals to (hopefully) reduce the dangers that Andy posted about here.

    So let’s do something worthwhile here…..

    Why don’t we either:

    1. Have a serious discussion about how to minimize conflicts and create better bicycle facilities or:

    2. Have a serious discussion about how to educate bicyclists and motorists.

    While every one of us are in favor of bicycle education, I doubt that any of us are educating any serious numbers of people.

    For example, Andy how can you educate 5% (~6,000 people) of the population of Springfield in the next 5 years? Why don’t we discuss that?

    Keri, how many people are taking Cycling Savvy nationwide? How can we increase that number in to several hundred thousand people per year?

    I’m being serious. We either need well-designed bicycle facilities or an education program that reaches enough people to have a measureable effect.

    Let’s have a serious discussion.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 11:54 am
  15. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    “Let’s have a serious discussion.”

    I’d be perfectly willing to have a serious discussion if ‘bicycle (facility) advocates’ could be trusted to engage in such a discussion. I don’t think they can.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 12:12 pm
  16. Robert wrote:


    I was talking about us…..as in the handful of people who are on this board.

    Can you have a serious question without making inflammatory remarks like, “I’d be perfectly willing to have a serious discussion if ‘bicycle (facility) advocates’ could be trusted to engage in such a discussion. I don’t think they can.”?

    I bet you can if you try….let’s give this a shot.

    Question #1 for you guys.

    Do you think that bicycle facilities can be designed in such a way as to eliminate the dangers and delays? If so, do you still oppose them on completely philisophical grounds?

    Let’s answer the first question first.

    Do you think that bicycle facilities could be designed in such a way as to eliminate the dangers and delays?

    Please bit your tongue and not respond with something similiar to “yeah, but dumbass traffic engineers wouldn’t listen………..”

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 12:49 pm
  17. Andy Cline wrote:


    re: Do you think that bicycle facilities can be designed in such a way as to eliminate the dangers and delays?


    The reason I say no is that the system of traffic we already have is designed to do this to the extent possible given the variable of human behavior. To paste a second system on top of it necessarily creates conflicts in some circumstances. It also requires the bicyclist to learn an extra set of behaviors — both regular traffic behaviors AND a set of behaviors for the bicycle facility. These behaviors may come into conflict at times.

    The only way I can see answering “yes” is building a completely separate system for bicycles such as one I saw in a suburb of Amsterdam. It was beautiful thing to behold. The only time bicyclists would come into contact at other traffic was at intersections of the bicycle facility and the street. And each had its own lights.

    We are not going to build that kind of thing in the U.S.

    I agree with you re: education not reaching many people. I simply see adding another system on top of the one we have as creating an even greater need for education — that we won’t be able to deliver to many people.

    On to another topic: It’s not true that you won’t find “solutions” on Carbon Trace. The site if full of them — and “it” perhaps 🙂 My solution for Springfield is to continue placing sharrows on the bicycle route system and paint over all the lanes returning the street to all users.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 3:19 pm
  18. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Hi, Robert.

    1. Infrastructure. I’ve suggested at the link below and elsewhere that if we add bicycling-specific infrastructure that adds complexity to intersections and roads, we need to add commensurate controls. I even cite those evil European facility designs.


    2. Education. Frankly, many people don’t think you need to be educated to ride a bike. Even folks like Preston Tyree of the LAB has quipped that people think they learned everything to know about bicycling about the time they took off their training wheels. It IS a big problem. It is an even bigger problem with motorcyclists (bigger, faster, harder to ride correctly), which is why their death rate is 10x ours. Being on two wheels has its challenges.

    I’ve worked with my employer to have bicycle education (the League’s Traffic Skills course and a lunchtime short version) put on our training program so people can get credit for it and I teach it whenever we get a quorum. Also taught it at the LAPD. I’ve also gotten myself written into the LANL safety program as its resident bicycling skills expert and that means I get consulted on projects and designs.

    Education is a tough sell even with all that effort, and I doubt it is ALL because I am a shitty salesman. I’ve worked with the police and the traffic division in my county, written letters and opinion articles for the paper, sat on and chaired our traffic commission for eight years, and worked with cyclists one on one. I wish I could reach more, but I also have a real job and a real life and frankly, am getting tired of the job.

    The problem with badly designed infrastructure and the reason I rant and rave about it is that it affects the most vulnerable user preferentially–the guy or gal who isn’t thinking critically about how traffic works. Since there is NO compulsory bicyclist education in the US (including in our schools) that almost guarantees that folks will be naively using flawed designs. That’s why flawed designs are not acceptable. They set people up to fail.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 3:25 pm
  19. Robert wrote:

    Andy and Khal –

    It seems that you both think that it’s possible to build seperated facilities effectively if it’s done properly. Andy is skeptical that the United States will do so.

    I think that many places are doing just that. Chicago, for example:


    Recently I was in Long Beach, California and they had seperated facilities complete with bike only lights all over downtown. It seemed that it had reached a point where several destinations could be reached using this system and they were filled with locals using them. I know they were locals because even though there was a bike/ped conference in town these were mostly minorities using Wal-Mart bicycles….and doing so quite happily.

    Khal – I agree with everything that you just said about education. I used to manage one of the (if not the) most robust eduation programs in the United States with 13 part-time LCI’s. Columbia, Missouri has more LCI’s than Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles.

    This is why I asked these questions. It seems to me that the viewpoints expressed here have been marginalized and are becomming more so every single day. Bike facilities are being built and have never been more popular. The alternative to bike facilities expressed here as been to educate the public.

    Everyone here knows it’s damn near impossible to get people to take an education class.

    So we either have to figure out how to increase bike ed substantially or create bike facilities that the “educated” types can live with and that doesn’t put the “uneducated” majority into a less safe situation.

    Personally, I think it’s time to compromise. I wish the topic here would change from “no facilities” to “these facilities.”

    I don’t think sharrows are going to cut it on large streets with travel speeds of 30-50 mph. Most people will want lanes, even if the paint offers no physical protection.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 4:21 pm
  20. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Robert–I agree (and tried to say so in the Bremen essay) that we need *good* facilities. A downhill bike lane installed as shown in the example above, with no active controls to prevent hooking crashes that result from speed and destination mismatches, will have the results shown above. Bike lanes are not a one-size fits all solution, etc., etc….

    As far as sharrows, my understanding from working with my county and Laboratory traffic engineers and as chair of our transportation commission was they can only be used on streets with speed limits under 35 mph and even then, if I was the traffic engineer, I’d want to see to it they were installed properly, complete with a strong public service announcement campaign. When sharrows were first installed in Santa Fe, the hilarious article in the Santa Fe New Mexican was headed off with their police chief asking what the hell those funny symbols were!

    We do want to keep cycling universal but inevitably, that means some people will get hurt because just as unrestricted admissions in our community colleges means some students will fail, unrestricted access to transportation cycling means some people will make mistakes.

    That puts us in a quandary. One can keep cycling universal and have universal cycling education. We can also work to make cycling a viable means of transportation by a combination of well built general facilities with well regulated (i.e., obeying the law) users and with special facilities added where the general facilities are not very bicyclist friendly. We can also add special facilities where they are strategic, such as interconnecting small clusters of homes to schools, work, and play in those damn “arterial and cul de sac” developments. Modern suburban development has been the bane of cycling.

    I agree with you that the various factions need to stop arguing about the shape of the table and start eating at it.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 5:06 pm
  21. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Were the facilities you saw in Long Beach completely separate routes or just separation from car traffic along the same route? What I was referring to in Amsterdam were entirely separate routes with only occasional crossings of streets used by motor traffic.

    We are not going to build those types of facilities here.

    Again, I am not a participation advocate. I’m a “me” advocate. I’m concerned about my use of a bicycle for basic transportation. If others follow my example and enjoy the benefits that I enjoy, that’s great. I have no interest, however, in promoting anything that I wouldn’t use just to cater to people who need special facilities (or think they do). Everyone else can drive their cars to the poorhouse for all I care.

    Posted 07 Dec 2012 at 5:23 pm
  22. Dan Gutierrez wrote:

    “It’s great that we all sit around here and bullshit on various topics but coming up with solutions is something that’s never once been discussed here. Bitching and grandstanding = we have that covered in every topic. Coming up with some type of solution = never really discussed.

    Clearly we can all see that the United States is moving towards creating bicycle facilities and while just about everyone on this website is against that, it’s happening.”

    The people on this website discuss problems and solutions, and to refer to it is “bullshitting” and accusations of not coming up with solutions is disingenuous at best, and more likely outright trolling. Don’t be surprised that your hostile comments are not well received by those of us who not only pose solutions, but see them implemented on the street.

    Simply accusing people of being against special facilities with no qualifications, shows a stark unwillingness to discuss them in terms of design and traffic control features, many of which are problematic. However, there is no need for complexity or nuance when the goal is to attack people.

    About Long Beach, my home city:
    “Recently I was in Long Beach, California and they had seperated facilities complete with bike only lights all over downtown. It seemed that it had reached a point where several destinations could be reached using this system and they were filled with locals using them. I know they were locals because even though there was a bike/ped conference in town these were mostly minorities using Wal-Mart bicycles….and doing so quite happily.”

    There are two cycletracks in the city, on 3rd and Broadway; there is no system that is “all over downtown” as is claimed. Moreover, there has already been one collision at a blind and uncontrolled driveway crossing, sadly as many of us had predicted and warned the city a year prior to the development. The city is slowly learning that reducing cycle time for through cycling and creating harassment for cyclists using the adjacent roadway travel lanes, and exposing cycletrack users to blind crossings is not a good solution

    which is why the city is aiming to reverse the cycletracks to contraflow to make the crossing sight lines better and also put sharrows in the adjacent travel lanes to encourage driver behavior in the flow direction of the one way street. About the cycletracks filled with locals using them, really? I hope you have photos or video to support this claim, because they are not heavily used as determined by the City’s own bike counts. But why let data get in the way of a good story, right?

    For the record, I have been working with the City, and especially the City Bike Coordinators (Charly Gandy and now Allan Crawford) for a number of years to implement better designs, and after the City staff and consultants took the 8 hour course I normally teach for the State DOT (Caltrans) about design and operation, they have been designing good sharrow marked routes, for example:

    and bike boulevards. If you only rode back and forth on the cycletracks, I can understand why you don’t recognize that most of what Long Beach is presently doing involves integrating bicyclists and motorists, with Sharrows, BMUFL signs, and roundabouts on both bike boulevards and more modern bike routes as major components of that push.

    Posted 12 Dec 2012 at 8:57 am
  23. Dan Gutierrez wrote:

    This website stripped out the photo and video links in my post above.

    Posted 12 Dec 2012 at 8:59 am
  24. Andy Cline wrote:

    Dan… Sorry to hear about your trouble posting the photo and video links. Several people have been having these problem lately, and I’m not quite sure what’s going on. But I’m looking into it.

    Posted 12 Dec 2012 at 2:16 pm
  25. Andy Cline wrote:

    Here are the links Dan G. tried to post:



    Posted 12 Dec 2012 at 3:04 pm