On The Showing Of Photos

What does it mean to show a photograph of a poorly-designed bicycle lane?

Recent chatter from the lane-painting wing of bicycle-advocacy-land has taken the publishing of such images to task for the oft-imagined sin of over-generalizing about all bicycle infrastructure. For a good example of this, just read my post from yesterday.

Let’s re-visit a photo that I have published before — taken in Springfield by local bicyclist Jim Phillips and originally published on the Bicycle Friendly Springfield group on Facebook — to learn the excellent reasons I have for publishing such pictures.

This is a gutter lane. There might be a more technical term for it, but, basically, I’m using that term to indicate a bicycle lane in which the gutter pan is counted as part of the lane. You can watch the video I posted yesterday to see the measurements (note: the lane symbols had not yet been painted when I made the video).

This is a bad design. It is a dangerous design. The street in question has a less-than-sharable width of 13 feet. The bicycle lane is 4 feet wide with the gutter pan making up fully half of the width. The pan and street surface are angled differently. The seam runs down the middle of the lane. Those who teach, and have taken, bicycle education courses such as those offered by CyclingSavvy (CS) and the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) know that seams are a potential crash hazard.

Now this lane was painted less than a year ago. How did this get approved? With all we know about facilities design, how did this happen?

Let me tell you how (among other reasons/rationalizations), and it has to do with why I show photographs of poorly-designed bicycle lanes.

That lane you see in the picture is not a generalization. It is real. It exists. It is dangerous. But in some bicycle advocacy circles, it’s OK that it is dangerous because the purpose of it isn’t to facilitate safe movement in traffic. The purpose is to attract more people to bicycling and win bicycle-friendly community awards.

But even worse than that, this lane and other dangerous lanes that I have photographed (including newly-painted door-zone lanes) will be counted among Springfield’s achievements in the next Bicycle Friendly Community application to the LAB. If Springfield keeps its bronze-level status or moves up a level, lanes such as the one shown above will be cited as improvements.

In a sane world, the LAB would take one look at that (and other gutter lanes and door-zone lanes in Springfield) and tell us we lose our current status and don’t bother applying again until we correct the errors. In a sane world, that lane would never have been approved and painted. In a sane world, that lane would have been ripped up shortly after its errors were pointed out by the majority of commenters on Facebook when the picture was first published. But the LAB is now one of the primary lane-painting advocacy organizations in America. That lane you see right there in that picture will be praised and counted in our favor.

So what will happen next? Assuming we continue as a Bicycle Friendly Community, you can expect to see more such lanes painted.

And that is why I show photographs of poorly-designed bicycle lanes. If we don’t speak up, we will get more and more of this. The day will come when some politician decides there needs to be a required-use law because, well, we spent all that damned money on those damned bicyclists so they damned well better use the lanes and stay out of the way of motorists.

That is what’s coming.

It will suck.

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Comments 38

  1. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    Hear, hear!!

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 8:45 am
  2. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    The two arguments we routinely hear from facilities fetishists are:

    1. “It’s better than nothing.”

    Wrong, there always things that are worse than benign neglect.

    2. “If only we had Proper Dutch Bikeways.”

    And if a frog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hops.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 9:07 am
  3. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I was going to post a comment, but Mighk has pretty much said what I was likely to say.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 9:30 am
  4. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I think I asked you this, but how did your city explain how it painted a bike lane that clearly and deliberately violates published design standards such as found in AASHTO and FHWA? What was the outcome?


    “…The minimum width of a bike lane should be 1.5 meters (5 feet) against a curb or adjacent to a parking lane. On streets where the bike lane is adjacent to the curb and the curb includes a 1-foot to 2-foot gutter pan, bike lanes should be a minimum of 4 feet wide (width does not include the gutter pan, since bicyclists are typically unable to use this space)…”

    The irony is that the Streetsblog crowd use fictional photos (i.e., idealized artist’s renditions) to argue for more facilities even as folks like you and me take pictures of real, substandard examples. Talk about truth in advertising….

    I ran for LAB board once on the promise to raise the profile of education in the LAB and put more teeth in the Bicycle-Friendly Communities program; I agree that negative points should be awarded for “crap facilities” (Andy Clarke’s words) like the one above. That was as futile as Mighk’s wish for winged frogs. Futility has its limits.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 9:37 am
  5. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    At a Florida conference session discussing the BFC program (at which a League staffer was present), I brought up not only the crap facilities, but that some cities, like Orlando, have taken very good residential collectors that were asphalt on top of original brick, removed the asphalt, and left a Paris-Rouxbais-style surface. Any negative points for that? Nope.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 9:43 am
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal … I was told by a person in the know and close to the situation that the lane you see in the picture was a “mistake” based on inaccurately measuring the street. No one to my knowledge has made this same statement in public.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 10:43 am
  7. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    “…inaccurately measuring the street.”

    Oh, I feel so much better, knowing it was just that. Arithmetic is so hard.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 11:33 am
  8. Khal Spencer wrote:

    We’ve had a few “mistakes” over here. In one instance, I was standing by the side of the road with some city officials explaining why a paint job created a serious hazard and in front of our eyes, we saw several moving violations and one near miss caused by the paint. I didn’t have to elaborate further. About a week after the meeting, the fubar shown below was removed.


    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 12:40 pm
  9. Kevin Love wrote:

    This fulfills the “Dangerous by Design” criteria by violating the CROW engineering standards.

    My chrystal ball predicts that someone will get hurt and sue the city for a gazillion dollars. Fail to follow recognized engineering standards? If I was on the jury a hefty financial penalty would be encouraging the city to stop that.

    I would also encourage lawsuits against the city, car manufacturers and oil companies for all the people that they poison and kill and injure by car use and the lethal poisons given off by cars.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 12:41 pm
  10. Khal Spencer wrote:

    “…Paris-Rouxbais-style surface…”

    Hey, Mighk. Look at the potential bright side: “European Style Spring Classic Bike Racing Comes to Florida”

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 12:43 pm
  11. Dan Gutierrez wrote:

    CROW engineering standards? This isn’t the Netherlands, so those are not standards in the US. Regarding liability. It is difficult to sue a city or state, even when the facility is substandard, so liability for bad facilities designs is not much of a deterrent in the US.

    The point of this blog is that poor designs that violate relevant state and federal standards should be held up for public viewing as the dirty laundry that they are, and not be cheered on as great accomplishments for cycling when the opposite is the case.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 1:10 pm
  12. Steve A wrote:

    Regardless, I wouldn’t ride on that seam, Or in that pan. If necessary, I’d pay a fine to not endanger my life…

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 1:27 pm
  13. John Brooking wrote:

    The LAB’s Bicycle Friendly America Guidebook 2012 pictured a door zone bike lane from Portland, Oregon, as part of a glowing (of course) review of said town. I wrote an email objecting to it to Andy Clarke, copying a half dozen other staffers and people associated with the Guidebook. The totality of his response regarding that photo was “I really hope you won’t let one photo that you don’t like spoil all the good information and inspirational stories in the BFA guide.” No one else responded at all, probably because Andy did first. >:-(

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 1:29 pm
  14. Khal Spencer wrote:

    What Dan G. and Steve A said.

    I would encourage others to do as Steve said–don’t ride in a dangerous facility and if cited, go to court with the chapter and verse from the design guides and the photos such as the ones here in your attorney’s pocket.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 1:31 pm
  15. Keri wrote:

    It’s really easy to suggest people should defy a crap facility and challenge it in court. If you can afford to do that.

    I know people who have received unwarranted citations and did not have the money to hire an attorney. They ended up losing as a result of blatant bias. Even if they win, they don’t get reimbursed for attorney fees or the time taken off from work to go to court. People who are surviving from paycheck to paycheck—maybe using a bike to save money—do not have the luxury of challenging bad laws, bad facilities and a biased culture.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 2:42 pm
  16. Robert wrote:

    Mighk Wilson: I’m not sure of you’ve ever examined the BFC applications or not but there is no question asking if the city has ever removed pavement in place of brick. 🙂 There is also no way that the LAB can visually inspect each community before handing out designations.

    It’s an application based upon the “5 E’s” and then various people in the region vote. It’s not perfect but I can’t imagine a better system that wouldn’t cost a fortune.

    Perhaps the questions regarding infrastructure could ask questions about what standards, if any, do they use? Maybe it already does ask that, I haven’t looked at it in years.

    Andy: call this a flame of you like (its sincere) but I suspect that part of the reason why substandard bike lanes remain relatively unchallenged in Springfield is because youre the main voice of opposition and you’re not arguing against bad lanes, youre arguing against ALL lanes. This makes it easy to paint you as a fringe and puts other advocates in a position of having to defend everything to counter you.

    We’ve had the same thing happen in Columbia. Advocates fighting themselves until finally the city employees just ignore everyone and do what they wish. That left everyone unhappy.

    Also, I’m sure you meant that the LANE was 13′ and not the street. Assuming that’s true, they could have striped 6′ bike lanes. You still wouldn’t have liked it but it would have met a standard and been safer.

    I wish we could reframe this argument to where we don’t blame “bike lanes” for situations caused by traffic professionals not even following the minimum standards that already exist.

    Lets make sure everything meets the standards and then try to change the standards if its still a safety concern.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 3:46 pm
  17. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… No it’s not a flame. It’s you being you.

    I’m the bad guy. Not the people who approve and implement and champion bad infrastructure. Me. I’m the bad guy.

    Bad lanes did not get painted in Springfield because of anything I did or didn’t do. But thanks for demonizing me.

    re: “Lets make sure everything meets the standards and then try to change the standards if its still a safety concern.”

    Hmmmmm… seems like what I was doing here seeing as how I’ve only mentioned two specific types of lanes that nearly everyone agrees are dangerous and out of compliance.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 4:23 pm
  18. JAT in Seattle wrote:

    The problem I have with the I-hope someone-sues-the-city approach is the public opinion backlash. So many people already think of cyclists as daredevils, putting themselves in harm’s way – now the ingrates crash their bikes and sue the taxpayers after we put in a nice wide bike lane for them?!? Just outlaw the damn toys!

    I totally agree that when implemented bike facilities should be competently done so, and that they frequently aren’t, and that cities, states, and the LAB will pat themselves on the back regardless. But hoping for injuries and resultant litigation just seems a little passive aggressive. But I say that from the luxury on not having a mandatory use statute.

    Having said all that, in Paris-Roubaix, the fast guys all ride in the gutter pan.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 4:48 pm
  19. Khal Spencer wrote:

    In response to Keri’s accurate criticism, I’ll modify my statement. These facilities should be challenged strategically by individuals working in conjunction with a bike organization willing to supply legal support. We should not send people into court as cannon fodder just as we should not send them onto the road as cannon fodder. My apologies.

    Of course, one should not have to deal with “crap facilities” in the first place. Unfortunately, some cities and some “advocates” have “crap standards”, and are aided and abetted by legal wording in guidelines that say “should” when they need to say “shall”.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 4:49 pm
  20. Khal Spencer wrote:

    JAT, in the spring classics, a lot of guys go down taking risks. The average commuter doesn’t ride to school/work the way George Hincapie rode the Gent-Wevelgem. Not even me, and I’m probably considered a statistical outlier in the cycling sanity contest.

    Posted 29 Mar 2013 at 4:53 pm
  21. Steve A wrote:

    For the record, all I indicated is my own behavior. I am fortunate enough to have the resources to fight an unjust citation and the knowledge on how to challenge the system short of that. As Keri indicates, many have neither of those.

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 4:59 am
  22. James M. wrote:

    We have this problem all over the country. Here in ‘bicycle friendly’ Tucson (Gold LAB) status, we have nutjobs running around ‘dieting’ roads. What happens? Autos need a certain amount of roadway to SAFELY operate in. That distance has been determined by several agencies and insurance companies to be a MINIMUM of 11 feet. Sorry, but that is a fact. So, they ‘cut’ a foot to a foot and a half out of each lane (this is supposed to ‘slow traffic’ Snicker…) and give US three feet (and studies show that it should be a minimum of four). Autos routinely run into the ‘bike lane’ so that the driver is now ‘safe’ from adjacent lane traffic (three feet door handle to door handle, more if mirrors are involved). The solution: WIDEN THE ROADS. Eminent domain was designed for a purpose and that is to provide public safety. Of course, a few of these roads could do with one less lane of travel to make car owners want to be bike riders, but that is a different story. Time to stop the ‘dieting’ before folks are hurt or killed. Oh, I forgot, some of these roads are used by semis. They are at the 10 foot limit, tire to tire.

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 7:45 am
  23. robert wrote:

    James: can you supply links to your 11′ lane widths. Also, can you clarify as to what classification of road that you are talking about? Average number of daily vehicles, etc. (Sincere Question.)

    Andy – Forgive me. I’ll stop discussing you personally and instead talk in much broader terms.

    It seems to me that many VC advocates honestly feel that bicycle lanes should not be painted at all.

    In the example that Andy shown, let’s pretend two things, (1) that the gutter pan was paved over and, (2) that the lanes were 6’ wide. There are many VC advocates who would still not approve of the lane.

    If those same advocates, who would never approve of *any bicycle lane, then point out one with severe and indisputable flaws, it’s pretty easy to see that they are not being sincere. They are only showing that lane as a “means to an end.” To show that bicycle lanes are often poorly designed and that the people in charge of painting them are incompetent or think of bicyclists as second class citizens.

    It’s pretty easy to see through that argument, IMO.

    Maybe there should be a third organization to challenge LAB and CS. This one will be neutral on bicycle facilities but have this mission statement, “to challenge any bicycle infrastructure that does not meet AASHTO standards, at a minimum.”

    In other words, build it right or don’t build it at all.

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 1:43 pm
  24. Michael wrote:

    I’ve gone from a “good bike lane” advocate to a on street bike infrastructure agnostic. I’m headed towards becoming an atheist on such things. Mostly, because a good road design that takes all users into consideration shouldn’t need bike boxes, lanes, sharrows, and such and because I rarely find these things helpful.

    We had some sort of big, organized club ride in my town today (Gig Harbor WA) and what I saw made me think that bike groups might be part of the problem as well.

    I passed at least 30 cyclists while driving (my truck, not my bike) across town and not only was every single cyclist a gutter bunny some of them got confused when I slowed down to allow them to take the lane in dangerous places and tried to wave me though in front of them. This even happened in a construction zone where you have a tiny squeezed down lane, bad pavement and where you could only go about 15 MPH anyway.

    Who teaches these people this stuff?

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 2:22 pm
  25. robert wrote:

    “Who teaches these people this stuff?”

    If the average bicyclists would take a course, we would have to find something else to argu…..ah, discuss. : )

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 2:35 pm
  26. marc wrote:

    The problem is bike lanes are an after thought. They need to plan for them from the onset. What should be done in an idea world is paint a gutter lane. a white stripe outside the gutter lane 3ft from curb next have a 6ft bike lane. Then have a 11ft car lane. 20ft for traffic going one way. and then have the yellow lines then do the same for the opposite direction traffic for a total of 40ft. + a few inches
    If you want to make two motor vehicle lanes then make the road 22ft wider at 62ft adding another 11ft motor vehicle lane in each direction. If the road is two way and is less then 40ft but more then 32 ft have a bike lane for traffic travelling in one direction and sharrows for bikes travelling in the opposite direction. If its less then 32 ft then no bike lanes should be done at all.

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 3:22 pm
  27. Michael wrote:

    More to the point of the post, the public shaming aspect of showing photos of shoddy work does seem to help get things like bad bike lanes fixed.

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 7:49 pm
  28. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    Bad decisions often stem from bad beliefs. The bad belief at the root of such bad facilities is “It’s better than nothing.”

    Yes, it is possible to build a good bike lane IN THE RIGHT CONTEXT. To me, the right context is a high-speed arterial with few driveways or intersections. In low speed urban environments, bike lanes are inherently problematic because, no matter wide they are, they guide cyclists into motorist blind spots.

    Posted 30 Mar 2013 at 8:17 pm
  29. Angelo Dolce wrote:

    “To me, the right context is a high-speed arterial with few driveways or intersections. In low speed urban environments, bike lanes are inherently problematic …”

    My observation of PA is that the bike lanes are far more likely to be built in the urban areas because there are more urban bicyclists. Even with bike lanes, high speed arterials are less attractive to bicyclists (especially to beginners requesting bike lanes) so there are no bicyclists to justify bike lanes.

    Yes, this means in the areas I’ve lived bike lanes are most likely to be built where they create conflicts (urban areas) and least likely to be built where they would be appropriate.

    Cynically, one might take this as a sign that the public likes bike lanes because they get bicyclists out of the way of motor traffic, and, that if bike lanes were intended to benefit bicyclists, motorists and police would not make them mandatory.

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 2:06 am
  30. robert wrote:

    Mighk –

    I agree with your last statement 100%!

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 2:14 am
  31. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Because Los Alamos is built on several interconnected mesas, our main arterial, Diamond Drive, is the only paved road connecting all of them. In areas between mesas, its bike lanes work really well and essentially work as a low speed lane for cyclists, who cannot keep up with the 35-40 mph speed limit. When Diamond becomes more “urban” with intersections and curbcuts, the bike lanes have to be used, if at all, with a high degree of alertness to conflict situtations.

    The problem seems to be a one size fits all mentality. If a road is good, a bike lane makes it better. Even when it doesn’t.

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 7:09 am
  32. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Oh, and I should add (sorry to add another post) that in the urban section that has been plagued with right hooks, both near misses and direct hits, cyclists blame incompetent motorists. For example:

    The problem is, if you design a facility with a known flaw that encourages operator error, no matter how hard you try, you will inevitably get a few cases of that type of operator error (which is why we try so hard to anticipate every type of error-prone situation in things like nuke plants). Its easy to blame a motorist for a dumb mistake, but criminy, a design meant to be robust would not encourage it!

    Happy Easter or whatever floats your boat, too.

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 7:15 am
  33. robert wrote:

    Khal – I couldn’t agree more with your last post. I wrote a column about that very thing in Portland. The newspaper blocks everyone without a subscription but you can read the first two paragraphs and see the graphics….more than enough to get the point.


    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 9:54 am
  34. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… What a clever trick! Because I am not in favor of painting lanes, you can dismiss my correctly criticizing bad designs as merely a Machiavellian tactic. That relieves you of any obligation to agree even when you do agree.

    Talk about seeing through an “argument” 🙂

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 12:47 pm
  35. Khal Spencer wrote:


    Actually, I was able to read the whole article, which I am referring to our traffic division (Robert, I cc’ed you on the email to the transportation board). Thanks!

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 12:58 pm
  36. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Note the actor playing John Forester in this short clip.

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 1:06 pm
  37. robert wrote:

    I don’t mind agreeing with you.

    Those bike lanes (in particular) are shit.

    Does that make you feel better?

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 1:16 pm
  38. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… It’s not about my feelings. It’s about your continuing to demonize me and others for honest disagreements (re: your use of “insincere” in this thread). It’s about your fallacious arguments (e.g. statement on subject X to be dismissed because opinion held on subject Y).

    But I do appreciate your going public with your assertion about shit lanes just now. I intend to use it the next time you attempt make my honest and appropriate critique of a shit lane about something else.

    It’s almost making wish Springfield paints something awful asap so I can post a photo 🙂

    Trust me. I’m not shy about stating the fact that I am maximally skeptical about bicycle lanes in general — to the point where my default position is to be against them unless convinced otherwise. And I further acknowledge that convincing me otherwise will take some work.

    There. I said it. No need to whip me for it in the comments of posts that are not about all bicycle lanes in general.

    Posted 31 Mar 2013 at 2:45 pm