Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Bike Lane Hazards

The Seattle Times has published a rare look at one of the issues involved in the creation and striping of a bicycle lane on city streets: wretched lane placement. Danger in the Bike Lane actually looks at the right-hook collision relative to bicycle lanes.

Many bicycle lanes violate the rule of traffic that dictates that the slowest traffic should be travelling in the right-most lane that goes through to their destination. What happens in many cases is that the striped bike lane ends up to the right of a right-turn lane. Well-intentioned bicyclists sit in the lane at the light to go straight, while next to them a car waits to right turn. The end result is often very unpretty, as described in the Seattle article.

Many cyclists don’t know that they should move to the left, out of the bike lane, into the right-most straight lane at these intersections. Many motorists don’t know this either, truth be told. (Many of these same cyclists and motorists also do not realize that regardless of the bike lane, if someone wants to left turn, they need to come across multiple lanes into the left turn lane used by motorists, not use the extremely not-useful right-most bike lane as their launch point!)

Seattle is going to try painting lanes green to avoid the right-hook problem. This is probably not the best solution. Articles cited within the Seattle article have much better approaches – acting as a ‘bicycle driver’ and disregarding the bike lane ‘eye candy’ in favor of using the road properly. For those who really really really want to stripe a lane (rather than use wider lanes that are advantageous to cyclists without the paint issue), it’s also possible to create a right-turn bike lane (that sites to the right of the right turn box), and a straight lane (that stays to the left of the right turning car) – roadway width permitting. The dotted line for bike lanes that ‘invite’ cyclists to move into the lane aren’t all that explicit to the same cyclists I cite who feel that they’re supposed to stay in the bicycle lane and not use the main lane.

They do have a quote in the article that right-hook crashes don’t have an engineering cause, but a taking-responsibility cause. Frankly, I don’t see why both can’t be accepted as issues. Education for cyclists so they realize that using the lane is an acceptable and preferable option in many instances is a good idea, but so is engaging in engineering that creates good line-of-sight. Together, they’re a more effective solution than either independently.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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