Yesterday, a cyclist was killed while in the bike lane at 1st Avenue North and 5th Street in Minneapolis. While details remain sparse, the cyclist was in a bike lane painted to the right of the road, and was struck in a classic right-hook as the vehicle in the ‘car lane’ to the left of the bike lane made an (apparently legal) right turn.
Today’s coverage is focusing on the fact that the bike in use was stolen. While that’s regrettable, it may suggest that the individual in question wasn’t an experienced cyclist. Hard to say. It certainly doesn’t take away the fact that a death is a terrible thing.
More importantly, something like this brings a bit of attention to the idea that bike lanes are a suggestion, not an edict, as to lane placement for the savvy cyclist. When a bike lane is striped exclusively to the right of ‘car lanes,’ many cyclists stay in the bike lane at intersections at their own risk. Very often, the first ‘car lane’ to their left is a lane with the dual option of a motorized vehicle going straight, or going right. Depending on lane placement, what color the light is, car and bicycle arrival times at intersection, and the stopping point of the cyclist in the bike lane, this can create a dangerous blind spot in which the bicyclist is taken out by a right-turning vehicle who may not be able to see the cyclist – even if they’re looking for one.
Typically, I tell people that if a bike lane is striped as the curb lane to the right of a vehicle lane with option, pull into the main lane at a light – even if there’s no car there – or behind any vehicles already in that lane. If a rider insists on staying in the bike lane, I suggest not pulling all the way forward, but staying well back of the rear view mirrors of the vehicle for visibility’s sake. If the vehicle is one with a high clearance, like a truck, stay all the way behind it, even in the bike lane.
There are ways to engineer bike lanes so that the right-hook risk is minimized, but it’s rare to see it happen in a backfill striping project. Failure to recognize the vehicle types and destination potential of the traffic around you as a cyclist can be fatal, even with a bike lane present.