Who Can Use the ‘Bike Lane’?

Background Reading


Sometimes you read something that seems a bit ‘off‘. The following struck me as just that, problematic. Now you will have to forgive me for having grown up in the South Side ghetto. I really should ‘know my place’ better than I do. But bear with my feeble mind as I try to work through what is bothering.

First the argument from an august attorney:

Permalink Reply by Mike Keating 3 hours ago
The thing about a bike lane, as opposed to a city street, is that ONLY bikes are intended and permitted users of the bike lane. A city street is (the cities argue) intended for motor vehicles and bicycles are merely permitted. But I would argue that there is a very clear distinction with the bike lane where it is very, very specifically for bikes only.

It would not surprise me to learn that the Chicago City Counsel does indeed interpret ‘Bike Lane‘ usage in this fashion. But if it does it raises some immediate concerns:

  1. How do drivers park without breaking the law? And this is true especially with respect to the majority of lanes positioned as they are against the curb with the bike lane immediately adjacent to the left.
  2. How would a driver or rear seat passengers ever lawfully exit from the driver’s side of the vehicle? It would mean crossing to the passenger’s side door in order to exit legally.
  3. How does a motor vehicle ever execute a right hand turn? This is of course often only an issue at intersections.
  4. Protected Bike Lanes like the one on 55th and Ellis in Hyde Park specifically merge the Traffic Lane and the Bike Lane to allow a right hand turn. Under such circumstances a right turn would seem illegal.

I could continue with other examples, but hopefully I have made my point? All over the suburbs the bike lane is often merged with the traffic lane to make right turns possible. One interesting variation on this is in downtown Naperville. Where Eagle Street intersects Aurora Avenue the bike lane and the traffic lane swap positions long enough to place cyclists in a bike lane that lies between the left and right turn lanes. Lane crossings like this would make vehicle entry into the bike lane illegal, at least momentarily. So how would municipalities deal with these issues?

California To the Rescue

It turns out the issue has been considered in California. Their statute reads:

Here are the pertinent parts of the California Vehicle Code (CVC):

Motor Vehicles in Bicycle Lanes
21209. (a) No person shall drive a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207 except as follows:

(1) To park where parking is permitted.

(2) To enter or leave the roadway.

(3) To prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection.

{there’s more about motorized bicycles in bicycle lanes, not prohibited so long as they’re operated reasonably and prudently]

Turning Across Bicycle Lanes
21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100 [general turning regulations].

Reasonable Shared Use

In Amsterdam shared use of bicycle lanes includes motorized wheel chairs and the occasional motor scooter. Given the fact that everyone pays for infrastructure shared use makes the most sense to me. Without such a posture we are dreadfully close to having non-cyclists decide that the bike lane is our ghetto.

When I consider such efforts as Open Streets it seems to me it sends a more inclusive message than Mr. Keating is proposing. In the world he is describing we have no natural allies. Instead we have a ghetto unto ourselves that none may breach except astride a bike. That seems a very high price to pay. Would the bike lane be available to all at least during Open Streets? Or have we become members of a caste system? We have an area unto ourselves, carved out of the public coffers and none may enter without knowing the secret password.

The very last thing that the Cycling Community needs is a sense of otherness. Unless we share our lane it will eventually become the place to which we are confined.