(Updated) : “Centering” Bike Lanes For Maximum Safety

Background Reading


This winter has been like the ones I knew as a child. And that is a good thing when it comes to considering things like bicycle lane placement. It seems that all over the country cyclists have had to deal with the double whammy of too much snow and not enough clearance of it.

The problem seems to stem from tight budgets and difficult maintenance procedures. Towns and cities are fighting to keep their budgets in line. Financial times are tough and they will be getting tougher. As salaries fail to keep pace with inflation taxes will shrink and suddenly things like bike lanes will seem superfluous when considered against the overall costs of keeping the whole of traffic infrastructure intact.

With folks driving fewer miles it means that traditional sources of money to keep roads and bridges maintained have dropped off to the point where we are being told that we must raise the gasoline tax (nationwide)  to keep pace with the necessity of repair and maintenance. And add to this the newly minted requirements for smaller, less efficient machinery to clean bicycle lanes for the less than 1% of the population who travels back and forth to work, school or errands each day and you have the makings of a conflict.

What Do Safe Lanes Look Like?

Here is my laundry list of things a good bicycle lane must do:

  • It should protect riders from Right Hooks from trucks and buses.
  • It should eliminate the problem of Door Zone Collisions.
  • It should facilitate the Left and Right Turns of cyclists without having to resort to expensive specialized turn signals.
  • It should be as easy to clean as any other lanes. And it should not require special expensive equipment.
  • It should facilitate the viewing of cyclists by motorists by keeping bicycles to the left of the driver.
  • It should be situated on an arterial street where possible to maximize the range and quality of cycling destinations.
  • It should minimize interactions between pedestrians and cyclists crossing intersections.
  • It should eliminate where possible interference with trucks and vans unloading goods for local businesses.
  • It should alleviate concerns of cyclists that cars are passing too close because it would be illegal to cross the double yellow line into the bike lane.

Centrally Placed Bike Lanes

Centered Bike Lanes with Bike Box At Intersection

Centered Bike Lanes with Bike Box At Intersection

By keeping the bike lanes in the center of the roadway, they are the ones which get plowed first. Since the roads are crowned it would mean that ice and melting snow would move to either side of the roadway leaving cyclists in the one location where plows are most effective.

A central bike box would allow cyclists to execute turns to the left or right. And note too that right turning trucks and buses are not capable of executing Right Hooks on cyclists.

Cyclists are far removed from passenger car doors. This should minimize (if not eliminate instances of Door Zone Collisions). Even left turning vehicles are easily able to see the bicyclists waiting in the central bike box when they attempt a left turn.


Centered Bike Lanes (2nd Version) Note: Cyclists Ride Against Traffic

Note that before a light changes for crossing pedestrians they are unlikely to be waiting in a spot which blocks the bike lane. In fact if cyclists are allowed to enter the intersection to situate themselves in the bike box (when the pedestrian signal lights) they can usually avoid pedestrians as they move to the centralized bike box.

Trucks and vans are most likely to choose either the parking lane or the one just to its left for unloading. That would include even vehicles driven by law enforcement or emergency drivers who are stopping for coffee or a quick fast food meal.

Note too that cars cannot legally pass bicyclists on the left, so the 3 Foot Law concerns are eliminated.

Some Additional Thoughts (29 Sep 2014)

The problems surrounding bike lanes continue. Here are some of the continuing issues:

  • Taxi cabs in cities are still at a loss for servicing their clientele while attempting to avoid conflicts with cyclists. This is one indication that having bike lanes on the outside of the street should be rethought.

    Reply by Jeremy 1 hour ago
    I am glad to see you mention valets. I like riding on Wells, but last week I was riding north, and a valet was standing in the bike lane. Not in the door zone area, the actual lane. I said something to him as I passed.

    One problem I have with the city’s assortment of bike lane construction is the lack of consistency. The type of lane on a street could change over the course of a couple of blocks. Since there is zero effort to educate everyone, I see where innocent confusion can lead to dangerous results.

    I sort of feel bad for cabbies when they have to pick up or drop off a fare on a street with a buffered bike lane. I can understand their dilemma of whether to block traffic or block the bike lane. They aren’t supposed to block the bike lane, but if they remain in the car lane, there is the risk of a cyclist being doored.

  • Service and Delivery Vehicles Need Curbside Access. Take for instance this complaint:

    Reply by Davo 29 minutes ago
    The “protected lane” on Randolph just North of Millennial park seems pretty pointless to me. The whole bike lane was full of trucks unloading equipment for the Pavilion (i assume). With the amount of stuff that needs to go in and out of that place, its ridiculous to have the PBL there. It seems to me that those resources could have been used elsewhere.

The initial reason for shoving bike lanes to the curbs was that ‘it was easy’. Our rules say that slower traffic should always keep right. And since by definition bicycles are considered ‘slower traffic‘ it seemed to make sense to put first ‘sharrow‘ lanes up against the parked cars and when that proved problematic (and even dangerous) we decided to create two kinds of Protected Bike Lanes (PBLs).

Of the two the ones I deem the most problematic in design are those that once again move cars towards the center street to allow bikes to hug the curb. And that creates all sorts of problems in winter weather. Not to mention the fact that pedestrians and bikes are in constant conflict as the situation on Dearborn PBL illustrates.

Pedestrians like to actually wait along the edges of the crosswalk to ‘get a jump start‘ on crossing. This is the same strategy used by cyclists when they use Bike Boxes that are in front of the car traffic at stops. And of course in the absence of a Bike Box cyclists use the crosswalk (grin).

In cities the very worst place to situate a bike lane is along the edges. Even on Dearborn you find that motorists parked in the street have to walk along the northbound side of the PBL to reach their cars. And that of course upsets the cyclists.

By moving the bicycle lane to the center of the street, you avoid having to deal with the myriad micro-aggressions that plague the lives of both cyclists and motorists who contend most for the use of the curb. You avoid such things as police and service vehicles parking in the bike lane in an effort to grab a meal (since they have no lunch hour). This removes the temptation of cyclists to launch rather ill-advised campaigns like this one:

Reply by R W 1 hour ago
Please help us document these dangerous spots by taking photos when you can, and posting them on twitter with the tag #enforce940060. For more on the hastag: http://chi.streetsblog.org/tag/enforce-9-40-060/ From the most recent Mayor’s Bike Advisory Council meeting, we know that CDOT is monitoring the hashtag, and is at least aware that many problem spots exist, and any additional documentation of trouble spots will hopefully help get the city to act, and maybe improve bike lanes beyond paint…

It never pays to have those who ‘serve and protect‘ at loggerheads over the use of the bike lane by parked vehicles when many of those illegally parked vehicles just happen to be cop cars. Yikes!

Stop Putting Bike Lanes Along Curbs!

The Dearborn-style PBL is the worst of the worst. Cars love their ability to know when they are correctly parked. And to add insult to injury their drivers have to walk in the streets or along the bike lanes to get to their vehicles. Dumb design idea!

Not to mention the fact that now both sets of doors on the vehicles are subject to allowing passengers to exit into traffic. On one side it is cars on the other bicycles. Dumb, very dumb design idea!

And in what universe does requiring a municipality to buy entirely new sets of snow removal equipment which is smaller (and thus far less efficient that snow plow trucks) make any real sense? If we just stop and ask ourselves why do bike lanes need to be along the curbs it immediately becomes obvious that they do not. The fact that it has always been this way is not an answer.

Stop doing stupid things! You can remove the problem of the ‘Right Hook‘ overnight by no longer placing cyclists in the very space that truckers and buses need to make right turns. Again it was a dumb idea from the start and as things usually go nobody had the guts to call it what it was.

Let Drivers And Cyclists Face One Another

What drivers cyclist crazy (and is also the greatest source of danger to them) is having drivers approaching from the rear when they cannot see danger unfolding. That is why in the newest re-design of the centered lane idea I have cyclists riding against traffic.

It was never a bad idea for cyclist to do this. Cyclist attempting to use mirrors on their helmets and handlebars are as ‘blind‘ as motorists who attempt to use them as well. It is virtually impossible for a small mirror on the helmet to give you anything but a small glimpse of traffic approaching from the rear.

On a highway when glare is blinding drivers and a cyclist has chosen to ride during that dangerous period of time, all hell breaks loose! So let’s remove the problem altogether. Allow cyclist to ride in the middle of the highway facing the danger so that if they need to ‘bail out‘ they can. No mirrors needed!

And it should be pointed out that the one thing that makes modern car headlights safer for other motorists is dangerous for cyclists. Headlights that toss out a circular beam give fits to oncoming traffic. But clipping the beam makes cyclists invisible at night. At least the ones on upright bikes.

A cyclist with a nice reflective jacket is unseen because the headlights do not project their beam that high up. Likewise  if you have reflectors or tail lights (with reflective surfaces) they need to be down near the axle of the bike’s rear wheel.

By moving the bikes out of the main flow of traffic you keep them safer when the sun goes down. You also make it a lot more difficult for nefarious evil-doers to snatch cyclists off their bikes from hidden perches along the sidewalk.

No more situations where an unsuspecting cyclist has her backpack grabbed and she gets shoved into a heap from behind by a bunch of rowdy drunken revelers on her way home along at night. Instead she gets to face her tormentors and can bail out if she needs to.

I will close with the hope that at least some of those who regularly read this blog will give these ideas some serious consideration. We are facing an uphill battle and losing it inch-by-inch to the realities of urban life. Curbside bike lanes are not the best place to put cyclists. We can eliminate ‘Door Zone Collisions‘ and the indignities of having one’s lane commandeered by any and all service and protection vehicles in a single bold move.