So Was That Great Bike Lane Viral Video Right?
August 19, 2011
Of course the whole issue went viral in June, when New York-based filmmaker Casey Neistat made a hugely popular YouTube video after he was ticketed for not riding his bicycle in a bike lane. On the video, which has received over four million views, he is seen dutifully riding in the bike lane -- and crashing into the various things that make bike lanes unsafe to actually ride in, such as construction barriers, garbage cans and other assorted urban hazards.
With over seven hundred miles of bike lanes in New York, one would be able to find plenty of safe riding space, but the New York Post followed up on Neistat’s video, fanning out across Midtown and finding “pedestrian blockades, cars spilling over the lanes, and even parked taxis” rendering biking in the bike lanes unsafe and problematic, if not downright impossible.
A bike lane is simply a lane on a paved street reserved for bicyclists. The idea was that if there was that if you built such a lane, they would come -- people would realize they could ride bikes on the streets much more safely, and would leave their gas-guzzling, polluting cars at home and jump on a bike instead.
Nice idea. Would that the world always operated the way nice ideas say it should. But in reality, of course, bike lanes are far less practical than their idealized image, and are a far greater hazard to bike riders and cars alike.
Liberal city councilors love proposing bike lanes, submitting editorials to local newspapers touting bike lanes to pump up their greenie street cred, voting funding for bike lanes, being photographed opening bike lanes, and sometimes, if there are enough TV cameras hanging around, pedaling a few yards on bike lanes.
But the people who have to live with the bike lanes, cyclists and drivers alike, generally despise them. Even in one of the most liberal and green cities in North America, bike lanes are seen, at best, as a mixed bag. Vancouverite Don MacKay of Burnaby said a couple months ago “I cross the Burrard Bridge many times per month at random times, including rush hours, and the most riders I have seen at any one time: 8! The Dunsmuir lane hardly has any users anytime. An extremely expensive, politically correct exercise that adds tons of pollutants to the air due to the slowdown in vehicular traffic.”
As the fervently anti-bike lane Vancouver Cyclist Web page says, however, “Bike lanes only do two things: they make life worse for cyclists, and they allow politicians and uninformed advocates to feel that they've ‘done something for cycling’."
But as Vancouver Cyclist says, “The presence of a bike lane encourages cyclists to ride in the bike lane, even when it is not appropriate to ride on the far right side of the road.” As he notes, “arterial streets often have right turn only lanes at intersections. In this case, a cyclist who is planning to go straight through the intersection must merge out of the right turn lane before reaching the intersection.” If she doesn’t, then her bike suddenly has an argument with a car turning right. And we know who usually wins those bike-car arguments.One System Grid, Two Logics? Bad Idea.
The basic problem here is that what is essentially one street system has users following two separate logics on the same grid. Left-hand turns for those in the bike lanes are even worse, as they must leave the bike lane and merge across several lanes of traffic to get to the left-turn lane. And what’s the point of a bike lane you have to leave whenever you want to turn?Bike lanes cause motorists to drive in a dangerous fashion. Motorists can’t be expected to be processing their own driving while tracking the possible activities of every bicycle on the street. When drivers turning right under-estimate the speed of a cyclist in the bike lane, which is highly likely, again we have the bike-car argument happening. “Cyclists in bike lanes find that motorists dart out in front of them, seemingly without having noticed the cyclist's presence,” Vancouver Cyclist says. Debris and pedestrians. Those of you who try to use bike lanes whenever possible are nodding along now. The only city in the world we’ve ever been in where we witnessed the majority of pedestrians actually a) notice and b) care about bike lanes and keeping them clear was Munich. If it happens elsewhere, great. And of course debris gets kicked off sidewalks and off car-traveled streets, and ends up on bike lanes. Bike lanes lead to discrimination against cyclists. As Vancouver Cyclist notes, when a cyclist on the street, not in a bike lane plans to turn left, that rider merges across a couple of lanes to get to the left turning lane: “A competent cyclist does this smoothly and without incident every day.” But once a bike lane exists, “many motorists think that cyclists must use that bike lane, and only the bike lane,” quite reasonably so, and motorists aren’t looking for bikes to come across lanes for a turn. It’s the problem mentioned earlier of two different usage logics operating in the same system. Bike Lanes: Preventing Good Cycle Traffic Skills?
And the killer problem with bike lanes -- Cyclists who have any business riding don't need bike lanes. Any experienced urban cyclist can ride in traffic with ease, and dislikes bike lanes as annoying and dangerous for the reasons outlined above. There are plenty of traffic cycling skills courses offered for those who aren’t confident riding in traffic, and as Vancouver Cyclist notes, “just as we don't provide special facilities for incompetent drivers, we should not waste tax dollars in providing facilities for incompetent cyclists.”