Posted by: hagengreen | October 10, 2010

Cars want us off the road, we want them out of bike lanes

My daily cycling commute to work consists of taking multiple surface streets, most of them with standard-sized bike lanes. Ask any driver or cyclist: keeping these folks apart is paramount to safety and sanity for both parties. Thanks to the plethora of bike lanes in the Northwest, I usually feel safe out on the road when mixed with cars just a few feet away. But despite road designers’ best intentions, not all roads work out well for either cyclists or drivers – sometimes both. The effects of unaccommodating roads on either party involves what I call “crossover”: cyclists get closer to cars and/or cars get closer to cyclists. Ask any driver or cyclist, either one is undesirable. Both agree they need to be kept away from each other!

Cyclists tend to crossover into car territory when their bike lines are too dangerous to ride. Trash or broken glass from an auto accident ends up getting swept into the bike lane to “get it off the road”. Manhole covers (which can act as large bumps) conveniently get placed in bike lanes. So do sewer grates with slits aligned parallel with the bike tires – those scream bloody murder to cyclists. There are other hazards like train tracks, potholes, and hanging branches that cause a cyclist to veer into car territory, too. Although many times the cyclist is taking precautionary measures from their end – expecting adjacent cars to understand and accommodate some level of tolerance for crossover.

Cars also cross over into bike lines, but their excuses, in my opinion, aren’t as critical compared to those by cyclists. Some of the top reasons I’ve found cars cross over into bike lines include:

  • Cutting corners on a long ‘C’ shaped, sweeping turns or bends in relatively straight roads
  • Taking the bike lane too early to prepare for a turn
  • Trying to get into another lane that isn’t quite a full lane yet
  • Backed up traffic where cars somehow start drifting into the bike lane (even though they’re stopped or moving a couple feet every few seconds)
  • Can you tell yet that I’m biased? Winking smile

There are several valid reasons for entering the bike lane for things like construction traffic redirection, preparing to turn where the bike lane line is hashed, or pulling in and out of a driveway. But those occurrences tend to be in the minority of of bike lane interactions in my experience.

There are several specific sections of roads where car crossover into bike lanes is quite consistent at sharp or sweeping turns (first bullet). These are the most worrisome for cyclists when both cyclists and cars are typically moving at their respective terminal rates of speed. For my commute, I can pinpoint three specific locations where this happens. Before I hit these points, I look ahead and watch cars cut the corner by at least a foot – exactly the space that I’ll take up within the minute. As I get closer, I look behind at the cars to get a sense of their approach. It’s reassuring (but also amusing) to watch cars go *really* wide as they exasperate their turn radius to keep extra distance. It’s safe to say drivers rarely get these types of turns just right.

As a cyclist and driver, I believe drivers need subtle reminders of where on their road their multi-ton missiles should be for everyone’s maximum safety. In fact, this is already happening today: painted lines, curbs, speed bumps, and pavement markers (also called Botts’ dots) all contribute to set order to automobile chaos. We can simply extend today’s devices to further the safety story for drivers and cyclists.

Here’s my plan: take the places where crossover is all too common, and add pavement markers or, better yet, a curb barrier. Here is an example of a bike lane curb – this is the ultimate crossover protection! A very nice example of this type of curb is going south, uphill on Juanita Drive in Kirkland. There is a sweeping right turn with a raised curb to keep drivers off the bike lane.

However there is a cheaper approach via pavement markers. Clearly our city officials who are accountable for road maintenance do not ride their bikes on their own roads, so citizens must take road safety into their own hands. Time for my idea: citizens place their own pavement markers at problematic spots.

Here’s the action plan for my cyclist-minded readers:

  1. Collect all lose pavement markers – either on your bike rides, runs, or even when you’re driving. Here’s my first one!RoadBump
  2. Buy the double-stick butyl pads, J-B Weld, or some other epoxy at your local Home Depot or Lowes hardware store.
  3. Find dangerous crossover points in your cycling commute.
  4. Place one or more pavement markers either on the bike lane lane or in the spots where driver crossover awareness is essential.
  5. Take a picture of the before & after of your great work, and spread the word!




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