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We Have Our Own Stupid Bike Lanes

May 7, 2008 Bicycling, South City 9 Comments

Proponents of bike lanes use arguments of increased safety to advocate an increase in such lanes. That would be nice and all if it were true. What is true enough is the perception of increased safety.

To the novice rider getting out into traffic can be intimidating. Bike lanes give these riders a mostly false sense of security. It is not the fault of the lanes but how they are designed in the US. Here they are largely left over roadway whereas in other areas where they are more effective they are part of a connected network, sometimes with their own signals and such. Here bike lanes simply start and stop out of the blue, leaving the rider on their own when the lane ends. This is where the safety argument falls apart.

Recently Slate did a couple of video segments looking for the stupidest bike lanes, click here to watch both. Go ahead and watch — they are brief and interesting. OK, back?

In July 2005 I did a report on a local bike lane that was more dangerous than stupid — it intentionally placed riders going straight ahead to the right of right turning vehicles.

The bike lane is that area nearest the curb. As you can see the cars in this lane above are required to turn right — right into cyclists heading South. The above is where 8th merges into 7th which at this point is basically Broadway.

Broadway is one of those hit or miss streets — the bike lane stops and resumes all of a sudden. A reader sent me a few pictures from further South, just South of A-B in fact:

Above as we approach the I-55 overpass we have two Southbound travel lanes, but no bike lane.

Under the bridge the roadway widens and a right turn lane begins to form for people going to Cherokee St or Southbound I-55. A brief bike lane appears to separate Southbound bikes from right turning motorists.

This is the exact spot where a cyclist should be at this point. But any rider skilled enough to get to this point doesn’t need a 10ft long bike lane to help them. The novice rider that hugs the right curb still needs help getting positioned in the right spot. If anything this tells motorists to not use all the road when turning right.

Bike lanes can be a good thing but only when they are consistent.  Having then only in spots where the road is too wide and not where it narrows again is just inviting a bike accident.


Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. Martin Pion says:

    Dear Steve,

    You must be back, and alive and well after your harrowing experience recently, judging by the date on the above column.

    I’m so glad to know that! I was directed to your column by a near-neighbor and cycling enthusiast, Jeff Jackson, otherwise I wouldn’t have known. I called the hospital to see how you were getting on but the last time I was told you had been discharged and my e-mails to you were bouncing back.

    Stay well, and let me know how you’re doing when you get time and feel like it.

    All the very best,


  2. john says:

    To learn how not to accomplish an objective see St Louis. To see where intent is properly, easily, inexpensively delivered with great style, beauty and grace, see http://copenhagengirlsonbikes.blogspot.com/.
    – –
    StL fails in earning BFC status from LAB (other cities fight vigorously for this label and market it with great pride): http://www.bikeleague.org/media/press/
    – –
    To understand more start with: http://www.streetsblog.org/
    If addicted to video: http://www.streetfilms.org/
    Cul-de-Sac cycling, the new craze: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/7380691.stm

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    I basically agree. Designated bike routes on secondary streets with less traffic are infinitely better than defined bike lanes on busy streets, although they become a necessary evil when it comes to “connecting the dots”, getting across obstacles like freeways, rivers and railroad tracks. The real issue, however, isn’t the route but education. Drivers need to learn to respect cyclists and cyclists need to learn and observe the rules of the road – mutual respect will go a long way in making all our streets more cyclist-friendly.

  4. TeddyFrank says:

    I don’t trust bike lanes at all, I feel bad when I see people just trust in the magical of paint to keep them safe. When I was in New York, I avoided bike lanes like the plague. I’ve had people almost crush me multiple times making an unsignalled right hand turn when I was in a bike lane. I would just ride in the middle of traffic.

    That’s the inherent problem with bike lanes, they’re thought of as an extra add-on to street planning. As a result they’re piecemeal, start and stop in wierd places, don’t all l look the same etc.

  5. scott o says:

    I like bike lanes, and I ride a bike everywhere. Sure, there are better and worse bike lanes, just like everything – but once you have a bike lane you have, at least, a visible cue to cars to be aware of cyclists. You also take up space that then can’t be used for a regular lane of traffic. Sure, it would be super to have planned all our roads to include integrated safe space for cyclists – but given the existing structure that we have – I think bike lanes are a positive step. The more the better – check out Portland – once you eventually build a network, and we aren’t there yet – everyone starts to ride.

  6. Mike says:

    Act like they don’t see you, because they don’t.

  7. william kruse says:

    While not perfect, bike lanes do work. You are partially correct in saying that the safety is only perceived and not real. That is where your argument falls apart though. More people ride once the “percieve” it to be safe. This increased ridership increases driver awareness of cyclists. This increased awareness does lead to less accidents. So while the lanes themselves offer little to no protection, they do lead to more riders and fewer accidents per bicycle mile traveled.

  8. john says:

    Instead of suggesting that you “don’t trust bike lanes” (have you been run over by one?) perhaps a more accurate description would be “I don’t trust bike lanes to protect me from irresponsible auto-truck drivers”.
    – –
    Bike lanes alone can’t solve the problem of helping others to chose a bike over a car. Law enforcement is a critical factor and so is education, especially for drivers, who need to understand and appreciate the rights of all road users. Bike lanes are often “stupid” as they are designed and painted by those who don’t cycle.
    – –
    Well designed bike lanes work in expanding the options of travel and are loved by people who use them daily. To see the cities who have inspired others to live a healthier life, just examine the list of BFC cities with Platinum and Gold status. Copenhagen (that chilly northern European city) had similar travel patterns as we do now. They decided 30 years ago that people are more important than cars, change their laws, created friendly bike routes and, miracle of miracles, bike lanes worked wonders. Now close to 40% of the population use them daily while in StL (with much nicer weather) less than 1% cycle as part of their daily routine.

  9. I really must get around to documenting the bike lane along Clark Street, between Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood and Evanston to the north. In the middle of a lengthy stretch of road, between a railroad embankment and a cemetery, the bike lane just ends with no warning. The safety-conscious cyclist has little recourse but to climb up onto the sidewalk.


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