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  1. #1
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    What are the pros and cons to cyclists of bike lanes?

    Inexperienced cyclists who do not understand the rules of the road and their applicability to cycling, nor understand the causes of most car-bike collisions, feel intimidated riding on roads with cars. Because they mostly fear being hit from the rear -- a very uncommon form of car-bike collision -- bike lanes make them feel safer, even though they provide no protection from cross traffic and at intersections, where most car-bike collisions occur. Does a bike lane help an inexperienced cyclist be safe? Or does it provide a false sense of security that ultimately makes him less safe?

    Few people will argue with the point that bike lanes help keep cyclists from slowing down motorists. Is this a benefit to just the motorists, or to the cyclists as well? Or are cyclists better off when there is no bike lane and motorists are more likely to slow down?

    Motorists passing a cyclist riding in a bike lane are largely unaware of them, because the cyclist is not riding in the motorists' lane. This contributes to motorists not even adjusting their lane position when passing the cyclist - they feel as long as they remain in their lane, no matter how close they are to the right edge of their lane, everything is fine. At the same time cyclists tend to ride near the bike lane stripe due to debris collection in the bike lane (see below). These factors combine to fast/close passes by motorists of cyclists in bike lanes, typically faster and closer than passes that occur when there is no bike lane. Do these relatively fast/close passes of cyclists by motorists increase or decrease the safety of cyclists riding in bike lanes? What happens when the cyclist in the bike lane has to make a sudden unexpected adjustment to the left right before a motorist imakes a fast/close pass of him?

    Few cyclists seem to know that the best and safest way to make a left turn is to start merging left hundreds of feet before the intersection. Do bike lanes help or hinder cyclists in learning how to make left turns properly?

    Many cyclists do not seem to understand that riding near the right edge makes them less visible to cross traffic - and, hence, more vulnerable to being hit by cross traffic. Do bike lanes help or hinder cyclists in learning where the safest lane position is to maximize their visibility and safety?

    Moving motorist traffic has a sweeping effect that constantly cleans the pavement of debris that can cause punctures and even crashes. Because motorists are prohibited from driving in bike lanes, this sweeping effect tends to end at the bike lane stripe, and the bike lane collects all of the debris. When there is no bike lane, and no stripe, motorists tend to drive at least occasionally when there are no cyclists present on the pavement that would be allocated to a bike lane if there was one there - in other words the area where cyclists tend to ride - and hence sweep it up too. Do bike lanes improve or hinder riding pavement surface cleanliness for cyclists?

    In most states the law says that cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as do drivers of vehicles. Some motorists and even some cyclists don't know or understand this. Many believe that cyclists are inferior users of the roadways as compared to motorists. Does the existence of bike lanes help or hinder communicating the message that cyclists have the SAME rights and responsibilities as other vehicle drivers?

    Most everyone seems to understand that between intersections everyone should position themselves according to speed (slower traffic to the right). But at intersections, and at their approaches, positions should be selected based on destination (left-turners to the left, right-turners to the right, and thru travelers in between). Most cyclists don't seem to understand this, and stay near the right regardless of their destination. Do bike lanes help cyclists learn their proper positions (based on destination) on intersection approaches, or do they improperly encourage them to stay near the right regardless of their destination?

    Everyone who is turning right is supposed to merge "as close as practicable" to the right side before the turn, and as they go through it. If there is a bike lane, even motorists are required to merge into the bike lane before turning right (this helps prevent cyclists from passing slowing/turning motorists on the right, and subsequently getting right-hooked). Do bike lanes help or hinder motorists in turning right properly in such a way as to reduce the possibility of collision with cyclists?

    Bike lanes are inherently incomplete. They cannot continue through intersections, and often cannot continue through various sections due to parking and pavement width issues, among others. The sudden end of a bike lane often puts unprepared and inexperienced cyclists into dangerous situations. Do bike lanes make cycling more or less safe?

    A relatively common type of car-bike collision is when the cyclist rides into an opening car door of a parked car, or in trying to avoid hitting an opening door, turns left in front of a passing car. Cyclists traveling faster than pedestrian speed should therefore ride outside of the so-called door zone, which means 3-4 feet from the edge of the parked cars. Bike lanes are often painted in door zones. Do bike lanes help or hinder cyclists in learning to ride outside of door zones?

    Are bike lanes good or bad for cyclists and cycling?
    Last edited by Serge Issakov; 12-21-04 at 04:22 PM.

  2. #2
    Velocipedic Practitioner
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    Based on your posts, I'd say you were answering your own question.
    Your name wouldn't happen to be Forester, would it?
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    No, my name is not Forester.

    I crafted my post in the form of questions in order to hopefully spur discussion. Of course, I do believe I have answered by own questions, but I believe many cyclists disagree with me. However, I'm not clear as to why, or on which points, or whether the support of bike lanes is completely based on superstitution. I am hoping that this thread will help solve some of the bike lane conundrums.

  4. #4
    The Iceman cometh! Bop Bop's Avatar
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    I think cyclists need to be pro-active, not reactive. If you wait until something happens to react you are just adding to the possiblities of having an accident. However, if you think ahead, the same way drivers should be doing you stand a better chance of being prepared for something.

    If you need to make a turn, don't wait till you get on top of the corner to turn, start your lane change for a left turn way ahead. Do not pull up parrell to a car stopped at a light, if the car makes an unexpected right turn your in trouble. Stay behind the first car on the right side, let the car move first. Adjust your speed to allow for a safe gap in traffic. Don't time coming to a corner with a car.

    Don't wait until your on top of a line of parked cars to cut out, adjust your speed so you get there when there is a safe gap in traffic so you do not have to worry about trying to avoid getting hit by a car when a driver unexpectedly opens a parked car door.

    Do things such as blinkies, lights, colorful clothing, etc to make your self more obvious.

    Yes, it can be unerving to a cyclist having cars zipping by him/her at 40 or 50 MPH, but if you keep your head, plan, be constantly alert and use common sense you can reduce the odds of being in an accident.
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  5. #5
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    I generally don't have issues with bikes lanes here in the Bay Area (mostly along the Peninsula). The local municipalities seem to do good job of keeping the bikes lanes that I use free of debris by sweeping them on a weekly basis.

    I ride in the left-hand portion of the lane and ride a straight line at intersections and merge areas. I do not "zig" to the right and cut across the lane at a right-hand merge. I think it is much easier for motorists to calculate where I am going and where I will be if I keep a straight line.

    Again, when I am going straight and there is a right-hand turn lane, I continue a straight path hoping that motorists will wait until I clear the intersection. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn't and they try and pass me on the left and turn right in front of me. If I moved to the right, however, this would happen every time.
    "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ...'holy *****...what a ride!'"

  6. #6
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    Does a bike lane help an inexperienced cyclist be safe? Or does it provide a false sense of security that ultimately makes him less safe?
    --Bike lanes helped me be safe when I bike-commuted in LA.
    Is this a benefit to just the motorists, or to the cyclists as well?
    --When I'm driving I like bike lanes 'cause the cyclists are out of my way. When I'm cycling, I like bike lanes 'cause I have my own space.
    Do these relatively fast/close passes of cyclists by motorists increase or decrease the safety of cyclists riding in bike lanes?
    -- Fast/close passes happen even when there are NO bike lanes and those are scary. I prefer the lanes.
    What happens when the cyclist in the bike lane has to make a sudden unexpected adjustment to the left right before a motorist makes a fast/close pass of him?
    --A "sudden unexpected adjustment" is always undertaken at my own risk, whether I'm driving my car or riding my bike or walking. I look well ahead to avoid having to do that. (good argument for the upright bicycling position)
    Do bike lanes help or hinder cyclists in learning how to make left turns properly?
    --The state Vehicle Code helps me make left turns properly.
    Do bike lanes help or hinder cyclists in learning where the safest lane position is to maximize their visibility and safety?Do bike lanes help cyclists learn their proper positions (based on destination) on intersection approaches, or do they improperly encourage them to stay near the right regardless of their destination?
    --Our local bicycle commuters association has helped me learn about safe lane positions in all situations.
    Do bike lanes improve or hinder riding pavement surface cleanliness for cyclists?
    --Bike lanes DO become a repository of glass and debris. Thank god for the street sweepers.
    Does the existence of bike lanes help or hinder communicating the message that cyclists have the SAME rights and responsibilities as other vehicle drivers?
    --Speaking as a motorist, the lanes don't hurt the message. But I'm most impressed by the cyclists who position themselves in the lane according to the VEHICLE CODE; e.g. making a left turn from the right side of the left turn lane and maintaining that position throughout the execution of the turn. VERY impressive.
    Do bike lanes help or hinder motorists in turning right properly in such a way as to reduce the possibility of collision with cyclists?
    --Hinder.

    Do bike lanes make cycling more or less safe?

    --On balance, MORE safe for me. My experience as a cyclist and as a motorist is that cars and bikes really don't mix well except in congested traffic where EVERYONE is going 15 mph. Otherwise the practical fact is that bicycles need their own lane as the Europeans have demonstrated for decades.

    --Thank you for these excellent questions.--

  7. #7
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    Sorry, Serge, but I do believe in PROPERLY-ENGINEERED bike lanes on prime arterials and high-speed highways. I do not want them on 25mph local roads, or where they lie within the door zone of parked cars, or where they continue to the right of a right-turn-only lane. In many cases, a wide curb lane or a usable shoulder is just as good, but a bike lane can help discourage parking in the shoulder and tends to cause right lane motorists to give us more space. (Narrow lanes have been proven to calm traffic.)
    Last edited by John E; 12-21-04 at 08:43 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    Sorry, Serge, but I do believe in PROPERLY-ENGINEERED bike lanes on prime arterials and high-speed highways.
    No need to apologize, John.

    I wonder if you would acknowledge, however, that such bike lanes discourage proper motorist and cycling behavior.

    As one example, would you not agree that Del Mar Heights Rd qualifies as a "prime arterial" (3 lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, at least east and west of El Camino Real)? And based on the criteria that you provided, I think the bike lane there qualifies as "properly engineered". Yet I've seen a westbound experienced (ex-racer even) cyclist reluctant to leave the "safety" of the bike lane early in order to prepare for a left turn onto El Camino Real, and instead continued until he was almost to the intersection, and waited until there was a gap the width of the entire road, so he could take the straight shot from the bike lane across to the left turn lane. Do you agree that bike lanes encourage this type of incorrect left-turn behavior, and actually discourage the proper type of negotiation/merge that should start much earlier?

    Can you think of any benefits to cyclists of bike lanes other than the two you noted:
    1) discourages parking in the shoulder (how is that a benefit to cyclists - ride to the left of the parked cars, out of the door zone... what's the problem?)
    2) tends to cause right lane motorists to give us more space (really? I experience the opposite - explained in the opening post - so we'll have to agree to disagree on that one)

    And do you really believe these frankly trivial benefits outweigh all of the serious problems with bike lanes that I noted in the opening post?

    Serge
    Last edited by Serge Issakov; 12-21-04 at 10:17 PM.

  9. #9
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    I'm not aware of any statistics that show lower accident rates for cyclists in bike lanes versus similar roads or streets without them. However, I think bike lanes do have some benefit --

    1. They are a constant visual reminder to motorists that bikes belong on the street, not the sidewalk.

    2. If a motorist does not see me while overtaking, at least the lane lines gives guidance to motorist to stay to my left. Without a bike lane there's no visual clue to stop the motorist from drifting to the right and clipping me.

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    I rode in a bike lane for the first time in Austin, Tx today. It sucked fat monkey nut. Going through the residential area there were cars parked at every 3rd house that caused me to have to swing out into the car lane. Eventually i just jumped into the lane and threw caution, and whatever laws keep me confined to the bike lane, to the wind. I was just itching for one of those home-owners to come out so I could give them a few words. I guess it doesn't get used enough so the motorists have become forgetful.

    Is it bad that I wanted to key each and every car in the bike lane as I rode past it? <evil laugh>
    Last edited by edmiston9; 12-22-04 at 12:23 AM.

  11. #11
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    [QUOTE=JamesV]I'm not aware of any statistics that show lower accident rates for cyclists in bike lanes versus similar roads or streets without them. However, I think bike lanes do have some benefit --

    1. They are a constant visual reminder to motorists that bikes belong on the street, not the sidewalk.

    [QUOTE]


    unforunately they also cause some motorist to believe that bikes should only be on the roads that have bike lanes. So for some motorist no bike lanes = no bikes on that road.

    with that being said I do however like having bike lanes for many reasons including the one I quoted.

  12. #12
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    I'm not much on them. In my limited experience they serve as:

    1) A place for joggers and other pedestrians to walk/run, even when a sidewalk is available

    2) A convienent place to double-park.

    3) A good place for homeowners to place debris for pick-up

    Of course, I live in a municipality with almost no bike lanes. My experience with them is largely limited to riding in Charlottesville, which actually has a connected network of them. I'm not sure what a properly engineered one looks like.
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  13. #13
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    Bike lanes demonstrate that somebody is spending money on facilities for bikes. I would prefer it to be spent on fixing pot-holes and removing storm drains from the side of the road where cyclists are expected to ride (move them under the edge of the sidewalk).

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    Quote Originally Posted by JamesV
    I'm not aware of any statistics that show lower accident rates for cyclists in bike lanes versus similar roads or streets without them. However, I think bike lanes do have some benefit --

    1. They are a constant visual reminder to motorists that bikes belong on the street, not the sidewalk.

    2. If a motorist does not see me while overtaking, at least the lane lines gives guidance to motorist to stay to my left. Without a bike lane there's no visual clue to stop the motorist from drifting to the right and clipping me.
    1. Granted, to the extent that some motorists still think bikes belong on the sidewalk. But I, for one, have never encountered this problem in 30 years of cycling on roadways.

    2. Perhaps. Ironically, the only "drifting to the right and clipping/hitting a cyclist" incidents I am aware of all occurred when the cyclist was in a bike lane or shoulder. My theory on this is that motorists are more likely to be aware of a cyclist in THEIR lane, but may hardly notice, often do not notice at all, a cyclist outside of their lane, in an adjacent bike lane or shoulder. So when they are distracted due to drowsiness, drunkeness or some interruption, they are more likely to drift into a cyclist in a bike lane or shoulder since they are more likely to not be aware of them. Cyclists who typically ride to stay out of the way of motorists (in shoulders, bike lanes or along the right edge) are typically quite successful at doing this, and so have little experience riding in traffic in such a manner as to make motorists more aware of them, and the effect this has on motorists.

    Regardless, the issue is not whether bike lanes have ANY benefits for cyclists (in terms of safety) and cycling (in terms of advocacy). The question is whether bike lanes have a NET benefit to cyclists and cycling.

    In other words, do bike lanes cause more problems for cyclists than they solve?

    From an engineering perspective, I like to ask: "What problem are we solving?" In this case, "what problem are bike lanes supposed to be solving?"

    Problem: Cycling in traffic is unsafe for inexperienced/untrained cyclists. Do bike lanes make cycling in traffic safer for inexperienced/untrained cyclists? There is no evidence to support this notion. In fact, bike lanes arguably make cycling in traffic more dangerous, expecially for inexperienced/untrained cyclists. So bike lanes cannot be justified as a solution to this problem.

    Problem: Cycling in traffic is unpleasant for inexperienced/untrained cyclists. Do bike lanes make cycling in traffic more pleasant, or at least less unpleasant, for these cyclists? What constitutes "pleasant" is clearly subjective. But, for what it's worth, many cyclists do seem to prefer riding in bike lanes, especially in heavy traffic. So, arguably, bike lanes do at least help alleviate this "problem". But how significant/important is this problem, and how do we measure it so we can compare it against the cost of the problems caused by bike lanes, including making cycling in traffic arguably less safe (see opening post)?

    More importantly, are there any other less costly solutions to the problem of traffic cycling being unpleasant? By "less costly" I mean not only in terms of dollars but in terms of the solution causing fewer problems for cyclists than the bike lane solution causes.

    Let's consider that experienced cyclists trained in vehicular cycling do not find traffic cycling unpleasant. We even find traffic cycling to be a pleasurable activity. In fact, we find roads without bike lanes to be more pleasant/pleasurable than roads with bike lanes, even in heavy traffic. What if cycling advocacy poured most of its efforts into training cyclists in vehicular cycling so that they too could learn to enjoy cycling in traffic without bike lanes? What would that cost be compared to the cost of building and maintaining more and more debris-filled false-sense-of-security-causing bike lanes? And in terms of a solution causing problems, wouldn't vehicular cycling training -- which should cause no problems to cyclists -- win hands down over bike lanes -- which cause all kinds of problems to cyclists (see opening post in this thread)?

    Serge
    Last edited by Serge Issakov; 12-22-04 at 10:53 AM.

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    Bike lanes are nice. If some one is parked or walking there, you are no worse off than if no path existed. I don't think the absence of a bike lane will teach riders and drivers how to ride or drive.

  16. #16
    Ride the Road Daily Commute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by qmsdc15
    Bike lanes are nice. If some one is parked or walking there, you are no worse off than if no path existed. I don't think the absence of a bike lane will teach riders and drivers how to ride or drive.
    Actually, you are worse off. The bike lane encourages you to weave around the parked cars. Further, parked cars drip oil into bike lanes, creating a hazard even when the parked cars leave.

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    Quote Originally Posted by qmsdc15
    Bike lanes are nice. If some one is parked or walking there, you are no worse off than if no path existed. I don't think the absence of a bike lane will teach riders and drivers how to ride or drive.
    "Bike lanes are nice". This is the "bike lanes solve the problem of traffic cycling being unpleasant" argument (see my last post on this). It ignores all of the problems that bike lanes cause for cyclists (see my opening post).

    "I don't think the absence of a bike lane will teach riders and drivers how to ride or drive." Nor do I, nor does anyone else I know of. But a problem with bike lanes is that the PRESENCE of bike lanes teaches riders and drivers how NOT to ride and drive.

    The cyclist must constantly answer the question: "where do I ride?" The bike lane is always one answer to that question, and is often (dare I say usually?) the WRONG answer. The problem is that the question of "where do I ride?" is not so simple that it can be answered by a static facility like a bike lane. The cyclist must constantly be asking himself this question, and using the rules of the road and the current conditions and circumstances to answer it. Bike lanes are like a crutch that inhibits the cyclist from going through the necessary process of learning how to ride properly in traffic.

    Serge

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    Sorry, Serge, but I do believe in PROPERLY-ENGINEERED bike lanes on prime arterials and high-speed highways. I do not want them on 25mph local roads, or where they lie within the door zone of parked cars, or where they continue to the right of a right-turn-only lane.
    I agree 100%

  19. #19
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    The only real advantage I see to "bike lanes" is that they usually mean the street is a bit wider than otherwise might be the case. This, I believe is generally a good thing. This is true only when the street is designed with a bike lane in mind. On streets where a bike lane has been added by using paint, the effects are generally terrible. My comments apply only to bike lanes on roadways. "Bike lanes" which are actually seperate "multi-use" paths are, in my view only marginally useful to cyclists if they are trafficed by pedestrians as well.

    I also believe that proper signage and marking of bike lanes or bike routes helps remind everyone that they may encounter a bike occasionally. This too is a good thing. There should be more "Share the Road" signage everywhere.
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    Yes, by "bike lane" I mean, well, a bike lane, a bikeway that is part of the roadway, not a bikeway separate from the roadway, which is a bike path.

    Signage is okay, except I think there might be a tendency to start thinking one only has to "share the road" when prompted to do so by a sign.

    Also, "share the road" seems to imply to many side-by-side sharing rather than cyclists riding in a position such that passing by motorists in cars means moving at least a certain amount into the adjacent lane to the left (be it oncoming or same-direction).

    My presence in the road is all the reminding I need to give motorists that they may encounter a bike occasionally.

  21. #21
    Senior Member nick burns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serge *******
    Signage is okay, except I think there might be a tendency to start thinking one only has to "share the road" when prompted to do so by a sign.

    Also, "share the road" seems to imply to many side-by-side sharing rather than cyclists riding in a position such that passing by motorists in cars means moving at least a certain amount into the adjacent lane to the left (be it oncoming or same-direction).
    I think we're going to have another agree to disagree moment. You're making a lot of assumptions about how people will interpret signage.

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    I'm only assuming that different people will interpret the signs differently, and that some of those interpretations will include the interpretations I listed.

    At least for me as a cyclist, these signs convey nothing to motorists that I need or want them to convey.

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    The interpretation to "share the road" signs I've heard this year include: bicycles MUST share the rode with other traffic. Bicycles must pull off the road to allow other vehicles go by. This from at least 3 cars and a motorcycle in different situations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WayneS460
    The interpretation to "share the road" signs I've heard this year include: bicycles MUST share the rode with other traffic. Bicycles must pull off the road to allow other vehicles go by. This from at least 3 cars and a motorcycle in different situations.
    Good point. I've run into folks with that interpretation as well, and forgot.

    Speaking of cycling signage, let's think of the purpose. Alerting motorists to the possible presence of cyclists with "share the road", "bike lane" and "bike route" signs, along with the alleged alerting effect of bike lanes themselves, may seem like a good idea at first. After all, there are signs that alert motorists about pedestrians, deer and falling rocks... why not alert them about bike and cyclists too?

    First of all, pedestrians, deer and falling rocks do not travel on the roadway in accordance with the rules of the road. That's very critical. The reason it helps to alert motorists about them is because they are exception to the rules of the roads. Now, if you want to alert motorists about incompetent and untrained cyclists riding with less adherence to the rules of the road than a deer has, then, yes, perhaps signs alerting motorists about the presence of cyclists makes sense. But is that what everyone is talking about? Cyclists cutting into the roadway without looking?

    That's the point, there is no need to alert motorists about anyone who is traveling according to the rules of the road. That's why we have those rules. That's also why an emergency vehicle driver does not need to turn on the lights and sirens unless he is violating the rules of the road.

    The only logical justification for bike lanes and bike alert signage is the assumption that cyclists can't and/or won't travel along the roadway in accordance with the rules of the road. As someone who knows how easy it is to learn vehicular cycling, and how safe it is, I reject that notion.

  25. #25
    Lord of the Manor MassBiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    Sorry, Serge, but I do believe in PROPERLY-ENGINEERED bike lanes on prime arterials and high-speed highways.
    Ay, there's the rub! There's almost always a compromise in any urban environment.

    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    I do not want them on 25mph local roads, or where they lie within the door zone of parked cars, or where they continue to the right of a right-turn-only lane.
    Depending upon where you live, that might exclude any or all urban roads. Large older cities, such as Boston, Chicago and New York have loads of on-street parking, frequent intersections, and non-standard intersections.

    Cyclists might like bike lanes, but it's important to know how to ride properly when they're not available, or when they're not "properly engineered." Problem is, bike lanes are sold as the solution for novice cyclists, yet they're the ones who're least likely to understand when they should not be used. That's why some bike lane contrarians have suggested that the lanes make traffic cycling more complicated, not less.

    Quote Originally Posted by John E
    In many cases, a wide curb lane or a usable shoulder is just as good, but a bike lane can help discourage parking in the shoulder and tends to cause right lane motorists to give us more space. (Narrow lanes have been proven to calm traffic.)
    I'd be interested in seeing that proof. Can you offer me a reference?

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