Bike lane design is getting better, but there are still a lot of bad bike lanes around. I think the bad ones should come with warnings, like cigarettes. Perhaps a sign that says “Using this bike lane may be hazardous to your health and cause premature death.” I’d like to see these signs. Perhaps we could put the email address of the traffic engineer who designed the death trap on the sign as well. Maybe not. I’m just kidding about that.
So what makes a bad bike lane? Debris is high on the list. If it’s narrow and close to the curb, it’s going to catch gravel, broken glass, McDonald’s styrofoam wrappers, Bud Light cans, sheetrock, sofas (depending on where you cycle) and so on. It’s sort of inevitable, so maybe the solution is to not put the bike lane next to the curb. In fact, why not put the traffic lane there and give cyclists the middle of the road. It would make it easier to drop the sofa.
Confusing transition zones for turning motorists are also a problem. So is faded paint. There’s absolutely no reason to pour green paint if you’re not going to commit to keeping it green. Nothing looks sadder than faded green paint with a white ghost bike on the side of the road. Save the money. Save a life. Por favor.
Door zones are also a major problem. I was riding in a bike lane today and I just knew that the lady who parked her fancy Jeep Wrangler was going to open the door right in front of me so I checked my rear view mirror and was ready for her. Good thing, too. She gave me the evil eye as I passed in the traffic lane as if to say how dare you ride a bicycle in a bike lane next to where I parked. Point taken. I won’t do that again.
The good news is that this particular bike lane wasn’t on a high speed arterial. Those are the worst. There are a few of them near the office building where I work when I’m in Indianapolis. I’ve noticed that only the hard core cyclists use them. I like them, but I’m a little different that way. Normal people take alternative streets…streets without any bicycle infrastructure at all. Either that or they ride on the sidewalk. They feel safer than in those bike lanes. Hmmm.
If I was a traffic engineer and wanted to have a little fun, I’d take the sharrow stencils and some reflective white paint out of the supply barn and I’d go a little crazy painting sharrows every one hundred feet or so on every street all over town. It would probably get me fired, but hey, bicyclists can use the full lane. This is true pretty much everywhere. Sharrows are redundant, in a sense, since we already have the right to be there but they’re also cool looking and serve as nice reminders to motorists that we’re here and we have the right to be here and we’re still going to be here long after they can no longer afford to fill their tanks.