Update: There’s a reason I don’t set standards and I want to thank readers who have corrected me. The lines would have to be white, not yellow, as white lines are used to separate traffic moving the same direction whereas yellow are used to separate traffic moving opposite directions. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
As I was riding around town this weekend, I found myself thinking about how confusing the whole bike lane concept is to motorists. Most think that when a bike lane exists that we cyclists are limited to it…that we can’t use the main traffic lane. Of course, we cyclists know otherwise. Motorists can’t use the bike lane but we can use either “our” lane or “theirs.”
There are lots of reasons this is so. It’s mostly about safety. As all cyclists (and virtually no motorists) know, bicycle lanes are not always designed with cyclist safety in mind. Some incorporate hazards like door zones. Many are filled with debris. Sometimes we cyclists have no choice but to take the main traffic lane.
Like below, for example. In spite of things like NACTO standards, bike lanes are a mixed bag in practice. They’re squeezed in here or there by people who, frankly, should not be designing anything. This is common sense one-oh-one.
So as I rode I was thinking that we really have two choices. One, we could design and implement bike lanes that adhere to standards and keep cyclists safe or two, we could make it clearer to motorists that we have the right to take the lane when conditions warrant. This is a judgement call and it’s ours to make. When we make it, they have the obligation to yield to us. We’re seeing this in practice with new signs informing motorists that we have the right to take the lane, but signs are expensive and frankly I don’t think these are very good. The best road signs require few or no words. Cases in point…
I realize this might be unpopular, but I think these new signs are doomed to fail. They’re tedious and clunky and I just don’t think they’re necessarily even noticeable, let alone obvious, when somebody is blowing by at 60 mph. I think they make us feel good but, in reality, do little to make us actually safer.
What if there was a better way to communicate the same information to motorists? What if it was cheap and easy? I think there is and it starts with the line on the left side of the bike lane. If you put a dashed line just to the right of it, that would tell motorists that cyclists can cross into their lane but they can’t cross into the bike lane. They would intuitively understand something that most don’t understand now.
We already use this and similar methodology in other highway applications. We could implement it on bicycle lanes, too. Little additional education would be required since most road users are already familiar with these markings. If we wanted, we could supplement it with signs to assure that everyone is on the same page. It would keep cyclists safer. Thoughts?