Bike Lanes and Motorist Confusion (updated)


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…

Everybody who drives intuitively knows what these mean.

Everybody who drives intuitively knows what these mean.

I don't much care for road signs that have more than two or three words on them.  This is a fail, in my opinion.

I don’t much care for road signs that have more than two or three words on them. This is a fail, in my opinion.

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.


The lines would have to be white since traffic is moving the same direction/.

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?




10 thoughts on “Bike Lanes and Motorist Confusion (updated)

  1. I think this is a great idea. However, in my experience, NACTO is very resistant to outside recommendations. Which means the city designers are also. They seem to be stuck in the NACTO mindset and rarely vary from the directives. This might be because of grants being based on using NACTO plans, I don’t know. I would like to see this tried out in some places though.


  2. “Solid yellow means don’t cross. ”

    No, solid yellow means traffic of opposing directions.

    Solid, or double solid means don’t cross.

    Double white lines means don’t cross with traffic going the same direction.

    Your idea has some merit, but it should be a solid and dashed _White_, or else it completely breaks the standard and just adds to the confusion.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting proposal. Unfortunately, the color yellow is used to separate traffic moving in opposite directions. Obviously not helpful here. But if it were white, the solid / dashed combination might work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Motorists can be in the bike lane, and in one particular situation *should* be. When an automobile makes a right turn, it is best to safely merge into the bike lane at whatever speed any existing traffic is traveling, then make the right turn. This avoids the Right Hook wreck when making a right turn.

    I think the paint is a good idea but education is a more permanent solution.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. In my experience riding in and around Austin, many people is cars have no concept of not crossing the white line. I am constantly have to squeeze by vehicles (stopped for lights or stop signs) that are halfway in the bike lane. Maybe the solid white and the dashed line would bring it more to their attention?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s