Dangers of Bike Lanes

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
By John A. Ardelli

I read an article today from the Madison Capital Times titled "Bike helmet crushed, but head fine." In brief, a cyclist was proceeding through an intersection in a bicycle lane when a truck suddenly made a right turn in front of him. He attempted to stop, but ended up being thrown off the bike and under the wheels of the truck. The truck ran over his head as it rounded the corner. Miraculously, thanks to his helmet, the cyclist was fine.

This is the exact kind of accident that bicycle lanes cause.

A bicycle lane creates the impression, particularly in the inexperienced and/or poorly educated cyclist's mind, that "this is where bicycles belong, not in the travel lanes with the motorists." Further, many non-cyclists think that the presence of a bicycle lane makes it illegal for the cyclist to use the regular travel lanes or, for that matter, for the motorist to use the bicycle lanes.

None of these beliefs are true.

The cyclist in the above article obviously intended to proceed straight through the intersection. If that was the case, his proper position was in the center of the through lane, not at the extreme right. If a cyclist stays too far right when proceeding straight at an intersection, they invite motorists to squeeze by and turn right into their path, and that's just what happened. This error is so common, it even has a name: a "right hook."

Further, a cyclist making a left turn at an intersection must shoulder check, signal and merge into the left turn lane or, on a two lane street, merge to the left side of the lane near the center line, in preparation for a left turn regardless of the presence of a bike lane. Again, inexperienced cyclists and non-cyclists don't tend to realize this, either.

That's the problem with cycle lanes. They are usually painted at the extreme right. This tends to guide the inexperienced cyclist to stay right all the time, even when it's not appropriate to do so. For that matter, if a cycle lane is somehow damaged, filled with debris or is situated in the "door zone" along parked cars, a cyclist does have the right to choose to ignore the bike lane altogether and use the main travel lanes for their safety.

"Why should cyclists be allowed in our lanes?" many motorists would argue. "We're not allowed in their lanes."

Surprisingly, that isn't true, either...

A motorist intending to make a right turn at an intersection with a bike lane is required to merge into the bike lane in preparation for the turn, just as they would if the cycle lane was an ordinary right turn lane. By doing so, the motorist signals clearly to any cyclist approaching from behind that he or she intends to turn right, thus preventing the cyclist from riding up alongside them and getting right hooked.

So, not only are cyclists not supposed to stay in the bike lane all the time, neither do motorists have to stay out of it all the time. Choice of lane, particularly at intersections, is all about your destination, not the vehicle you're driving.

Accidents like the one above are among the many reasons why I think cycle lanes are useless, and can be downright dangerous if people aren't properly educated in how to use them. Under certain conditions, there are rules that allow motorists to share the cyclists' lane and the cyclists to share the motorists' lanes. If you just paint the cycle lanes without providing education on how to use them safely, accidents like the above are inevitable.

This is also why I feel that cycle lanes only complicate matters, adding additional rules that motorists and cyclists must learn that really aren't necessary. A road with ordinary travel lanes is already an elegant means for all vehicles to share the road, provided everyone follows the rules and is patient with the varying operating characteristics of the wide variety of vehicles out there.

This was obviously an inexperienced cyclist traveling too fast for his experience level. The fact that he flipped himself over the handlebars suggests he didn't know how to modulate his front brake in an emergency stop and, if he was unable to stop in time, he should have executed a quick turn with the truck to avoid the collision instead of trying to stop, anyway. The cycle lane only made things worse by encouraging him to stay too far to the right.

I maintain, and I will always maintain, that there is only one way to increase the safety of cyclists on North America's roads: education. Cyclists and motorists alike must be made to understand the cyclists are vehicle operators with the same rights and responsibilities as any user of the road.

If we can get that message out, we won't need any special lanes for cyclists.

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Hmmm...I have a friend from college that got cutoff by a car that then turned right in front of him. My friend then poppoed a wheelie on his MTB and put the front wheel through the car's passenger window. When the cops came out, the driver was ticketed for his actions and had to pay for a new wheel for my friend's bike.
Just an FYI, your adsense bar at the bottom of your posts is overlapping with your posts just a bit. It isn't overlapping words, but it looks off. Just thought you might want to know.
I think that bike path is not well designed.

Here, paths have stop signs for bicycles when they intersect streets and roads.

In some cases, there are even barriers that force cyclists to dismount, to avoid collisions with road traffic
My opinion, for whatever it's worth:

* The cyclist had the right of way.
* Don't blame the victim. But yes, we should pay attention when moving along to the right of right-turning traffic.
* Poor intersection design may have contributed to the collision, but the fault belongs to the truck driver. He (or she) is required to stop on red AND LOOK before turning right.
Blaming a bike lane for an accident caused by an irresponsible truck driver? Now that's irresponsible!

Of course the article notes that Ryan may have been riding too fast, ignoring avoidable risks, etc. THUS no amount of quick turn skill would have been sufficient to avoid injury when one rides irresponsibly. The truck driver should have checked his side view mirror before turning right. Again these factors have nothing to do with bike lanes and has everything to do with individual responsibility.

Ryan is not required by law to limit his mobility to the bike lane and to suggest otherwise is misleading at best. Many drivers are unaware of the rights of cyclists and no additional amount of education to cyclists will change what noncyclists don't understand.

Most roads as currently constructed are not "elegant" at all. As John A has stated before, "bike lanes only complicate an already elegant system that allows users of all vehicles to share the road without conflict". This statement is ABSURD!

Who thinking clearly can deny that cyclists have an inherent disadvantage due to their weight, size, lack of speed and visibility... all of which are potential sources of conflict?

An open minded and informative post would have incorporated a more thorough description and purpose of bike lanes and how they are to be marked and designed. Because of the inherent conflicts, there is much controversy and debate.

John A's prescription is not what Ken Kifer advised: "We need to discuss how to get more people bicycling, and we need to discuss the problems that prevent them from doing so... this group will promote bicycling as transportation, all people who ride bicycles on a regular basis are welcome, and all kinds of bicycling are considered desirable."


For more thoughts on this, check out my responses to a few comments on this same post at my personal blog:

I had no idea how bike lanes work - in fact, it's not even on the Texas state driving test! Now that biking is my sole means of transportation, it's nice to know how these things work. As Jack said, most roads aren't "elegant", and in my particular town the road to work is full of potholes, and for two weeks straight I had to bicycle past a dead squirrel carcass. (Do you call the city to come clean it up?)
Where I ride we don’t have bicycle lanes and we do ride in traffic with fast moving cars.
I ride in Texas on country roads to avoid traffic.

In the last 2 months I have read about 4 bicyclists being killed because they where hit by cars from the rear. I myself would rather have a bike lane than constantly be riding along with them. At least with a bike lane you have the option.

On single lane roads with cars and large dirt hauling trucks whizzing by at 70MPH you can nearly be thrown off the road just from the wind of the vehicle. The are merely 1-2 feet from your shoulder. We here want shoulders and bike lanes. Fighting against them seems like a disservice to the bicycle community; In my opinion.
This morning I saw a mother putting on a child on the bus going to school and the bus had the red flashing light on for the cars but of curse the biker should also stop but he didn’t and as the mother passed by going to the bus a biker knocked her down and fled the scene ITS DANGERS there is a lot of stories like this I think we must have rules or do something its getting out of hand
Anon: You're correct, all road users should follow the rules of the road.

Friendly tip: I'm not a grammar nitpick, but some punctuation is a tremendous aid for my reading comprehension. YMMV.
On the grammar/spelling issue, is it just me or is grammar and spelling getting worse online?

When I first got online around 1995 at my local library, I found that most people I met knew how to write. Oh, I'm not saying that everyone I encountered could analyze the collected works of Shakespeare but most people seemed to have a firm grasp of the basic mechanics of writing (spelling, punctuation, etc.).

Nowadays, however, I'm encountering more and more people who don't have clue one how to properly construct a sentence; some don't even seem to have the most basic knowledge like the fact that you capitalize the first word in a sentence. Heck, some don't even seem to know how and when to use punctuation at all; I've encountered more than one person who just writes everything in lowercase, all running together (or, worse, in ALL CAPS).

Not all of these are kids, either; I've encountered more than one full grown adult who commits such atrocities on the English language. At first, I always used to assume these were just people for whom English wasn't a first language; later, I was dismayed to discover that, for many of these people, English was their only language.

When I was going to school, I wouldn't have made it out of Junior High, much less High School, writing like that; it makes me wonder what's being taught in modern "English" classes these days...

OTOH, this disintegration of English education has occasional advantages; I was able to identify a troll on my blog on the basis of unique grammar and spelling errors they consistently make in every posting. This also helped me figure out that this threatening comment, made to another blog, was also from them which, in turn, provided me with enough evidence to go to the police with the threat; the incident is being investigated now.

The funniest thing, however, is that this person tried to impersonate someone I know who holds a degree in linguistics; the obvious grammar and spelling problems made it as obvious as an aluminum bat to the groin that they weren't who they said they were. ;)

Normally, though, bad grammar and spelling just irritates me. I can deal with occasional infelicities of grammar and spelling but, when the writing is so bad it's difficult to even tell what the person is trying to say, it becomes a bit psychologically enervating.
I think fighting AGAINST bike lanes is a horrible idea. A bike lane, in the least, insures more space between you and faster traveling traffic. I will ALWAYS prefer more separation compared to over-taking a lane.

In terms of the article, the link did not work, so I do not know all of the details. However, even if the driver had checked his right mirror, he probably couldn't have seen a bicycle coming at fast speed up to his rear. Secondly, did the driver have his turn signal on? If not, than I don't really blame the cyclist for approaching the intersection in his own lane.

Here in Las Vegas, the bike lanes we have usually turn into broken lines at intersections to indicate it is also a turning lane, or may be crossed over to turn. I never pass the back bumper of any vehicle near an intersection with a turn signal on; sometimes I'll even take the left part of the travel lane next to them so that they can safely make their turn and I am visible to vehicles behind me.

Ideally, we'd all love paved paths isolated from faster moving traffic, however, in lieu of that, I will always prefer as much distance from them as I can get.
Ryan Lipscomb was riding on a multi-use path parallel to a road, not in a bike lane. There's a map
at . The path is on the south side of Eastwood, eastbound, and he approached the intersection at Division. The truck had been traveling eastbound on Eastwood and turned right to go southbound on Division.

Based on interviews and articles at the time: He was riding "pretty fast" on a multi-use path (first mistake). He saw the truck preparing to turn right at the green light. He was in the truck's right-rear blind spot (second mistake) and didn't brake until the truck had already begun its turning motion (third mistake). He braked incorrectly (fourth mistake) and lost control of his vehicle. He fell to the ground, apparently in the marked crosswalk, and the truck ran over his helmet.

Bike lanes have plenty of problems, but Ryan Lipscomb's case is not a good example to cite.
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