Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Bike Lane Bru-Ha-Ha

Lately, I've been reading a lot about NYC's push to install more bike lanes. Here are a few of them:

Huffington Post Article about NYC Bike Lanes
Colin Beavan's Op Ed about NYC Bike Lanes

My general response to this is that I'm seething with jealousy. Just think how different our world would be if every major thoroughfare had a bike lane. Plus, just look at the picture of the bike lane in Colin's article... it's got actual separation between the bikes and the cars! In Denver, what few bike lanes we have are about the size of the separator in this picture and right next to traffic!

But what has shocked me about these articles, has been the incredibly hostile comments written about bike lanes and bicyclists in general. The general complaint seems to be that bicycles clog up the roads and they don't follow traffic rules.

HELLO?!?!? Don't these auto-centric people realize that the problem is not the bicycles, the problem is that our current system of roadways does not take bicycles into account! I understand the frustration of drivers who feel like the bicycles take space intended for cars, but don't they get it that the way to remedy this is not to curse the cyclists, but to provide a place that is intended for them?

What was further shocking to me is that many people seem to hold the idea that anyone riding a bicycle is some how a "freeloader" or an "anarchist". Well, all I can say to that is, that if bicycles seem to operate in a state of anarchy, it is generally because the current state of affairs provides so little in terms of safety and/or space for bikes, so cyclists are often forced to take matters into their own hands.

But there's another element to this entire topic that has been on my mind lately... and that is... what, exactly, are the "proper rules" that bicycles are supposed to follow? It turns out that this is not really an easy question to answer.

When I was a kid, my parents signed me up for a bicycle safety class. Granted, this was 30-some-odd years ago, but in that class I was taught that bikes were supposed to ride either on the sidewalks or on the edge of the road facing oncoming traffic. I was taught that you are NEVER supposed to ride in the same direction as the traffic because you wouldn't be able to see cars approaching you from behind.

Well... after a few people yelled at me for going the wrong way, I did a quick check of the internet and discovered that everything I was taught is totally wrong! Basically according to this site on Colorado Bike Laws, bikes are supposed to follow the same rules as cars... except for when they're not... and when they're not can vary wildly from municipality to municipality. What?!? If bikes are supposed to act like cars, I can totally support that, but the rules can change wildly from city to city?

I guess my point is that it seems to me that what is needed is a universal set of rules governing all bicycles in the country. I mean, traffic laws don't change wildly when you cross city lines, why should bike rules? Plus, I am a fully licensed driver, and never anywhere in my training or licensing was there ever any mention of bikes and what they were supposed to be doing. How on earth can we expect drivers to know what a biker is doing when they are "taking the lane" if nobody has ever taught drivers that this is a lawful practice for a bicyclist and it's done to increase safety, not to clog traffic? Why aren't drivers, as well as bicyclists required to learn the laws governing bikes?

Speaking as someone who got hit by a car while on a bike last summer (I was actually going the right way, I had the right of way, and was hit by a driver who saw me, stopped, and waved me on before hitting me) I must say that I am not eager to resume riding on the roads under the current system. And this is a sad state of affairs. It's not only sad for me, because I love riding my bike, but it's sad because there are many, many people out there who would ride their bikes as a regular form of transportation if they felt that it was safer.

It seems to me that what is needed is an entire system overhaul that includes a massive public education initiative and fully includes bicylists in the design on any street, road or highway. The way to deal with bicycle anarchy is not to bitch about the bikes, it's to include them in a functional way in the transportation system.

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