Painted into a Corner

I started this post some time ago, then gave up on it. It has languished in purgatory ever since. Lately some preliminary lane markings have appeared on a few of the neighborhood streets, and have prompted me to resurrect it from the depths.

So drivers would prefer cyclists move about in physically separated spaces. Before I continue with this, and if you have not read about this survey, you can do so at DC Streetsblog. I don't mean to be a smartass about this, but the first thought that came to mind was, well duh, of course drivers would prefer cyclists not be a part of the traffic mix. Shuffle them off to the side somewhere out of the way, maybe even out of sight. Pesky varmints are always getting in the way as it is. But I am telling you people, that road to separation is a tricky path once you start down it. We have already seen, where separated paths exist, attempts to keep bicycles off parallel roadways; never mind that those paths may not go where a rider needs them to.

Moving on.

I am pretty sure that anyone belonging to the "my generation" club will have grown up with coloring books full of printed ink images, simple outlines to be filled in. We were compelled to color within the lines. Speaking for myself now, I employed all my powers of concentration to not stray outside those lines. Those black boundaries were sacrosanct, a rule I had to master before I could graduate from first grade. Over time, attitudes began to change. All us "we" became parents during a time when the prevailing belief shifted - those lines, as it turned out inhibited imagination. We discovered that those lines we once sought to adhere to, were not always good.

I have touched upon the concept of bike routes, everything from the basic painted line type to the fully separated ones. My own thoughts about them are rather ambivalent; while I don't mind them, frequently use them, and recognize their value to less experienced riders, I have long saw problems with them as well.

I believe that transportation equality has less to do with the allocation of dedicated space, than it does the adjustment of attitudes. A system in which drivers would "expect bicycles in lane" should be more effective than a system of "special lanes"  which bicyclists must periodically leave anyway.  Our current developing system of bike lanes creates an over-reliance on a little paint to solve a bigger problem. Not a day goes by that I don't see multiple instances of drivers encroaching into one bike lane or another. I have no doubt that in some cases this is due to a blatant disregard. In other instances it may be due to confusion, or even an insidious belief that since no one was using the lane at the time and place, well… I am sure you get the idea.

Look at those preliminary lines in the photo above. What do you notice? Two things stand out right off - first, the lane will be placed in the door zone. Second, and perhaps worse, any motor vehicle parked against the curb will encroach into the new bike lane. There is just not enough room for even a sub-compact to fit against the curb there. Golf carts may be okay.

You may remember a couple stories here concerning rising speed limits within the city of Claremont. Numerous streets within the city's limits would be see increased limits due to the state's 85th Percentile Mandate. The premise was rejected by the city council, which charged city staff with finding alternative means to keep speeds down. The markings that have been turning up are on some of those streets, and are among those means.

Here is where my ambivalence comes into play. This is a strictly residential street, and as such I cannot envision any instance in which its speed limit should be anything more than twenty-five miles per hour to begin with. Given that, bike lanes on this street should be unnecessary. Instead, drivers can't, or won't, drive at a reasonable speed and so, the city must act in response. The result seems pretty clear to me - bicyclists will have to leave the lane, move outside the lines in order to avoid parked vehicles; drivers, due to the narrow nature of the street, will encroach into the lane whenever they pass cars approaching from the opposite direction. The lanes will do little to reduce conflict but will, hopefully, promote lower speeds.

When you think about it, this is an interesting, and probably unique, case study. In most (maybe all) instances where bike lanes have been installed, they were created for bicyclists. To provide a certain degree of safety. In this case bicyclists will find little if any benefit; the lanes would seem to be entirely for the sake of drivers, a means of controlling speed.

I feel myself beginning to ramble at this point, but there seems to be so much more to say. Expect to read more here, once the lanes are actually installed and there has been time to observe the impact of them.