All Over Albany shared a proposal to add to Madison Avenue a protected bicycle lane. AOA is great blog deserving of its large readership, so big thanks, but lots of readers means lots of comments. Comments are too often wipeouts that spoil an otherwise pleasant day in the surf. Happily, not so bad this time. These comments in large part make me proud of my neighbors (even as my comment reminds me to proofread more carefully). Onward.
No offense to the good folks advocating for protected bike lanes, but I kinda sorta don’t want them. The benefits are obvious, I’ll give you those, but for me they’ll be lost in a dark shadow cast by a billowing cloud of downsides. Don’t see the clouds? I always see the clouds. I remember my mom calling me a worrier. As in I worry too much. She is right, but I don’t think I’ll stop. I was born that way (and worries keep me safe). Let me share some of my worries in the hope they will keep you safe.
Crazy pedalers. Protected bike lanes encourage more pedalers to get out there. Pedaling without instruction as to how to pedal in traffic, in protected lanes in particular, is crazy. Sure, crazy pedalers are a risk only to themselves, pedestrians, dogs, squirrels and paint jobs, and they generally go slower than cars. Maybe they know this, or some of this, and that’s why they feel entitled to blow off inconvenient laws. Still. Stop it! You make us look bad. I know motorists break as many laws and risks are higher with higher speeds, sizes and weights, but for you and me, it is guilt by association. You’re on my team and I expect more from you. That, and I don’t want any of you, pedestrians, dogs, squirrels or paint jobs to get hurt. Seriously.
Crazy pedalers may do fine in a protected lane, maybe better than outside of one, but crossing driveways and intersections will be a problem. Intersections and driveways are where most accidents happen. From memory, the biggest risk is the left hook (left turning motorist hits a pedaler going straight) and the second is the right hook (right turning motorist hits a pedaler going straight). Collisions while being overtaken are way down the list. Little comfort to the victim (or survivors) of a bad pass, but the point is protected lanes aren’t there for you during the most dangerous moments of your trip. Look at a diagram of a protected bike lane and ask yourself what you mean to do at an intersection. What crazy things do you think others will do? Better still? Before you pedal, take a bike safety class from a League of American Bicyclists approved instructor. Please!
Crazy Motorists. Even if new pedalers take bike safety classes before they start pedaling, motorists won’t. That’s crazy! How you will you ever learn that I am stopped in the left lane, your lane, signaling a left turn, because I am turning left (you know who you are, you Kia SUV owner who honked at me thirty minutes ago)? Crazy motorists will find themselves on a road with new markings with nothing but guesses as to what the markings mean. They’ll misinterpret the markings in six different ways. Much like they misinterpret sharrows. They’ll “wing it.” Winging it for crazy drivers means looking ahead and maintaing speed. Maybe even gunning it a bit (to get through the scary unknown a bit more quickly). They’ve been driving for years and the worst thing that’ll happen to them is a little scratched paint. They know because the papers tell them that you can hit a cyclist and, unless the lifeless cyclist lands on your vehicle and you drive around with their body there for an hour, you won’t even get a ticket. Wows. Or woes.
Even the most compassionate and well informed motorists may not see a bicyclist when turning. Attention, vision and interpretation are imperfect at best. Add a two way protected lane on one side of the road and now fast moving pedalers are coming from two directions when a motorist is trying to turn left or right across the path of the two way bike lane. Even one way protected lanes have the left and right hook problems. How’s that going to work? Crazy motorists can’t figure out how to share nicely on our 101 level roads. Protected bike lanes are master’s level set ups and I do not want to pedal through the learning curve.
[The news just said "the bar served him three double gin and tonics in an hour." I wasn't otherwise listening, but my guess is the man with a big thirst for G&Ts got in a car and killed someone. Six drinks in an hour? Drinker: If you must, that's home style drinking. As in keep it in your home. Bartender: Be more careful when dispensing strong medicine! Pedalers: That's who we are pedaling amongst.]
A brief aside. Education isn’t going to happen. Neither pedalers or motorists. I know that. No one really cares and there isn’t money even if they did. So how’s a pedaler to keep safe, protected lane or not? I don’t trust any motorist to see me. My safety is my obligation alone. Twice I have said to myself “they see me” and both times I have been hit. Once on a motorbike and once on a bicycle. Still pedaling, worrying and knocking on wood. Learn from my mistakes. I don’t pass cars on the right at intersections and I generally take the lane at intersections. Same whether traffic is stopped or moving. I act like a car. I wait in line and make it obvious that is what I am doing. All to be visible and reduce the risks of left and right hooks. Cars don’t need to know why I am doing it. It just works. An added benefit–motorists only have to pass me once. Think about it. If you pedal by on the right at red lights and stop signs, motorists have to pass you multiple times on a single stretch of road. I feel ok expecting my neighbors to pass me safely once, and in return I don’t make them do it again. Sharing and caring, you know? Be the change you want to see (pretty sure Lagusta wrote that).
Experienced Pedalers. Like I said, I feel safer when I know I am seen. Love my helmet mirror. I scoot out into traffic where the road is too narrow to share side by side, where motorists are more likely to see me. They are forced to wait behind or change lanes to pass. I scoot over as soon as I a safely can. Or sooner if I see in my mirror that they are misbehaving. Protected bike lanes will force pedalers to the very edge of the road, traveling behind parked vehicles (think like a pessimist and picture panel vans and tall trucks). Pedalers will be way less visible. It will be doubly important for pedalers to pause if not stop at intersections, despite a green light. Motorists will need to do the same. I will. Will you? What if your riding partner doesn’t? If you worry, the increased risk means more slowing, even stopping, so a harder ride. Accelerating is tough! That’s why Idaho lets pedalers roll trough stop signs if it is clear. Pedalers, both new and old, will be less likely to ride if they have to stop every block. Too hard! I ride on Madison instead of back streets because it is a through street giving me green lights through many intersections. I can get somewhere with relative ease. Pretty sure a protected bike lane will slow me down. Others may go faster, or as fast, but that may be a mistake. But maybe faster isn’t better. It usually isn’t. We’ll see.
My Hang Ups. More personal, but maybe more important because it would come up for me on a daily basis. Give me a facility and I form an expectation it be there. I’ll get grumpy when it is not. Build a protected lane and people will park on it. Potholes, debris and snow plowed to the side will make it unpassable. I won’t curse the snow (truth be told I probably won’t be pedaling much in it), but I will curse the parked vehicles and the poor maintenance. It’s like the nifty new stop signs in front of our local park. As soon as they put them up, my blood started boiling as 95% of motorists roll through the signs. Some without braking. The motorists were, still are, obligated to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. They didn’t and it made me a little mad. But rolling through the stop sign was too much! The nerve! What about the shiny new signs?
Universal Balance. You win some, you lose some. Give us a protected bike lane and something has to take the place on the other side of the scale. Something bad. Example? A car is parked on my protected bike lane. Anger arises. I leave the lane to continue on my way. Then a car hollers at me to get in the protected lane. Or maybe an officer gives me a ticket for not using a bike facility. Pump up the anger. Am I alone on this one? I believe it and fully expect it will happen to me on my first ride on a protected bike lane. I fail in this way most every day. It sometimes ruins a bike ride. Sad.
Isolation. I save this to last because it is kind of BS. All it takes is a little patience. But still. Even if you like protected lanes, one protected lane blows. The roll out would be gradual. As in ten years or more. Money is tight and politicians like to be careful. Still, how many times is a new biker going to have a trip starting and finishing on the segment of Madison Avenue with the lane? About as often as I am able to enjoy Albany’s sole bike lane on Clinton Ave. When new pedalers leave the lane to go to the co-op or the Spectrum Theater, how’s that going to go? It makes me really nervous (for them, dogs, etc.). Why can’t we have an elevated habitrail for pedalers built overnight. Tonight would be nice.
One thousand seven hundred forty-eight words. Time to go!