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 often wipeouts that spoil an otherwise pleasant day in the surf. Happily, not so bad this time. The comments on this post 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 they’ll be hard to see in shadows cast by billowing clouds of downsides. Don’t see the clouds? I always do. I remember my mom calling me a worrier. As in I worry too much. She’s right, but I won’t stop. I was born this way. Worries keep me safe. Here are my worries. Maybe they’ll keep you safe.
Crazy pedalers. Protected bike lanes encourage new pedalers to get out there. Pedaling without instruction as to how to pedal in traffic, in protected lanes in particular, is crazy. Crazy pedalers are a risk only to themselves, pedestrians, dogs, squirrels and paint jobs, and they go slower than cars. Maybe they know this and it’s why they feel ok ignoring inconvenient laws. 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.
Crazy pedalers may do fine in a protected lane, perhaps better than outside of one, but intersections and driveways are where most accidents happen and protected lanes don’t help in these dangerous zones–they make things worse. If there are two way bike lanes on one side, pedalers traveling against the flow of auto traffic will be harder to see. Also, traveling behind the parked cars that provide the protection further decrease your visibility. Visibility is a peddler’s guardian angle and I’m leery of anything that reduces it.
From memory, the biggest risk faced by cyclists is the left hook (left turning motorist hits a pedaler going straight). The second is the right hook (right turning motorist hits a pedaler going straight). Collisions while being overtaken, the collisions that protected lanes may help reduce, are way down the list.
Look at a diagram of a protected bike lane and ask yourself how you will react at intersections, whether going straight through them or turning. What crazy things do you think motorists and other pedalers will do? And never forget the door zone. You pedal four feet from parked cars to reduce the risk presented by opening doors, right? In a protected lane as proposed, passenger doors will be the ones swinging into your path. Maybe that’s not so bad as most car trips are taken alone (no passenger), but it only takes one. 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, motorists won’t. That’s crazy! How 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 they mean. They’ll misinterpret the markings 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 (to get through the confusing bits 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 papers tell them it takes a lot more than killing a cyclist to get as much as a ticket.
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. How’s a pedaler to keep safe, protected lane or not? Don’t trust any motorist to see you. Your safety is entirely your obligation. 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. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t pass cars on the right at intersections and take the lane, whether traffic is stopped or moving. Act like a car. Wait in line and you’ll be more visible. The risks of left and right hooks will be reduced. An added benefit–motorists only have to pass you once. Think about it–if you pass motorists on the right at red lights and stop signs, they 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.
Experienced Pedalers. Like I said, we am safer when seen. I love my helmet mirror. It helps me more easily scoot out into traffic where the road is too narrow to share side by side, where I’ll be seen. Motorists are forced to wait behind or change lanes to pass. Scoot to the right as soon as you safely can. Or sooner if you see in your mirror motorists 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? 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. I ride on Madison instead of back streets because it is a through street giving me green lights through many intersections and a second lane for cars to easily pass me. Protected bike lanes will slow me down. Others may go faster, or as fast, but that’s a mistake. We’ll see.
My Hang Ups. More personal, but maybe more important because it would come up on a daily basis. Give me a facility and I form an expectation. I’ll get grumpy when my expectation isn’t satisfied. 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 wrongly parked vehicles and 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 boiled as 95% of motorists roll through the signs. Some without braking. The nerve!
Universal Balance. You win some, you lose some. Add a protected bike lane and a counterweight will appear. Something bad. Cars will be parked on the protected bike lane. You’ll get angry. You leave the lane to avoid the parked car. Then a car hollers at you to get in the protected lane. Maybe an officer gives you a ticket for pedaling outside of the lane. Angrier still. Sad.
Isolation. Even if you like protected lanes, one protected lane blows. Even if the protected lane is consider a success, don’t hold your breath waiting for a second lane. We just got our second painted bike lane in Albany. How many years since our first on Clinton Avenue? How many times is a new biker going to have a trip starting and finishing on the segment of Madison Avenue with the lane? When new pedalers leave the lane to go to the co-op or the Spectrum Theater, how’s it going to go? It makes me really nervous.
Enough with the worrying. Just my thoughts. If most want the protected lanes, and most probably do, have at it. But please get educated, slow down and get a mirror.
One thousand five hundred eighty-eight words. Time to go!