More Bike Please!

Today I pedaled the route I promoted here, but with a mod.  The proposed route suggested joining the Helberberg Hudson Trail at Upper Font Grove Road to avoid New Scotland.  This morning I was on my skinny tired 2xJoe Rivendell Custom so I braved New Scotland to avoid paint damage from riding on the gravel trail.  The time on New Scotland is brief.  At the Toll Gate Restaurant, take the right leg of the Y (Kenwood).  In moments you’ll see the trail on your left.  This route is 19 miles without gravel and minimal time in heavy traffic.

Loop with Trail No Gravel 08.22.16

Traffic safety anyone?  They’ve got placeholder markings on Madison for the traffic calming project with bike lanes.  I pedaled in the placeholder bike lane heading west.  It was nearly the same place I would have biked before the street was re-striped.  I passed one parked car.  It seemed properly close to the curb but was still snuggled up to the right stripe for the bike lane, so I started thinking about the new bike lanes and the risks of dooring (driver or left side passenger opens door into path of passing cyclist).

I’ve ridden with so many experienced riders who snuggle right up to parked cars.  They hopefully look into each car for signs of exiting occupants so they can move left if needed.  Me?  I’ve never trusted myself to see every potential exiting occupant so I instead stay roughly four feet away from all parked cars.  I remember seeing a PSA in San Fran reminding cyclists to leave four feet.

With the bike lanes on Madison, it won’t be easy or even possible to leave four feet.  I haven’t measured the lanes, but it looks like leaving four feet between me and the parked cars will leave me very near the left hand stripe for the bike lane.  So now I have to pick between staying right and accept dooring risk and staying left and accept mirroring risk (getting hit by a protruding mirror common on trucks and busses).  That, or pedal dead center in the lane and hope doors that are opened into my path are stubby (no Cadillac Eldorado coupe sized doors, please).

NY State law requires use of the bike lane when it is provided, so leaving the lane to pedal in the motor lane would be a citable offense (not that I’d expect an Albany officer to issue any such citation).

§ 1234. Riding on roadways, shoulders, bicycle or in-line skate lanes and bicycle or in-line skate paths. (a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle or in-line skate shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge. Conditions to be taken into consideration include, but are not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, in-line skates, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle or person on in-line skates and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane.

The exceptions in the code above are essential for cyclists where there is no bike lane, but I am not certain they apply where bike lanes are provided.  You can certainly leave a bike lane to turn left, but a natural reading of the code above does not suggest that all of the exceptions apply when a bike lane is present.  Should be, but I can’t be sure. Cyclists may instead have to rely on the term “usable bike lane.”  I know cyclists can leave a bike lane if it is obstructed (parked car, snow, pothole, glass), but I don’t think you could successfully argue that cyclists have the right to leave a bike lane to avoid a potential dooring threat (as opposed to an actual open door) unless the cyclist argues the lane was not “usable.”  Tough go, that’d be, but there it is.

So my concern, expressed previously, is that Madison Avenue is now less friendly for me to bike on than it was before the bicycle facilities were added.  When there were four lanes, I’d take one and motorists could easily and quickly pass in the other.  I had an entire motor width lane.  Plenty of room to avoid all dooring risks, even from Eldorados, and stay well right of all passing mirrors.  Worked great.  With the narrow bike lane, I will be forced to thread a very narrow needle between doors and mirrors.  I can do it safely, but what about the new cyclists that the lanes are supposed to serve?  What about when the newly surfaced road starts sprouting potholes and, more immediately, broken bottles and double parked cars?

New cyclists will certainly enjoy the bike lanes, but will they know to think about dooring?   They’ll want to be away from moving traffic, so they’ll snuggle up to the parked cars.  The door will open at the last minute and they’ll swerve into the motor lane.

Other laws are at play here.  So few motorists know about the three foot safe passing law that I’m almost tired of mentioning it.  It feels hopeless.  But it becomes more hopeless still where bike lanes are present.  Too many motorists are going to continue to speed and will hold their lane as they pass cyclists in bike lanes without any hints of moving left to open a safe buffer.  If the cyclist moves left in a bike lane to avoid a pot hole or a door, passing motorists are going to assume their obligation to share safely is met so long as they keep their right tires out of the bike lane.  They won’t think about their mirrors or the three foot safety zone extending from the cyclists left elbow even when the cyclist is in a bike lane.  It’s going to irk me to be close passed by cars when they could so easily and legally move left into the center turning lane or slow and wait to pass until the center turning lane is open.  I can see it already.  Every time they add something that is supposed to make me safer, my expectations for relaxed cycling go up, only to be dashed.

Punchline is, even with facilities we need loads of education, compliance and enforcement.  Cyclists and motorists need to know the laws and risks and behave accordingly.  When they don’t, police need to issue citations.  Unfortunately, education is tough and it isn’t sexy.  Compliance is a pipe dream (raise your hand if you go the speed limit and come to complete stops at all stop signs).  And our police don’t have the resources or the will to enforce all the laws needed to ensure safe road sharing.

Officials and bicycle advocates too often put their energy and our money into facilities and hope the facilities alone will solve the problem of safe road sharing.  Sadly, unless the facilities are perfectly designed and located on every road a cyclist might want to travel, they won’t stop traffic fatalities.  You still need education, compliance and enforcement.  Who (other than me, here, on this mostly hidden from view forum) is going to do the hard work of educating road users?  Who is going to start following the laws that already exist and that are sufficient to keep us all safe if we only bothered to consistently follow them?  Who is going to ticket road users when they don’t follow the rules?

I’ll probably still use Western to bike between my home to downtown.  It’s only two lanes, but motorists travel slower and accept brief delays as I take the lane until it is safe to give it back.  I may on occasion try Madison.  Maybe more as the traffic calming is extended the full length.

Maybe it will slow traffic.  That’d be good as I will never let you forget this stat.  Hit a human with your car at 40 mph and 90% die.  Do so going 30 and only 50% die.  At 20, only 10% die.

I’m 100% behind slow motoring in cities.  I am one of the motorists that goes 30 mph here.  It angers many motorists.  I don’t care one whit.  Sometimes I go slower than 30.  Ya.  I’m that guy.  But too many pedestrians cross without looking.   I will not assume I will always see them in time to stop and speeding only increases stopping distance.  I want the likelihood of killing someone to be as low as possible.  Or zero.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  I wish I could drive 20, and I do when I see a red light up ahead, but it’s hard to let go of the angry faces hollering and spitting all over the inside of their rolled up windows as they pass me (on a  four lane road–how hard was that?).  We’ve got to value human life over rapid motoring.  Seriously.


That’s enough.

Bye for now.

4 responses to “More Bike Please!

  1. Look, I’m all for being realistic, but you have made being a “persecuted” cyclist into an art form. The fact that you decided you were entitled to an entire traffic lane on a four lane street just so you could avoid parked cars says it all to me. I ride the same corridor you do every day except in the coldest months of the year (January/February). I never rode on Madison (and used Western) for exactly the reasons they’re putting the traffic calming measures in place. There were too many cars darting between lanes to avoid other cars, buses, left turning vehicles, and apparently you taking up an entire lane. While the marked bike lane may not be perfect, it will definitely be better than what was there before since you will only need to worry about parked cars. I rode the section yesterday and there was plenty of room for cars to pass in the travel lane. Maybe instead of tut tutting everything in this city you could look on the bright side of things for a change?

    • Glad you are having a positive experience! Thanks for sharing it!

      I probably don’t do a good job of making clear my foundational thoughts about biking in traffic. I generally believe all streets are perfect for cycling as they are. No facilities needed. That’s positive, to my eye. Sorry we don’t agree!

  2. I would encourage you to take into account the speed in which you ride your bike along that corridor. The new bike lanes are perfectly safe if you’re going at a speed where you feel comfortable spotting potential dooring opportunities (i.e. you can see / stop). That speed will obviously differ depending on how busy it is and time of day/night.

    • Thank you for stopping by.

      I am glad you are enjoying the lanes!

      I agree with you, but the door that scores a hit is opened just as a cyclist is alongside the vehicle. Slower pedaling speeds help, but won’t eliminate the risk entirely. Best practice is to not ride in the door zone.

      A good summary is here.
      While San Francisco encourages cyclists to ride four feet from parked cars, in this summary five feet are recommended.

      I’d love to be a carefree cyclist again, but I can’t unlearn all that I’ve taken in. It can be a bummer, but after 35 years of biking in traffic, I am alive to be bummed.

      One thing I am enjoying is the new asphalt. A magic carpet ride, it is. More of that, please!

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