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Biking infrastructure

Bike lanes in Chicago seem to be pretty crappy, due to the constant danger of being “doored” and of course the problem of being so close to traffic. I am absolutely certain that I am not the first to come up with this idea, but it has occurred to me that it would be relatively simple for the parking area and bike lane to switch places, with a curb between the two sufficient to keep cars from intruding into the bike lane. The parked cars would produce a natural barrier, and since doors most often open on the driver side, it would reduce dooring, too.

On roads where bike lanes are already designated, this policy wouldn’t even lead to a net loss of space for cars. However, while Anthony has been here, it has become more and more apparent that Western Ave., one of the most important thoroughfares in the city, is also incredibly dangerous for bikers. It’s dangerous because it’s so busy, obviously, and cutting space out for bike lanes would be a tough sell — but most of Western (at least the sections I’ve seen) also has wide sidewalks, and the incredible busyness of the street means that you don’t see restaurants taking advantage of the space with outdoor areas, etc. So: cut out part of the sidewalk to make a veritable bike expressway.

I haven’t done the math, but all these plans seem like they’d be relatively cheap to do. Am I wrong? Are there disadvantages I’m not seeing?

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June 29, 2009 - Posted by | Chicago

14 Comments

  1. This would make left turns nearly impossible. More dangerous are cars making right turns while cyclists continue straight – the driver would be quite hard pressed to even see the car. Right-turning cars already pose such a seemingly common threat to cyclists continuing straight in the lane that every write up I have ever seen about countersteering introduces the technique with the above scenario.

    Many cyclists would rather that there be no bike lanes at all, and I am among them.

    Comment by Colin | June 29, 2009

  2. …of course I am not actually familiar with the area you are writing about – if I recall Berkeley has several bicycle “expressways” similar to the one described. As long as there are no crazy intersections to navigate, why not?

    Comment by Colin | June 29, 2009

  3. I am not a biker, but I see plenty of bikers who cross to the corner and then turn left, like a pedestrian would.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | June 29, 2009

  4. In Berkeley, the bicycle “expressway” is right in the middle of the street, going the opposite way of traffic.

    Comment by Brad | June 29, 2009

  5. The legal way to make a left turn, at least here in California, is to use the same left turn lane that cars are using. Bikes follow the same rules that cars follow even though I have had a few run-ins with drivers who seem to think that bicycles belong on the much more dangerous sidewalks and riding with traffic is illegal.

    Even normal bike lanes make left turns more confusing for inexperienced cyclists because riders sometimes think they can just go for it instead of using the left turn lane. And why not? There is a special lane for bikes, so people assume that they can’t ride in the street and have to do everything from the special lane. I saw this all the time in Davis, CA., the bike capital of the country and the first place to have bike lanes. (Of course nothing beats the idiocy I observed almost daily of students and other cyclists who completely ignored arrows, laws, and physics to ride against traffic in the bike lane).

    Walking around in Berkeley made me think it wouldn’t be as bad to ride a bike as it is in SF, but still I have no clue what it is like in Chicago – I assume it is fairly difficult.

    Comment by Colin | June 29, 2009

  6. The legal way to make a left turn, at least here in California, is to use the same left turn lane that cars are using

    It is not illegal to cross the street, turn your bike 90 degrees, and cross again. There are multiple legal ways to effect a left turn. It is true that if you want to make a left turn in one go, you have to use the left turn lane. But you don’t have to do that.

    Comment by ben | June 29, 2009

  7. This debate is probably the most divisive controversy among cycling advocates. Those in favor of dedicated bike paths or lanes seem to believe that by making more accomodations for underconfident riders, we can draw out more would-be commuters who don’t ride because they’re afraid of traffic. The hope is that as the numbers grow, bikes will become more socially ingrained and everyone will benefit.

    The anti-bike lane crowd is quite vehement and more numerous than you might think. It includes a lot longtime commuters who worry that if dedicated bike lines become too widespread, cyclists will eventually be prohibited from riding in the street. This may seem paranoid, but as Colin said earlier, many motorists already seem to believe we belong on the sidewalk. I can sympathize with both sides to some degree, but I always prefer riding in the street because I can go much faster there.

    Also, crossing to the corner to make a left turn is a hassle; it’s much quicker and easier to take the lane and turn with the cars. The vast majority of drivers (here in LA, at least) are quite courteous so long as you don’t ride like a maniac or deliberately slow them down.

    Comment by toops | June 29, 2009

  8. it’s much quicker and easier to take the lane and turn with the cars

    This really depends on the intersection and its traffic.

    Comment by ben | June 29, 2009

  9. “It is not illegal to cross the street, turn your bike 90 degrees, and cross again.”

    As long as you get off and walk, it is perfectly legal.

    Comment by Colin | June 29, 2009

  10. Is it really your position that if you’re going straight through an intersection, you need to walk your bike? Or is it just that if you’re going straight through an intersection, you can’t stop at the far side?

    Comment by ben | June 29, 2009

  11. No, my position is if you are stopping at the corner and walking through the crosswalk that you need to walk your bike.

    Comment by Colin | June 29, 2009

  12. This is a challenging issue. I understand the no-lanes advocates, but even as an experienced cyclist in traffic, I would still prefer to not share lanes full time…especially in faster traffic environments. I still prefer a wide shoulder or even formally designated bike lane-especially in the settings noted above. In a slow, congested city environment? Not as clear…shared lanes might work better there.

    Comment by bk | June 30, 2009

  13. Just got back from my first trip to Davis, CA. I have to admit: the cycling amenities there really blew me away, and I don’t even bike regularly. I would without a doubt if I lived there.

    Comment by Hill | July 5, 2009

  14. This bike lane layout is known as the Copenhagen model. They have recently introduced it in some streets here in Melbourne, Australia. It has been quite successful. The only real expense is putting in the curb.

    Comment by Catherine Ryan | July 6, 2009


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