Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Six Things I Hate About Bike Lanes

So, I know that there are a lot of cyclists out there that love bicycle lanes and that they may disagree with me on this. If you are amongst this group, please feel free to comment. Keep in mind, of course, that if you do so in a rude manner, I may delete your post. I may also delete your post if your argument shows me to be the simple-minded short-sighted knave that I am.

Just kidding.


Reason One: They Make Us Separate And, Thus, Unequal

By riding in a bike lane, I put myself in a separate class from other vehicles on the street. I won't say that it is even marginally close to having separate water fountains marked "Colored" and "Racist Nazi," as were common in the South 50 years ago, because that would minimalize a grave injustice. Having drivers pass me too close and blow their horns in my ear is one thing, but I haven't yet heard of any cyclist lynchings.

It's more like having to sit at the "children's" table at a wedding when you're 49 years old, just because you didn't bring a date. In the nuptials of life, cars get the smoked salmon and twice-baked potato, while you get a hot dog and tater tots.

Reason Two: They're Stupid

Most bike lanes are little more than a road shoulder with some extra paint and an occasional sign. They may paint a diamond or "Bike Lane" or the vague icon of a bicycle riding across the lane (And how confusing is that? If I'm illiterate to the point that I don't understand the diamond of the words "Bike Lane," isn't it possible that I'm going to think that I should be going sideways down this lane?! I'm just saying.).

Meanwhile, the "car lane" has two or more lanes, with even more lanes for right and left turns. How am I supposed to turn left from my bike lane in this world? Well, I have to go across two of the "car" lanes and into "their" left-turn lane. And the cars don't like it, because I have now left the cyclist ghetto that they deigned carve out of their precious roadway for me, and encroached on "their" space. They know that I will perform that cardinal sin of cyclists: I will slow them down.

Reason Three: They're Full of Crap

There is a bike lane on Davidson Street in downtown Nashville, but no cyclist will ride in this lane because of the broken glass, nails, retread chunks, and other detritus of the four-wheeled world. We have street-sweeping vehicles - do they not think the bike lane is worthy of their ministrations? Or is this all some kind of plot, where they actually shove the refuse of the road into the bike lane because they don't like cyclists, or at least don't like having this other lane that they have to clean.

And it's not just a Nashville thing - the bike lane on Morris Bridge Road in Tampa was just as bad. When I rode that regularly, I got so used to avoiding the same piece of metal strapping that, when it was finally removed, it took me two weeks to stop jinking right at that spot in the road. One summer, a dead wild pig lay in the northbound lane for two weeks until something finally dragged the last of it into the bushes. The state put up an historical marker for it.

Reason Four: They Aren't Enforced

When was the last time you saw a car ticketed for parking in a bike lane? Probably just about the time you saw a driver ticketed for not obeying the "three-feet law" now on the books in Tennessee and a few other states. Cars park and drive in the bike lanes with impunity in most states. They act like they own the road ... probably because they do.

Reason Five: They Are Also Sidewalks

Look, I run, too. It's great cross-training. And, yes, I know that there aren't a lot of sidewalks some places, or parks with decent paths, and you don't want to run on the road. But it's a bike lane - not a running lane - and I'm just trying to get to and from the office/store/friend's house/whatever. If you want more places to run, you can go fight with your local government to put in sidewalks. But I've been fighting for 10 years to get the few bike lanes that we have, and the least you can do is move over and let me have some of it.

Reason Six: They Are Designed in a Vacuum

Trousdale, near Crieve Hall, is on my daily commute. There's a bike lane there. It starts about half a mile from where Trousdale "begins" on Broadwell Drive, and ends after about one mile.

Could you get on this bike lane and go somewhere? Well, if you lived in any of the houses on this stretch of road, yes ... although if you stayed on the bike lane you could only go to another house on this little piece of Trousdale. If you were going to Crieve Hall Elementary from one of these houses, it would almost get you there. It ends only half a mile from the school, but I guess it's better than nothing. Of course, I've never seen any of the neighborhood kids biking to this school, but it could happen.

The point is this: If you go to the trouble of putting in a bike lane, put the bike lane on a road that needs it - not a fairly quiet residential street like Trousdale just north of Broadwell - and make it connect to something worthwhile. At least take it all the way to Crieve Hall Elementary, so the kids can have this foolish perception that their government actually wants them to ride their bikes to school.

A bike lane should go to a bus stop - preferably one serviced by a bus that has a bike rack on the front. Or it should go to a train station or office building or shopping center or a park. But creating a bike lane that starts in the middle of nowhere and ends in the middle of nowhere does nobody any good.

So, How Do We Fix This?

Everything except the first reason could be fixed by getting everybody on board regarding what bike lanes are supposed to do. Designing them right, taking care of them, and enforcing them as bike lanes would go a long way. Maybe, then, people in cars would see bike lanes as options for alternative modes of travel ... like car pool lanes. Aren't we all supposed to be puttering along, stuck in traffic, and look over at the folks zipping by in the car pool lane and think: "Maybe I should ride in to work with Mick and Shirley, and then we could take the car pool lane." Maybe people will see us biking to work and think: "Hey, I could do that!"

Right ...


  1. Nashville Public Works has instructed Nashville police to not write tickets for cars parked in a bike lane. Supposedly it's being reviewed by the city legal department.

    Nashville street sweepers are instructed to not sweep the bike lanes. I'm stating the facts.

    Bike lanes make new cyclists feel safer. I'm an experienced cyclist and I feel safer in them. They also plant a seed in drivers' minds that cyclists are around, and maybe the idea will morph into them actually getting on their bike and riding.

    Bike lanes are better than no bike lanes. Bike lanes actually being ridden in are better than bike lanes with no bicycles. Use them!

  2. This Yahuda Moon brings up another good point ...