Friday, April 06, 2012

Perfectly Good Lane Lane

Today I rode to the beach again, and after a couple of days on the new separated bikeway on John F. Kennedy Drive, am ready to share my observations. Formerly, scanning from right to left you had, in this order, the lawn extension ending at the curb, parked cars, and finally a wide lane readily shared by motorists and cyclists. Where was the problem? I’ll tell you where the problem was: there wasn’t one!

Now what we’ve got, at no doubt vast expense for planning, getting approvals from agencies and citizens, engineering, and implementation, are the lawn extension ending at the curb, the bike lane, a buffer zone about two feet wide, the area where cars are supposed to park, and then the lane where the cars are supposed to drive.

This strikes me as an overly tortured idea on its face, and in practice, motorists are not always parking in the area designated for cars. They are sometimes parking right on the divider or into the bike lane itself, meaning that parts of the bike lane are basically door zones (areas where cyclists are in danger of hitting car doors after they are opened).

Formerly, when people opened their car doors to disembark, the doors on the right side of the car opened over a curb, while the doors on the left side of the car opened into the lane shared by moving cars and bikes and were easily enough avoided. Now the doors on the right side of the car theoretically open into the buffer zone, but often enough into the bike lane, depending on where the car is parked, so that the bike lane, besides sometimes being a door zone, is also one big loading/unloading zone. I’m finding it a bit nerve-wracking to ride there. I really don’t want to frighten, flatten or otherwise wreck the day of any out-of-towner or even an in-towner.

Across from the Conservatory of Flowers, on the south side of the street, is a stretch of bike lane that is narrow and quite shaded and has branches sticking into it—downright claustrophobic and a good place for a cyclist to lose an eyeball. Today I just used the “car” lane there instead of the bike lane and was glad I did when a roller skater came shooting toward me out of that narrow, dark stretch of bike lane just as I would have entered it. Fortunately, there is no law saying you have to use a bike lane just because it's there. In fact, there’s a law saying you don’t have to, though using a “car” lane that is in such close proximity to a bike lane does feel a little strange—it certainly must appear to others that one is doing the wrong thing.

Until lately, I have had (almost) nothing but compliments for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They are amazing, dedicated people—beyond dedicated. They are fire-breathing zealots, unstoppable and determined. They have reformed this city before our eyes, and I genuinely believe they wring $1.25 worth of good out of every dollar they take in. They work long hours and they never tire, but in some respects I think they have overshot being helpful. At any rate, they are starting to make my life more difficult with all these bike lanes right next to perfectly good lane lanes. Honestly, just about anyone can learn the skills needed to share most lanes with motorists. Cyclists, for the most part, are not delicate flowers who can’t ride unless it’s in a garishly painted special lane with stout brick walls on both sides of it.

I wish bicycle advocates would expend less effort on installing special facilities for cyclists and more on educating cyclists and motorists alike about safe, confident cycling and related laws. I try to avoid bike lanes as much as possible, because you know what’s in bike lanes? Clueless cyclists who ride in the door zone and pass other cyclists far too closely, generally on the right! 

P. S. After I'm killed cycling in a "car" lane, I understand it will be irresistible to cite this post as an example of bitter irony, and you will have my permission from beyond the grave to do so.
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