A Note On The Sociology Of Bike Lanes

Eliot Landrum, a CyclingSavvy instructor and a founding member of I Am Traffic from Dallas, posted the following story to Facebook recently:

For the “student stories” file.

Jay, a [CyclingSavvy] grad, joined me up for coffee and a social ride this morning. He told me about a trip a friend and him took last weekend to Austin… they brought their bikes and just rode pretty much every day as long as they could. He said he was shocked at how unfriendly the city was. He said he couldn’t figure out what they were doing wrong. He was in the correct lanes, staying away from door zones, using signaling… and they were getting honked at and yelled at constantly. He said he was so happy to get back to Dallas and ride anywhere he wanted without getting honked at. For those who aren’t Texans, Austin is seen as the cycling mecca and Dallas as the “most unfriendly city” for cyclists.

I told him about the retributive cycle and how bike lanes and heavy infrastructure promote “getting out of the way” of motor vehicle traffic. He said that all made a ton of sense with his experience.

I also explained that the “bike friendly” designations are heavily factored by simply how many bike lanes a city has, not whether they’re safe or useful or needed. He thought the “bike friendly” designation meant more about the attitude of a city towards bicyclists.

Tamar, another [CyclingSavvy] grad, was also there and she said she recently had a similar experience in DC. She said folks were riding in the door zone and whenever she got out of the DZ, she got honked and yelled at. She thought it was funny that when she came to Dallas and started riding for transportation, her mom fretted over the danger of riding here… when DC (where her parents live) is in reality far more dangerous.

Interesting conversation. I wish more people could see it this way.

I once wrote about bicycle lanes as a bad education, i.e. what the lines teach street users may not be the lessons they ought to learn. This story is a perfect example. Whether or not a community has a must-use law for bicycle lanes, the “taking away” of street width for bicycle lanes may lead motorists to believe that use of the bicycle lane is mandatory. It may lead motorists to ask an entirely reasonable question in the context of streets with bicycle lanes: Why is that bicyclist in front of me when they have their own space?

As the record on Carbon Trace shows, I drive my bicycle all over Springfield, Missouri with few hassles and honks from motorists. I do not remember the last honk — it’s been so many weeks ago. But I know exactly how to get honked at instantly. All one has to do is ride on any street here with a bicycle lane and ride outside the lane. A honk will soon follow. I’ve actually tested this.

Further, in nine years of riding a bicycle as full-time, basic transportation here, I have had just one instance of a motorist actually putting my life in danger on purpose. In five days of shooting video in Amsterdam last year, I caught seven such instances. Seven in five days. I believe that these motorists felt justified in part because Amsterdam provides bicycle lanes throughout the city. Get out of those lanes and, well, as the video shows…

Update: The video will be ready this October — only one year late ;-) And it will not be a “documentary” so much as another side to the Amsterdam story. I will not be making comparisons with Springfield. So, yeah, it’s going to have a high bicycle-geek factor to it.

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Comments 17

  1. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I often wonder how gleeful the segregationist movement would have been if blacks and minorities simply demanded their own neighborhoods–separate from the white ones. Oh, wait. That’s how it used to work.

    Separate but equal is always separate and never equal. I had argued in Los Alamos to simply make the streets wide enough to have an outside shared lane, so that overtaking during rush hour would not require lane changes. But the paint stripes were the overwhelming choice of cyclists.

    Posted 23 Sep 2013 at 11:41 am
  2. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    “…the “taking away” of street width for bicycle lanes may lead motorists to believe that use of the bicycle lane is mandatory. It may lead motorist to ask an entirely reasonable question in the context of streets with bicycle lanes: Why is that bicyclist in front of me when they have their own space?”

    Then I wish they would stop and ask that question, then I could educate them. But the reality is that they don’t ask. They just assume that I’m in the wrong.

    I cannot wait to see the video.

    Posted 23 Sep 2013 at 11:49 am
  3. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Meanwhile, the so called bicycle advocacy movement can at times be as clueless as a newborn. For example:

    http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/there-are-side-guards-every-truck-china-yet-they-are-too-expensive-north-america.html

    (note my sarcastic comment in the comment section).

    Posted 23 Sep 2013 at 12:18 pm
  4. Steve A wrote:

    Given Chandra’s experience at http://greencomotion.blogspot.com/2013/09/harassment-endangerment-and-assault-by.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+Greencomotion+(GreenComotion)

    There MAY be something there but Eliot didn’t touch on LEO in such environments.

    Posted 23 Sep 2013 at 5:06 pm
  5. Angelo Dolce wrote:

    This fits my experience in Philadelphia. 20 years ago there were bike lanes were extremely rare, and it was easy to ride a bicycle in normal traffic lanes. Congestion kept traffic at (slow) bicycle speeds.

    Philadelphia bicycle advocates have succeeded in getting lots of bike lanes painted in the last 10 year or so. While advocate say they are no longer installing DZBL, the vast majority of the lanes (all but 6-8 miles out of 200+ miles) are still DZBL or right of RTOL. As a result, motorists are quite open with profanities to let bicyclists know they are not supposed to leave the bike lanes … including to avoid right hooks, when the bike lanes are blocked by parked cars or construction equipment, to make left turns, to reach destinations on streets without bike lanes, etc.

    I think the advocates get more support from motorists who want bicyclists off the roads than they do from their target of potential bicyclists afraid of traffic. I wish it were satire in the Onion when the advocates praise bike lanes with comments like

    But thanks to the bike lane, my travel lane was visible and clearly blocked …

    Personally, I don’t see how having a bike lane that is clearly blocked is an improvement over a street with little traffic (see photo; in heavier traffic congestion keeps motorists to 15mph, so I still don’t see the need for bike lanes)

    Unfortunately, this is serious – you can see their praise for this bike lane:
    http://blog.bicyclecoalition.org/2013/06/i-see-you-anecdote-about-fairmount-ave.html

    Angelo Dolce

    Posted 24 Sep 2013 at 3:02 am
  6. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    How about we make it a goal to quantify this? We could organize cyclists in various cities with varying amounts of bike lanes (and cycle tracks), create defined areas to bike in, streets to bike on, and defined behavior protocols, then record motorist behaviors.

    Posted 24 Sep 2013 at 7:22 am
  7. fred_dot_u wrote:

    Please put me on the list if one thinks that such a concept is practical for the Eastern Volusia County area, Daytona Beach, Port Orange, Holly Hill, Ormond Beach.

    Would there be a system established and “standardized” for all participants?

    Posted 24 Sep 2013 at 9:48 am
  8. Eliot Landrum wrote:

    Mighk, I would very much like to test this. Do we know anyone who can help us write a well-defined test protocol?

    Posted 24 Sep 2013 at 10:34 am
  9. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    I’m sure a group of us could put together a good methodology.

    Posted 24 Sep 2013 at 11:20 am
  10. marc caruso wrote:

    Recently Experienced this I had a motorist insist I be in the bike lane. I told him it violated the rules of movement and the bike lane to begin with was nothing more than a shoulder that might have been at most a ft and 1/2 wide. He wasn’t very receptive he was Like I don’t care you need to be in the bike lane. At that point I picked my foot up and kept pedaling I had enough of the conversation. He changed lanes and passed me not because he wanted to but because his only option would have been to stay behind me and keep honking. I suppose as much fun as it could be to honk at me all day he had places to go.

    Posted 24 Sep 2013 at 5:43 pm
  11. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mighk at. al. … I have a psych prof buddy who can help with this re: test design. I’ll run it by him and report back asap. I think it’s a great idea to conduct such a test.

    Posted 25 Sep 2013 at 7:28 am
  12. Kevin Love wrote:

    Yes, car drivers can be jerks. The solution is to unravel transportation modes so that people rarely have to encounter car drivers. For example, see:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2012/07/unravelling-of-modes.html

    Posted 25 Sep 2013 at 11:10 pm
  13. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Kevin, who’s going to pay for all of this extra asphalt? I’ve seen, on numerous occasions, how slowly bike paths get built in the US, due to the fact that the US is not Holland – people don’t want to pay for bike facilities here, and when they do get paid for, the plans are cut back, resulting in third-rate facilities that are half-baked and dangerous.

    As a blueprint for 2200AD, your ‘unraveling of modes’ idea might work – IF people in the US have some incentive to change their views about bicycle transportation, and IF economic growth happens alongside a decline of car ownership. If not, your plan is not for the US, but for Fantasyland.

    The USA is not Holland. Yes, Dutch cyclists are willing to give up access to the road because they have an equally good option in terms of bike facilities. That will NEVER be the case here! Arguing for Dutch bike facilities in the US can only result in further marginalization of cycling.

    Cyclists need answers that work NOW, not 200 years from now.

    Posted 26 Sep 2013 at 3:58 am
  14. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Its not just money, but space. In places like Honolulu, the built environment and cost of land leaves little room for adding a separate infrastructure. Here in BombTown, mountainbikers often make their own routes, but it involves significant grades riding through the canyons between mesas. We do use some separated paths but as Ian said, the designs can be abysmal from a cycling-as-transportation perspective.

    Albuquerque has added some bicycle boulevards with 20 kph speed limits to their mix, which provides de facto traffic calming. Albuquerque’s main problem is a culture that sez a car travelling less than 40 mph in the city is going too slow. Its hell on pedestrians, too, and there have been cases of motorists going overland when they lost control of their cages and ending up on bicycle paths. What has to change is our national acceptance of shitty driving.

    Posted 26 Sep 2013 at 1:08 pm
  15. Michael wrote:

    Thought I’d pass this along to you folks:

    Weeks later, still in a surgical cast, bones repaired with plates and screws, I sat in a traffic court witness box where the young man had contested his citation for failure to yield.
    “I didn’t hit him. He hit me!” he argued, father at his side, coaching him.
    “Why did you leave the scene and go to class?” the judge asked.
    “He was on a bike. He wasn’t in a car. He shouldn’t have been there! It had nothing to do with me.”
    I’ve endured shouts, had things thrown at me, been run off the road, spit on, even pepper-sprayed by a motorist at a stoplight irate that I was occupying a traffic lane—no matter that there were 2 lanes each way and we were the only two vehicles on the road at the time. To be severely injured, however, nearly killed by another human being who felt no remorse or responsibly because he assumed I just simply didn’t belong is his way was unbearable.
    – See more at: http://bicyclealliance.org/2013/10/09/message-to-senate-trasportation-committee-saftey-first/#sthash.rKJ7iFub.dpuf

    Posted 14 Oct 2013 at 12:31 pm
  16. 電子手帳カシオcasio価格カシオpos wrote:

    カシオ exilim

    Posted 15 Oct 2013 at 3:55 am
  17. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I went into DC yesterday and I saw three specialized bike facilities:

    1. A dangerously narrow two-way ‘protected’ bike track in which cyclists going in opposite directions would literally pass within inches of each other as they were effectively screened from motorists’ vision until just before the intersection.

    2. A bike lane that was fully in the door zone.

    3. A sharrow that was marked in the door zone.

    Kevin, whether you know it or not, the above is what you’re arguing for. Good quality cycling facilities are about as common as flying pigs, and while folks like you argue for Dutch facilities, what we’ll get is more of the same shoddy facilities that our government is willing to pay for.

    The folks in our government, unlike the folks in the Dutch government, don’t ride bikes, so they don’t know a good facility from a bad one – nor do they care. As long as it’s cheap and narrow, they will go for it – and they know that cycling advocates will praise any facility, because American populist cycling advocates don’t know the difference either.

    Posted 15 Oct 2013 at 4:26 am