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Dangerous Roadway/Pathway Design and Cycling

Motor vehicles and bicycles have shared the road with each other for well over a century, yet until recent decades no serious consideration was given to designing streets to accommodate both types of vehicles safely and adequately. Unfortunately, since the 1960s the increased focus on roadway design has yielded little improvement, and in some cases only served to make matters worse. Given that our roads are becoming increasingly crowded, the need for improvement in design has never been greater.

The Basic Problem

There are obvious differences between motor vehicles and bicycles that place the latter at a disadvantage—weight, speed, protection for the operator, visibility, etc. Yet there are other issues that contribute to problems with safety, congestion, and even pollution and increased greenhouse gases. The bike lane and its various manifestations, in fact, in many ways cause as many problems as they are meant to solve, as will be seen.

Inherent Problems with Bike Lanes

The narrow strip running to the far right of traffic lanes has become a familiar sight in most cities nationwide. The theory behind bike lanes has merit: keep cars and bicycles separate on city streets as much as possible to keep the cyclist safe and motor traffic flowing, rather than being impeded by the slower moving bikes. Unfortunately, a result is that cyclists are often regarded more as pedestrians than vehicles. Also, when cyclists see themselves as distinct from other traffic they tend to feel that the rules of the road apply that much less to them. In fact, the bike lane can give cyclists a false sense of security—a perception of false trust that motorists will not enter their lane, while in reality traffic is racing by just a few precarious feet away.

There are, indeed, strong arguments to support the notion that bike lanes create more dangers than they prevent. One such position is that maneuvering among traffic safely is complicated enough; adding a bike lane only makes matters worse by creating hazards that didn’t exist before. Moreover, neither cyclists nor motorists generally have a clear and definitive understanding of how bike lanes are to be used, and by whom.

Design Problems with Bike Lanes

Bike lane design often seems ill-considered as well. One example is the “sharrow” on Post Street in San Francisco. While bike lanes generally are at the far right of traffic, the sharrow is a lane running between two others that is used by both bicycles and automobiles. This puts cyclists at greater risk. Also, San Francisco is known for its hills and consequent steep streets. A cyclist riding uphill on Post Street is bound to slow down traffic, causing both delays and irritation for motorists.

The sharrow of Post Street is only one of many illogical bike path designs. In Portland, Oregon, a bike path transects the ramp of a highway entrance with no yield, stop or other warning sign. Motor vehicles pick up speed as they approach the ramp, and unless they use this entrance regularly are unlikely to expect the sudden crossing of a bike path.

Among other design problems with bike lanes are:

  1. Traffic lanes are at times narrowed to make room for bike lanes, and in some cases a full lane for motor vehicles may be lost.
  2. There tends to be a lack of understanding about how these lanes are to be used both by cyclists and motorists (e.g. the right of a car to enter the lane to make a right turn, how cyclists are to make left turns, etc.).
  3. Bike lanes sometimes cross high-traffic or dangerous intersections.
  4. Some bike lanes pass along the “door zone” of parked cars. An inattentive motorist can easily open his door into the path of an oncoming cyclist.
  5. Some bike paths are designed for use by both slower moving cars and bicycles.

Bicycles in High Traffic Areas

Whether bike lanes exist or not in high traffic arteries between neighborhoods and cities, the presence of both bicycles and motor vehicles in these areas creates dangers for both. The problem is that often such arteries are the only connecting roadways. Slower and faster moving vehicles moving among each other is a recipe for accidents.

Given the high volume of traffic that often depends upon such arteries, roadway designers often remove such safety features as islands and shoulders. The cyclist thereby has no place to move to safety or in order to prevent slowing of traffic. Add to this problem the fact that such arteries are frequently used by public transportation and commercial big rigs, both of which are expected to adhere to tight schedules, and the conditions are particularly dangerous.

An additional problem occurs with the slower-moving bicycles, for they tend to impede traffic and cause congestion. This, in turn, leads to gas powered vehicles idling for extended periods of time, which contributes to pollution and greenhouse gases.

What Can Be Done?

Whether you use a bicycle or motor vehicle to get around, the problem of bike lane design is a matter that is important to your safety. Make sure that you drive defensively at all times. If you are a bicyclist, assume that cars don’t see you. If you drive a car, always keep an eye out for cyclists; they are easy to overlook in the rush of heavy traffic. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer injury in an accident caused by someone else, make sure that you consult an experienced personal injury attorney, for you may have grounds for a claim. Call Nadrich & Cohen, LLP today to arrange a consultation.

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