Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Message Board Bicycle Driving › The Meaning of Solid Lines

The Meaning of Solid Lines

John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,608
As some of you know, I've been becoming more and more down on bike lanes over the last several years. Yesterday I saw another example of what seems to me their primary miseducation problem, the promotion of the concept that bicyclists should stick to their own space. Experienced bicyclists know this is not true, but what of beginners? These are the very "traffic shy" bicyclists that bike lanes are purportedly meant for, but what do bike lanes teach them?

We have friends who live at the corner of Ocean Avenue, where some new bike lanes were painted last year, and Walton. Yesterday we were visiting our friends for a Halloween party for the kids. At one point, I was across the street in a parking lot supervising a bunch of the kids playing street hockey. As I was standing in the parking lot entrance, I saw two teenage boys ride their bikes down Ocean towards me, in the outbound direction. They were on the correct side of the road, in the bike lane. As they approached Walton, they looked both ways to make sure it was clear, then swung left out of the bike lane, into a crosswalk, to cross over to the wrong side of the road. They then took the left turn onto Walton, on the wrong side, behind the shoulder line, next to several cars that were sitting on Walton waiting to turn right onto Ocean. After they made the turn and got past the waiting cars, they crossed back over to the right side.

Here's a picture of their path (click to enlarge):

(Picture is from Google Maps, pre-bike lane, with bike lane and crosswalk lines drawn by me, as well as the bicyclist path in green. There was not actually a car bearing down on them on Ocean, but there were several waiting on Walton to turn right onto Ocean.)

What struck me about what they did was that (1) they did seem careful, I'll give them that, but (2) their path was so deliberate and consistently between lines that I really have to conclude that they did what they did precisely because it kept them always within lines. The crosswalk looks basically like the bike lane crossing the road, just without a stencil. Add to this the fact that many places where multi-use paths cross roads also look like crosswalks. So either they figured that's what they were supposed to do, or if they didn't think about it as much, they just did what they would do as pedestrians.

I think this is a concrete example (no pun intended) of the subconscious message that beginners get from bike lanes: Stay within the lines. We (traffic engineers) are giving you your space, so stick to it and you'll be okay, and don't mix with cars. Of course, this is exactly what beginners want to hear, which is why they ask for bike lanes in the first place. But does it encourage proper riding? No. It encourages the opposite, that separation from cars is the way to go, and where you do have to cross paths, you will still be provided your own safe space to do it in.

Some proponents say bike lanes do encourage proper riding to some extant, that it encourages riding on the road instead of the sidewalk, and encourages riding with traffic instead of against it. There's no proper studies that I am aware of that document how effective this education is, although we know it's not 100% effective because bicyclists are still observed using sidewalks and/or riding the wrong way even where bike lanes are provided. But even if it is somewhat effective in this regard, is that beneficial enough to counter the reinforcement of the mistaken notion that giving bicyclists their own space at the side of the road makes them safer, and prevents them from ever having to mix with cars and act like drivers?

I am suspicious.
A former member
Post #: 80
Do you think bike lanes also tell people where not to ride? If there is no bike lane or shoulder, is it ok to ride my bike on this street or should I be on the sidewalk?
john b.
Portland, ME
Post #: 110
I wish I had a camera because google's streetview doesn't do Marginal Way's current state of disrepair justice. There's a recently repainted bike lane on the eastbound side between EMS and Planet Fitness of substandard width, sharing a traffic lane of substandard width. Both are completely riddled with broken pavement but the bike lane is particularly a mosaic, at best, of usable road. A sharrow would have been nice here. I treated the traffic lane as such. I can just hear those behooved "tax payers" fuming, "we give these people bike lanes and they don't even use them?!" World's smallest violin. Why is it not required that one should possess extensive experience in roadway cycling before designing and implement bike infrastructure? Otherwise it's just the blind leading the blind (or the ferociously unwilling) into a much more dangerous, infinitely more complex situation.
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,610
Do you think bike lanes also tell people where not to ride? If there is no bike lane or shoulder, is it ok to ride my bike on this street or should I be on the sidewalk?

I think most people just don't know the answer to that, including most beginning bicyclists. So they guess, and we get all manner of non-standard behavior because people come up with all sorts of answers on their own. I suspect most start from a pedestrian-centered behavior, like I saw here, and maybe add various vehicular actions to it, resulting in a very individualist amalgam of "rules" which only they know. I've had a bike commuter with years of experience, and an engineer in his 60s, tell me he still sometimes chooses to ride against traffic because he feels that in some cases, it really is better. He's got it so well thought out that there's no convincing him otherwise.

I suspect the people that ride on the sidewalk even when there is a bike lane are the people that are so nervous about being in traffic that even the bike lane is not enough "protection" for them. In some American cities, notably New York, regular bike lanes are now becoming passé, in favor of "separated bike lanes", a.k.a. "cycle tracks", which even European cities concluded decades ago increase crossing conflicts.
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,611
Why is it not required that one should possess extensive experience in roadway cycling before designing and implement bike infrastructure? Otherwise it's just the blind leading the blind (or the ferociously unwilling) into a much more dangerous, infinitely more complex situation.

That's an excellent question. I think the answer is that the traffic engineering profession is just not broadly populated with expert cyclists, and like the rest of society, non-cycling expert traffic engineers tend to underestimate the ability of bikes to mix safely with cars without some sort of engineering help, and underestimate the ability and willingness of cyclists to behave as drivers. (Which is partially true, due to the woefully inadequate marketing and availability of traffic cycling courses, and unwillingness of society to view us as real drivers and allow us behave that way.)

Traffic engineers, who are for the most part not cycling experts, get hired by cities to "do something to make bicyclists feel more welcome", in response to political pressure from politicians and well-meaning advocates for other good causes, such as the environment and public health, most of whom are also not cycling experts. Engineers respond by doing what they are trained to do, engineer things, and the whole system is pervaded with a sense of satisfaction for doing something good by giving cyclists what most people (including the politicians, advocates, and beginning cyclists themselves) say they want, with hardly any actual cycling expertise in the whole process.

When actual cycling experts (such as League Cycling Instructors, and other self-professed "vehicular cyclists") bring up objections to some of the engineering, the engineers and advocates tend to respond that their engineering is doing nothing to prevent the "advanced" vehicular cyclists from riding vehicularly, since after all that is legal. They view themselves as simply providing beginners with a choice, making the activity more accessible, less "elitist", and why isn't that a good thing? Because they often can't imagine riding out in the travel lane themselves, they under-estimate the social and legal discouragement that exists toward those who do, discouragement that in my opinion is only increased by the presence of the "special facilities" provided to bicyclists, at taxpayer expense.

If we're lucky, there are some people in the process who do "get it", to varying degrees. I think we are lucky to have Bruce Hyman as our Bike/Ped Coordinator, because I think he does get it. However, in his job he also has a lot of the pressure to do facilities, not least of which reason is that that is a core part of the job description that was written for the position by those who secured the grant. But I know from personal interaction with him that he does understand and share the concerns.

Orlando FL has an excellent LCI as their Bike/Ped Coordinator, Mighk Wilson, with whom Keri Caffrey works quite frequently.

To his credit, Dan Stewart has been very cooperative with the "Bikes May Use Full Lane" signs that hopefully will go up at Wm. Clark Drive when the construction is done, and is a cyclist himself.

I'd like to see both Dan and Bruce become LCI's, or at least do a Traffic Skills 101 course. When we were hiring Bruce, I pushed to have that as something we sought in a candidate, although I was not involved in the hiring process until after the job description was written, so it couldn't be added to the official advertising at that point.

Charley LaFlamme, the regional LCI for Maine, and founder and board member of BCM, also feels strongly about making sure people knowledgeable about cycling get into this public process. For BCM, he was responsible for the fact that our departing Executive Director, Allison, went though the LCI training, and he and I are agreed that having this credential (or promising to get it) will be a big plus in our minds for any current candidates. (If any current candidates are reading this, please take note!)

One professional traffic engineer and cyclist who really gets it is Richard Moeur in Arizona. He has a lot of bike presentations on his site, and participates in the various national standards committees. However, like making legislation, making standards is also kind of a sausage-making process, and the result of compromises between people with different views, hence the mixed results that make it into the standards. I know he does what he can.
Jim T.
Cape Elizabeth, ME
Post #: 59
I think that there is no question that some people like to stay in the lines, especially newbies. That's not always terrible. The problem with the kids you mention is that they operated in the bike/ped gray zone--partly as if they were vehicles (riding with traffic on right) and partly as if they were pedestrians (riding thru the crosswalk, and then against traffic on left). It's a very risky behavior that lots of people practice. People often seem to ride bikes as if they were just fast pedestrians--on sidewalks, against traffic, thru crosswalks, etc. That's why I like more "point of use" education--signage, well designed facilities, etc--which can educate as people ride. And I wish we could get more enforcement by police on issues like riding against traffic, and less on the wrongheaded notion that bike should ride on the extreme right, out of the travel lane. . . .

I wonder if sharrows would have been helpful here--I like the idea of a symbol that clearly indicates preferred direction for users. As much as it makes me happy to see more and more riders, I'm also seeing more and more wrong way riding behavior.

I also think there are several problems with the facilities illustrated here: possibly substandard bike lane width, no bike symbols, crosswalk not at corner, and no crosswalk at far side of intersection (where it appears a sidewalk exists). I realize that you added in the highlights, and I haven't recently been thru this intersection to assess what it is actually like. One wonders if the kids would have proceeded to a further crosswalk if it existed, which would have put them on the right-hand side of the road they were turning on to. Also, a dashed line along the bike lane where it crossed the intersection might help communicate a message that it would be good to merge left out of the bike lane to make a left turn. . . or maybe this would be a place for one of the symbols you suggested at a meeting, like a small bike symbol with a "make left turn here" indication or something . . .

But I don't think you can just blame the facilities for their behavior. . . At least they rode in the street! And they've probably been indoctrinated to always cross at crosswalks. If they had walked across, it would have been no problem.

I do agree with you that many people are inclined to stay within the lines if they exist--the challenge is to make the lines communicate good vehicular options, too. And where there aren't lines at all, we need to do more to educate people in safe operation, too. . . There will always be more roads without bike lanes etc than with them. I agree that these lines seemed to encourage the kids to do things that might not be best practice. . .

On the good news side of things--we are starting to get some traction on making bike safety presentations in the Portland schools, so hopefully we'll be able to start teaching kids safer ways to use bike lanes and cross streets etc. . .

On another wrong way riding note, I had an encounter with a guy and his 9-10 yr old daughter riding against traffic yesterday, on a sidewalk, on a wide and not busy street. I gently mentioned that bikes belonged on the right, in the street, and that this was a better place for this individual to model safe riding for his daughter, who certainly seemed old enough to ride in the street--and was brusquely blown off with the claim that "I have the liberty to ride on the sidewalk", as if doing so was some tea-party gesture of American Freedom. . . even though I believe SoPo has a no riding on the sidewalk ordinance.


John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,612
even though I believe SoPo has a no riding on the sidewalk ordinance.

Au contraire, mon frere! At least for adults. See Section 4-7 on page 2 of the South Portland Code of Ordinance:
No person over the age of fifteen (15) years shall ride or propel a bicycle on any sidewalk or within any sidewalk area except at a permanent or temporary driveway anywhere within the city.

Jim T.
Cape Elizabeth, ME
Post #: 60
Aha! I thought that was the case. I mentioned to this individual that he could be ticketed, but his reaction was "tell it someone who cares." Big Gum'mint can't tell him where to ride!
John B.
Westbrook, ME
Post #: 1,613
Yeah, like he'll ever be ticketed anyway... wink

But I don't think you can just blame the facilities for their behavior. . . At least they rode in the street!

To clarify, I don't blame the facilities for causing this behavior in the first place, as if their behavior would have been any better without the bike lane. I can easily believe that these two guys would have been riding on the sidewalk had the bike lane not been there. I just don't think the encouragement of bike lanes to ride in the street goes far enough, because no mere paint treatment ever can. I also believe it doesn't really counter the common view that "bikes and cars don't mix", and in fact reinforces it because it's whole purpose is to separate the two. So we have a positive and a negative, and I'm not sure the positive makes up for the negative. In fact, I'm leaning away from the optimistic view.

I have much less of a problem with sharrows (officially now, "shared lane markers"), because the lack of a line removes the whole separation concept. No doubt many people like them less, for the same reason.
A former member
Post #: 81
Sharrows used in conjunction with the “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs would be great; although I would change the wording to “Bikes Should Use Full Lane.
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