Who wants cycle lanes ?

Artists impression, the reality is often somewhat different

Bear with me people, this is not a beat up.
Last week I wrote a post about Cyclists that don’t follow the rules and that lead to a flurry of interesting debate.
The subject of cycle lanes was raised and I thought that was worth exploring further. In both the comments and in my own ongoing discussions about the post, I learned that not all cyclists are in favour of cycle lanes and some chose not to use them for safety reasons.
But …. but ….. I thought the point of cycle lanes was to encourage cyclists by making it safer? If that is not happening, then something needs fixing.

Why would we continue to throw money at a solution that it seems neither party is happy with?

The feedback I have had is that cyclists would prefer to be amongst the traffic because vehicle drivers expect them to be there and know to look out for them.

To illustrate that point, here is a photo that was taken when exiting the Spotlight carpark onto the old Hutt Road.

Credit: Whaleoil

There is a “dedicated” cycle lane on what used to be the footpath. It has been widened where possible and has the green sprinkles to indicate it’s for bikes.

I want to turn left out of the carpark and head south into Wellington. I am turning into a lane that has vehicle traffic that is also heading south, so I am looking to my right. As you can see, there is a reasonably clear view of any cyclists approaching from my right, and I need to be looking anyway to merge into the road traffic. However, the cycle lane has cyclists heading in both directions. I also need to look out for cyclists approaching from my left, and the visibility is really bad.

Here’s another close-up shot of the view to my left. Can you see the runner?

Credit: Whaleoil

Not easy is it?  And this is taken from a spot closer to the bridge railing and slightly higher than you would be in a standard vehicle.

You almost need to be on the cycle lane before you can see clearly whether there is anyone heading towards you from the left. And this access point is only one of many that cross this strip of the cycle lane. So the reason for putting “dedicated” (in air quotes), is that they are not dedicated cycles lanes at all. Cyclists cannot just power along “safely”, they still need to rely on cars seeing them and giving them right of way.
As another commenter pointed out, these crossing points are not flat, they are sloped down on both sides to meet the road level, and they often have stones and other debris that we don’t even notice in a car but can be dangerous for a cyclist. There are also sign poles sitting within the cycle lane which significantly reduce the usable space.

The next exhibit is the cycle lane in Island Bay. The one Wellington city council spent millions on. I’ve lost count exactly how much has been wasted.

Credit: Monique Ford/Fairfax NZ

Here’s what they did. They took a nice wide flat piece of road, moved the space for parked cars towards the centre of the road, and put a “dedicated” cycle lane between the parked cars and the footpaths.

Understandably, people don’t like parking their car in the middle of the road. It’s counter-intuitive so they park at the very left-most edge of the car parking space. This leaves less room for cyclists in the lane. Passengers are used to getting out of the car onto the footpath, so they fling the door open without thinking that there might be a cyclist on their left.

When a car wants to turn into a driveway, they have to cross through the parked cars, across the cycle lane and across the footpath. With the cars parked outside of the cycle lane, it’s difficult to see anyone in the cycle lane. While this is also true for pedestrians, they move at a much slower pace than bikes, so it’s easier to take evasive action.

My conclusion from these two examples, is that unless the cycle lane is truly a dedicated space separate from road traffic, then it is of questionable value to cyclists.
In a comment on my last story, Jimmy Rustle asked what I would suggest as a replacement for the Hutt cycleway. I replied that it was a good question and I didn’t think I had a good answer.

If we had buckets of money to spare, then a dedicated cycle only lane might be the answer, but where would we put that? Maybe elevated above the current one so it’s clear of traffic underneath? How much would that cost?

We barely seem to have enough money to provide the majority with decent roads.

How many access points would be needed to allow cyclists to get on and off where they need to, and how would that then merge with the existing road traffic?

At the end of the dedicated lane, are they then back to square one having to mix in with road traffic?

We can’t have dedicated cycle lanes covering the whole city, in the same way, we can’t have trains running door to door. So I was left wondering if, instead of scattering money on cycle lanes that neither cyclists nor drivers want, we could improve everyone’s lot without spending a cent, simply by being a bit more tolerant of each other.

That goes both ways. Cyclists out for a leisurely Sunday ride should be considerate and not ride more than two abreast and move to the left for cars.

Cars should have a little patience at the lights and give the cyclists room when passing. Cyclists and cars both should follow the rules. All the time. Not just when it suits, or when they decide they should.

Is that a viable solution?  Or are we more likely to melt from climate change first?


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