More Bike Lanes: Problem or Solution?

BikelaneSome crackpot had an editorial in the Times over the weekend asserting that more bike lanes is not the answer to improving the bike-transit issues in Los Angeles. I don’t know who this “Will Campbell” thinks he is, but he’s obviously off his rocker.

I kid, I kid! In all seriousness, anybody that’s interested in cycling and transit issues really should take a gander. Will’s take on the issue is interesting and informed and, most importantly, totally viable. Hope there’s somebody in city hall that reads the Times Opinion section.

Photo by Flickr user richardmasoner, adapted and used under CC license.

43 Replies to “More Bike Lanes: Problem or Solution?”

  1. Excellent article. I totally agree. It’s about awareness. I don’t want to be yelled at anymore “GET ON THE SIDEWALK YOU DOUCHE!”

  2. Bike lanes suck! They just reinforce the falsehood that bikes aren’t allowed on all streets. Motorists see them and think they are the only places bikes are allowed to be.

  3. Hm. I have to disagree. True, bike lanes aren’t the best option, but I’d rather have a bike lane that people KNOW is for bikes, rather than fear for my life everyday on my commute.

    I feel like LA transit is always a battle of awareness. Too many people ride on the sidewalk because they’re scared. I’d much rather have a bike lane to get people into the street, so motorists get used to seeing cyclists next to them all the time.

  4. Thanks for the attribution on the photo. I’m somewhat more ambivalent about bike lanes than I used to be. In my experience, bike lanes doesn’t do much to reduce sidewalk or wrong-way riding, BTW.

  5. Allison, you make a valid and oft-heard point about bike lanes and how they help alleviate the fears of riding in the street — especially for less-experienced cyclists.

    I don’t think a lack of bike lanes puts cyclists on the sidewalk so much as keeps them off their bikes.

    Though I am somewhat militant against bike lanes because of their segregationist nature and intent, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the buffer zone that bike lanes provide. But I never forget that the perceptions of a bike lane’s added safety or purported increase in motorist awareness are just that: perceptions.

    As you said they are not the best option. And as I said in my column there are other options out there that are.

  6. hmm…couldn’t be the trip to Europe as the article and opinions were formed long before the trip.
    The options are interesting. Something has to be done to make bikes work as an alternative to cars and at least someone through something out there that has potential.
    If its any consolation…at least its not as bad here as the UK where the cabby’s and bus driver’s refer to bicyclists as “organ donors” and take great glee in giving them a whack!

  7. I fear for my life anyway in bike lanes. For some reason, some a-holes seem to think that “Bike Lane” means “Pass on the Right” lane. I’ve been almost hit by cars that decide to pass in my lane, had to hit my brakes so fast that I couldn’t unclip and landed unceremoniously on the pavement, and was once nearly run over by a bus, which swerved into the bike lane with no right turn or bus stop in sight. More bike lanes would be nice, but Will’s right; until bikes are considered equivalent to cars on the roads, I’m going to stick to the designated bike paths.

  8. Will’s excellent piece recapitulates one of the oldest arguments in bike advocacy: “effective” cyclists vs. “facilities” cyclists (the former argue that bikes, as real vehicles, should not be segregated; the latter believe that, pragmatically, masses of people will not adopt cycling unless “facilties” – bike paths and lanes – separate them from “normal” traffic.

    I believe – as Will does, it seems – in the effective school. But school is the key word: it requires genuine training for both riders and drivers.

    Which is what we need, more than anything, anyhow.

    – dan k.

  9. I stopped cycling 20 years ago because I got hit and thrown pretty badly in Riverside, then had a good friend killed a few days later while riding in OC. Every time I seriously think of getting back into street-riding I find myself feeling a lot safer… walking. Will, your rides through Elysian and Griffith Parks are quite inspiring, and I’ll start with those areas before I get too cocky about riding on the LA streets. It’s pretty sad to think that it is safer to be a pedestrian than a cyclist in this city. We have a long way to go here.

  10. I understand that bikes have the same legal rights on the road as cars and I utilize that right whenever I ride my bike. However, bikes and cars are very different vehicles in size, power, and speed.
    I still would like someone to convince me that in terms of keeping traffic moving it makes sense to have the two sharing a lane.

  11. I’m with Ben on this one.

    I often don’t ride as fast as automotive traffic. There should be a solution that doesn’t require my holding up an entire lane to do this.

  12. I think Ben and AP are operating from the presumption that sharing a lane means the bikes get to hog it and that’s neither the case nor the solution. Either that or neither have never seen the rare roadside signs that sport a bike icon and the words “SHARE THE ROAD.”

    When I ride on a street without bike lanes I stay reasonably to the right except when I am forced left to negotiate around a hazard of some sort. The same would apply with “sharrows.”

    “Sharrows” don’t provide some sort of carte blanche that allows me to plant myself and my bike in the middle of a traffic lane. But on those occasions that I do have to take my half out of the middle any drivers of vehicles that get caught behind me are more then welcome and capable of executing that manuever known as a “lane change” and go around me to keep things moving.

  13. Will, I love ya but I disagree with you on this one. See the “hot sun” remark. I ride bicycles, motorcycles and drive cars giving me a unique perspective on a “total transportation” experience.

    1. I really, really believe that less bike lanes means WAAAAAY more bicyclists are going to get hit by cars. Car drivers, cyclists, scooterists and motorcyclists in this town are oblivious to everything around them. Having bike lanes adds a little bit of visibilty and some personal space protecting the least protected riders.

    2. By putting bicycles in general traffic you are going to create a lot of frustrated car drivers who will do stupid things. No one, no matter the law likes to be stuck behind a slow moving bicycle.

    3. I see too many stupid bicyclists in the mountains where there are no bike lanes. I come around many a blind corner on my motorcycle and am met by 2-3 chatting,idiot cyclists riding side by side in the lane. It’s a traffic lane not a coffee clutch! Legal or not it’s f*ucking stupid, might as well wear a “please hit me” sign on your back.

    Maybe someday we can all share the road. But until EVERYONE, no matter their form of transportation, wises up and learns how to share properly we need bike lanes.

  14. Will, I’m totally psyched to ride alongside traffic when there is sufficient room to do so. To me, that’s exactly what these painted bike lanes facilitate.

  15. But if you really cared about LA, you’d get off your bike and take public transportation, right?

    (note to the humor-impaired: that was a joke)

  16. Lee, if we really cared about LA y’all would vote me
    Traffic Czar. 90% of the population would not pass my driving test, leaving the roads free of idiots and room for all forms of transportation. Think of the cash flow our public transportion system would have.

  17. I love bike lanes and the idea of introducing bike boulevards in LA. Let’s make it safe and inviting for everyone to ride their bikes – not just the confident/experienced/fast bicylists. I’d like to see the numbers of bike riders (of all types)in LA increase – reducing cars trips on the road.

  18. i use the bike lane on sunset and generally like it. there are some parts that could be wider, they recently widened the spot in front of the 99 cents store.

    but i agree with Will that sharrows would be a better solution in many situations like where creating another lane may be impossible. silverlake blvd, south of sunset for instance. there is no spare room in the two traffic lanes to add a bike lane and drivers come particularly close on that street. seems that sharrows in that section of road could remind the drivers that they are welcome to use the other lane.

  19. Will represents why cyclists are divided and thus he serves as a major enemy to many cyclists. Of course all cyclists need to be educated but this will not improve the irresponsibility displayed by motorists.

    Bike lanes represent more than just space on a road that should be fairly shared by all. These lanes represent political power and representation that cyclist are respected road users. The lanes serve as a constant reminder to motorists that “bikes belong”!

    To argue against them is to alienate a large base of cyclists. The more cyclist, the more power and the safer our roads will become.

  20. Michael #1: agree with everything you said. I ride up Angeles Crest on a bike, and if it wasn’t for that 8-12″ strip of space between traffic and the gravel shoulder, I’d never, ever go up there. If it was real bike lane, with 2′ or so, it would be vastly better.

    Even in Griffith Park I am constantly grateful for the buffer the bike lane on Crystal Spring Dr. provides. There’s almost no traffic enforcement in the park (pre-fire, anyway), so I’m regularly passed by cars going freeway speeds. It’s like PCH, with the vital difference that there’s enough room on the side of the road for bikes.

    I have to laugh at the implication that riders who want bike lanes are less “effective”. I’ve done 5K miles a year for 20 years and I’ve pedaled through situations that would make you wet your Lycra, yet I still appreciate any bike lane I come across. What may be difficult to accept is that some cities, like L.A., are not appropriate labs for sharrows.

    L.A. drivers are going to get “educated” about biker’s rights because of painted arrows? Permit me some skepticism. Even in bike lanes, I have to watch my back.

  21. Obviously there’s a wide range of opinion on the subject and I doubt there will ever be a consensus, but I have to say that I think all the people that argue about how great bike lanes are because otherwise drivers don’t understand that they have to share a lane are, to some extent, making Will’s point for him.

  22. That’s some funny logic, 5000. That’s like saying we should stop wearing seat belts because they keep people from understanding the importance of safe driving. Will’s opinion piece said as much: we should “not stripe another inch of bike lane.”

    Granted, he got the attention he seems to have wanted because of its man-bites-dog quality. It reminds me why I usually skip the LAT’s Op/Ed pages, but this one hit close to home.

  23. I could counter by saying your logic is like saying that we should’ve stopped trying to integrate schools because there was some signficant pain and suffering involved. But that would be silly and reductive, kind of like paraphrasing Will’s entire article as simply “we should not stripe another inch of bike lane.”

  24. Well, it happens to be the headline and main point of the Opinion piece, so your “reductive” is my “paying attention.”

    Your analogy with integration is a little strained, insofar as one of the goals of integration may have been increased awareness, but the more important one was real change in the lives of blacks. Sharrows, as an alternative to lanes, would do more harm than good to the lives of cyclists.

  25. David Garza writes: “Granted, he got the attention he seems to have wanted because of its man-bites-dog quality. It reminds me why I usually skip the LAT’s Op/Ed pages, but this one hit close to home.”

    David you can take swipes here about me being some sort of attention slut or how my opinion doesn’t measure up to your exacting standards all you want. And when you’re finished here you can go back to my personal blog and comment more about how depressed and infuriated my column made you feel. And you can misconstrue and manipulate and presume and assume and hyperbolate all sorts of stuff about what I wrote… go crazy witcha bad self you Keeper Of The Bike Lane Flame, you.

    Bottom line through all that floatsam is that I’m glad you came down from your perch either on high or the Angeles Crest and read my piece. I’m glad it “hit close to home,” as you said and I’m glad it motivated you to share your difference of opinion. THAT’s why I jumped at the opportunity to write it: to stimulate a dialog. I’m no expert. Hell compared to the 5k a year you ride my 2K ain’t shit. But I am out riding streets all over this city and from all my years of doing so I’ve gotten a bit militant in how cyclists in this town are marginalized — and the bike lanes have a big bullseye on them to me for that reason.

    Certainly I didn’t expect everyone to just agree with what I wrote and now that I’ve been called an “enemy of cyclists” and a “goddamn fruit” and goodness knows probably worse I know now what Alex Baum meant by congratulating me for having the courage to speak my mind. In doing so I struck a nerve — and I’m glad I had the nerve to do so.

  26. I apologize in advance if I come across as sounding wishy-washy, but I understand both camps’ reasoning. As someone who commutes from Brea to USC (a combo of bicycle and light rail) at least twice a week, I would be less than honest if I said I would not appreciate a dedicated bike lane down a very busy high-speed thoroughfare like Imperial Highway. Unfortunately, because the grid pattern of many of the streets are at a 45 degree angle and other streets do not run continuously, I have no choice but to take the busiest street in the area.

    Personally, I think the sharrows are a great alternative idea. Again, dedicated bike lanes would be a wonderful solution, however we cannot expect municipalities to remove auto lanes on major streets and replace them with bike lanes. What could potentially be a really great idea is the combination of sharrows along with public service announcements making drivers aware the road belongs to all of us.

    I will also say that my experience riding around SoCal has actually been quite positive. I have had very few incidents with driver attitudes. Some cars do seem to come a bit close sometimes, but I am fortunate that thus far, at least, I have not had any significant close calls in the past 27 or so years I have been riding these streets.

    Really the only thing that just grates my nerves is the proliferation of adults I see riding the wrong way on the sidewalk. This bothers me because I know how much more dangerous it is than riding on the street and I firmly believe if more of us rode on the streets, drivers would be more conscious of our potential presence.

  27. Sharrows remind me a bit of this idea: European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs. Sounds like a great idea — for certain cities and countries. I can’t imagine that being seriously proposed for LA.

    Richard: “Personally, I think the sharrows are a great alternative idea. Again, dedicated bike lanes would be a wonderful solution, however we cannot expect municipalities to remove auto lanes on major streets and replace them with bike lanes.”

    I agree, but Will’s piece and subsequent comments argue that bike lanes are bad and that they need to be discontinued in favor of sharrows. Unsurprisingly, that argument raised a hackle or two.

    Lack of bike lanes leads to lack of cyclists on the road, which leads to lack of awareness and respect for cyclists by drivers.

    Bike lanes prevent over-correction by drivers, bicyclists reducing danger for both even when sharing narrow roads.

    All the evidence available suggests that striping bike lanes on the roadway has a positive impact on the actual and perceived safety of bicyclists.

    Bicyclists have clearly stated their preference for marked bicycle lanes on roads and streets in numerous studies throughout the US.

    Streets with bike lanes have a significantly lower crash rate then either major or minor streets without any bicycle facilities (38 and 56% respectively).

  28. Glad to see you adding something other than bile to the conversation, David. But again, the “main point of the Opinion piece” wasn’t just “let’s replace all the bike lanes with sharrows.” Will’s proposal was “a citywide grid of sharrows that complement and connect bike boulevards and off-street bikeways.” I don’t think anybody would argue the value of sharrows over bike lines all by themselves, and that’s not what Will’s doing here.

  29. “I don’t think anybody would argue the value of sharrows over bike lines all by themselves, and that’s not what Will’s doing here.”

    How else should one read this: “Whether one sees that glass as half full or half empty, I personally wish the city would just stop filling it. Quit while it’s behind and not stripe another inch of bike lane.”

    It’s right there in black and white: any plans for bike lanes should be replaced by plans for sharrows. Not complement, or in addition to, but replace.

  30. I think you guys are missing something important: bicycles are not even counted as a means of transportation by the MTA, the LADOT, and CalTrans.

    Bikeways have no standard for measuring their success, and neither do sidewalks.

    Whether it is bike lanes, or something else, the private automobile will need to be de-emphasized in our roadway planning in order for bicycling to thrive.

    This isn’t an issue of bikes vs. cars. It is air quality, public safety, quiet, retail sales tax revenue, the quality of life and bike-ability vs. cars. There is more at stake in this discussion than bicycles. We need to measure our transportation projects differently. We need to take into accout the negative effects cars have on our quality of life.

  31. just look at the civic discourse we’ve got going here about bicycle infrastructure and issues in los angeles!

    bravo will!!!

    4SBB!! LIVE THE DREAM!

  32. also…

    i think that the notion of a “a citywide grid of sharrows that complement and connect bike boulevards and off-street bikeways” is a strategy we should seriously consider in a city like LA.

    Reading the debate here, I’d add that as a urban cyclist I would prefer *BOTH* dedicated bike lanes and a web of calmer bikeways and bike boulevards marked with Sharrows. We need whatever we can get!

    Cities like Portland, Seattle, London, hell, even COPENHAGEN, that bicycle paradise in the sky, all made small improvements gradually over long periods of time. So let’s lay some SHAROWZZ DOWN!!!

    Similar to bike lanes, stop signs, stop lights, really any traffic devices, Sharrows can help to communicate the message –

    “BICYCLES MAY ALSO USE THIS ROAD”

    Until we convince each motorist of this, we will continue to feel segregated, angry and occasionally fearful for our lives out on the Streets of LA.

    I am very thankful for bike lanes when I see them and tend to stay far to the left, out of the door zone. I believe they also help train motorists to expect to see bicycles on the road. i also love taking calmer residential streets, discovering secret new routes and wishing that signs and sharrows marked them all!

    We must be willing to have this debate and find common ground. LA is already a great place to ride your bicycle so let’s spread the good word!
    People will remain afraid to ride until someone helps show them it is possible.

    Offer to be a bike buddy, or BIKE ANGEL (!!) to someone you know who is thinking about riding to work or running an errand.

    Let’s find a way to unite as bicycle advocates here and get those bureaucrats to start laying down some paint!!!! and maybe pouring it into the mad motorists minds!!!! DAMMIT! SHARE!

  33. I think that in planning a bicycle infrastructure for Los Angeles what is needed is flexibility. Depending on the context, we’ll most likely need a combination of all of these concepts: bike lanes, sharrows, bicycle boulevards, traffic calming measures, enforcement, and driver education.

    But whether you like bike lanes or not, the real problem we have now is with a Department of Transportation that prioritizes moving as many personal automobiles as fast as possible creating streets that are freeways rather than spaces for people. LADOT’s outdated 1950s mentality does not work. When you attempt to increase a street’s speed and vehicle capacity you create incentives to drive which in turn leads to congestion and you end up right back where you started, with jammed streets and angry drivers not willing to share the road with cyclists, pedestrians or anybody else.

    As for bikes, to the LADOT they are for recreation and they are in the way of cars. This is why we have streets like Sunset Blvd, where the bike lanes are shoved over to the sides so that drivers can go 60 miles an hour. It’s possible to design a decent bike lane, but until LADOT changes the paradigm and we recognize bikes, pedestrians, and public transportation as just as valid forms of transportation as cars we’ll continue to have problems.

    And LA’s freeway-like streets are not just bad for cyclists. Pedestrians actually have a higher death rate. And the blight these streets cause is bad for business and bad for our neighborhoods.

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